Why God Won’t Go Away – Engaging with the New Atheism
By Alister McGrath
Since the so called “9-11” event, the world has changed. Or so we are told. Perhaps the most significant cultural change that this atrocity wrought, was the destruction of a naïve but prevailing belief that religion is no longer relevant in the modern world. “Religion Kills,” says Christopher Hitchin, the most literate champion of the movement called “The New Atheism.”
The popularity of this pseudo-intellectual surge of atheistic belief is a phenomenon that far exceeds the astonishing sales of its books. The sheer scale of irrational, almost inexplicable anger has filled cyber-space with the digital wars fought by bloggers who seem to drive one another up the wall in the attempt to stamp out religion altogether.
Alister McGrath takes full account of this internet dimension of the New Atheism as he explores, in his usual calm and gentle manner, just what is New about this Atheism and just how genuinely Atheistic it really is.
It’s a long time since I read anything by Alister McGrath, and for some reason, I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a light and easy, which even the slowest reader would complete in less than an afternoon. And yet, by the time we arrive at the final page, we have been guided carefully and methodically through weighty critiques and heavyweight arguments. On this subject, there are few authors more capable of pulling off such a feat, than McGrath.
His exposition of the New Atheist movement highlights its shortcomings at various levels. Historically, he demonstrates that the history of Christian cruelty so often mediated by atheists, is highly selective at best, and in reality based upon the very kind of myth from which they claim to be liberated. Scientifically, he highlights the sheer lack of credible scientific method that characterises those who peddle ‘Science’ as providing the answers to life, the universe and everything. Ethically he identifies amongst the new atheists, a hatred and anger which makes medieval crusades look like church picnics. Philosophically, he reveals the principle advocates of the New Atheism to be wedded the crudest of Enlightenment principles which are no longer credible or convincing.
On this last point, it would have been helpful for McGrath to unpack the notion of rationality a little more, to highlight some of the different ways that reason functions. It would also have been interesting to explore further his insights about why the blog-o-sphere realm of atheism is both so popular and full of anger. But then, we might not finish the book in an afternoon.
This is a simple, straightforward book that powerfully dismantles the New Atheist belief structure simply by listening well to its own supporters. For anyone interested in this issue, McGrath’s is a satisfying, enjoyable and worthwhile little book.