Monday, August 01, 2011

Book Review: Why God Won't Go Away

I have to be completely honest that the first thing I noticed about Why God Won't Go Away by Alister McGrath, when I was browsing through books available for review, was the authors amazingly cool name.  Alister McGrath just sounds like the name of someone you should listen to.  After reading his book, I've decided that he probably is someone you should listen to.

McGrath's book is presented as a case for why "New Atheism" is "running on empty" and isn't really the powerful, lasting movement it seems to think that it is.  McGrath isn't talking about good old fashioned atheism here and clearly states that he doesn't have a big beef with intelligent people who have decided they don't believe God is out there anywhere.  Who the author is taking to task here are those who go so far as to say that all religion is dangerous and even evil.  Some of those in this group will go so far as to say that all people who practice religion should be institutionalized or medicated for psychiatric disorders, jailed or exterminated. McGrath gets credit for making a point to note that most of the really extreme hate coming from self-proclaimed new atheists is found on internet forums and that some of the forums have actually been shut down because they've gotten out of hand.  The authors he's responding to don't seem to be entirely lacking in decency.

I didn't realize that there were people out there that vehemently opposed to religion.  I have plenty of totally cool, wonderful, accepting, intelligent and moral atheist friends who I genuinely enjoy hanging out with and even enjoy an occasional theological debate with.  Never once have I been accused of a psychiatric disorder or death-penalty crime for being a Christian.  A little weird, maybe, but that may have less to do with my faith and more to do with conversations like the one I posted yesterday. But I guess in any belief system (and try as they might to argue otherwise, New Atheists have a belief system) you'll get those who take it to extremes. There are extreme Christians, extreme Muslims, extreme Republicans, extreme Democrats, etc.  It only makes sense that out of the halls of atheism would also rise an extremist segment.

McGrath specifically takes on four of the most prominent figures in the movement: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet and Christopher Hitchens.  While his tone is, at times, a bit overly argumentative and harsh, I can't help but feel like it's almost called for.  The arguments he makes are solid and he is careful to make sure the audience knows that he is not trying to speak out against anyone who is an atheist, but is rather speaking to why the aggressive and harsh New Atheism movement is not only lacking in staying power, but should be discredited by Christians and atheists alike.

This is one of those books that was a good read, but saying it was "enjoyable" seems like a mismatching of terms.  It wasn't really fun to read and it was a little sad (I find reading about Westboro Baptist Church sad too), but I got alot out of the read and find myself wanting to pick up some of the books by Harris, Dawkins, Dennet and Hitchens just to read in full what they have to say and to look into what other atheists, Christians, Muslims, etc are saying about them as well.  A good book makes you want to research the topic more and expand your knowledge about the subject.  This book did exactly that.

I received my review copy of the book through BookSneeze. No one twisted my arm for a good review.

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