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The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall…

The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern…

by Alister McGrath

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Usually I won't count a book if I was forced to read it for school, but this book was so good I couldn't deny that I read it for pleasure instead of picking out quotes. The thesis is easy to follow, the history passionate and the language entertaining. My thesis was on atheism, secularization and religion and my paper was a much better one for having read this book. ( )
  newskepticx | Dec 18, 2013 |
I learned quite a lot from this book. It is good to see that even the evangelical wing of the Church of England can produce someone who can give such a clear-eyed assessment of the failings of Protestantism. He also takes seriously the religious views of figures such as Marx and Nietzsche, who most evangelical writers would, I think, simply write off as godless and irrelevant to the faithful, and grapples intelligently with the issues they raise.

Where the book didn't quite grab me was in its focus on positive, militant atheism. The book does not really set out to be an apologetic in favour of theism, but it has little to say about (or for) those who simply lose their grip on belief, rather than those who actively reject it. But I expect to read more McGrath, since although I don't share his fairly traditional approach to Christian faith, he is a much more sophisticated thinker than many on the orthodox side of the Church, and runs rings around Richard Dawkins's frankly naive views on religion.

MB 28-ix-2010 ( )
2 vote MyopicBookworm | Sep 28, 2010 |
An excellent historical analysis of the phenomenology of atheism-- the reasons for its promotion, the climate that facilitated its growth and promotion, and the factors that are now leading to its decline as a cultural and social force.

McGrath is well-read in these matters, having come out of atheism itself. He is fair-- even seemingly sympathetic-- toward the ideology of atheism, understanding that atheism grew strongly because of disenchantment and disillusionment with the institutional denominations of the day. Nevertheless, he is very open and evident about the fundamental flaws of the atheistic ideologies that came out of the 18th and 19th centuries, exposing them for being hyper-simplistic and that they didn't turn out too well in reality in the Soviet Union in the 20th century. In the end, "oppression" and "liberation" can happen either through atheism or through theism. Both atheists and theists must start out assuming an otherwise unprovable proposition of belief (or unbelief) in order to make any coherent statement of belief (or unbelief).

This book is excellent reading in order to understand not just the phenomenology of atheism but the ironic role Protestantism played in the development of atheism by, for all intents and purposes, disassociating the sacred from regular life. As McGrath indicates, it was not a long journey between "living as if there were no God" to "believing there is no God."

A book with plenty of insight for believer and unbeliever alike. An excellent warning for believers in regards to the challenges faced by culture. ( )
  deusvitae | Apr 30, 2010 |

Yet another book on religion where I basically agree with the author but found the book itself really unsatisfactory.

Basically, McGrath seemed to me to be asking the wrong question. His argument identifies 'atheism' as a collective identity more than is really warranted by his own evidence; towards the end he seems to almost criticize atheists for not being as well organised as the Church, which sort of misses the point. More widely, he never makes it clear whose atheism or belief is under discussion, though I felt that in the present day he really just means Oxford dons. Non-Christian faiths are barely mentioned; there is an anecdote about the triumph of Christianity in Korea in the 20th century which simply does not refer to other religions practised by Koreans. This really isn't good enough.

The internal structure puzzled me as well. I would have preferred a more strictly chronological organisation. But instead we have a chapter on Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, followed by one on the sciences post-Darwin, followed by an examination of atheism in classic literature from the Enlightenment on (that last being one of the better chapters in the book). It is as if Freud knew nothing of Darwin, and Darwin knew nothing of Keats. (I confess I had not preeviously heard of Feuerbach, but that may just be my ignorance.)

Other irritations: James II was not Charles II's son (p 14). I was surprised to read (p 264-265) that 'The role of religion in creating and sustaining communal identity has been known for some considerable time, and has become increasingly important since about 1965'; I think it's just possible that religion played an important role in creating and sustaining communal identity for quite a long time prior to that date.

I suspect that this book was intended to be in part a rebuttal to Richard Dawkins, who is very briefly dissected, but unfortunately it is too full of its own complacency to be effective. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Apr 25, 2010 |
An interesting survey of an intellectual movement, full of lapses and clumsy execution.

I'm only on page 20 so far, and have found a number of factual errors, such as the assertion that Lucretius was an atheist, that Homer wrote the judgement of Paris episode, and others. Obviously he hasn't read the primary sources.

However I bought the book because of what's promised in the table of contents- a lengthy treament of more modern movements and individuals (including a section on one of my favourite atheist poets A. C. Swinburne). The book looks to be a readable introduction to a number of figures, unfortunately one which will necessitate going to the sources he mentions, to get an accurate picture.
  circvs | Jan 3, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385500629, Paperback)

In this bold and provocative new book, the author of In the Beginning and The Reenchantment of Nature challenges the widely held assumption that the world is becoming more secular and demonstrates why atheism cannot provide the moral and intellectual guidance essential for coping with the complexities of modern life.

Atheism is one of the most important movements in modern Western culture. For the last two hundred years, it seemed to be on the verge of eliminating religion as an outmoded and dangerous superstition. Recent years, however, have witnessed the decline of disbelief and a rise in religious devotion throughout the world. In THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM, the distinguished historian and theologian Alister McGrath examines what went wrong with the atheist dream and explains why religion and faith are destined to play a central role in the twenty-first century.

A former atheist who is now one of Christianity’s foremost scholars, McGrath traces the history of atheism from its emergence in eighteenth-century Europe as a revolutionary worldview that offered liberation from the rigidity of traditional religion and the oppression of tyrannical monarchs, to its golden age in the first half of the twentieth century. Blending thoughtful, authoritative historical analysis with incisive portraits of such leading and influential atheists as Sigmund Freud and Richard Dawkins, McGrath exposes the flaws at the heart of atheism, and argues that the renewal of faith is a natural, inevitable, and necessary response to its failures.

THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM will unsettle believers and nonbelievers alike. A powerful rebuttal of the philosophy that, for better and for worse, has exerted tremendous influence on Western history, it carries major implications for the future of both religion and unbelief in our society.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:39 -0400)

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