Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Why God Won't Go Away

The September 11th attacks birthed the New Atheism movement.  A select group of atheists believed 9/11 confirmed that  "religion was dangerous precisely because it was irrational, and when it failed to win arguments, it resorted to terror instead." (pg. XII)  "New Atheism" was a foreign term to me.   This term refers to those who advocate atheism and condemn religious beliefs and cultural respect for religion.  (pg. 4)  Former atheist, Alister McGrath traces the trajectory of New Atheism in this his latest work, Why God Won't Go Away:  Is the New Atheism Running on Empty? 

What is the book about?
The book is divided into three sections.  In the first section, Alister outlines the perspectives the four "representatives" of New Atheism offer in the books they published in recent years:  Sam Harris with The End of Faith (2004), Richard Dawkins with The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett with Breaking the Spell (2006) and Christopher Hitchens with God is Not Great (2007).   As I have no desire to read books produced by atheists, I found this book quite insightful.    McGrath explains how the blogosphere has been a huge factor in perpetuating the spread of New Atheistic ideas.  Blogs and forums provide some semblance of anonymity therefore the vitriol, prejudice and hate can be rampant.  This is precisely what the New Atheists claim to hate in those who cling to religion.

In part two, Alister focuses on the three core themes of violence, reason and science.  He reveals the myriad of flaws found in the New Atheistic position.  "The New Atheism, in scapegoating God for the rational and moral failings of human beings, is hoping that nobody will notice the blatant incoherence in its own worldview.  Everything that's wrong with the world, it assures us, can be blamed on God.  But if God is an invention, a fictional character, then the blame has to be laid firmly and squarely at the door of God's human creators."  (pg. 91-92)  For the atheists, science and reason becomes their god.   Who needs God or religion, they argue.  McGrath notes efforts to quell religion have failed miserably.  Where true Christians have been persecuted, even martyred, faith as blossomed.  How can this be? 

In part three, McGrath asks "Where does the New Atheism go from here?"  He notes the downward spiral of the New Atheism.  "Atheist blogs now regularly feature agonized reflections on the failure of the movement to gain the intellectual high ground."  (pg. 136)  September 30, 2009 was declared to the the first  ever "Blasphemy Day" by the Center for Inquiry  This was a day set aside to "insult religions and religious people."  (pg. 138)  It sounds like a day to insult God.  The question these atheists need to ponder is not "What do you think of God?" but rather "What does God think of you?" 

Toward the end of the book, McGrath notes how "God can no more be eliminated from human life than our yearning for justice or our deep desire to makes this world a better place."  Well, I'm afraid making the world a better place is not on the forefront of everyone's mind.  He goes on to share an excellent quote by Augustine:  "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you."  (pg. 145)

What did I learn?
The new atheism is antitheist as they oppose any form of religious belief and practice (pg 36).  Their secondary focus is their belief that there is no God. (pg. 37)  During the height of the New Atheism movement only 4% of Americans called themselves atheists. (pg 41)  Could it be that most people pursue some form of religion since "from the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."  Romans 1:20

It was frightening to learn how bold and blatant those who hate God and Christians can be:
  • Sam Harris contends that religion generates violence and hatred thus it could be ethical to kill religious believers (pg. 10)
  • Dawkins believes that God is a virus of the mind (pg. 17)
  • Dennett asserts that religion should only be studied and evaluated by those whose minds are unclouded by an religious commitments (pg. 25)
  • Christopher Hitchens believes that people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction (pg. 26) 
Yet I must point out that the sins of these four men are not greater than my sins.  God's grace is sufficient to forgive the sins of Christopher Hitchens just as it was sufficient to forgive my sins.   Oh, that these men and all who consider themselves part of the new atheist movement might by regenerated and converted.  

The author
I must note that while the author considers himself a Christian and now believes in God, he provides no insight into a conversion experience.  He does note that "Christian institutions need repeatedly to call themselves back to reflect on the core ideas and values of Jesus." (pg. 70)  He does "concede that Christianity can generate violence." (pg. 72)   While I'm certain McGrath is lumping anyone who believes in God into the "Christian" category, I would disagree and say that anyone who is a true believer is not a violent individual.  They may be called to protect their country through the military or kill in self-defense, but a true converted follower of Jesus will be bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26),   As Christians we are not called to destroy and eradicate evil individuals.  Ephesians 6:12 states:  "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."  Also, note that McGrath makes it clear that he is not a creationist. 

In Conclusion
Man can never reason his way to God.  Convincing an atheist through eloquent arguments that there is a God will not convert Him.  The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is required.  This can only occur after an individual has grasped what the Gospel is.

I would recommend this book to those who have a desire to grasp a better understanding of atheists and to anyone interested in apologetics.  This is an informative book, but not necessarily one that will captivate and inspire you. The length is about right with just under 150 pages of material to read.  McGrath also includes a section for further study, extensive notes and an index.

Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book to me.  I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.   I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255:“Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the thorough review and for stressing that true believers are not violent. I guess the big problem here is that non-believers cannot discern the true Christians from other christians. Unfortunately, a counterfeit christian can indeed be dangerous and cause real damage to a true Christian's witness. McGrath's book does seem to be an informative read. I'll have to look for it.


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