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'A highly readable, fascinating book that jerks the debate on religion versus atheism right out of its crusted rut into the light of serious intellectual scrutiny' Observer
A meditation on the importance of atheism in the modern world - and its inadequacies and contradictions - by one of Britain's leading philosophers
'When you explore older atheisms, you will find some of your firmest convictions - secular or religious - are highly questionable. If this prospect disturbs you, what you are looking for may be freedom from thought.'
For a generation now, public debate has been corroded by a shrill, narrow derision of religion in the name of an often very vaguely understood 'science'. John Gray's stimulating and extremely enjoyable new book describes the rich, complex world of the atheist tradition, a tradition which he sees as in many ways as rich as that of religion itself, as well as being deeply intertwined with what is so often crudely viewed as its 'opposite'.
The result is a book that sheds an extraordinary and varied light on what it is to be human and on the thinkers who have, at different times and places, battled to understand this issue.
Reviewing the lives, principles, and practices of prominent and obscure atheists from centuries past, Gray (Straw Dogs) challenges the presuppositions and positions of contemporary atheists and secular liberals in this powerful book. By looking back at mystical atheists such as Meister Eckhart and Arthur Schopenhauer, or "God-haters" such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the Marquis de Sade (as well as movements such as monism, positivism, Nazism, and communism), Gray peels back the godless sheen to show that much of what is called "atheist" is actually quite religious. He argues that the only real difference between traditional conceptions of atheism and religion is that, in place of a monotheistic God, atheists found faith in humanity and its ability to improve as a species. Many of the examples Gray cites show a zealous commitment to humans "self-realizing" in the midst of history whether through an uprising of the working class, technology, or Nietzschean bermensch ethic. Gray sees this belief as just as far-fetched as that of a deity who spoke the world into being. Going after the sacred cows of atheism, Gray's work is more of a polemic than it is pure explanation or historical overview. Although prone to some sweeping statements, Gray alluringly invites readers to reconsider what atheism is and should be.