Monday, October 6, 2008

A Passing Mention in Newsweek

Thanks to a friend of mine, I was directed towards a recent Newsweek article in which my forthcoming book is briefly mentioned (without, I might note, any mention of my name). The article, “Arguing Against the Atheists,” can be found online at

The article’s author, Lisa Miller, discusses various attempts to respond to angry atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens, and mentions several books including mine. Insofar as she specifically identifies what she takes to be the chief value of such books, the article inspired me to reflect on what I hope my book will accomplish. My hope isn’t that I will convert atheists, or even that I will deepen the faith of believers (the two things Miller mentions, her focus being on the latter). Instead, it’s something else. And so I wrote a reply to her essay, which I posted as an online comment to her article. Since readers of my blog may be interested in what I have to say, here is that post:

In this essay, Miller identifies the chief value of books responding to the recent spate of "angry atheist" bestsellers in the following terms: "The value of these books lies in their unique and demanding arguments and the way those arguments resonate with the faithful. They may provoke in believers a better, or deeper faith, but the number of converts they—or the atheists—can claim is undoubtedly small."

This strikes me as one important function of these responses. But as the author of one of the forthcoming books she mentions ("Is God a Delusion?"), I find myself prompted by Ms. Miller's comment to reflect on what I was hoping to achieve in writing such a book. Let me say that I only speak for myself. Authors have different purposes. But a main goal of my book was to demonstrate that reasonable and morally sensitive people can disagree about fundamental questions. This is not to say that any old view is reasonable. It certainly doesn't mean that any possible way of being religious is in tune with reason and our moral obligations. Rather, it is to say that there are parameters that reason and morality impose on all of us when we form our worldviews. My aim was to show that theistic religion can fall within those parameters. So can atheism. But on both sides of the atheistic/theistic divide, one can also find irrational and morally pernicious systems of belief.

To be blunt, I am frustrated with the tendency to identify the good/evil and rational/irrational divides with the religious/nonreligious or theistic/atheistic distinctions. It is far too simple to equate being either religious or non-religious with being bad or intellectually irresponsible. Part of what I hope my book will do is challenge the tendency to do this--and if my book succeeds in that aim, I will view it as a success regardless of whether or not anyone's faith is deepened.

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