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The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World

by Alister McGrath

Pub Date: June 15th, 2004
ISBN: 0-385-50061-0
Publisher: Doubleday

Tremble, ye doubters: God isn’t dead. He’s back—and He’s brought friends.

At turns revisiting his apologia for proselytizing Protestantism, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (1995), erstwhile atheist turned Oxford theology professor McGrath (In the Beginning, 2001, etc.) proposes that belief in the nonexistence of God is passé. Such belief, he suggests, is a mere blip of history, just one more avatar of modernism, to be consigned to the ashbin of history, along with such modernist avatars as communism and fascism and the thought of atheism’s big three thinkers: Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud, “who between them turned a daring revolutionary hypothesis into the established certainty of an age, placing Christianity constantly on the defensive.” McGrath is incontestably correct on a couple of points: modernism certainly did not kill off religion, much as some of modernism’s exponents—Darwin, Freud, Stalin—wished otherwise. Instead, religious fundamentalism is on the rise in every corner of the planet, with all the peace and understanding that rise portends: Hinduism here, Wahabbism there, Pentecostalism everywhere. (“Only a form of Protestantism which is obsessed by theological correctness . . . is vulnerable,” he writes by way of endorsing this experiential approach to Christianity.) McGrath is shakier on other points. For one thing, he appears to extrapolate organized atheism’s future from the fortunes of American Atheists, the aberrant group founded and then run into the ground by the sinister Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Indeed, he fails to consider the possibility that atheists might not be joiners of groups at all, that unbelievers simply don’t go to church, even if it’s a church of infidels. And never mind the possibility that secular intellectuals and scientists may not push atheism these days not because atheism is out, but because the whole question of God’s existence is simply no longer of interest.

Not all preaching to the choir, though—comparative-religion types at least should take a look.