Paranoid Atheists, Take Note

There are varieties of atheists. Some manifest symptoms of paranoia about the vigor of religion in the Western world. They decry everything about religion and are determined to curb its altogether negative social effects. A good example is Christopher Hitchens, whose book is titled god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Their publications, blogs, speeches, radio and TV appearances are rants against religion, litanies of what is dangerously wrong with religion. The paranoid atheists are not discriminating. And they are loud and vociferous.

Then there are atheists who are reconciled to the fact that religion is here to stay, and even believe that positive goods have been produced by religion—social goods that would not exist but for religion. They see religion as neither good nor bad, as such, but as something capable of extraordinary good and unparalleled evil. They are discriminating. They are willing to cheer what is good about some manifestations of religion. And now they are calmly entering the fray with a distinctively different and refreshing tone.

Excellent examples are the authors John Mickelthwaite and Adrian Wooldridge. Their new book, God Is Back: How the Revival of Religion Is Changing the World, is a kind of protest against the excesses of paranoid atheism. They argue that modernity is a boon to religion, and that more of religion in certain of its forms, especially as it is exhibited in America, should be encouraged. Mickelthwaite and Wooldridge cannot be ignored. They are prominent journalists who write for the prestigious British periodical The Economist. Their message of good news about religion is bad news for scoffers like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher.

God Is Back is a book for your summer reading list. With 400+ pages, it may be the only summer reading you do. But the price is right and the balanced consideration of religion as a social good is timely

Helpful reviews of God Is Back, by John Mickelthwaite and Adrian Wooldridge:

American Religion and the Loss of Community

What is the future of religion in America? That depends on the twenty-somethings and the thirty-somethings of today.

Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist at Princeton University, has sifted through a complex tangle of data about the religious outlook of Americans between the ages of 21 and 45. In his book After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, Wuthnow shares his findings about this generation’s perspective on organized religion, worship, the plurality of faiths, the intersection of faith and politics, and the nature of spirituality.

This book presents the case that the 20s and 30s are experiencing a unique form of social isolation. It’s tied, in part, to their tendency to postpone marriage. This influences their relationship to faith and traditional faith communities. But more important, I think, is the disaffection this generation feels in relation to the structured faith of their fathers and mothers.

This generation is no different than any other in its need to experience social integration and cohesion. But the opportunities for authentic participation in community have shifted. Old frameworks are disappearing and new structures are taking their place. Youth programs at traditional churches are still “youth programs”—that is, they enjoin young adults to participate on terms that might have been effective a generation ago but seem to be slipping today. More and more social networking is happening through computers and tools like MySpace, FaceBook, and LinkedIn.

Genuine interpersonal contact relates the souls of persons to each other. But our techno-world literally short circuits the spiritual dimension of soul-to-soul relationship. The result is a kind of spiritual exhaustion that comes, not from over-use, but from atrophy.

The religious life is a communal life. As the nature of community is reconfigured, religious belief and practice is bound to be ordered along a dramatically different trajectory.

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