"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Essential reading for nonbelievers (and believers)

I'm currently reading 'The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever', a collection of atheist thoughts on religion put together by Christopher Hitchens.

I say reading... this isn't really a book you sit down and read from cover to cover, it's more a book that sits on your shelf or bedside table to be dipped into every now and again in order to discover some new thinker or new insight on the topic of religious belief. The collection is certainly extensive – running all the way from Lucretius to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, with a wealth of famous (and not so famous) names between: Hobbes, Spinoza, Marx, Darwin, Lovecraft, Einstein, Russell, Sagan, Ayer, Dennett, Rushdie, Harris and many, many others. In each case a fragment of their comments on religion are presented. Not only does this book provide a neat overview of atheistic religious thought throughout the centuries, but it also provides a great springboard to all these various writers and their works.

At only £6/$12 on Amazon, it's also an incredible bargain. (Note: I've seen it on sale for almost three times that price in bookstores).

In fact, the only real criticism I can make of this book is its title, perpetuating as it does the idea that atheists have nothing better to do with their time than worry about religion. In my experience atheists break down into two main categories: Apatheists and antitheists. The former group, those who don't bother themselves with irrelevant metaphysical issues is by far the larger. It's the latter, those who regard religion as dangerous, that make up the selection in this book. As such it's better described as 'The Portable Antitheist'. Those looking in it for naturalistic and/or humanistic examinations of everyday life will be sorely disappointed.

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Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Yes, I got it for Christmas (the irony is not lost!) and I like it a lot.

Hitchens's introduction didn't impress me that much, but there's a lot of good food for thought in there.

My favourite piece is the one by Elizabeth Anderson - of whom I'd never even previously heard.

7:24 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

I believe it's called subversion - and a jolly good thing it is as well.

Not read Anderson's piece yet - but will make a note to do so. My favourite at the moment is the Leslie Stephen piece: 'An Agnostic's Apology' (though I'm only in the middle of it).

8:13 AM

Blogger Linda said...

Wow! What a coincidence! Chuck Hillig was just recommending that book to me the other day.

12:40 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

Heh. A recommendation from a theist and an atheist - what more could you want?

6:00 AM


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