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The Incoming Sea of Faith

Alister McGrath

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Alister McGrath says that atheism has been discredited by the collapse of communism and the postmodern need for tolerance.

When I was an atheist back in the 1960s, its future seemed assured. I grew up in Northern Ireland, where religious tensions and violence had alienated many from Christianity. Like so many disaffected young people then, I rejected religion as oppressive, hypocritical, a barbarous relic of the past. The sociologists were predicting that religion would soon die out; if not, suitably enlightened governments and social agencies could ensure that it was relegated to the margins of culture, the last refuge of the intellectually feeble and socially devious. The sooner it was eliminated, the better place the world would be.

Atheism then had the power to command my mind and excite my heart. It made sense of things, and offered a powerful vision of the future. The world would be a better place once religion ended. It was simply a matter of time, judiciously aided by direct action here and there. Although I am no longer an atheist, I retain a profound respect for its aspirations for humanity and legitimate criticisms of dysfunctional religion. Yet the sun seems to be setting on this shopworn, jaded and tired belief system, which now lacks the vitality that once gave it passion and power.

To suggest that atheism is a belief system or faith will irritate some of its followers. For them, atheism is not a belief; it is the Truth. There is no god, and those who believe otherwise are deluded, foolish or liars (to borrow from the breezy rhetoric of Britain's favourite atheist, the scientific populariser turned atheist propagandist Richard Dawkins). But it's now clear that the atheist case against God has stalled. Surefire philosophical arguments against God have turned out to be circular and self-referential.

Read the entire article on the Spectator website. Free registration required.

Posted: 10/23/04



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