164 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine, fine book.
This book is a joy to read. For all the religionists who complain about the screeds of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, if you want to find out what many atheists are really like, Comte-Sponville's book provides a beautiful window. He is convinced that no god exists, and offers compelling reasons for this conviction, but he could not be more kind to persons of faith. In...
Published on January 2, 2008 by Kindle Customer
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but a bit long-winded
I think the English title of this book would mislead people into thinking it's a light read, whereas it is rather wordy and long-winded.
I read it in French, the original title being: The Spirit of Atheism, an Introduction to Spirituality Without God.
I can't find much to disagree with in what the author says, but he seems to me to have a few main points...
Published on August 12, 2009 by Oliver_York
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164 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine, fine book.,
This book is a joy to read. For all the religionists who complain about the screeds of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, if you want to find out what many atheists are really like, Comte-Sponville's book provides a beautiful window. He is convinced that no god exists, and offers compelling reasons for this conviction, but he could not be more kind to persons of faith. In fact, he says that the only thing that separates him from most Christians is "three days"--the span between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He makes a case that many of the key goals of Christians and atheist humanists like him are very nearly identical, as they are rooted in love. He allows that exceptions exist, such as the Roman Catholic prohibition on condom use, which he finds at best sectarian and at worst unloving. Atheists used to a bitter bunker mentality will find much to imitate in Comte-Sponville's attitude, and religionists should find much to admire. This is a challenging book, but the challenge is intellectual and not personal. Comte-Sponville does not attack, cast aspersions, question motives or sincerity--he just quietly presents a reasonable, soft-spoken case for a godless lifestyle that is worth living primarily because it taps into what is best in humanity, without ever pretending that humanity is itself divine.
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars mostly fabulous, with very tolerant presentation,
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Andre Comte-Sponville presents his case for spirtuality without religion and without God in such a tolerant style that it may be read by anyone who is not hard-core against religion or who is not completely resistant to challenges to faith. In the face of a wave of anti-religion best sellers, his approach is very refreshing and encourages contemplation rather than a defensive posture by readers who are not already atheists.
Naturally, he lightly points out the long history of evil done in the name of religion, yet he acknowledges the other side also has plenty of demerits. His recognition of the good religion has done him (as an ex-Catholic) and for millions of others thus keeps the book from being another "religion is good" vs. "religion is bad" treatise. He instead focuses on logical and philosophical arguments rather than emotional, as he believes religion and atheism will co-exist indefinitely.
Many of the author's ideas and phrasings are very similar to those of Alan Watts, who is not included in the suggested reading at the end. The late Mr. Watts had similar analysis of why religion was not necessary and that one should live a life in the "here and now", organized around a philosophy that mixed western and eastern concepts.
The book has three chapters: "Can We Do Without Religion?"; "Does God Exist?"; and "Can There Be an Atheist Spirituality?".
The first is exceptionally well done. The author clearly articulates his reasons that the best attributes of human society, such as community and fidelity, can exist without religion. Some of the strengths of religion, such as mourning rituals and a sense of purpose, receive special attention. Comte-Sponville doesn't merely state his side without exploring some counter-arguments. His holds nihilism in particular disdain, as he claims its "nothing matters" attitude is harmful for both religious and atheist humans. The author's world without religion is a positive one, not one without love and meaning.
For "Does God Exist?" the author studies three positive arguments and three negative ones. He examines the so-called "proofs" that God must exist, and finds them wanting, of course, just as he cannot prove that God does not exist. Another thread is, "I cannot help thinking that if God existed, he should be easier to perceive or feel. All you would need to do is open your eyes, or your soul. I keep trying to do this and no matter how wide I hope them, what I see is the world and what I love is humanity." Comte-Sponville challenges the counterpoints to his assertion.
His other points include the "excess of evil", the "mediocrity" of human beings allegedly made in God's image, and how the descriptions of God in western religions are so much as humans want God to be, that God was constructed to fulfill those wishes. Whether you find these topics to be distasteful or not, the author calmly presents his views.
The final chapter on atheist spirituality probes how to live a spiritual life without religion or God. This did not work as well for me, perhaps because we may easily differ on what "spiritual" actually means. As an example, the author believes spirituality grows when we recognize our relative insignificance in the universe and dissolve our egos. I had a harder time with "living for now" and accepting what is, and losing concern for eternity, and with it hope and fear. If the philosophical arguments work for him and show a way forward without religion or fear of death, that's great. My guess is that some concepts will resonate with some readers, whereas others will be too abstract or otherwise may not fit. A personal philosophy anchored in humility, morals, ethics, love and community without religion probably would not get a lot of argument from the author.
This wonderful, serious little book isn't harmed even if you don't fully agree with his closing lines, "Love, not hope, is what helps us live. Truth, not faith, is what sets us free. We are already in the kingdom. Eternity is now."
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kinder Gentler Atheism - Very Worthwhile,
Are all atheists angry, à la Dawkins, Harris and (especially, maybe) Hitchens?
Nope. Not Monsieur Comte-Sponville. How refreshing. Maybe it's because he's French... I dunno. (joke.)
First, real quick...
You know that book that you start reading in a bookstore - and then you can't put it down... so then you buy it to take home so you can keep reading? This is one of those.
I don't usually see this book in stores (unlike ones by Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens), so when I saw it in a local bookstore chain - the only copy - I had to grab it. Don't worry... I paid. I'm not an EVIL atheist.
This book is very worthwhile because it sports an unusually kind tone on the subject of atheism vs. theism, provides the thoughtful personal insight of the author, and is full of thought provoking ideas. It is very balanced in that it acknowledges positive aspects of religion, and weaknesses of the atheist point of view, all while still defending atheism.
Toward religion, it seems to me, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens all (especially the last two) tend to take fairly aggressive, even combative stances. Comte-Sponville takes a much softer, gentler approach.
For example, he admits that organized religion is enviable in some ways, like how it fosters a sense of community, and the way it provides meaningful rituals at important junctures in life, like at weddings and funerals.
The author is uncompromising in his atheism, because he can see no reason to believe in a god, but he admits that atheism, all by itself, is lacking. After all, atheism, by definition, is about what isn't, not what is.
This book has a lot to offer for the quiet contemplative atheist. It might just be the book you were waiting/looking for.
If you are an angry atheist, this book might be your much needed chill pill. Don't worry - the author is an unapologetic atheist - not wishy-washy on that at all.
If you are one of the many undecided people out there, not really religious, but who doesn't like the term "atheist" either, check it out.
For the religious person who thinks that all atheists are evil, PLEASE read this book. I know you probably won't because it has the word "Atheist" on the cover, but one can hope.
Very good. Top marks.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, but perhaps not for the layman,
A book very much for the philosopher, if you haven't read widely in western philosophy and are not at least passingly familiar with the major forms of eastern spiritualism, this book is going to be nigh incomprehensible to you. For those of you still there, Comte-Sponville's book is a beautiful piece of philosophy. He clearly elucidates how spirituality exists without God and how each of us, including atheists can tap into it and into ourselves/the universe/reality. The hardest part to get through is his explanation and description of ecstasy, if you are having trouble understanding his, I recommend any introductory text to Zen meditation, Buddhism, Sufism, or Taoism. Comte-Sponville is so thorough that he can be overwhelming at times, a studied read of the text is richly rewarded. Here in Comte-Sponville's book we perhaps find the spirituality Sam Harris spoke of and hoped for in his book The End of Faith?
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christian Pastor Gives Thumbs Up,
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville
A Review by TCDavis
In Yann Martel's provocative novel, The Life of Pi, , a young East Indian boy tells the rabbi, imam, and pastor of his small home town that he is a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian--all three at once! They are nonplussed, and cannot abide this most peculiar faith; but their rejection of Pi's universalism does not dissuade him from maintaining in his heart and mind a grandly spacious place, large enough for even agnostics and atheists. This reader has striven for a long time to construct such a welcoming place in his own mind. His heart has dwelt there for as long as he can remember, but his mind is still struggling to make the move. Is it not so with many people? Their hearts are readier to extend welcome than their minds. Minds hold back until communion with strangers, or even enemies, makes some kind of sense. Pity that reluctant minds refuse to permit wise hearts to dwell where they know best.
Imagine this reader's delight, therefore, upon discovering Nancy Huston's translation of Andre Comte-Sponville's L'Esprit de l'atheisme, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. The word, spirituality, caught my eye, for atheists don't usually speak of it. However, Comte-Sponville's book is not the usual rationalist diatribe against believers' metaphysical misadventures. Rather, it is an attempt to make metaphysics once again respectable in western philosophy, and to give atheism at least as much respect as the world's great theistic traditions. Comte-Sponville, unlike some current militant atheists, is not out to debunk others' faith. Once a Catholic, he sympathetically comprehends and respects believers' positions, and adds that he has often yearned to experience the presence of God himself. He does not refuse to believe, but simply argues he cannot, with intellectual integrity.
Comte-Sponville is a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne. He wants his little book to be accessible to average readers. This reader judges he has fallen short, not because of his writing style, which the translator keeps nicely colloquial, but rather because of the nuanced thought of philosophers to whom he often refers, and with whom an average reader will not likely be familiar; and also because he sometimes resorts to labyrinthine argument to drive home a point. Comte-Sponville succeeds best in making atheism spiritually respectable where he writes of his own experience. This reader, who eventually became a Christian pastor following a peak spiritual experience in Vietnam at age twenty-five, found Comte-Sponville's peak spiritual experience remarkably similar to his own. Comte-Sponville describes his experience this way:
"I must have been twenty-five or twenty-six. I had just been hired to teach high school philosophy in a town on the edge of a canal, up in the fields near the Belgian border. That particular evening, some friends and I had gone out for a walk in the forest we liked so much. Night had fallen. We were walking. Gradually our laughter faded, and the conversation died down. Nothing remained but our friendship, our mutual trust and shared presence, the mildness of the night air and of everything around us. . .My mind empty of thought, I was simply registering the world around me--the darkness of the underbrush, the incredible luminosity of the sky, the faint sounds of the forest (branches snapping, an occasional animal call, our own muffled steps) only making the silence more palpable. And then, all of a sudden. . . What? Nothing: everything! No words, no meanings, no questions, only--a surprise. Only--this. A seemingly infinite happiness. A seemingly eternal sense of peace. Above me, the starry sky was immense, luminous and unfathomable, and within me there was nothing but the sky, of which I was a part, and the silence, and the light, like a warm hum, and a sense of joy with neither subject nor object (no object other than everything, no subject other than itself). Yes, in the darkness of that night, I contained only the dazzling presence of the All. Peace. Infinite peace! Simplicity, serenity, delight."
My heart says to this atheistic professor of philosophy: "We are kin, you and I! For we have experienced the same thing. It matters not that we have come to the peak by different ways. Our experience was the same. We tasted, albeit briefly, ultimate reality. You call it "the All." I call it God. Words fail to do it justice, whichever ones we choose. The experience, though, indisputably changed our lives, forever. Thank you, Andre Comte-Sponville. Your little book has helped my mind grasp a bit more firmly what my heart has known as long as I can remember: that there's plenty of room in the All for believers and atheists alike.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, if different take.,
*The title of the original French book is "L'Esprit de l'Atheisme" ("The Spirit of Atheism"; why was it changed?).
*Both Michel Onfray (author of "Atheist Manifesto") and Andre Comte-Sponville are very smart French philosophers, but the take of their
books is very different. Onfray is angry, Comte-Sponville contemplative.
I would argue their books complement each other.
*Comte-Sponville sympathizes with the non-metaphysical aspects of Eastern
philosophies and religions.
*A refreshing read!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom, not polemic,
Although saddled with a horribly mistranslated title by its English publisher, Andre Comte-Sponville's L'esprit de l'atheisme is one of the best books on atheism of our day. Unlike the current wave of militant "New Atheists," Comte-Sponville refuses to embrace a take-no-prisoners aggressiveness in his defense of disbelief in God. Instead, he's perfectly content to follow the argument where it takes him, exploring it with compassion, tolerance, and sensitivity. This is wisdom, not polemic, and it's a welcome change from the acrimonious tone brought to the conversation by militant atheists and fundamentalists alike.
C-S's general thesis is that there is no rational reason to believe in the existence of God, and in the middle section of his book he offers six different arguments in support of that claim. Some of his points are stronger than others; the argument from evil carries more weight than the argument from mediocrity; the objection to the argument from contingency is almost nonexistent, whereas the objection based on the sheer weirdness of a hidden God is exceptionally good. C-S insists (rightfully, in my judgment) that his six arguments don't constitute a "proof of God's nonexistence" (p. 131), but they do present a reasonable case. And for C-S, that's good enough.
But arguing for disbelief in God is only part of what C-S's up to here. In the opening and closing chapters, he argues that lack or loss of belief in God (specifically the Judaeo-Christian God, since it's within that religious context that he locates himself) doesn't entail either sophistry or nihilism (both postmodern corruptions which, accordinig to C-S, deny truth on the one hand and value on the other). Fidelity to a long tradition of values associated with western Christianity--love, compassion, gratitude, awe--remains legitimate. The one standard virtue that needs to be rethought, he argues, is "hope," because it deflects from an appreciation of the present. Moreover, spirituality--an expression of the need to acknowledge and embrace the awe and gratitude prompted by the mystery of being that originally fueled religious belief and which obviously don't evaporate when religion fades--is possible for an atheist. In the concluding chapter, C-S explores the contours of this spirituality of immanence, which he calls "immanensity."
What C-S offers in this treatise, then, is nothing less than the broad outline of an atheist worldview. Although deeply loyal to the Enlightenment tradition of rationality, C-S's approach is different--less tightly argued but more expansive--than typical Anglo-American defenses of atheism. As such, his treatment is a nice complement to them.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Little Book of Atheist Spiritualty,
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This is one of the best books I've ever read in my life. It is philososphically comprehensive in its overview, has humor within a very serious subject, does not discredit or downgrade anyone or any religion, but just gives one much to contemplate, and is very easy to read. It is, indeed, a "small" book.
A dear friend recommended I read it, but I would never otherwise have chosen a book with this title to read on my own. I am forever grateful. It is truly an inspirational book, honors everyone, discredits none, but gives a wonderful argument in favor of his belief system, which is an atheist. I just kept scratching my head, questioning my own belief systems, and then would have to smile....because I was left with no answers, just more questions, but less judgements.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for serious thinkers,
One way I rate a book is how many bookmarks I make in it. This little book inspired many on my part. Comte-Sponville arguments for no god are as readable as any I have read. The section on Spirituality however does require rereading to get its meaning. It is a very readable book for such tough subjects and a more comfortable rendering than that of Richard Dawkins and others.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little book packed with ideas,
I must declare an interest: I love the first two chapters of this book because they express, more fully, beautifully and cogently than I can, my own position. Like Comte-Sponville, I have been an atheist since my teens (though I prefer to call myself a humanist. `Atheist' merely describes what you are not: i.e. that you are not theist; `Humanist' more or less describes what you are: a believer in the values of humanity.) Like Comte-Sponville, I respect believers in God as long as their belief does not impel them to cripple themselves or to persecute those of different beliefs. Like the author, I have no wish to persuade believers to abandon beliefs and rituals when these are a comfort and support to them. I, too, acknowledge that much religious teaching embodies values to which a humanist can subscribe, and that religion is an integral and often valuable, beautiful and creative part of the civilization to which we are heirs, in which we all participate and to which we need to be true. Comte-Sponville distinguishes fruitfully between `faith' and `fidelity'. He has no faith in the Christian religion, but he practises fidelity to the ethics formulated in the Gospels and to important aspects of the history of Christianity. He is, in that sense, a Christian atheist, just as many secular Jews, feeling a similar identification with their communal cultural and historical roots, feel no problem in describing themselves as Jewish atheists. Like Comte-Sponville, I, too, dislike the strident and aggressive atheism which delights in pouring scorn and mockery on all religious beliefs, and I, too, am fully aware that as much wickedness has been perpetrated in the name of atheistic creeds as by religious fanatics.
The first of the book's three chapters ends with a fascinating and subtle disquisition on Faith (which is not Knowledge), Hope (which implies rejection of what there is) and Charity or Love (which is truly the greatest and most imperishable of these three).
In the second chapter Comte-Sponville explains why he does not believe that God exists (even though a belief in a powerful, just, loving and merciful God would fulfil his own `deepest longings'). He does not claim to KNOW that God does not exist - nobody, he says, can really KNOW whether God exists or not: Faith or Conviction cannot be Knowledge. But he disclaims the title of agnostic: agnostics will say that their reasoning does not allow them to come down on one side or another. Our author, however, is clear that his reasoning has led him to the BELIEF (which he does not claim to be KNOWLEDGE) that God does not exist.
Comte-Sponville then proceeds to examine many of the traditional arguments for the existence of God and explains why he finds them logically flawed. Since some of these arguments and their refutations are philosophically quite technical, this chapter is of necessity a little more technical than the first chapter. But some of his refutations are wonderfully eloquent and he coins many neat aphorisms (all stylishly translated by Nancy Huston). Arguments, especially anthropomorphic ones, like God deliberately `concealing himself', are shown to be absurdly lacking in credibility. But if, on the other hand, we define God as being stripped of all qualities we might attribute to Him (the via negativa), then God is so inconceivable that nothing justifies any conceptions we may form of Him.
In his third, frequently rhapsodic chapter Comte-Sponville shows that you can be an atheist and still acknowledge and experience the spiritual side of life. For him it is primarily rooted in the sense of wonder at the world (he refers to it as the All or the Absolute) in which we have our being; in allowing us to experience the silence of contemplation, the silence of sensation, the silence of reality. The sense of union with the All can be experienced whether you believe in God or not. He beautifully describes one such mystical experience in his own life, and he quotes many descriptions by other people from East and West. This is a very demanding concept of the spiritual life, described by a handful of exceptional thinkers and achieved, if at all, only rarely by the ordinary person.
If I said at the beginning that I identify only with his first two chapters, it is because I miss in this third chapter a recognition of a much less rarefied form of the spiritual life, which I see in the character of personal relationships, of ethical values and of aesthetic experiences, none of which I would call mystical, but which take you out of yourself into a world of deeper meaning. This, too, can be experienced whether you believe in God or not. But Comte-Sponville specifically says that morals as such or beauty as such have nothing to do with the spiritual life as such; for him, if I understand him aright, the spiritual life is the experience and acceptance of an All in which relative and subjective concepts like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, justice and injustice, past and future have no meaning. In the world in which we live, these opposites, relative as they are, exist and need to be acknowledged and acted upon to the best of our lights - but that, for Comte-Sponville, has nothing to do with what he considers to be spirituality.
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The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville (Paperback - September 30, 2008)