From Publishers Weekly
Oxford University's McGrath has distinguished himself not just as an historical theologian, but as a generous and witty writer who brings life to topics that would turn to dust in others' hands. Here he explores the history of atheism in Western culture, observing that atheism seems to be succumbing to the very fateirrelevance and dissolutionthat atheists once predicted would overtake traditional religion. How did atheism ("a principled and informed decision to reject belief in God") become so rare by the turn of the 21st century? McGrath leaves no stone unturned, nor any important source unconsulted, in tracing atheism's rise and fall. Beyond the usual suspects of Marx, Freud and Darwin, McGrath surveys literature (George Eliot, Algernon Swinburne), science (Jacques Monod, Richard Dawkins) and philosophy (Ludwig Feuerbach, Michel Foucault), managing to make such intellectual heavy lifting look effortless. As a lapsed atheist himself, McGrath is a sympathetic interpreter, but he also relentlessly documents what he contends are the philosophical inconsistency and moral failures of atheism, especially when it has acquired political power. Yet believers will find no warrant here for complacency, as McGrath shows how religion's "failures of imagination" and complicity with oppression often fostered the very environment in which atheism could thrive. Indeed, he warns, "Believers need to realize that, strange as it may seem, it is they who will have the greatest impact on atheism's future." Readable and memorable, this is intellectual history at its best.
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Secular intellectuals have been announcing God's funeral since the eighteenth century. But as McGrath surveys today's world, he finds faith in the deity alive and vigorous. Why did the apostles of atheism fail so spectacularly? With insights gleaned during his own years of religious unbelief, McGrath takes the measure of the titans of modern godlessness--including Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx--showing how these powerful thinkers convinced their followers that social and personal progress would accelerate once humanity surrendered its repressive beliefs in an illusory God. In acknowledging the remarkable success of political, psychotherapeutic, and scientific atheism, McGrath surprisingly traces part of that success to Protestant creeds that divorced sacred from secular, so rendering faith more vulnerable. But in the very triumph of atheism, McGrath discerns the causes of its collapse. For once in power, atheism delivered not enlightenment in utopia but rather barbarism in the gulag. Politically discredited and imaginatively exhausted, atheism has been forced into an astonishing retreat before advancing Pentecostal preachers and Christian fabulists. For readers trying to understand this unexpected reversal in cultural fortunes. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved