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The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View Hardcover – October 30, 2017
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“Like Hitchens, Crane is a committed atheist, but his intellectual project is very different…He wants to understand religion…For those willing to listen, Crane opens up a more nuanced and enlightened conversation. His intervention in the debate tackles the meaning of religious belief rather than its truth, and he elucidates two features of religion―religious identification and the religious impulse―which are neglected or misunderstood by many of its critics…There is much to admire in this book: it offers an elegant and careful analysis of religion from an outsider’s point of view, and Tim Crane’s writing is crystal clear. His sincere and unfailingly intelligent effort to understand religion is a welcome antidote to the blinkered bluster we find in many atheist polemics.”―Clare Carlisle, Times Literary Supplement
“[A] small but valuable volume…What emerges in Crane’s description of religion, and what goes missing in the New Atheists’ treatment of it, is the meaning introduced into the life of the believer. By investigating this meaning Crane hopes to offer a more nuanced and sympathetic treatment of religion without going so far as to approve of it.”―Todd May, Los Angeles Review of Books
“As Tim Crane points out in The Meaning of Belief, a lucid critique of the many ways in which atheists have misunderstood religion, religious opinions or beliefs are not entitled to respect just because they are religious.”―Michael Ignatieff, New York Review of Books
“The Meaning of Belief prefers calm logic to bold catchphrases. It likely will not attract the attention given by supporters or detractors of the New Atheists' shelf of screeds, but it invites poised reaction.”―John L. Murphy, PopMatters
“The Meaning of Belief is a breath of fresh air. Crane’s argument is as cogent and well-researched as his writing is accessible and lively. It is exciting to see someone who is unwavering in both their atheism and their defense of religion as rational response to human needs that is deserving of respect. His book should be required reading for anyone, believer or nonbeliever, who wishes to engage with ‘the other side’ of the religious divide.”―Alexandra Greenwald, National Catholic Reporter
“[A] valuable and compact contribution to the dialogue between atheists and believers. Crane writes as an atheist to an atheist audience in hopes of reducing the combativeness stirred up by ‘New Atheists’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, but he also provides useful language for religionists about their own experiences. By identifying the religious experience in terms of ‘religious impulse’ and ‘identification’ linked under a canopy of the sacred, Crane situates religious belief as complexly human, rather than something that should die with the advent of science. Tolerance with a goal of living peaceably with religionists should be the atheist aim, argues Crane. Crane’s precise arguments, lucid writing, and astutely selected examples make this book enjoyable as well as clarifying. His concise unpacking of religion and violence in the context of war, as well as of the nitty-gritty of moral relativism, provides a vital lens for interpreting today’s politics.”―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Tim Crane has written an unusual and excellent book about religion. By recognizing the psychological and social attitudes constitutive of religious belief, Crane enables us to see how shallow many atheist critiques are. He is following in the footsteps of serious thinkers about religion―William James, in particular, often comes to mind―and he presents with great clarity a far more sophisticated atheism than we usually find.”―Philip Kitcher, Columbia University
“Distinctive, thoughtful, and carefully argued, The Meaning of Belief contributes to correcting the misleading picture of religious belief promoted by many contemporary atheists, as well as exploring some of the reasons why religious belief plays such an important role in people’s lives.”―John Cottingham, University of Reading
About the Author
- Item Weight : 8.6 ounces
- Hardcover : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674088832
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674088832
- Dimensions : 4.6 x 0.8 x 7.4 inches
- Publisher : Harvard University Press (October 30, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #914,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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According to the author, a religious viewpoint involves two characteristics: 1) a religious impulse or sense of the transcendent and 2) an identification with a historical tradition and community that includes ritual practices, moral norms, and customs. Both characteristics are necessarily present. Importantly, the author rejects the tendency of the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al) to reduce and understand religion as a primitive cosmology or pseudo-science and to limit belief to either the acceptance or rejection of a supernatural agent.
Building on these two core themes of his book, the author adds a third element by arguing that the “sacred” is the link between the religious impulse and identification. “Sacred things,” the author writes, “are objects that bind a religious community together, over time and at a time, in religious practices built around them; but they also point toward the transcendent, however this is exactly conceived.”
In some ways, the last two chapters of the book illustrate a practical application of the author’s framework for understanding the meaning of belief. The first of these chapters argues that religious violence is most often motived by “identification” rather than explicit theological doctrines or ideology. A final chapter advocates that atheists should develop a tolerant attitude toward religion in recognition that religion is not likely to wither away.
Three closing observations: 1) The author describes himself as an atheist. He seeks to find the meaning of belief without making a judgment as to whether it is true or false; 2) The author often contrasts his views with the “misguided” (his word) views of the New Atheists. As a result, the arguments of the New Atheists become (at least for me) clearer; 3) The book is published in an unusual 4.5 by 7.5 format. Ironically, the book feels when holding it more like a prayer book than a normal text.
His whole point in the book is NOT to assess whether the Atheists or theists are correct regarding any of these points, but to explain that current debates will never be resolved because Atheists and theists are actually debating two different things and hence are like two ships passing in the night.
Top reviews from other countries
This perception is not shared by Richard Dawkins, Daniel C Dennet, A C Grayling, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, whom he categorizes as New Atheists. Crane argues, rightly in my opinion, that their combative approach to religion is dominated by two views: (1) that religion is largely constituted by certain cosmological beliefs, none of which is true; and (2) that the proper atheistic attitude to religion should be to use scientific evidence and philosophical arguments to remove these beliefs and, with them, the phenomenon of religion itself.
Crane argues that both these views are mistaken: the first does not encompass the totality of the religious worldview; the second will inevitably prove ineffective.
He maintains that we should try to understand religion because, without an understanding, we lack an adequate sense of a fundamental part of human civilization and its history, and therefore of ourselves.
He argues that religion involves an impulse of the transcendent plus an identification with a historical tradition and community that includes ritual practices, moral norms, and customs.
The chapters of the book provide a thoughtful and stimulating discussion of the most constructive attitudes and behaviours atheists should take towards religions. Highly recommended.
The author suggests a practical definition of religion that identifies and differentiates between both a ‘religious impulse’ (a sense of the transcendent) and an ‘identification’ with tradition and community.
He then uses this definition to gently diffuse the more aggressive criticisms of the ‘New Atheists’ - thus providing a starting point for more practical dialog. He explains how tolerance for ‘irrational’ beliefs does not imply respect for the belief.
A concern for some non-believers such as myself is that if you destroy religion what will take its place. I think this book will help atheists understand why religion has been so important for humanity, why eliminating it is impractical and perhaps not even desirable