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The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World Hardcover – June 15, 2004

3.3 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 fate—irrelevance and dissolution—that 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st Edition edition (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385500610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385500616
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Price VINE VOICE on August 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Allister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism is a thought provoking book no matter what your background. This book is no polemic against atheism. McGrath only mentions arguments for and against God on a few occasions, and then only to set them in their historical context and show the rise and decline of atheist philosophy. And to be clear, by atheism McGrath means what many call "hard atheism." The deliberate, supposedly informed, affirmative belief that there is no God.

One of the strengths of the book is that McGrath does not hesitate to examine atheism as a cultural/philosophical development just as any other. That is, he examines the cultural factors influencing its development and growth. Though some atheists naively believe that atheism is simply a matter of applying logic and reason to see the obvious, this is an inadequate basis for explaining its origins and development as a philosophical movement. This does not deny the possible truth of atheism any more than examining the cultural and historical factors that facilitated the rise of Christianity necessarily negates the truth of Christianity. According to McGrath, one catalyst for atheist thought was the ongoing revolutionary attitudes across the board towards authority, including royal and ecclesiastical. Christianity was seen as part of an oppressive establishment and atheism was a "liberating" intellectual force. Religion, especially Christianity, was seen by many as an oppressive force and atheism was the vehicle of its destruction.

McGrath's overview of this period, and his closer examination of such atheists as Freud and Marx, is very helpful and makes the above points well.
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Format: Hardcover
Alister McGrath is a moderately conservative Evangelical theologian who was born in Northern Ireland. After a period of atheism, he became a Christian and is now one of the most prolific theologians in the world. In this book, he traces the rise of atheism from the time of the French revolution to its gradual decline in recent years.
Prof. McGrath is a good storyteller. Along with a discussion the seminal thinkers of atheism such as Nietzsche, Freud, Marx and Feuerbach, we get a political, historical and social overview of the entire movement. For example, Prof. McGrath discusses recent political issues such as the turbulence of the 60s and Madeline Murray O'Hair's crusade for atheism. While this book is no substitute for more detailed studies on atheism, it provides a historical and political background that other studies generally don't.
Prof. McGrath is, as I said, an incredibly prolific author. He has probably written, edited, or revised over 15 books since 2000. Because of this, it would appear that a few too many errors and editing problems creep into his books. For example, Robert Ingersoll is described as the "great atheist" when he was the "great agnostic." The former Episcopal bishop of Newark is not James Spong, but rather John Spong. The same quote from Augustine appears twice within a few pages, etc. In spite of these defects, THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM is an enjoyable work.
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This is a very readable narrative that pulls together a great many philosophical, religious and secular sources to explain, in an interesting way, the influence of cultural situations on ones beliefs. As an early baby boomer, and a student of the natural sciences (but not of philosophy), who had always assumed that the evolution of my personal religious beliefs (and temporary lack thereof) resulted from my own "rational" thinking, this book was very illuminating. It gave me a historical background to the development of Atheism that I was previously unaware of and explained how my thinking about religious ideas during much of my adulthood has been heavily influenced by popular media and the varied cultural situations I have experienced. It has given me much to think about as I approach the twilight of my own life. I highly recommend this book to baby boomers of all disciplines, and to natural scientists of any age. It is fairly lengthy and somewhat repetitive, but taking the time to throughly read whole book is rewarding.
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Format: Hardcover
Despite the off-putting smugness of this book's title Professor McGrath proves to be a genial writer who has some interesting insights on theism and atheism. Unfortunately, the book is also marred by misconceptions that are surprising given the author's obvious intellect and learning. To start, I am not sure that atheism is entering the twilight that the good professor claims. In the industrialized world, secularism seems entrenched in Europe and Japan, and is increasing even in that swamp of Christian piety, the United States. To be sure, membership in evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant sects has also increased, as has the number of Catholics, but as any sociologist of religion knows, figures on denominational membership are imprecise to say the least. The result of carefully designed and overlapping public opinion polls indicates that unbelief continues to gain ground in the U.S. Turning to the underdeveloped world, Professor McGrath has a solid case (backed up by historian Philip Jenkins in his book, "The Next Christendom"), but surely the burgeoning numbers of third-world Christians has a great deal to do with the truly desperate conditions under which many of them live. If I may modify remarks about Communism made by President Harry Truman before a joint session of Congress: "(Religion is) nurtured by misery and want. It spreads and grows in the evil soil of poverty and strife. It reaches its full potential when the hope of a people for a better life has died." In the face of wide-scale social breakdown and the alienation felt by formerly rural populations jammed into anonymous megacities, is it any wonder that religion serves as a source of community and help?Read more ›
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