Book details

Chris Stedman
Beacon Press


I saw this book recommended on Lisa Notes and it sounded interesting. I was more-or-less brought up atheist, and I’m now gradually thinking of myself as Christian. For the last few years I have become increasingly unhappy with the “New Atheists” and the general tone of discussion across the secular/religious divide.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very impressed with this book, for two main reasons:

As an autobiography I thought it was weak. A good example of this weakness is the dog that didn’t bark: the author’s father. I also think using the autobiographical form in this way — to examine the issues around a particular debate — is a kind of reverse ad hominem argument.

However, the book’s fundamental weakness was the author’s failure to differentiate between “atheism” and “humanism”. He used these terms interchangeably, but they mean quite different things. Most importantly, an “atheist” is not necessarily a “humanist”, and a “humanist” is not necessarily an “atheist”. I think of Christianity as a very strong and confident humanism: the Good is human; the central figure is (among other things) a human; our path to salvation lies not in denying our human nature but in understanding and embracing it. At the same time certain varieties of atheism are strongly nihilistic and even “anti-humanist”.

Conflating the two is not just a big mistake conceptually, it hollows out any insight that can be made. For example, the author doesn’t explain why “inter-faith” groups should include atheists in the first place, or even how an “inter-faith” group can make sense. Basing “inter-faith” on a shared humanism between faiths gives a raison d’etre to these groups, points to the possibility of including secular humanists (with humanism transcending the religious-secular divide), and hints at why some atheists might reject inclusion (e.g. if their atheism is stronger then their humanism).

I think a kind of “secular anti-humanism” is a very strong force in contemporary culture, and the humanist/anti-humanist divide is much more important than the secular/religious divide.

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. God without Jesus | Luke 7:39

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.