Susan Jacoby on Atheism

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The main reason for the survival of religion is not a desire to live a
better life, but our fear of death, says the atheist author

You mentioned in your email that the books you’ve chosen are
ones you consider essential to understanding the merits of atheism. Can
you explain what you meant by that?

As you know I started my books with the Confessions of St
Augustine, which I don’t think is on everyone’s list of the best books
on atheism. What I meant when I said that they’re crucial to
understanding atheism’s merits is that, although that was not his
intention, to read St Augustine’s Confessions lays bare the
complete inadequacy of religion to answer the great questions of life –
which are really no different now than they were when he was grappling
with them. How do you account for sin when there is an all-powerful
all-loving God? The answer Augustine comes up with – as is the answer in
Western Christianity and in Judaism – is free will, which is a
completely inadequate answer. Either God is all-powerful and is
therefore entirely responsible for everything that happens, or he is
not, and there is not a God in this sense.

So this book is a good example of religion’s inadequacy. Atheists
don’t have to cope with the question of why there is evil in the world,
the answer is that we’re responsible for it.

In your view, should everyone be an atheist?

I don’t even know how to answer that question. Atheism seems to me to
be reasonable, but should everyone be an atheist? I don’t know. To me
that’s like asking, should everyone appreciate art? I would never set
forth a dictate like that. Although religion seems utterly irrational to
me, it gives all kinds of people a lot of things without the bad things
that we’ve seen throughout the ages in religion, and we see today in
the ultra-Islamic world. I would like to see more atheists, particularly
in America which is the only developed country which is still heavily
in the grip of religion, and in which fundamentalist religion still has
so much influence. I think fundamentalist religion of all kinds – and
most fundamentalist religions are from the monotheistic religions,
Catholicism, Protestantism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam – are
terrible forces in the world. I don’t like the fact that 25% of the
people in my country believe the Bible is literally true. That’s not
true in other developed parts of the world, it’s only true in places
where education is very poor. So America is an anomaly in that respect.
I’d like to see all fundamentalist religion go down the drain.

Written By: Sophie Roell
continue to source article at fivebooks.com

13 COMMENTS

  1. A nice interview. I was pleased to note I had read most of the books on her list, though I would have certainly added Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian.” I won’t bother with Augustine, since I’m bloody sick of the “Sin and suffering entered the world with humanity” argument, no matter how eloquent its presentation. Goldstein’s book “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” sounds intriguing for its orthodox background, and I might check that one out. Is anyone familiar with it?

    • In reply to #1 by justinesaracen:

      Goldstein’s book “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” sounds intriguing for its orthodox background, and I might check that one out. Is anyone familiar with it?

      Googled and just downloaded it, thanks. It looks terribly interesting. Nice logical breakdowns, total geek material.

    • In reply to #1 by justinesaracen:

      Goldstein’s book “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” sounds intriguing for its orthodox background, and I might check that one out. Is anyone familiar with it?

      I have the book and started it some time back. For some reason I was distracted and didn’t finish the book. I do remember it being quite strange and wonderful that the character was an Atheist. It was unique and so refreshing. She gave a very good book talk at Harvard when the book came out. Goldstein is a very articulate and personable female Atheist and she deserves increased visibility in the movement. I have read her book on the life of Spinoza and enjoyed it.

      I also highly recommend all of Susan Jacoby’s books too. I haven’t read the new one on Robert Ingersoll yet but it’s on my wish list.

      I wish these two women would do a video conversation for this website. This is why I want a permanent book discussion section on this website, so we can read a book and have a conversation about that book which will stay up on the “front page” long enough to get plenty of members interested.

    • In reply to #3 by mmurray:

      Wow a lamb doing yogic flying.

      Michael

      Must be Allah- he’s the one who keeps birds in the air and winged horses flying to heaven and visiting Jerusalem, so an airborne lamb would be easy!

      • In reply to #4 by Nodhimmi:

        Must be Allah- he’s the one who keeps birds in the air and winged horses flying to heaven and visiting Jerusalem, so an airborne lamb would be easy!

        >

        You do Allah a disservice. A flying horse with a great wrack!

  2. The characteristic of a religion is that no evidence-based challenge is allowed.

    Please try not to get the order confused.

    Religions are bod for society partly because they cannot be questioned.
    Governments that cannot be questioned are approximately as bad, but that doesn’t make them religions.

  3. “And besides, unless you’re raised atheist, people become atheists just as I did”

    People aren’t raised atheist. They are all atheist until they are raised to be religious.

    I’d like to take the opposite view to Susan on this, because we are ALL born atheists. No one has a belief in a god or gods when first born and would in fact remain that way if we weren’t told by those that believe that there is a god or gods to believe what they believe.

  4. Religions say “…we do not become just one with nature.”

    Well, nature caused me to be born, so I can’t think of anything better than being at one with it, and dying is part of that deal; wishing for anything else is childish, selfish and, of course, religious; not to say bloody stupid.

  5. “Should everyone be an atheist?”

    As professor Dawkins so eloquently stated in his book, religious belief is essentially a delusion. So the question is pretty much like asking “should everyone be mentally healthy?”.

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