I want to give two thumbs up to Anthony Grayling’s new book, The God Argument: the Case Against Religion and for Humanism, which was released this March but is already available in paperback and Kindle. (Note: I haven’t yet read his previous effort, The Good Book, which is apparently a humanist version of the Bible drawing from secular tradition.)
The Gode Argument comprises two parts: an initial attack on the idea of God and the validity of religious thought, and then a disquisition on humanism and how it can replace religion.
Many of us will be familiar with some of Grayling’s arguments in Part I. He spends time, for example, dispelling the telelological, cosmological, and ontologial arguments for God, as well as Pascal’s Wager. But there’s a lot of other good stuff, including his indictment of the harms of faith. As a philosopher, his perspective here is refreshing and more erudite than that of many New Atheists, and I learned a lot. Grayling’s writing is lively, fluid, and clear, and I doubt that anyone could find it “strident” since it’s quite restrained and civil. Nevertheless, it’s forceful, and impossible to read without agreeing that the elimination of religion, and the public morality it seeks to enforce, is essential.
Part II is a trenchant answer to those who criticize New Atheists for tearing down religion but not offering a substitute. Here he gives the clearest definition of humanism I’ve seen, and shows that, based as it is on nonreligious human thoughts and feelings that most of us share, it could easy replace religion.
He first demolishes the ideas that purpose and morality could come from God, and then outlines the humanist response to questions of “whence our life’s purpose?”, “where do we find morality?”, “how do we deal with love and sex?”, and, the eternal philosophical question—one that’s been largely replaced by academic philosophy—”what is the good life?”. Even if you’ve read the Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, and other classical philosophers on the last issue, you’ll benefit from Grayling’s clear and compelling exposition. His enumeration of the half-dozen constituents of the life well-lived is inspiring. As Jack Nicholson said in “As Good as It Gets” (albeit while trying to seduce a woman), it “makes me want to be a better man.”
The chapter on death, which strongly promotes euthanasia, is a bit depressing but also thoughtful. It didn’t make me face my fear of mortality with any less trepidation, but did lay out an airtight case for assisted suicide, showing that the only opposition to it comes from misguided religious tenets. Eric MacDonald would approve.
The second part of Grayling’s book is the answer to those who, like Alain de Botton or Rabbi Sacks, insist that New Atheism is a dismal failure because atheists don’t suggest replacements for the essential human needs that drive religion. Grayling, our most eloquent exponent of humanism, has done the work, and although he doesn’t float the untenable idea of atheist churches or sermons, he shows that humanism can easily plug the gaps that remain when we give up God.
Do read it.