Thursday, May 24, 2007

Believe It or Not.

Anthony Gottlieb, in The New Yorker, provides a delicious perspective on religious belief, through a review of an atheist tri-fecta: Christopher Hitchens new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Sam Harris' The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. Gottlieb muses about belief and discovers that the fourth largest group of believers are non-believers. After Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, by current estimates, the fourth largest belief system is atheism. Unbelief, it seems, is a relatively modern concept, prevalent in mostly wealthy countries, other than the US and Ireland. Its "followers" total some 500 million people.

Gottlieb is rightly puzzled about how religious thought could produce both merciless slaughter, superstition, subjugation and hatred on the one hand and the exquisite St. Matthew Passion on the other. This will always be the gut shame of it all. If, as Gottlieb reports, we are presumed to be hard-wired for religion, we seem to be in one last, horrific, short-circuiting of it all. It is an irony that atheism takes its place on the stage as a revelatory force for clarity and sanity.

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