Tremblay, Francois - Atheism in a Post-religious World - Suite101, 2004
"If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would strictly follow the teachings of the New, he would be insane"
Is ours a post-religious world? Ask any born again Christian fundamentalist, militant Muslim, orthodox Jew, and nationalistic Hindu. Religion is on the rise, not on the wane. Eighteenth century enlightenment is besieged. As the author himself often admits, atheism, as a creed, is on the defensive.
First, we should get our terminology clear. Atheism is not the same as agnosticism which is not the same as anti-theism.
Atheism is a religion, yet another faith. It is founded on the improvable and unfalsifiable belief (universal negative) that there is no God. Agnosticism is about keeping an open mind: God may or may not exist. There is no convincing case either way.
Anti-theism is militant anti-clericalism. Anti-theists (such as Tremblay and myself) regard religion as an unmitigated evil that must be eradicated to make for a better world. This treasure of a book - it is incredible how much the author squeezed into 50 pages! - is about anti-theism.
Tremblay labels religion a swindle and mental terrorism and explains, convincingly, why he chose these epithets. He demonstrates the inextricable link between the belief in the afterlife and immorality and castigates religion's intolerance coupled with its ever-shifting philosophical goalposts. Its dogmatism leads to a loss of experiential richness and to negative cognitive consequences to both the believer and his milieu.
Religion, observes Tremblay with undisguised repulsion and bitterness, scams people with false promises of the hereafter, its texts are objectionable, it is unnatural, and it promotes falsities. In other words, it is a criminal enterprise.
In the chapters he dedicates to refuting the bogus arguments from design, he refers to the works of George Smith, Michael Martin, and Corey Washington. His own treatment of the issue is even more original and refreshing - complexity and order do not a design make, he shows.
The book is not without its flawed arguments - but these only add to the fun of mentally sparring with this thought-provoking author. For instance, he does not distinguish between established religions and cults or sects. Similarly he defines theocracy as the rule of religion (lexically correct) when, in the real world, it is the misuse and abuse of religion by rulers.
I missed references to the plethora of relevant discoveries, theorems, hypotheses, and theories in the exact sciences and in formal logic. Consider this example: it can be proven that God cannot and does not exist ("strong atheism"), Tremblay argues, because having a God leads to either meaninglessness or to contradictions or to both. But this is precisely the Gödel theorem: formal logical systems can be either complete or consistent, but never both. It is a pity he neglects to mention it.
Finally, to my mind, Tremblay misses the big picture. As Freud correctly noted a century ago, religion is a mental pathology. You cannot rationally argue with people whose judgment and reason are suspended. Distinctions between personal and objective beliefs are lost on delusional fanatics.
Religious people have faith in a god because it fulfills basic and entrenched (and unhealthy) emotional needs - not because its existence can or has been proven. We all - even atheists - hold irrational beliefs to some extent. Religion just happens to be a particularly virulent and insidious strain of irrationality.
If you want to survey the emerging battle lines between the regrouping forces of reason and the resurging Dark Ages - read this book. It is a gem of a guide to the real Armageddon that is upon us.