In Defence of Atheism by Michel Onfray; review

Michel OnfrayFrom British daily The Morning Star:

No God in atheism

(Sunday 03 June 2007)

In Defence of Atheism by Michel Onfray
(Serpents Tail, £18.99)

KARL DALLAS debunks Michel Onfray’s dogmatic history of atheism.

I opened this book hoping to engage with a robust defence of atheism. Well, judging from the title, wouldn’t you?

However, anyone seeking in this book for an examination of the issues surrounding atheism will be disappointed.

Its subtitle – The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam – gives the game away.

Like Richard Dawkins’s much-hyped evangelistic atheism, it ignores its strongest case by instead focusing attention upon the misdeeds of the religious.

It is as if a defence of communism concentrated upon the horrors of fascism rather than a positive advocacy of a revolutionary world view.

What’s more, it is concentrated upon the linked monotheistic faiths which came out of the Middle East, ignoring the non-theistic religions of the rest of the world.

And so it will appeal to those who are terrified by Islamic Wahabbism, right-wing US Christianity or Jewish exceptionalism, which can certainly be very dangerous.

Onfray seeks to record the history of atheism and roots [of] it rather late in time.

He considers the case of the ex-Jesuit Cristovao Ferreira, who wrote what he called The Deception Revealed in 1636, but rejects his candidature because “he abandoned the Christian religion, but converted to Zen Buddhism. So he will not be our first atheist.”

But there is no God in Buddhism.

Another review: here.

HitchensGod is not Great; review: here.

Anti-Islamic US televangelist: here.

4 thoughts on “In Defence of Atheism by Michel Onfray; review

  1. The problem with most fashionable atheism is that it is mostly God cussing, or attacks on religion. God cussers are angry because God failed to deliver in the way they think He should. The enemies of religion are usually attacking easy targets. I’d like to see them try and take on Saint Francis or Hildegard of Bingen or Martin Luther King Jr. It is easy to attack Malcolm X’s religion, The Nation of Islam. It is very hard to attack Malcolm’s spirituality. I’ve seen various Marxists tie themselves in knots trying to separate Malcolm’s revolutionary ideas from their theological foundations. Of all of the current books on Atheism, The only one that has impressed me is “Religion and the Human Prospect” by Alexander Saxton. Saxton doesn’t start from the premise that religion is foolish or that the notion of a deity is ignorant. He’s a materialist, so he asks, “What material purpose did religion and religious faith serve?” He doesn’t fall back on mechanical Marxism either. That would be something like, “religion serves to maintain oppression and exploitation by supporting the dominant ideology.” That’s simple to say because it doesn’t really say much. In the end, Saxton decides that religion is no longer serving a useful purpose. I guess I’d have to respectfully disagree with him. I’m just coming from a social event at a priest’s house. In addition to eating dinner, we talked about our beliefs, prayed and sang together. I don’t feel like a fool or a reactionary. I was their to talk about serving the poor and oppressed through solidarity instead of charity.


  2. Hi Jon, both atheists and believers may have very different views on society and politics even if they have similar views on theology. I’d say that the burden of proof of the existence of God (or of more Gods in the case of polytheists) is on believers, according to Occam’s razor.


  3. I have no desire and feel no need to prove the existence of God. Religion for me is something that I do. It’s not an idea. I don’t believe I have any obligation to convince anyone else of my views. I certainly don’t believe that other people must conduct themselves in accordance with my views. I do believe that I am obliged to conduct myself in accordance with my views. How am I doing with that? Some days better than others. Integrity isn’t easy.

    By the way, I learned the concept of religion as action from the great San Francisco anarchist poet, Kenneth Rexroth. Rexroth took Communion devoutly, but he never had much to say on the subject.


  4. Hi Jon, I did not mean that supposedly each and every religious person has some moral duty to prove the existence of God as that obviously is not the case. I meant that throughout history, some of the religious people, including intelligent ones like Thomas Aquinas, have tried to prove the existence of God … and failed.


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 )

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.