The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism
by A.C. Grayling
I was first introduced to A.C. Grayling when I picked up Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life Without God a couple of years ago. Reading that book was really my first encounter with philosophy, and I have since then read many articles and essays by Grayling.
In The God Argument, Grayling first explores religion and notions of god(s) – how and where they originated, why they persist, and what makes them illogical, irrational, and unable to stand up to dispassionate scrutiny.
“There is a true, important, though harsh-sounding point to be made about the origins of the major religions influential in today’s world: that they derive ultimately from the superstitions of illiterate herdsmen living several thousand years ago. That is a mere fact, not a rhetorical flourish.”
“To put matters at their simplest, the major reason for the continuance of religious belief in a world which might otherwise have long moved beyond it, is indoctrination of children before they reach the age of reason, together with all or some combination of social pressure to conform, social reinforcement of religious institutions and traditions, emotion, and (it has to be said) ignorance – of science, of psychology, of history in general, and of the history and actual doctrines of the religions themselves.”
He addresses the most common arguments for religion and the existence of a god made by believers, and I found myself nodding my head over and over, pleased to discover that many of the conclusions and responses to these arguments I’ve come up with on my own are basic, uneloquent versions of what philosophers, scholars and scientists have concluded – which isn’t lauding my intellect by any means, but rather a statement of how clear it all seems even to the relatively unschooled when emotion is laid aside.
The second half of The God Argument is a persuasive argument in favor of humanism –
“In essence, humanism is the ethical outlook that says each individual is responsible for choosing his or her values and goals and working towards the latter in light of the former, and is equally responsible for living considerately towards others, with a special view to establishing good relationships at the heart of life, because all good lives are premised on such. Humanism recognizes the commonalities and, at the same time, wide differences that exist in human nature and capacities, and therefore respects the rights that the former tells us all must have, and the need for space and tolerance that the latter tells us each must have.
“Humanism is above all about living thoughtfully and intelligently, about rising to the demand to be informed, alert and responsive, about being able to make a sound case for a choice of values and goals, and about integrity in living according to the former and determination in seeking to achieve the latter.”
Man, I love this stuff. I mean, it sounds like if we as a human race could actually achieve that, we would live in something pretty near to utopia, no? And that’s the problem with religion: overall, it’s intolerant and oppressive and dictatorial.
I really enjoy Grayling’s writing. The only downside of a book like this is that it’s largely preaching to the choir; it seems to me unlikely that a person of religious conviction would read something like this.
I recommend this to anyone who questions things, and anyone who doesn’t.