The Twilight of Atheism

The Twilight of Atheism

  • Author: Alister McGrath
  • Hard Cover, 279 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385500610
  • The Twilight of Athiesm

    This is a very good book. It presents the history of atheism over the course of the last four centuries, offering circumstances, outcomes and suggestions for the future. It poignantly describes the failures of the church that led to the ascent of atheism in the West, while also detailing the reasons behind atheism’s decline with the advent of Postmodernism.

    What was in my mind as I read the first half and then came out explicitly in the book during the second half was an overwhelming desire to make faith real – head and heart. God, may I live each day with you in mind and in view. I do not want to spend one day living etsi Deus non daretur, “as if God did not exist.” You rescued me from that in the beginning. Guard me from it now!

    After that, what impressed me the most was the discussion of the failings of Protestantism that aligned  with and supported the growth of atheism. McGrath presented how the stark nature of the major Protestant churches encouraged head knowledge but destroyed a sense of wonder or imagination. Catholicism had encouraged a sense of God throughout nature, and approachable within creation and everyday experience. The pendulum-swing of Protestantism discouraged this impression and stated that God could only be experienced through the word, and was not to be found dispersed through nature. This very indirect mechanism for approaching God was devoid of imagination and led to a move away from the Church, and God.

    Maybe based on my own generation, I never had that feel for Protestantism. My involvement encourages imagination and artistic imagination. I am involved actively in ministries that do just that – seek to share God with believers and non-believers alike through all the senses. To share an imaginative and vibrant vision of life that can be experienced, not just learned about second-hand. I am not inclined to drop the need for a grounding in the objective reality God provides, but I relish in the creative and imaginative nature that God has given us.

    I can certainly understand early Protestant concerns with the God-dispersed-through-nature issue. It smacks of polytheism. It promotes wonder and spirituality but lacks a rigor and clear impression of the personal nature of God. It highlights the general nature of revelation without giving special attention to special revelation.

    I enjoyed learning much more about the theological and philosophical arguments offered by many of the well-known (and many less well-known) atheists, agnostics and church-reformers. Poetry and science take central roles as human exploits aimed at extending the reach of human control over the world. In the end, the atheist “doctrine” becomes just as controlling and violent as any of the “unjust” religions it opposed – indeed having removed the limit on immoral behavior that religion commonly allows.

    Lots of good things to think about, keeping the church focused on what Jesus called it to. Offering God as the real source of hope, security and truth in the midst of a scary, uncertain and sin-scarred world.

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    About George

    I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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    2 Responses to The Twilight of Atheism

    1. Samuel Skinner says:

      “Maybe based on my own generation, I never had that feel for Protestantism.”

      I think his attack mostly applies to Calvanism and other denominations that were more rational.

      “Poetry and science take central roles as human exploits aimed at extending the reach of human control over the world.”

      Poetry? Really?

      “In the end, the atheist “doctrine” becomes just as controlling and violent as any of the “unjust” religions it opposed – indeed having removed the limit on immoral behavior that religion commonly allows.”

      Right, because in the Soviet Union they frequently went on drunken orgies and shooting sprees… uh, no. They were actually more prudish than the United States.

      As for controlling and violent… that is the inevitable result of dogma that isn’t based on reality. Which is why I am not a commie.

      “Offering God as the real source of hope, security and truth in the midst of a scary, uncertain and sin-scarred world.”

      That certainly protected the population of Roman Gaul from the depredations of the Huns.

    2. George says:

      Samuel,

      Thanks for dropping by and offering your thoughts!

      Actually, the bleakness in early Protestantism as mentioned was more in relation to Lutheranism and those who supported Zwingli – though Calvin probably would have agreed with the drab, rather unimaginative churches depicted in the book.

      Poetry – absolutely. Many of the the “moderns” were definitely motivated by poetry. Some of the most memorable discussions that either proclaimed or headed towards concepts of atheism are to be found in poetry (though much poetry extolled as tending towards atheism is actually more inclined towards deism) It is an incredibly human activity of controlling our mind and the way we see the world – as a creative endeavor that enthralls the imagination and goes beyond the static nature of the world we often are given. I don’t mean to suggest that poetry is an anti-God activity. Indeed poetry is simply a means of communicating. It is rather amoral in that sense. It does, however, act remarkably well as an imaginative effort – which made it a prime candidate for use against a church and society that had largely become unwilling to approach God imaginatively. People wanted more than just creeds. Poetry offered that in spades.

      Remember that we are not just talking about the Soviet Union. However, the USSR (and China) had both shown high levels of subjugation and elimination of those espousing God. We’re not talking about just moral behavior, which indeed many atheists do call for – surprising to me, I must say, since there is nothing permanent or objective for them to base any such calls on (’tis my own view of matters, to be sure). Many proponents of atheism oft stated that without God, the ills of the world would end. When this did not happen, they did seek to suppress religion and God forcibly. In essence, to make their vision actual. In this case, I would tend to agree – they were controlling and violent because their vision of reality did not mesh with reality.

      As far as the Huns – I doubt atheism would have provided any distinctive advantage or hope over what relationship with God (rather than simple “belief”) does. But that would be an interesting discussion. Certainly Christian belief would suggest that the hope and security I mentioned are not just temporal, rather more lasting and permanent, not just based on a brief life-span and the happiness or pain it can bear.

      Interesting thoughts, to be sure.

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