Friday 19 August 2011
By Kevin MarkWhy God Won’t Go AwayBy Alister McGrath, SPCK/Willow Connection, PB, 128pp, $18.50Mere TheologyBy Alister McGrath, SPCK/Willow Connection, PB, 188pp, $25.50Alister McGrath argues that the recent widespread objection to religion gained its real traction from the suicide attacks in the US in September 2001. For years before this Richard Dawkins, for example, had argued that religion was irrational and dangerous, but it was only after 9/11 that ‘Islamic religious fanaticism’ became of real concern to the populace.Dawkins, and other writers who emerged as the leaders of what has been dubbed the ‘New Atheism’, simplified the concern about the dangers of Islamic fanaticism to general religious fanaticism, and then to just religion in general.After 25 years of service in the faculty of theology at Oxford University, in 2008 McGrath took up the newly established chair of theology, ministry and education at King’s College, London, and is also director of its centre for theology, religion and culture. A skilled and prolific author, McGrath has intelligently and expertly engaged the New Atheism movement through public debates and writing, including the best-selling The Dawkins Delusion?Why God Won’t Go Away is an excellent account of and response to the New Atheism. McGrath provides an overview of the leading writers – Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – but also provides an informed account of groups promoting atheism on the internet.The second part of the book tackles the core arguments of the New Atheism: that religion results in violence; that religious belief is irrational; and that science and religion are enemies.The concluding chapters reflect on the future of the New Atheism and the irony that the movement has resulted in renewed interest in religion. This concise book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand current debates about the place of religion in our society.Good follow-up reading is McGrath’s Mere Theology, its title obviously echoing CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, a classic account for the general reader of Christian belief. McGrath’s book is a collection of lectures and talks (updated and revised for publication) on the importance and relevance of Christian theology.
In this period in which the intellectual credibility of religion is under constant attack, this is an informative and accessible guide to how the great tradition of Christian theological reflection enriches our own faith, but also is critical for deep engagement with the world in which we live.
The first part of the book considers the purpose, place and relevance of Christian theology, including the topic of apologetics. A key argument is that theological reflection fundamentally transforms how we see reality and hence how we engage with the world.The remainder of the book considers specific aspects of contemporary culture. This includes the relationship between faith and the natural sciences, the legacy of Darwin’s theories for religion and science, and the roots of the New Atheism in the Enlightenment.McGrath is a very skilled and informative writer, and these are two excellent, timely additions to his body of work.
Kairos Catholic Journal Volume 22, Issue 15