Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam Paperback – Jan 2008
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About the Author
Michel Onfray was born in 1959. A prolific author of more than thirty books, he teaches philosophy at the Free University of Caen and lives in Paris, France. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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*The original title in French is "Traite d'Atheologie", which accurately describes the contents. Here in Canada, the English translation's title is "In Defense of Atheism", which is unfortunate, the tone of the book being far from defensive (It's rather scathingly critical).
*Onfray is a very popular French philosopher, and I tremendously enjoyed his literary style: it's both flowery and ... meaty.
*The author obviously spent a tremendous amount of time pouring over the so-called "holy" texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and other books). There are no factual errors in his work to my knowledge.
*Critics complain Onfray ignores the good side of religion. Well, he doesn't: he just dismisses it as relatively insignificant compared to its atrocious side.
*Onfray interestingly observes that even though our western societies are now secular, they are still pretty much stuck with judeo-christian values
(See for example the institution of marriage or the bioethics debates).
*I highly recommend this book, that I just finished reading today in its
Onfray outlines the similarities of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. He then sketches the growth of their influence. In the end Onfay offers readers a choice. On the one hand we have reason, knowledge, freedom, pride, democracy, equality of the sexes, the joy of sex, and a passion for this world. Religion offers us dogma, faith, a distrust of science, submission, theocracy, guilt, misogyny, sexual repression, and an unhealthy focus on an afterlife. Simply stated, Onfray's manifesto starts from a flat rejection of God - and an afterlife that discounts this precious life - as a fiction in the face of what is obvious - extinction.
For all the promise of secularism - its greatest victory is the separation of church and state - we are still in a religious era. Still, Onfray sees signs of turbulence that signal a tectonic shift into a transitional post-religious age. But he chides the post-Christian secularist movement for not being "militant" enough (viz. too accomodating) in its opposition to all religious thinking. Borrowing from Nietzsche, he says, and this is where he loses me - we can choose not to make a choice - in this application, between "Israel" and the goals of an Iranian revolution. His point: all the religions are equally bad. From this side of the Atlantic (Onfray's book has been translated from his native French), it appears that cracks in the Judeo-Christian religious world are coincident with the eruption of militant, political Islamic states. Pragmatism and morality suggest siding with the better of the two.
So is Onfray unfair? Is he inclined to bully his case? Not the point. This is a polemic intended to shake the rafters. The ideas rush with energy and passion (I count one sentence with over ninety words!). Open your mind and you will read this book with rapt attention.
Onfray is an atheist but he doesn't seem to be attempting to convert anyone to atheism, and indeed, his writing style is not likely to convert believers. Instead, the book is a polemic reflection about the effects of religion and a call to reason, probably aimed mostly at fellow atheists.
An interesting chapter of the book is spent deconstructing the myth of Jesus and how Christianity came to be the world's biggest religion and how some of it's teachings (especially those of Paul) may have come to be.
Another large portion of the book explains why religion has been the monotheistic teachings have caused so much evil. It's all very true but not exactly news.
The real purpose of the book comes in the last few pages, where he returns to something he wrote about in the beginning of the book. Here he says the choice is not between western Judeo-Christian values and Muslim values, but between religion and secularism. According to Onfray, much of the current secular values have their roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and he calls for a post-Christian secularism with post-Christian ethics.
Onfray is obviously a very knowledgeable philosopher and he makes many good points. The book is probably aimed at atheists and philosophers. It's not a book to start with for those new to atheism or those with only a sporadic interest in ahteism or religion, but at the same time, for the already-convinced atheist, such as myself, there's really not much new to be found in this book.