An Atheist Defends Religion

An Atheist Defends Religion

Book - 2009
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Written from the perspective of an unbeliever. The author asserts that religion provides a combination of psychological, moral, emotional, existential, communal, and even physical health benefits that no other institution can provide. He explains that most rational argument for dismissing atheism is not to be found in the never-eding debate over the existence of God, but in the enduring value of religion itself.
Publisher: New York : Alpha c2009.
ISBN: 9781592578542
Characteristics: xvi, 239 p. ;,23 cm.


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Jan 17, 2013

I found this an odd book and couldn't decide whether I really liked it or whether it was just okay. Author Bruce Sheiman is an atheist. He simply cannot bring himself to believe in a supernatural God. Yet he feels that man is more than just another animal crawling on the surface of an insignificant planet revolving around an unregarded yellow star in an obscure corner of an obscure galaxy. He has a gut feeling that human existence has a purpose and a meaning. He says all people feel the same way and most of them find purpose and meaning in religion. He proceeds to examine religion from the outside and investigate whether, on the whole, religion has been better for mankind than no religion.

The first five chapters deal with the benefits of religious belief and behaviour: supplying meaning to life; fostering compassion; offering "union with the divine"; offering health benefits (longevity and general well-being), and advancing the cause of human rights. In general, I have no doubt that religion has been important and beneficial to many people in the past and present. I don't agree with his claim that everybody yearns for some external, objective purpose and meaning to their lives, however. I am willing to admit that I am in a very small minority in feeling that way.

Sheiman then spends some chapters discussing religious and atheist extremism and how most people are in a happy middle somewhere. The extremists in both camps are getting all the press, however. He does lament that, in current-day America at least, science has been positioned as the enemy of religion and most people find religion easier to believe than science is to understand. So the majority choose religion over science (he offers the surprising statistic that only about half of Americans know that the Earth revolves around the sun and that the duration of each revolution is the basis for the length of the year).

His final few chapters examine the question of whether life and evolution have a purpose. He concludes that they do, but tries to find a way to frame his belief without resorting to God.

There is much I agree with here, including the benefits of religion to the vast majority of believers. I also agree that religion is probably not going to fade away. He admits that he doesn't have the answers for how atheists should reconcile themselves to religion or interact with believers. I feel his attempt to reconcile science and religion are clumsy and unsatisfying. I'm not sure a reconciliation is possible or needed. In the end, believers and atheists will just have to agree to disagree.

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