Among the Unbelievers


| March / April 2005

'A revival of atheism is a curious by-product of the 9/11 attacks,' writes the British thinker John Gray. In Europe at least, 'unbelief has been given a new lease of life by a savage reminder of the persistent intensity of faith.' But atheism is no cure for mass violence, he suggests. Nazism, Maoism, and Soviet communism were as deadly as the most primitive religions, perhaps because that's what they quickly became. Indeed, militant atheism may hold clues to 'the enduring urgency of the human need for religion.'

Reviewing a British television series called A Brief History of Disbelief in the magazine Prospect (Nov. 2004), Gray, a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, calls atheism 'primarily an episode in the decline of Christianity.' As a 'mirror image of Western monotheism,' atheism 'shares many of its worst features,' including dogmatic followers who fear uncertainty no less than death. 'Happily, the atheist revival depends for its vitality on the primitive religiosity to which it is a response,' Gray concludes, 'and when that sputters out we can look forward to being rid of unbelief as well.'