Among the Unbelievers

‘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.’

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