A Lament for the Soul of Atheism. Real Atheism for Real Atheists.
Rooted in continental philosophy, phenomenology and existential philosophy, Atheism Reclaimed is original in its attempt to create different existential concepts to give expressions to what an authentic atheism might look like for the 21st Century. Utilizing thinkers like Heidegger, Nietzsche, Bataille and Ranciere, Virno and Sartre, Patrick O,Connor opens up a new path for atheist thought based on questions of time, truth, objects and equality in opposition to more traditional scientific materialist accounts that underline conventional atheism. O'Connor engages with five key moments that, he argues, allow us to begin to build a new conceptual discourse for atheism: Nietzsche's response to nihilism; the role of objects; an atheistic interpretation of Heidegger's account of time; the strange relation between truth and violence; and a refiguring of notions of the common.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
While my blog posts are usually exclusively egocentric rants about what I think, today I want to share some thoughts on a newly published book that I think you should buy. It is Atheism Reclaimed by Patrick O’Connor. It is available on Amazon and also has a website.
If you’ve read other posts, you might find it odd that I would recommend a book about how to be a better atheist, being a theist. However, my opinion on atheism is that if you’re going to do it, you should do it properly, considering what it really means to move away from religion when you are thrown into a historico-political situation that has been determined by religion since its inception; it can’t be as simple as not assenting to God’s existence.
However, there aren’t many places for atheists to go for help in this. The debates around New Atheism have already exhausted themselves. While figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens managed to bring atheism into public discussion in a different way than before, I don’t think I’m being controversial in saying it was insufficiently radical to do anything but wind people up. It does not really have much to offer other than a list of justifications for being an atheist, which are superfluous given that they are primarily written for people who are already atheists.
Atheism has lost its soul; contemporary atheism is losing its vitality and it needs to reaffirm it. What is called atheism has lost vibrancy, mattering less and less. It is not relevant to understanding the nihilistic drive to destruction that is affecting all aspects of human experience from political organization, to the environment, to overpopulation.
Certainly, New Atheism has brought a new political angle to discussions of atheism, arguing that religion is not merely misguided/irrational/incorrect but a source of evil that needs to be countered, which wilfully inhibits our ability to develop into rational, moral beings, that prevents us from becoming fully and authentically human (in the sense of Humanism). But, only eight years on from the publication of The God Delusion, people, in my experience, are disenchanted with this hard-line approach, preferring to consider themselves agnostic. Even before this, the majority of the claims made by New Atheists, particularly the Dawkinist brand, are easily refuted or at least tempered by any reasonably critical thinking. Dawkins, despite being respected, is said to go “too far”, too have an odd idea of the capacities of science, and to get carried away with polemics.
However, this isn’t simply down to a lack of a decent argument against the existence of God. To put it another way, the problem is not with the negative aspect of New Atheism. Quite the contrary, and as O’Connor argues, the problem is with it’s failure to provide a positive contribution to the atheist’s life.
Atheism needs to get its house in order. The task is to give a vital and positive account of atheism. Atheism cannot simply be a negation, but must take a position in its own right with positive philosophical consequences.
To put it another way, while the distinctive feature of New Atheism compared to previous rationalist atheisms, such as that of Russell, is its political agenda, this agenda is a mere anti-theism. A political movement requires more than arguments against its enemies. It needs to contribute to life in a distinctive way. A complete atheism needs to equip the atheist with a way of life, it needs to teach one how to be atheist and how to respond to social, political and ethical problems. And, while one may want to argue that this is provided by New Atheist appeals to “humanism”, its shallow gestures to ethical systems that do not require belief in God is historically naive and does not take into account the huge weight of Nietzschean and Nietzchean philosophy criticising liberal humanism, developing a new way of understanding human existence after the death of God.
~ Matt Barnard, Blog
"O'Connor's complaints could have come from the Archbishop of Canterbury." ~ Hugh Rock, Amazon Review
Even though I am Catholic, and, as such, disagree with almost everything that O’Connor says, I recommend it to any and every atheist or agnostic who is interested in going beyond bible-basher-bashing, wanting to develop an understanding of what atheism actually demands of one. While the burden of proof may be on us theists, the burden of providing a politically-fertile meaningful way of life post-God is definitely on you! Atheism Reclaimed is a decisive step in that direction. ~ Matt Barnard, Matt's Blog - Philosophy with the Crusts Off Blog
This refreshing book seeks to ask difficult questions about atheism. Shying away from easy answers and comfortable smugness, it seeks to reconnect atheism with troubling, darker, aspects of the human condition, and situate atheism in a political and ethical framework. This book doesn't shy away from atheism's more challenging implications. It meets them head on, and engages with them in ways that are substantive, satisfying and illuminating. ~ David Webster, author of Dispirited