The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism
A. C. Grayling
Bloomsbury USA, 2013, 258 pp plus backmatter
The God Argument, as the subtitle suggests, has two parts. The first delineates most of the religious arguments in favor of religion, and refutes each in its turn. The second lays out the case for humanism, establishing it as a rational basis for moral and ethical behavior, expanding on an earlier argument that a peaceful and productive community is not based on, and does not require, a set of rules laid down by a religion, or the presence and action of a higher being. Despite a careful academic approach to these points, Grayling’s text is reasonably easy to follow.
As I find myself drifting from a traditional Western Catholic view of creation and life, toward perhaps my own modified deism, and at times finding myself all the way in the atheist camp, I found The God Argument to be reassuring. As Grayling points out, one of the essential elements of most religions is that the doctrine is presented to children by those who have a natural authority and credibility. The survival of the species does, after all, depend on children learning certain facts about the world and their place therein, our genes give children a bias towards accepting instruction from their parents and other trusted members of the community. This point by Grayling was not really a surprise to me, nor were the others. But as a “public intellectual” and prolific writer he has spent significant organized time addressing each of the arguments. It turns out to be a significant comfort, for one abandoning such long held beliefs, to see the logical work of refutation presented with very little effort on my part.
If your faith, regardless of the religion, is strong and you are comfortable in this position, I wouldn’t recommend this book. Grayling approaches each of the various arguments very calmly, with little or no rancor towards any of them, but perhaps not with the strength and energy required to convert a devout follower to become a humanist. Even if I thought this book could bring about conversion in the devout, I really don’t find that an appealing or pressing need. If your faith suits you, and brings you comfort and moral clarity without demanding the privilege of judging the lives and actions of those around you, I’m completely happy for you to keep it. On the other hand, if you are among the baby boomers who, on the downhill side of life, finds the faith you formed early in life no longer as rewarding, no longer a source of certainty, then Grayling’s calm presentation is very likely to help you get the rest of the way out of the superstitions you grew up with and make you more comfortable with the decision that you have already been coming to.
The chapter “A Humanist on Love, Sex and Drugs” could well stand alone as a guide to how we address those issues, possibly as individuals and certainly as matters of law. I found this quote to be particularly apt, “Nature has made sex pleasurable not just to ensure reproduction but, in some of the higher mammals at least, to create bonds. The narrow views of the ancient Jews and the modern Catholics, that sex must always have pregnancy as a possible outcome, miss a very important point here.”.
If I Were King there would be no state church, nor any state objections to the churches supported by my subjects. Religion often offers benefits to the believer which I would certainly not wish to deprive anyone of. Many churches, despite being based on revealed wisdom and superstition, are positive influences in our communities, although certainly not a net benefit when balanced against the great evils that have been committed in the name of one deity or another at various times. But it’s up to each person, and if you are in a transition in this regard, this book will be a helpful read.