I can’t resist small books about big issues so was pleased to chance upon Julian Baggini’s ‘Atheism’ – number 99 in the Oxford University Press ‘a very short introduction’ series. You can find a Blog interview with Baggini on the OUP site devoted to these books.
Issues don’t come much bigger than the question ‘Is there a God?’ or I suppose a logical follow up question : ‘If there is no God what is the meaning of life?’
Baggini is less strident in his arguments than Richard Dawkins is in his excellent ‘The God Delusion’. His slightly softer approach is probably because he is concerned not to endorse what he called the tendency towards ‘Militant Atheism’ which becomes just another form of fundamentalism.
Ultimately what he is describing is a form of Humanism with tolerance and compassion at its heart .
Atheism is concerned with fact rather than faith and, he writes: “can be understood not simply as a denial of religion but as a self contained belief system”. In this way he distinguishes it from faith which he defines as a belief “in something which flies in the face of experience and evidence”
On the question of morality he states succinctly “being good is a challenge for everyone, atheist or non-atheist”.
As for the meaning of life he writes: “If the only point in living is to serve somebody else’s purposes then we cease to be valuable beings in our own right……..I find it hard to imagine why God would want to create creatures like us solely to serve him – it’s not as though he’s in need of domestic help or anything like that”.
If this sounds flippant, it’s worth pointing out that this position is quite close to that of eminent Church of England priest and scholar Don Cupitt who wrote that “Religion should be a guide for living, not a preparation for dying” ( After God)
Baggini makes a good case in a short space. If you are a believer – pick up a copy and read it with an open mind.
If you are not, read it anyway so you can feel smug about being right all along!