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Book recommendation: Philosophers without Gods

Excepts of description from Amazon. This is a highly recommended collection of essays.

Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life [Hardcover]
Louise M. Antony (Editor)

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (August 8, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0195173074
ISBN-13: 978-0195173079
Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds

Review

“The authors answer, forcefully and intelligently, the standard arguments against atheism.”–V.V. Raman, CHOICE
“This Atheists R Us compilation differs markedly in tone from Hitchens and Dawkins. Excellent fare for Christian small groups whose members are genuinely interested in the arguments raised by atheists.”–Christianity Today
“Rather than the foolishness of Dawkins or Hitchens, these [essays] are compelling and sophisticated arguments that religious people ought to confront….”–Tikkun
“This collection strikes me as an excellent example of how comprehensible philosophical writing can be at its best. By and large, the essays are written in a clear and direct style, free of philosophical jargon. many who read it will find themselves also engaged at a level that is not merely academic.”–George I. Mavrodes, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
“Taken as a group, these readable, personal, and provocative essays make it clear that there are many kinds of non-believers, and even many different elements that make up a single skeptical outlook. Contrary to the popular image, atheism isn’t all rebellious trumpets and defiant drums. That part of the orchestra is essential, but here we have all the varieties of unreligious experience, a full symphony of unbelief.” –Free Inquiry

Product Description
Atheists are frequently demonized as arrogant intellectuals, antagonistic to religion, devoid of moral sentiments, advocates of an “anything goes” lifestyle. Now, in this revealing volume, nineteen leading philosophers open a window on the inner life of atheism, shattering these common stereotypes as they reveal how they came to turn away from religious belief.
These highly engaging personal essays capture the marvelous diversity to be found among atheists, providing a portrait that will surprise most readers. Many of the authors, for example, express great affection for particular religious traditions, even as they explain why they cannot, in good conscience, embrace them. None of the contributors dismiss religious belief as stupid or primitive, and several even express regret that they cannot, or can no longer, believe. Perhaps more important, in these reflective pieces, they offer fresh insight into some of the oldest and most difficult problems facing the human mind and spirit. For instance, if God is dead, is everything permitted? Philosophers Without Gods demonstrates convincingly, with arguments that date back to Plato, that morality is independent of the existence of God. Indeed, every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong. Moreover, they contend that secular life can provide rewards as great and as rich as religious life. A naturalistic understanding of the human condition presents a set of challenges–to pursue our goals without illusions, to act morally without hope of reward–challenges that can impart a lasting value to finite and fragile human lives.
Collectively, these essays highlight the richness of atheistic belief–not only as a valid alternative to religion, but as a profoundly fulfilling and moral way of life.

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Comment: Current Readings Jesus & Christianity – Earl Doherty & Linda Woodhead

I spend a lot of time travelling and, so, reading articles and books and listening to recorded lectures are my constant companions. My latest are interesting, a book – Jesus: Neither God nor Man by Earl Doherty and a talking book – Christianity, A Very Short Introduction (OUP) by Linda Woodhead.

Before discussing those, or at least my first reactions, here are two recommendations. I have traditionally bought books from Amazon and still do. However a serious alternative for Australians is http://bookdepository.co.uk (in UK) with its policy of free international postage. I typically check the prices between Book Depository and Amazon with postage costs to make the choice. One trap is the ease of ordering a single book from the UK booksellers while I would accumulate books at Amazon before commiting to purchase! For audio lectures and talking books check out the Amazon company, http://audible.com. I started with a gold membership with one download per month for $14.95 after a three month special. Their UK operation, http://audible.co.uk , has different pricing.

The reconstructions of the historical Jesus vary as widely as there are Jesus scholars. Conservatives see the gospel portrayals as essentially accurate. They often argue with mainstream historians about the inclusion of miracle stories in any historiography. I see N.T. (Tom) Wright, prolific author and Bishop of Durham, in this category. The vast majority of scholars take a middle position: the gospels give us clues as to the nature of Jesus. Now the similarity of these scholars end with vastly differing profiles: cynic philosopher, apocalyptic prophet, wise sage, and so. Then towards of the sceptical end of the spectrum we have Earl Doherty, one of a smaller number of scholars who dismiss the very existence of any recognisable Jesus as the founding figure of Christianity.

Jesus: Neither God nor Man is Doherty’s latest book, an expansion of his earlier The Jesus Puzzle. To give some sense of his arguments he argues that we read Paul’s letters, the earliest canonical writings, in light of the later gospels with their biographies of Jesus. Without the gospels, Paul’s writings talk nothing of a historical Jesus but a mystical God-like Christ Jesus who appeared to Paul as an incarnation of God. Doherty argues, quite cogently, that Paul refuted bad behaviour of ‘his’ fledgling Christian communities in the eastern Mediterranean with arguments from Jewish scripture and God’s revelations. Even though Jesus was later quoted in the gospels as saying something very relevant according to Christian traditions, Paul never used these sayings. This absence of a physical Jesus in Paul’s earlier writings is part of the Jesus puzzle.

Linda Woodhead’s Christianity is an excellent non-sectarian introduction to Christianity – faiths, history, and many forms – accessible to non-Christians and non-believers alike. She is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University. The Very Short Introduction series from Oxford University Press is a great series of short introductory texts of academic subjects for the enquiring non-specialist reader. Also check out Atheism by Julian Baggini, a very engaging British philosopher.

Alex McCullie

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News: Importance of Religion to US – Gallop

While religion is becoming less important to Australians, it still is big part of the US daily life. Here’s a state by state breakdown (10 top and 10 least plus overall) from the Gallop poll article.

Alex McCullie

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Comment: Studying the Christian Bible – Secular Style

As part of countering “you don’t know enough about Christianity to criticise” argument I have embarked on studying the Christian Bible, Christian theology and Christian beliefs and practices. Even before starting I had to make a number of decisions and commitments.

Firstly, what am I trying to understand? Is it simply looking at the Bible text for its inconsistencies and appalling moral prescriptions (and there are many in both testaments)? This is a favourite pastime of fellow critics of religion. However I don’t think that moves the argument forward. I believe a more useful approach initially was to familiarise myself with the Bible and associated beliefs in a fairly non-critical way.

At times this becomes difficult when reading some Bible commentary that accepts all the Bible text as absolute truth even when you know that historically the events never happened. An example is the birth of Jesus. All evidence suggests that his birthplace was in Nazareth and not Bethlehem. Luke’s birth story was more about linking Jesus’s birth to Old Testament prophesy than any historical fact. Also I’ve found many of the evangelical style analyses particularly unpalatable to rationally-based secular thinking. There’s only so far that I can “willingly suspend my disbelief”.

How to go about learning more? Reading articles at random does not give a foundation that necessary for subsequent study. So I’ve started with audio lectures from the Teaching Company. Each lecture series is discounted once a year and that’s the time it’s worth buying with transcripts preferably. I’m working through Philosophy of Religion by James Hall now. Each lecture series is produced and delivered by a university professor and provide a good introductory coverage of the subject. My next topics will be Old Testament and New Testament. Again, wait until the series is on special.

Are there any interesting books? There are books by biblical scholars who take a more academic approach to examining the historical Jesus. There are many books. Here’s a good one to start with: Who Is Jesus? by John Dominic Crossan and Richard G Watts. The book is structured along question and answer lines and presents a historical view of Jesus very different from the one from the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament, for example.

I hope that helps if you want to study the other side.

Alex McCullie

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News: Stephen Law’s Book Club – God Delusion

Stephen Law, British philosopher, discusses Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion (chapter one) as part of his book club. (read more)

Alex McCullie

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Book: Encountering Naturalism

Naturalism combines physicalist view of the world with the values of secular humanism. It is a very popular worldview for atheists and agnostics who seek to understand the world in physical or material terms without any supernatural beliefs.

http://www.naturalism.org is an excellent site for those who want to explore naturalism. Thomas Clark who maintains the site has assembled articles in a very accessible booklet, Encountering Naturalism. Clark introduces and promotes naturalism as a very realistic and moral view point that maintains a physical view of reality. Topics include What Do We Know?; Who Are We?; The Self and Relationships; and Naturalizing Spirituality.

I haven’t seen this booklet in Australia yet but it is available from Amazon. Highly recommended.

© 2008 Alex McCullie

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Book: nailing down those definitions

What is the difference between pantheism and panentheism?
Is Christianity a millenarian sect?
What’s Xenu got to do with scientology?
Who is Occam as in Occam’s Razor?

Isms & Ologies by Arthur Goldwag (published by Quercusis, 2007) a wonderful collection of words, definitions and, most importantly, ideas. The book covers many fields of human endeavour including religion, philosophy, history, science, foreign words and economics. I keep this beside me at all times – when reading books on people and ideas or just browsing. My latest find is Fauvism. What? Buy the book to find out for yourself.

The book is available in bookstores in Australia and also from Amazon.

Alex McCullie

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Book: a new survival guide for atheists

Atheists often seek better responses when confronted by believers. Here they are in a straightforward, funny and gentle way. In 50 reasons people give for believing in a god (Prometheus Books, 2008) Guy Harrison works through atheist responses to the 50 most common reasons used for believing in god. All the familiar arguments are here but broken down as discussions for each reason. My god is obvious; atheism is another religion; some very smart people believe in my god; and atheism is a negative and empty philosophy are only some.

50 reasons is highly recommended for that next argument – sorry I meant discussion. I haven’t seen it in Australia yet, but it is available from Amazon.

Highly recommended

Alex McCullie

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