Here's an interesting Onfray-inspired article by Pamela Bone. I think that Bone is too wishy-washy in wanting to call herself "an agnostic". It's pretty clear that she has no belief in any deity, and the term "agnostic" often just strikes me as a euphemism used by people who are concerned not to cause offence. But sometimes causing offence is unavoidable, and no one has a right to go through life without ever being offended.
It's a pity I couldn't make it to Michel Onfray's interview with Phillip Adams on Tuesday night, after I'd encountered Onfray at his signing on Monday. Last night, I was talking to Rob Gerrand - Rob had made it along to the interview with Adams, and it sounded like he'd had an interesting evening.
I'm currently almost finished The Atheist Manifesto, which is a passionate, breathless, yet immensely erudite rant against the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is supremely readable, if sometimes a bit exclamatory for my taste.
Despite Onfray's obvious erudition, the book is not backed up by the kind of apparatus that I am used to in philosophical works, i.e. an index and - much more importantly - a bibliography and notes. Occasionally, the precise citation for a passage from, say, Mein Kampf is given in the text to try to nail down a point (such as Hitler's attitude to religion). However, much that Onfray asserts has to be taken on trust.
I spotted a couple of errors, which are fairly trivial, to be sure. One looks like a transcription error at some point in the writing/editing/translating process: Onfray records the fiery execution of Giordano Bruno as taking place in 1660, rather than in 1600. The other error is, I guess, just a bit of absent-minded carelessness - a reference to the world being imagined by Bible literalists as being 4000 years old, when they actually think it is about 6000 years old (having been created in approximately 4000 BC). Neither of these is fatal, but when the book hides its scholarship so much, with no real scholarly apparatus, they worry me. It makes me wonder how much I can trust Onfray to be getting all his facts right, or whether there are other examples of carelessness that I'm not smart enough to have picked up, however much erudition the author carries around in his head or has compiled in his research notes somewhere.
The other thing that I do find a weakness, even although it helps make the book so readable, is its sheer passion. Onfray isn't really interested in examining what can be said in favour of monotheistic religion. As I always tell students, I find it much more intellectually impressive to read something that acknowledges the strengths of the other side's position, even if these can be met, or contextualised, in some way. There's certainly not much of that in Onfray's book. It's all so one-sided ... and sometimes the attacks are quite speculative, as when Onfray more-or-less psychoanalyses St. Paul, with little to go on. This is really much like the highly speculative interpretations of the sacred texts that tend to emanate from theologians, and always stand in need of scrutiny.
All that said, I don't actually want to sound negative. It's important that books like this be written and published, challenging traditional ideas, and especially challenging the claims of religious institutions and leaders to wield moral authority. I especially admire Onfray's round rejection of the self-denial, false "purity", cruelty, wilful ignorance, and authoritarianism that the monotheistic religions have exhibited and supported all too often.
In fact, as I hope I made clear above, I'm greatly enjoying The Atheist Manifesto. In this translation, at least, Onfray's writing is pleasurable and witty, lucid, often elegant, always page-turning. The book is crammed with fascinating information, much of it arcane but all seemingly relevant to getting a true historical picture of the religions Onfray dislikes so much. But I do wish that I had a bit more confidence that it is all entirely accurate. I'd want to check some other sources before relying too much on The Atheist Manifesto.