I've just finished reading John Shook's The God Debates. I'll be writing a full review here in the next couple of days, but my general verdict is a positive one: it's not for everybody, but it's actually very interesting. It's not so much about theology, except towards the end, as about philosophy of religion, and it does provide a nice, readable, potted introduction to the field, including some good discussion of the more avant-garde and slippery arguments that might get trotted out against you in an actual debate with a well-prepared believer who has been reading Plantinga and the like.
The final chapter is fascinating, though I'm not how much of it I'm buying. Shook analyses no less than twelve basic views of the world that he thinks are at work in contemporary societies. That's a lot more than Philip Kitcher, about whom more later today, who only identifies five. Clearly, there are many ways that this cake can be cut, but I do think that both accounts are worth reading to remind ourselves that there are more dimensions to this than just religious/non-religious. In fact, the important distinctions that I'd want to make would probably be different again from either Kitcher's or Shook's.
I don't think that it's simply a matter of religious views versus non-religious views. Some people whose views are not especially religious, and may even be atheistic, are still wrong about the world at a fundamental level - for example, though they don't believe in God they may believe in contra-causal free will. Some people who are religious may have no totalitarian or apocalyptic impulses, and may not even believe in anything supernatural. They may simply be honouring a tradition and treating their holy book much as they'd treat Homer or Shakespeare. (Of course, these are not the majority!)
For practical purposes, it's still worth producing critiques of religion - and let's not forget that religious leaders and organisations often promote very destructive ideas and behaviour. But in theory, at least, the line between what deserves strong criticism and what does not can't be aligned precisely with the line between religion and non-religion. It's more complicated than that, and it's interesting to see some alternative ways of looking at it - even if, in the end, I don't buy the particular typologies on offer.
Anyway, Shook's book isn't bad at all, is very accessible given that some of the subject matter gets tricky, could be used in various courses at undergraduate or even senior high school level, is worth a read if you have the money or can get your library to order it in, and doesn't badmouth "New Atheist" leaders. I'm still wondering why he wrote his recent Huffington Post article as he did; nothing about the book itself made that approach necessary, so he created a fair bit of ill-will against himself without being under any pressure to do so.