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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Still currently reading D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity

I've been ploughing through this for a few days now and have nearly finished. Once again, D'Souza can write, so the book is relatively easy going in terms of having a very transparent style even when it's discussing difficult issues. But it gets worse and worse as it goes on - overreaching to depict what the author imagines to be the evils of atheism. As with McGrath, D'Souza can't let go the connection that he sees between atheism and totalitarian dictatorships.

Now, I can understand him trying to argue that many of the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion were either not on the scale that is often imagined or were really cases where ordinary greed, territorialism, and so on were the main driving motivations. There are going to be examples where that strategy will be stretched, but there's a case to be made. But as soon as you go down that path, as D'Souza does, it becomes pretty obvious that folks like Hitler and Stalin were also driven largely by these ordinary motivations, and in any event that whatever ideological motivation informed their actions had relatively little to do with atheism. (This is leaving aside the fact that Hitler was probably not an atheist at all.)

I do understand that the same accusation of overreaching might be made against Sam Harris, for example, and we could have an interesting discussion about whether the accusation can be made to stick. By and large I'd argue that it doesn't, but there may be particular passages where Harris also overreaches in, say, The End of Faith. Even if that's so, you'd hope that these Christian folks could rise above it and not do the same thing (far more blatantly in my perception).

A pity. In the early part of the book D'Souza puts some of the traditional arguments for God as vividly and comprehensibly as anyone can expect. He's not philosophically unsophisticated, and he's definitely, well, bright (though not a "bright"). He could have written a much better book if he'd maintained the quality of the opening chapters - but, alas, he didn't.

Michael Shermer, whom I have a lot of time for, gives What's So Great About Christianity a really good blurb. I'm afraid that, contrary to what he says, D'Souza's book does not end up taking the debate "to a new level." Don't bother reading it, folks. Or read it solely for an accessible and fairly comprehensive formulation of a kind of conservative Christian position that would, I suppose, be regarded by accommodationists as "moderate". Of course, it is nothing of the sort.


DEEN said...

Curious. If D'Souza really means to show "What's So Great About Christianity", why would he have to talk about the "evils of atheism" at all? Can't the case for Christianity stand on its own?

Russell Blackford said...

To be fair, book titles are chosen mainly for commercial reasons and often fail to reflect the actual content.