About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Currently reading: The Australian Book of Atheism ed. by Warren Bonett

You wouldn't expect me to give this book, which contains my article/essay/chapter/whatever "Atheists for Freedom of Speech", an unbiased review. Obviously I'm primed to like it and to want to flog it to you.

That said, it contains over thirty such pieces by something of a who's who of Australian atheists, sceptics, and secularists, written at a level that is perfect for a general educated audience - these pieces are not dumbed down, but nor are they jargon-ridden or otherwise inaccessible. They focus on the personal, social, and political consequences of religion, rather than on arguments against its truth-claims (those arguments are, by and large, taken for granted). The Australian slant is strong, in that most contributors are especially concerned about religious intrusions in Australian politics and public policy, but overseas readers would find much of what is described all too recognisable (and much of the argument pertinent).

As with any anthology containing such a large number of contributions, I like some pieces more than others. Indeed, none of the contributors will find themselves agreeing with every sentiment expressed by all their fellow contributors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because such a book is a showcase for the diversity of atheist, etc., thought, and it's no use pretending that this is monolithic. To a large extent, diversity is strength. That said, the political emphasis tends to give the book a feeling of unity: though you can sense that these 30+ authors don't agree on all philosophical or social issues, they do seem to agree with the sentiment that religion has too large a footprint in Australian politics. Even in Australia, a relatively secular country when compared to the US, religious leaders get their way with governments far more often than is justified. In particular, there is a sense, throughout the book's 400-odd pages, of serious concern about the promotion of religion by the Howard and Rudd governments, with Julia Gillard now following suit (the essays took their final form recently enough for some to comment at least briefly on the transition to Gillard as Australia's prime minister).

If I must choose a favourite contribution, it is that of an author with whom I'm not always in agreement: John Wilkins. Wilkins' discussion of secularism, and particularly the benefits that it offers both believers and non-believers, comports very much with my own views. Where we might differ is that I don't think secularism is enough; I think it's important to subject the actual truth-claims of religion to some pretty harsh critique and that this complements the arguments for secularism. However, Wilkins doesn't get into that - his piece is purely a defence of secularism, in the sense of governments making decisions for worldly, non-religious reasons. He presents the case clearly, strongly, and without compromise.

In all, this is a book that I'm pleased to have on my shelf and proud to have contributed to.


John S. Wilkins said...

Why thank you, sir. I promise to like your contribution when my copy arrives...

John S. Wilkins said...

And by the way, we are published with Tim MInchin! Dude!