Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
BOOK DESCRIPTION: A call to action to address people’s psychological and social motives for a belief in God, rather than debate the existence of God. With every argument for theism long since discredited, the result is that atheism has become little more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs. Thus, engaging in interminable debate with religious believers about the existence of God has become exactly the wrong way for nonbelievers to try to deal with misguided—and often dangerous—belief in a higher power. The key, author James Lindsay argues, is to stop that particular conversation. He demonstrates that whenever people say they believe in “God,” they are really telling us that they have certain psychological and social needs that they do not know how to meet. Lindsay then provides more productive avenues of discussion and action. Once nonbelievers understand this simple point, and drop the very label of atheist, will they be able to change the way we all think about, talk about, and act upon the troublesome notion called “God.”
MY REVIEW: A refreshing book that explores the psychosocial needs that are met by a belief in a deity. The book assumes that the debate over God’s existence is over and that it is demonstrably false — a contentious assumption despite the assertion by the author that it is no longer worthy of any further discussion and could perhaps be seen as a somewhat arrogant assertion. However, if one is prepared to accept this starting point for the sake of argument, Lindsay provides a rich and complex analysis of the function that a belief in “God” (as opposed to God without scare quotes) serves in those who believe and what it would mean to construct a truly secular society where those same needs are met.
The book argues for a post-theistic society where atheism as a label is not needed because it is no longer defining itself in terms of theism. Apart from being a bit repetitive, Lindsay’s perspective is well articulated with respect for those who believe in “God” (notice the scare quotes) and the purpose it serves — although his communication is sometimes bordering on the aggressive (then again, this might be needed given the trenchant criticisms that fundamentalist Christians make about atheism and atheists).
The last part of the book is particularly useful as the author attempts a very general articulation of how the ‘… primary needs “God” exists to address relate\[d] to meaning making, control, and esteem, which manifest in terms of attribution, control, and sociality in various complicated and overlapping ways’ might be addressed in a post-theistic society. One group of individuals who really need to read this book (apart from atheists themselves) are those theists who persistently claim that atheists cannot live a full or ethical life.
In my view, this book is essential reading as it moves the debate beyond circular arguments about the existence of God and seriously deals with the way forward for a secular society that is not grounded in a belief in a supernatural god. It should provoke in-depth discussion by anyone who has any views about God, “God”, gods or none of these. Whether theist, atheist, or post-atheist, this is a significant read.
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