Believe it or not

Disbelieving Disbelief
Review by MATTHEW JULIUS

BOOK | DISBELIEVING DISBELIEF: HOW THE NEW ATHEISTS MAKE ATHEISM UNBELIEVABLE | PHILLIP BROWN (ED.)

Disbelieving Disbelief collects essays written in response to the New Atheist convention held in 2012. New Atheism grew in part as a reaction to September 11, 2001 and the editor frames the collection with this reference. (Phillip Brown mistakenly suggests that the related war in Afghanistan began after 2004; the US declared war in 2001, joined by NATO in 2003. Editorial mistakes, unfortunately, run through most of the essays.)

Today the rise of the populist right, and Donald Trump, add to the ongoing crisis of Islamic terrorism. Trump is buoyed by conservative evangelical support and New Atheism has all but faded. Do these essays speak in our new situation?

The essays raise several problems, in terms of lasting value:

First, the texts are at a popular level, this makes them readable but limited, as Chris Mulherin notes in his essay.

Second, many of the essays seem to be simply reactionary in light of the fading of New Atheism. I hadn’t read many of the key books referenced since high school.

Third, while the authors oppose the New Atheists, they accept the latter’s terms of reference: the Bible must be chiefly literal-historical or else untrue (Brown’s first, and Robert Martin’s second essay); science and history are the measure of all truth (Tim Patrick, and Mulherin’s essays). There is a lack here of theological reflection. Simon Angus’ essay about worldviews fails to mention the movement from a Jewish to a Gentile worldview (a main theme of the New Testament) at all.

Gordon Preece, Justin Denholm, and Greg Restall resist the above tendencies. Preece’s reflection on the “disbelieving” Nick Cave and Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the most constructive attempt to bridge faith and disbelief. Restall heeds the critique of religion to recall us to Christ-likeness. Justin Denholm’s essay errs toward absolutism, but his suggestion of seeking collaboration is well taken.

Today Christians seem complicit in worrying political trends, our capacity to listen, partner, and reflect theologically is needed more and more. The collaborative, rather than combative, tone of Preece, Denholm, and Restall is required. These three essays comprise the lasting value of Disbelieving Disbelief.

Available at: morningstarpublishing.net.au RRP: $24.95

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