Atheism, essays and self-help
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Date: 8 April, 2008
Charlotte Haines Lyon reviews the latest book titles including a collection of essays from Philip Pullman, the late Anita Roddick, Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, Hilary Benn and others
The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion
Aside from climate change, it has become fashionable to write books about the evils of religion. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, to name but two, have written particularly bilious and bellicose accounts of deluded and dangerous faiths.
Whilst there have been some strong rebuttals – Alister McGrath for example, Tina Beattie is a refreshing addition to the debate.
Coming from a feminist theology background she does not join in the macho posturing often found in this fight. Rather she calmly provides a more nuanced evaluation of the arguments from all sides.
Whilst some would-be readers might be deterred by the word feminist, it is vital contribution that points to the privileging of white western men in these books.
Science has done wonders, Beattie agrees, before highlighting that it doesn't really seemed to have helped the vast majority of people in the world especially women.
She goes on to say that the personal freedom so worshipped by the New Atheists is an abstract concept to many living on the knife edge of life and death. More abstract that the apparently foolish concept of God.
Beattie also questions the danger of promulgating the myth that all religion is dangerous. Could this dismissal play into the hands of fundamentalists and in fact fan the flames of holy wars. Are these deriders of religion actually willing the violence that they apparently hate?
Whilst Beattie is an academic she also has broadcast on various Radio 4 programmes and hence is accessible in her writing. It is a book that should inspire people of faith and of none.
She defends both reason and faith and provides refuge for those weary of the fundamentalists on both sides.
All in all, one of the most important books to come from the Christian stable in a while.
Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth
This collection of essays from a diverse group of writers including Philip Pullman, Anita Roddick, Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall and Hilary Benn provide a surprisingly innovative read.
Climate change really is in danger of creating a general fatigue and malaise in the UK at least, despite its impending danger. This book provides a more lateral than worthy look at the topic.
Tom Hodgkinson of the Idler suggests that activists should stop acting and start to do nothing; less would be consumed that way. Pullman claims that the world would be a better place if teachers could tell stories.
David Cameron polishes the Tory green halo a little more explaining how Conservatism ties in with environmentalism. Dame Roddick imagines she were minister for public space.
Not that it is a frivilous book. Quite the opposite, it is often when we think laterally and play that new thinking and creativity starts. But it is a relief to read a book that doesn't depress.
Poor No More: Be Part of a Miracle
A “how to” to save the world manual with a twist.
Not only does Peter Grant ask you to assess your impact on climate change, your giving of time and money etc he also asks you to reflect deeply on your spiritual life and discipline.
Alongside explanations and insightful analysis of the worlds problems, Grant provides worksheets to help assess your relationship with God and the world.
He then helps you to develop a vision for making a personal impact on poverty and then looks at how you can turn this into reality.
I confess I was a bit dismissive at first as to how useful it might be. However the end of reading it I had carried out a surprising amount of the actions suggested.