Book Review: The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind by Alister McGrath (InterVarsity Press)
Atheists think that Christians are intellectually dim.
Sometimes they are right.
In Passionate Intellect, Alister McGrath does an amazing job of helping Christians step up their game while simultaneously debunking the myth that Christianity is unreasonable.
I highly recommend this book! McGrath gives you six chapters on the purpose, place and relevance of Christian theology. Then, he turns to actually confronting various issues such as how we should think about science, atheism, and creation and evolution.
The following excerpt is just one of the many ways McGrath shows his superior rhetorical skills. In this section, he exposes and demolishes the arrogance of the new atheists who claim to be more “enlightened” than 90% of the world who believe in God. In fact, for awhile they even tried to get people to refer to them as “Brights”. Here is how McGrath responds:
The notion of the Bright, however arrogant and smug it may be, is an essential element of the new atheist worldview. The new atheism vigorously asserts the fundamental moral and intellectual autonomy of humanity. Human beings are intelligent and rational beings who can shake off superstitious beliefs and exult in the triumph of reason and science. But where do these beliefs come from? If there is no God, it follows that religion is the creation of human beings. Hitchens and Dawkins excoriate what they see as the delusional, irrational and immoral lies of religion. Yet, from their atheist perspective, these ideas were invented by human beings – the same human beings who they exult as models of rationality and morality. Hitchens appeals to human rationality and morality in making his case for atheism, yet that same rationality and morality gave rise to religious ideas and values, which he regards as degenerate, pathological and oppressive.
Religion is the serpent in the rationalist garden of Eden, the seducer of otherwise reasonable people. The contradictions and failures of recent “enlightened” human history – which include the awkward arrival of Nazism and Stalinism, not to mention weapons of mass destruction – are put down, somewhat implausibly, to the resurgence of religion. Not even the rhetorical skills of the greatest new atheists have been able to weave Stalinism into their narrative of the obstinate persistence of religious belief. The real problem for secular rationalists is that having made human beings the “measure of all things” (Alexander Pope), they find themselves embarassed by the wide range of beliefs human beings have chosen to hold – most notably, a widespread belief in God. If belief in God is a human invention, and if the crimes committed in the name of religion are thus of human origin, humanity appears to be rather less rational than the new atheist worldview allows. The new atheism criticizes religion as the enemy of humanity, hoping that nobody will notice that their own theory holds it to be a human creation. You don’t need to be very bright to make this connection.
And a bit later:
My concern, however, is not the intellectual smugness, cultural arrogance or political foolishness of the new atheism at this point, but its fundamentally divisive nature. This crude belief system divides the world between the “Brights” and the “dims,” creating a damaging polarity, which the new atheism asserts is the characteristic of religion. Atheism, it seems, is just as bad as its alternatives in this respect, having now added intellectual snobbery to its vices and nothing obvious to its virtues. (McGrath 165-6)
I would love to read anything the “new atheists” have to say in response to “the Passionate Intellect”. I have a suspicion that they will simply try to ignore McGrath’s far superior argumentation and will continue bashing religion with lame, unsubstantiated, 18th century arguments that even us “dims” can pick apart!
What do you think?