Having a better life isn’t what keeps religion alive, says atheist author and independent scholar Susan Jacoby. Our fear of death is what keeps religion alive, she says. Here, she lists five books that she thinks are important to “understand the benefits of atheism.”
The Confessions by Augustine (translated by Maria Boulding)
It’s likely that St. Augustine is one of the most important people in the history of the church. Person: He is the person who most clearly explained the idea of free will when it is combined with an all-powerful God. This is a philosophy that says that man is the only one who is responsible for bad things, and that God and God’s grace alone are responsible for good things. Because there is also this debate that has been going on in Christianity for a long time about grace and how people can change their bad human instincts. A lot of people in the Catholic Church and in a lot of Christianity have thought that only God’s grace can help people. People say that the good things happen because of God’s grace, but the bad things aren’t because of God. That’s about it. Many early Christians who were later called heretics didn’t believe in free will in the way Augustine did. They didn’t think that God gave us free will in the same way. Because they didn’t believe in a powerful God, this also meant that they were heretics. It’s very clear why they were called that. A lot of people know about St. Augustine’s Confessions, but I had never read them. This book was interesting because I had never heard about them before.
People talk about it all the time, but no one has read it. It’s also a good book about psychology that isn’t right. Then, when you read it, you know that Augustine was a brilliant, weird person who was also very smart. It’s written in the form of a letter to God. Augustine is still very bothered that even though he’s taken a vow of celibacy (which he didn’t have to do to be a Christian, at that point you didn’t even have to do that to be a priest), he still has wet dreams about women at night. One interesting thing about Augustine is that he also says that curiosity is one of the worst things you can do, but he himself is curious. A lot of him is interested in the science of the time he lives now. When you’re asleep, your self-control isn’t the same as when you’re awake. This is a very good point, and he makes it. Sleep changes a man’s mind, and he hopes that God will give him enough grace so that he won’t even have wet dreams while he’s asleep. That’s the note of hope that he ends with. For someone who lived in the 4th century, this isn’t weird at all. It might be a sign that the person had a very strong conscience.
There are a lot of things that are true about the father of the church. He was one of the most important people who started Christianity. And he’s also very smart. If you read the paragraph before this one, you’ll see that he talks a lot about memory, and then he goes off on a crazy tangent. Augustine was a person who was mentally ill and had a great mind, which isn’t a new thing. In The Confessions, everyone should read because it is a good book. It is very important, if you can forgive the word.
The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
This book slams the idea that any religious book was written by God. They were all written by people, and while some of them have good principles, they are principles that any person can figure out on his own. You don’t have to have all these supernatural things happen to you all the time. He talks about the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, and the Koran, which are the three big ones. Man wrote these holy books, and they can only be understood in terms of the time period in which they were written. That’s what the Age of Reason is about, but Paine lost all of his positive fame because of it. As a result of his writing, the colonists in the Revolutionary War were fired up. He was one of the best-known people in the United States because of this. He lost everything because he wrote The Age of Reason, and he dies alone. He can’t be buried in a church graveyard. A cemetery in New Rochelle, New York, doesn’t allow people who aren’t Quakers to be buried there. At this point in time, there should be no debate about the Age of Reason. In the United States, that’s not the case because there are these 25% of Americans who think the Bible is true and that God wrote it. Isn’t that weird? The Age of Reason has been on the Catholic Church’s list for as long as there has been a list. I don’t think anyone in Europe thinks much about it now. The idea that the Bible wasn’t written by God is one that most Christians agree with.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is a lot of fun. One of the reasons to read The God Delusion is to get rid of the idea that atheists aren’t very funny. This is a common stereotype of atheists. You keep hearing this. I’m often asked to speak at college campuses, and many of them are religious schools. These aren’t fundamentalist schools, but schools that have been religious for a long time. “Oh, I thought you were small and dark-haired and had glasses!” In the past, feminists were thought of as ugly people who couldn’t get a man because of their looks. But part of it is also not being able to laugh. People often say, “Oh, you’re so funny.” It’s true.
Dawkins also talks a lot about why he doesn’t like people who try to mix science and religion. he’s right. I think they can’t be mixed together. Because the human brain can believe two different things at the same time, a lot of people have been able to make sense of them. Those are the ways that people are able to make sense of science and religion at the same time. But when you say, “I’m religious, but I also believe in science,” you’re kind of avoiding the question of how scientific reality that can be proven by natural experiment comes into conflict with belief in events that don’t follow the rules of nature. Dawkins talks about this very well.
36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
This is a book. An atheism book written by a professor is the subject of this story. It talks about how religion and atheism play out in everyday life and how they interact with each other. People who believe in God and those who don’t believe in God can see how they think. One interesting thing about this book is that the author, Rebecca Goldstein, was raised in a very strict Jewish Hasidic household. This background shows up in this book in ways I won’t tell you about. As for the book, it’s a lot of fun and there aren’t many books with atheist characters who are shown in a positive or interesting way. If you pick this one up, I think you’ll enjoy it. Rebecca Goldstein is a genius and one of the few women who write about atheism. That’s another thing we can talk about at another time.
A philosopher: Is she trying to show how atheism makes sense from a philosophical point of view?
Yes, but they’re in a story. All of the philosophical arguments for and against atheism are in this book, but they’re not presented as philosophy. They’re part of a novel and a romance, and they’re not even written in the same way that philosophy is. It’s also a love story.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
Oh my God, please! Voltaire, Paine, and Ingersoll were all well-known atheists. Rumors always say that they changed their minds on their deathbed. Mortality is a book that I think everyone should read. One of the things that people always ask about atheists, and I think it’s a fair question, is how you can deal with the bad things that happen in life if you don’t believe in a life after death. The essays in this book, which were written during his year-and-a-half of dying and living with cancer, are some of the best things he ever wrote. I think religion has been around for a long time because people don’t want to live a better life but because they don’t want to die. Religious ideas, whether they come from the West or the East, give people a way to say that we don’t die, we don’t become one with the world. You might find it weird when you think about the old service from the Book of Common Prayer that says “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” That’s because, of course, that’s how a person of science thinks about death. They say that atheists don’t agree with this part. It goes on to say that “in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
People who are dying always talk about why they want to live. This shows us how important it is to do what we can while we have the limited amount of time we have on Earth. Heaven isn’t the same as Earth. We don’t get another chance to talk to our loved ones. If there is no life after death, moral choice doesn’t become less important because this is all there is. When you read Mortality, he doesn’t say it outright, but it’s there in his whole discussion of how he dealt with being told he had a near-term, inevitable death. People who say, “Well, I don’t care. Even if atheism is more reasonable, religion gives us a sense of comfort when we’re going through hard times.” I think that what Christopher’s book does is show that atheism can be a comfort when you’re going through a hard time. The way I see it, this is very important to me. Five years ago, I lost a partner to Alzheimer’s disease. I thought about the time when he was first diagnosed with the disease and the years he lived with it, when he was still able to do things. I thought that if I were religious, I couldn’t stand this. If I thought that there was a God who would do this to people, I would be in a bad mood. Having the belief that death is the end and there is no divine plan is the only thing that makes you able to live with these kinds of things, I think. Some of us will die in a very bad way. We will lose the very thing that makes us human, our brain, when we die. Atheists can deal with this much easier than people who believe in God because they don’t have to come up with all these crazy ideas about how a loving God must have a plan. Let me out of that plan, God! And I think Christopher’s book has that, too.