The rise and fall of disbelief


The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. We are his murderers.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve just finished working my way through ”The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World“ (Alister Mcgrath). It’s a fascinating account of the rise and fall of atheism as a movement, not just a belief system.

McGrath writes with understanding as a former Marxist and atheist.

The story begins with the ancient Greeks but it is not until the 18th century and the birth of the modern world that atheism comes into its own.

McGrath contends that atheism thrives when the church is seen to be privileged, out of touch with the people. When religion starts getting ideas about power, atheism soars in appeal. Atheism presented itself as a liberator, destroying the myth of the gods and thus enabling humanity to step outside the limits placed upon it by religion.

How did atheism use its freedom from God? As Dostoyevsky foresaw, the elimination of God let to new heights of moral brutality and political violence in Communism and Nazism. Those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence became the greatest murderers and oppressors in history.

But why did atheism fall from power?