Most commentators have already pointed out that this book is rather a collection of thumbnail biographies of famous people whose writings could be int...moreMost commentators have already pointed out that this book is rather a collection of thumbnail biographies of famous people whose writings could be interpreted as atheistic or agnostic. As a general reader, I remain unconvinced that each person was an atheist. Possibly it is due to my lack of direct familiarity with their writings. But some of the chapters in Joshi's book seem forced. When discussing Mark Twain, Joshi acknowledges that the writings he is citing were written shortly after Twain lost his wife and one daughter. Naturally, his view on God and the Afterlife are a little skewed.
It is clear that Joshi has read extensively on the topic. I am convinced that Joshi is knowledgeable on Atheist literature and philosophy in general. I can only comment based on a fleeting background from college and emotion.
The chapter on John Stuart Mill was informative to the extent that Joshi attributes to Mill a quote to the effect that 'from time to time, religion must be tested by the rigors of science.' However, elsewhere in the book, Joshi notes that mysticism (religion) is emotional, and therefore, difficult to measure or penetrate with the rigors of science. What Joshi has clearly shown is that many authors, Mill, Darwin, and Mencken especially, were not so critical of religion per se; but rather religious people (deists?), like William Jennings Bryan, forcing their emotional views onto others. Joshi clearly sees himself, and noted atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris pushing back by forcing their scientific views onto religion. For Joshi, it is clear that these are mutually exclusive positions. A scientists cannot be scientific and religious. He remains baffled at how some scientists can continue to believe religious creed.
Not until Madalyn O'Hair do the authors covered in Joshi's book become unabashedly atheist. At this point in the book, Joshi's approach turns away from trying to force authors into his position, and begins a more detailed literary criticism of the authors and their critics. In this style, too, I am uncomfortable. He spends time discussing Hitchins' book on Mother Theresa describing her benefactors and questionable bank accounts. In one passage, Joshi or Hitchins writes 'If anyone visited Calcutta in the 1980s, death and population control hardly appear to be the most urgent needs.' However, in my basic knowledge of the issue, I recall people dying alone beside the road, because there were trucks that would drive by and collect the dead. So, yes, I think Mother Theresa's death houses were an urgent need. Consequently, I am reinforced in doubting that Joshi uses the strongest criticisms leveled against slate of authors.
However, he is an impressive writer. There are indications of how atheistic literature expanded since the early nineteenth century. Although the book is organized chronologically, there are no real indications of the authors referencing each other. In his conclusion, Joshi notes that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchins tackle very different aspects of religion, and therefore, one should read each of them. It sounds as though each of them is extremely egotistical - Hitchens seems to have been.
I will close with one last observation. Joshi stresses the battle between religion and science. He deprecates religion as being emotional and full of contradictions. However, one of his select authors is just as guilty. Christopher Hitchens' support for the Iraq War was irrational and based on emotion. Joshi himself noted the controversy of Hitchen's inexplicable and resolute belief in the just cause of the war in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence. The more people pushed Hitchens to repudiate his support, the more emotional he became in defending his position. Perhaps the greatest lesson of this book is to not force ideas onto people. (less)
There are many books on the market discussing the role of Christianity in modern America. This book, while focusing on the first three centuries of Ch...moreThere are many books on the market discussing the role of Christianity in modern America. This book, while focusing on the first three centuries of Christians, is concerned with how that history is perceived in the modern world. The book is written by an academician for a non-academic audience. There are references, perhaps too few when considering such a delicate subject. The slim selection of referenced authors would help her case had she done something to bolster their credibility. As it stands, readers cannot discern if Peter Brown, a highly respected antiquity historian, is any more authoritative than Glenn Beck, whom she identified as a political commentator.
Without going further into her sources, the reader can leisurely object to some of her conclusions, even if the reader is receptive to her thesis….a thesis made clear in the title. For example, Moss devotes a chapter to some of the most well-known martyrdoms, ones that most historians assume really did occur. The chapter uses a common-sense approach to punch holes in the stories and typically conclude with something along the lines of ‘the author was writing at least a hundred years after the fact, so what could they really know?’ Some readers may appreciate more referencing to these historians and what these historians believe in terms of the accuracy of the stories. I had numerous ancient and medieval college professors hold up hagiographies as windows to life in the first century AD. Most ignored the creative licensing of the authors to embellish visions and sermons admonishing good behavior. As per discarding literature because it was written hundreds of years, that literature is some of the rare extant materials covering these periods in history. Few, if any historians, discount Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People because he was writing hundreds of years after the events described. These hagiographies were written closer to events than many official histories.
Even when discussing primary sources, Moss seems a little uncertain. She holds up an exchange between Pliny and Trajan as evidence that there was no systematic persecution of Christians until Trajan Decius in the 250s. However, Pliny calmly informs the emperor ‘the Christians were stubborn, so I killed them.’ Considering that the Roman religion tolerated most other religions so long as Roman subjects offered sacrifices to the emperor, this looks kinda like persecution.
The book is logical and fairly easy reading for lay audiences. This probably accounts for the limited number of resources. Each chapter has subdivisions for reflection and convenience. The conclusion shows how the book is focused on Twenty-first century America with criticisms of our increasingly divided culture and common perceptions among many strata in American society that see themselves as being persecuted. Admittedly, this is the only place she references Glenn Beck; but the book does seemingly take a turn for the crazy in the conclusion with tangents going onto abortion, massacres in Nigeria, etcetera with little direct connection to martyrs. Strange way to end a rather provocative and informative book. (less)
Medieval Philosophy is not exactly portrayed correctly in the movies. These selected writings tried to make their thoughts and concerns more "attracti...moreMedieval Philosophy is not exactly portrayed correctly in the movies. These selected writings tried to make their thoughts and concerns more "attractive" to modern readers. Make no mistake, this is a difficult reading in philosophy; not a humorous overview of Anselm.(less)
Detailed and documented; but very long and dry. I was disappointed in the lack of background discussion. The focus was clearly religious with some ana...moreDetailed and documented; but very long and dry. I was disappointed in the lack of background discussion. The focus was clearly religious with some analysis on the culture. However, the author appears reluctant to really argue how Christianity displaced Paganism in France. (less)
Although the witch craze did reach into the British Islands, the investigation was more humane and scientific. Scot believed that witches existed; but...moreAlthough the witch craze did reach into the British Islands, the investigation was more humane and scientific. Scot believed that witches existed; but was skeptical about most of the stories that came to his attention. (less)
Fun reading for those who hate women. The authors of this 14th Century work were Dominican friars who caused considerable anxiety wherever they ventur...moreFun reading for those who hate women. The authors of this 14th Century work were Dominican friars who caused considerable anxiety wherever they ventured in their search for witches, or single women.(less)
Focusing largely on late Medieval European interpretations, this is a good book describing the literary development of Satan from obscure Zoroastrian...moreFocusing largely on late Medieval European interpretations, this is a good book describing the literary development of Satan from obscure Zoroastrian Persia to the present day. (less)
A very good, academic discussion on witchcraft in late-Medieval/Early Modern Europe. Ginzburg has a gift for making academic topics readable for lay p...moreA very good, academic discussion on witchcraft in late-Medieval/Early Modern Europe. Ginzburg has a gift for making academic topics readable for lay persons.(less)
The author is certainly knowledgable about the subject matter; but he was not as skilled in conveying the knowledge. He relies too heavily on metaphor...moreThe author is certainly knowledgable about the subject matter; but he was not as skilled in conveying the knowledge. He relies too heavily on metaphors to get his point across. One is example is in distinguishing between moralists and pietists. He says moralists are followers of Jesus; but pietists are friends of Jesus. What exactly does that mean?(less)
This was a fascinating book that chronicled the rapid rise of Christianity. While some of his more relevant observations look like arm-chair scholarsh...moreThis was a fascinating book that chronicled the rapid rise of Christianity. While some of his more relevant observations look like arm-chair scholarship, they have hitherto been overlooked by other commentators in the field. Furthermore, the writing is good and flows.(less)