Jennifer Vanderbes's Reviews > Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness

Against All Gods by A.C. Grayling
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Nov 13, 07

Read in November, 2007

This book is filled with so many sweeping generalizations, it's hard to know where to begin attacking it. Grayling claims to be arguing against religion , but he is effectively arguing only against Islam and Christianity, and actually, only against the most extreme believers/proselytizers. He consistently alludes to violence done in the name of religion (crusades, suicide bombers), conveniently ignoring the non-violent tenets of, say, Buddhism. He refers to things such as "the predictable response of religious believers" -- hmmnnn...he can predict the response of several billion people of a dozen different religions?
Perhaps his most idiotic gripe: "the public advertisement of their faith membership. When people enter the public domain wearing or sporting immediately obvious visual statements of their religious affiliation, one at least of their reasons for doing so is to be accorded the overriding identity of a votary of that religion, with the associated implied demand that they are therefore to be given some special treatment including respect...But why should they be given automatic respect for that reason?" Let's ignore the fact that his belief in free speech should logically extend to, well, free fashion. The purpose of the nun's habit or the monk's robe is to eliminate fashion-choices from the daily routine. All the nuns and all the monks wear the same thing, every day: does Grayling want them to dress differently to go about the streets?
Grayling endlessly muddles the idea of religious organizations requesting state funding (the pernicious faith-based schools in England), with people of faith asking for respect. What human doesn't want respect? Whether for his/her faith, values, culture, or intellect. To argue a secular state is one thing, to argue against monks wearing robes is silly.
Grayling, in arguing against religion, says: "No wars have been fought over theories in botany or meteorology; most wars and conflicts the world's history owe themselves directly or indirectly to religion." Noticeably absent from this claim are the words race, territory, ethnicity and resources. Grayling does not note that the current genocide in Darfur, in which a couple hundred thousand people are being slaughtered, is an intra-Muslim conflict. Blaming religion for most human violence is missing the point, dangerously. Was the US invasion of Iraq about Christianity? Or even Democracy? Does Grayling not see the role of oil in that conflict? And the greed of the military-industrial complex? Does Grayling think we should waste our time worrying about nuns in habits, and ignore the need for alternative fuels and the danger of beasts like Halliburton?
Since Grayling claims to value science so very much, it's unfortunate he missed the work of E.O. Wilson, who spent decades studying insect societies. Not only did Wilson discover that ants wage war, he actually found that animals are more violent than humans: "The data from long-term behavioral studies of groups such as lions, hyena's and chimpanzees show that the per capita murder-rate in animal-societies that do engage in murderous aggression is much higher than in human beings...even if you throw in the rate of mortali­ty due to direct aggression during war in the modern area. Even there, in a few episodes during this century where we saw the highest mortal­ity in modern history, the percentage of people killed out of the entire populati­on of Europe was still relati­vely small. As horren­dous as it was, a couple of tens of milli­ons, it was still only a small percentage. Whereas a larger percentage of an entire clan of aggressive social animals someti­mes is killed. And when you go down to ants, they are genuinely the most warlike of the animals, and the mortali­ty-rates there of individuals and col­onies can be truly staggering."
These creatures kill over territory and resources, not their gods.
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Hi Jennifer,

Enjoyed your review.
Think you're missing out on the basic thrust of Grayling's demolition program by getting sidetracked on such issues as the dress of monks and nuns,etc.

He is saying: THERE ARE NO GODS.
Mono-, poly-, whatever.

Your argument gets caught up in what are really details and you can argue about that ad nauseam, and Grayling might probably even agree with you, and alter his text but he is still depriving you of your mainstay...YOUR GOD/S.
I remember losing Santa Claus whom I believed in with all my heart and soul, and it wasn't easy.
And losing God is harder because there seems to be alot more at stake. "Seems' is the operative word.

By the way, Buddhism is viewed as an atheism, not a religion. There is a good book by Stephen Batchelor titled" Buddhism Without Beliefs". It's on Goodreads...of course.

Thanks for a stimulating review and thanks for making Goodreads what it is.
Cheers from Wayne, Sydney, Australia.

Jennifer Vanderbes Ah yes, but I am in fact an atheist. Rational Thought is my sole religion, Good Argument the only God I worship, which is why his nonsense is so utterly offensive...

Alexandra 'Let's ignore the fact that his belief in free speech should logically extend to, well, free fashion. The purpose of the nun's habit or the monk's robe is to eliminate fashion-choices from the daily routine. All the nuns and all the monks wear the same thing, every day: does Grayling want them to dress differently to go about the streets? ' By 'free-fashion' I believe your'e referring to individuals freedom of choice. When this creates barriers that extends to public life and services i.e the courtroom, educational settings. A more recent and concrete example would be the Hijab in the courtroom then there is a reasonable basis for con straining religious attire. If we use the initial premise of what is fashion, it is ultimately 'expression' and a public 'advertisement' of what a person feel/represent etc etc. Given this book is a compilation of brief essays, Graylings arguments weren't extended, if they would be fairly sound arguments. Otherwise I found it to be concise and eloquent.

message 1: by Gary (new) - added it

Gary Brooks To be fair Grayling doesn't suggest that religion is the only cause of war, just a one of many, if not a major cause in itself. The fact that there are other causes of war does in no way negate his point. Wars are fought over religion, because of religion and perpetuated by religion.

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