Talking about what it feels like is as real as it gets

Adam Phillips

  • Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford
    Faber, 224 pp, £12.99, September 2012, ISBN 978 0 571 22521 7
  • BuyOur Church: A Personal History of the Church of England by Roger Scruton
    Atlantic, 199 pp, £20.00, November 2012, ISBN 978 1 84887 198 4

No one can write about religion now without having in mind the new mockery that accompanies the new atheism. The new atheism’s ‘smug emissaries’ – as the blurb of Francis Spufford’s engaging new book calls them, meaning above all Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – believe in spite of all evidence that eventually the religious will see sense. And yet with their magical belief in the truth of science – their taking for granted a consensus about the value of scientific evidence – and their unspoken assumption that virtually everyone who has ever lived has been out of touch with reality, the evangelical atheists have provoked some quite rational defences of religious faith. Given how much religious believers have achieved – all of human culture up to the end of the 19th century (and most since), including forms of scepticism about religion, as well as ways of evaluating faith and belief – it isn’t entirely surprising that the emissaries of the new atheism haven’t had it all their own way.

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