Atheists without anger
It gets tiring being around people who are angry all the time. I know a few people like that and I am sure you do to. They’ve always got a battle to fight, a line to draw, a cause to shove down the throats of others. And then there is Andre Comte-Sponville, author of The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, trans. Nancy Huston (Viking, 2006, 2007). He clearly isn’t angry. He likes people of religious faith. Or, more correctly, he doesn’t not like them just because they have a religious faith. He is not in the business of picking fights with theists, Christians, bishops, evangelists, popes, Dalai lamas, bodhisattvas, nuns or anybody else. He writes:
Some believers are admirable (and the fact that there are more saintly people among believers than among atheists, while it proves nothing as to the existence of God, should make us refrain from scorning religion); most are worthy of respect. Their faith in no way offends me. Why should I combat it? My intention is not to convert people to atheism. It is merely to explain my position and the arguments in its favor, motivated more by the love of philosophy than by the hatred of religion. There are free spirits on both sides, and it is to them that my words are addressed. The others, whether believers or atheists, can be left to their certainties. (11)
This is a kinder, gentler form of atheism than that which tends to make the bestseller list and which brazenly (and bizarrely) dismisses all religion as a lamentable and dangerous cognitive delusion. Andre (yes, after a few pages we’re on a first name basis) is the kind of guy you’d invite over to smoke cigars and drink brandy on the back porch (if only I smoked cigars and drank brandy).
Martin Marty has observed that the new division which will define our age is not between conservative and liberal, or religious and irreligious, but rather between mean and non-mean. In the first couple chapters of his book Andre comes across as profoundly non-mean. In a polarized day with mean people on all sides, that is a breath of fresh air.