In another post I'll have more to say about an article in The New Yorker, Without a Prayer, which is partly about Gray's book. For now I'll just note a quotation from the book that illustrates how far off-base Gray's take on religiosity and atheism is:
"A godless world is as mysterious as one suffused with divinity, and the difference between the two may be less than you think."
Wrong. A godless world leads one to embrace modern science, which provides many answers to the questions that religious believers attribute to God. So there is considerably less mystery in a godless world.
To give one example, the theory of evolution does a much better job of explaining how us humans came to be than the countless creation myths put forth by religions.
Now, I haven't read Gray's book. Neither has someone who wrote a scathing review on Amazon. But he listened to an interview of John Gray discussing "Seven Types of Atheism," which is the next best thing.
Below is what Steven Mason says in his review. It seems right-on to me, given what is said about Gray's book in The New Yorker article. What Gray appears to ignore is what Mason zeroes in on: the fact that religions make truth claims about the world/universe.
This means that atheism has a much stronger leg to stand on than Gray admits to. I know lots of atheists. They all are fine moral people who are every bit as caring, virtuous, and loving as religious believers.
What they reject about religion is simple: it isn't true.
Put another way, there is no evidence that God or the supernatural exists. So again, this means there is a huge difference between (1) believing in a universe suffused with divinity, and (2) not believing in this sort of universe.
Here's Mason's review:
Amazon review by Steven Mason of John Gray's "Seven Types of Atheism."
I haven't read this book but I did listen to a long interview of the author discussing this book. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This is a review of the author explaining his book.
If any defenders of Gray would like to have a discussion with me about the views expressed in this book, I encourage you to post a comment. I assume that the views expressed in the interview are also expressed in the book. Let's get started:
Gray said: The first thing that's wrong with the so-called New Atheism is that there's nothing in it which is new.
Even if this were true (it's not), it's irrelevant. The so-called New Atheists are responding to the current crop of theists who are using, or trying to use, the power of government to force their religious beliefs on everyone, and other theists who are using pseudoscience to "prove" that God exists. It could be said, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that New Atheists are a response to New Theists. Moreover, while religion is exempt from taxes, there's no reason it needs to be exempt from criticism.
Besides, if originality is the name of the game, Gray should criticize himself because he doesn't say anything new.
Gray said: None of the New Atheists knows anything about the history of ideas.
That's an ad hominem attack that has no evidence to support it. This remark reminds me of "the true Scotsman" fallacy. In this case, Gray gets to define "knows anything" in a way that makes his claim valid (in his own mind, at least).
Gray has advanced degrees in philosophy and politics, so it's quite possible that he has acquired more knowledge about the history of ideas than most of the New Atheists. But that doesn't mean that the New Atheists have "no knowledge." Nor does it mean that having less knowledge than Gray necessarily invalidates their criticisms of religion. This is elitism of the worst kind and it's also the fallacy of "appeal to authority."
Gray said: If you asked an anthropologist or a sociologist or even a cultural historian about religion, not one of them nowadays, or very few of them, would think of religion as bodies of theories or beliefs or propositions which try to explain the world.
For starters, if we're talking about the three Abrahamic religions, they absolutely assert theories, beliefs and propositions for the purpose of explaining the world.
In a feeble attempt to support this claim, Gray uses a straw man. He says, "The myth about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden was never meant as an early theory of how life came about on this planet." Even if that is true, it doesn't change the fact that the Abrahamic religions assert that God had a hand (direct or indirect) in the creation of the universe, which ultimately led to the creation of humans, with whom God has a special relationship.
Moreover, the Abrahamic religions assert that God has a hand in laying down morals. Clearly, these assertions are intended as theories, beliefs and propositions.
Gray said: What we now call Hinduism, a very bold body of beliefs, of practices associated with very sophisticated philosophies, has never been summed up in a single body of beliefs. The same goes for Taoism, or Taoism and Confucianism and Shinto. Judaism hasn't been embodied in any single list of propositions or creeds.
What is Gray's point here? Even if there are many varieties of religious beliefs within broad families of religions, each variety still asserts "theories, beliefs and propositions that try to explain the world."
Gray said: I seriously considered not discussing New Atheists at all because I do find them boring and feeble in their arguments. But I did in the end, because most readers, if we say the word 'atheism,' wouldn't nowadays be most familiar with figures like Dawkins and Sam Harris and the others that you mentioned. I did discuss them quite briefly.
One gets the impression that Gray "discusses" New Atheists mostly to point out that they are ignorant about atheism, ideas, and religion, and they are boring besides. But again, if New Atheists are responding to what some power-hungry and pseudoscientific theists are trying to do in the world today, why does Gray find this "boring"?
For example, does Gray want a world in which Creationism is taught in public school science classes, as if it were a valid theory supported by evidence? Doesn't Gray know that is exactly what some theists are trying to do?
I could respond to lots more quotes, but you get the idea. These few quotes are more than sufficient to convince me not to bother reading this book, or any other book by Gray. Even if I were receptive to his views, there is certainly nothing "new" about them.