Atheist Manifesto by Michel Onfray

Rant.

Rodomontade.

Petulant Tirade

imageAny of these terms could have been used in the title of this volume and been more descriptive of its contents. The jacket proclaims the book to be “an international bestseller” and the recipient of the Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year award, but after reading the contents contained within, one is left to wonder why. This pretentious, overwrought volume contains none of the advertised case against monotheism. Instead, the reader is confronted with Onfray’s ponderous use of unsubstantiated straw men to vent his barely contained hatred for the monotheistic faiths.

When making the argument in favor of one position over another, the proponent offers his evidence and demonstrates by reason how this evidence better coheres to reality than that presented in favor of the opposing position. Onfray offers this:

Hatred of intelligence and knowledge … is codified in the books [of the monotheistic faiths.] (77)

Hatred of science. Monotheism does not really like the rational work of scientists. (81)

Monotheisms have no love for intelligence, books, knowledge, science. Preferring the ethereal over the material and the real, they have a strong aversion to man’s instincts and basic drives. (95)

Hatred of women is like a variation on the theme of hatred of intelligence. To which might be added hatred of everything women represent for men: desire, pleasure, life. (101)

The religions of the book detest women. (102)

Jesus’s existence has not been historically established. (115)

The reader might expect a presentation of the evidence in support of the allegations and yet none follows. The trained philosopher Onfray should be aware of the ‘bare assertion’ logical fallacy and the damage that it does to the gravitas of your argument and yet he commits it over and over throughout the book. If the evidence of the monotheists is inconvenient  to his position (e.g. the independent historical records of Jesus apart from the Gospels) he simply dismisses it without providing or at least pointing to the testimony undergirding his stand. By the way, you’ll notice my careful use of citations above so that you, the reader, can determine if I have pulled a reference out of context or to read the surrounding text and determine for yourself if I am wrong. You will not find a single reference throughout the entire text, a deficit especially noticeable when the author when he makes assertions such as the hysteria of Paul (“These are all obvious symptoms of hysteria.” pg 133) and impotence as the source of the theological tenets expounded by the Apostle. Support? Citations? None but we are treated to yet another exclamation point complete with ellipsis to help us catch our breath! (This was true hysteria…a hysterical conversion!” pg 132)

If this were a singular example of the rhetorical style of the Atheist corpus, it could simply be dismissed as the rant that it is. Sadly, the more one reads the literature of the true believers, one finds the style quite common. Sentences are rarely without pejorative adjectives and inconvenient issues are dismissed out of hand. A quick survey of reviews for this book show it receiving glowing praise from the Atheist community. I attribute this to its contribution to the echo chamber in which these arguments foment. Serious scholars should look elsewhere for a coherent discussion.

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6 thoughts on “Atheist Manifesto by Michel Onfray”

  1. Red meat for the true believers. (ironic to use such terms for Atheists, no?) It reinforces their own position by belittling all others. A fanatic will feel refreshed by reading such twaddle, the weak-minded will be swayed and anyone else will feel insulted. I wish this were a new phenomenon, but as you have noted, it is a commonplace trope in works in this genre, and is common in works of a similar level of thought in politics and among the religious as well.

  2. I personally have not read The Atheist Manifesto, but from the excerpts given in the above article, I deem it slightly over-zealous and harsh towards monotheistic religions. However, the author of the article’s criticisms seem ill-placed, as he says “the evidence of the monotheists is inconvenient to [Onfray’s] position,” suggesting the atheism is a belief in something, or something that wants arguing for. Atheism is the very opposite, as it simply outlines the logic of not believing in God. The author treats atheism as a new religion denouncing or attacking his own, and the article consequently comes across as defensive. Atheism is not the anti-religion, but merely a lack of religion, and deserves to be respected for that stand point.

    1. Caroline, to propose that atheism is a somehow benign, “merely the lack of religion” is to forward the same canard refuted many times previous. Atheism is the belief in human reason as the controlling factor in the lives of the billions of sovereigns that trod the earth. It’s interesting that you make the case that it “deserves respect.” In order for me to confer respect on something I have to be able to make the judgment that it is good and worthy of my esteem. Without an objective source of standard for that ‘good and bad’, from where will my respect come from?

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