God not great? Neither is Onfray!

Issue 

The Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam

By Michel Onfray

Melbourne University Press, 2007

219 pages, $32.95

We live in perilous times. Religious maniacs with terrible weapons are attacking human civilization — and that's just the government of the United States. Additionally, there is the Israeli government repressing Palestinians while waving holy books, the Iranian government fostering Holocaust denialism and a motley crew of Islamic Jihadists whom the US once cultivated but now attacks.

Riding to the rescue comes French thinker Michel Onfray, with his book The Atheist Manifesto. Onfray is described by New Politics magazine as "the most brilliant, original and widely read philosopher of his generation".

Onfray comes out swinging in defence of the Enlightenment, the triumphal opening of European society that separated church and state. He thunders against the undermining of secularism, which he says is an affront to democracy.

He doesn't like any religion but he especially despises monotheism (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). It "foments contempt, wickedness, the forms of intolerance that produce racism, xenophobia, colonialism, wars, social injustice", he writes.

Onfray's thesis is that monotheism seeks to "promote self-hatred to the detriment of the body, to discredit the intelligence, to despise the flesh and to gratify everything that stands in the way of a gratified subjectivity".

This is polemic; all that religion holds sacred Onfray insults. There is precious little analysis and much exaggeration. For example: he claims that "every kind of risky behaviour, suicidal impulse and self destructive conduct", is a product of monotheism's "fixation with death".

Onfray has great fun slamming the endless logical contradictions in Biblical texts and the Koran. Onfray is convinced that "a glance at history is enough to confirm the misery and rivers of blood shed in the name of the one God". To bolster his argument he produces evidence to show that Hitler was a Christian and the Catholic hierarchy was happy to tolerate him.

This is ahistorical rubbish! The German bourgeoisie did not unleash Nazism to advance Christianity. Christianity stands condemned of terrible crimes, but it is not the only author of them. Stalin, the atheist, mass-murdering, Soviet dictator rates no mention in this book.

What is the most significant religious danger today, according to Onfray? "Everything that usually defines fascism is reproduced in the theory and practice of Islamic government", he states.

We live in perilous times. Rampant capitalism's global warming and the permanent war for oil (the misnamed "war on terror") threaten human survival. On the political right, there is a desperate ideological offensive to immunise ordinary people against any sense of human solidarity.

Fear of Islam is the major weapon of this ideological offensive and our rulers will grab any school of thought to advance it. We are used to religous fundamentalism used for this end, but even militant atheism will do and it runs through this book like a red thread. Michel Onfray is thrashing about in the bathtub of religion, innocent of effective historical analysis.