You mentioned in your email that the books you’ve chosen are ones you consider essential to understanding the merits of atheism. Can you explain what you meant by that?
As you know I started my books with the Confessions of St Augustine, which I don’t think is on everyone’s list of the best books on atheism. What I meant when I said that they’re crucial to understanding atheism’s merits is that, although that was not his intention, to read St Augustine’s Confessions lays bare the complete inadequacy of religion to answer the great questions of life – which are really no different now than they were when he was grappling with them. How do you account for sin when there is an all-powerful all-loving God? The answer Augustine comes up with – as is the answer in Western Christianity and in Judaism – is free will, which is a completely inadequate answer. Either God is all-powerful and is therefore entirely responsible for everything that happens, or he is not, and there is not a God in this sense.
So this book is a good example of religion’s inadequacy. Atheists don’t have to cope with the question of why there is evil in the world, the answer is that we’re responsible for it.
In your view, should everyone be an atheist?
I don’t even know how to answer that question. Atheism seems to me to be reasonable, but should everyone be an atheist? I don’t know. To me that’s like asking, should everyone appreciate art? I would never set forth a dictate like that. Although religion seems utterly irrational to me, it gives all kinds of people a lot of things without the bad things that we’ve seen throughout the ages in religion, and we see today in the ultra-Islamic world. I would like to see more atheists, particularly in America which is the only developed country which is still heavily in the grip of religion, and in which fundamentalist religion still has so much influence. I think fundamentalist religion of all kinds – and most fundamentalist religions are from the monotheistic religions, Catholicism, Protestantism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam – are terrible forces in the world. I don’t like the fact that 25% of the people in my country believe the Bible is literally true. That’s not true in other developed parts of the world, it’s only true in places where education is very poor. So America is an anomaly in that respect. I’d like to see all fundamentalist religion go down the drain.