British philosopher and former professor of European Thought, John Gray is the author of nearly a dozen books, but is perhaps best known for 2007’s Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (FSG), in which he argued that humans ought to strip ourselves of the “dangerous” illusion that we are different from other animals.
Gray’s new book, Seven Types of Atheism (FSG, Oct.), takes that argument a step further by maintaining that many strands of atheism replace traditional religion with a worship of the human being. Though godless, much of what is called "atheist" is actually religious, says Gray. He asserts that the only difference between traditional atheism and religion is that instead of the worship of a monotheistic God, atheists find faith in humanity and its ability to improve as a species, and uses uprisings of the working class and technology as examples. But first, Gray establishes the different schools of thought among atheists in the book.
“As a historian in the academics, I knew that there were many different types of atheism, and of course we all know that there are many different types of religion,” he told PW. “There are many varieties within that broad understanding of people who don’t believe in a creator god, all with different philosophies, different histories, and different views of the world.”
The author says the seven types of atheism can sometimes meld into each other—but he contends that only two are true forms of an absence of belief in the existence of deities.
“Truer forms of atheism are ones that shed monotheistic thinking, not just monotheistic beliefs,” said Gray. “Modern atheists are constantly trying to find surrogates for the god they reject—science for example, political surrogates, belief in human progress, or whatever. I think to be a true atheist, you would dispense with those, and live in a world that was truly godless.”
Instead, Grays said, the true types of atheism are “an atheism without any belief in the human progress of civilization, and an atheism of silence,” which he compares to religious traditions that talk about God as being indefinable. It is these last two types of atheism that he embraces.
“I am myself an atheist because I simply don’t need the idea of a creator god that fashioned the world and fashioned the human animal,” he said.
Eric Chinski, editor-in-chief at FSG who has worked on several of Gray’s past titles, tells PW, “I'm especially excited about this new book and think it has the potential to be a break-out in the U.S.” Chinski described Seven Types of Atheism as, “a provocative, polemical book, but also subtle and moving, a deep reflection on what it means to live in the world without illusions.”