We live, unarguably and lamentably, in times of increasing religious intolerance and increasing religious violence. As Paul Cliteur says in his cogent and timely book, the secular state and philosophical secularism are under global challenge by militant religion, which often displays a willingness to use terror to achieve its goals.
In contrast to the polemic of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchins, Cliteur adopts an analytical approach. He is willing to define his terms but does not set out to ‘defend’ atheism. Rather, he argues that, despite the rise of religious fanaticism, it is possible for believers and non-believers to coexist in social harmony, and he provides a convincing sketch of the sort of society in which this would be possible.
The book ranges across atheism, agnosticism, free-thought and moral and political secularism. Writing for a general rather than academic readership, Paul Cliteur has an engaging and discursive style, taking in topics as diverse as Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Pascal’s Wager and Humpty Dumpty’s approach to linguistics. The Secular Outlook is a thought-provoking discussion of how liberal, secular democracies can and should respond to religious extremism and a much-needed exposition of the vital importance, in that response, of rationality and an emphasis on common humanity.
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