An Atheist’s History of Belief: Understanding Our Most Extraordinary Invention (2013)
by Matthew Kneale
by Matthew Kneale
Superb. Eye-opening. Thought-provoking. Though not unique, his writing is a smooth reading, probably because Kneale is a writer better known as an award-winning novelist. Only the last part of this book and somewhere (few parts) in the middle is sort of – boring and leave me with more questions than answers. As a whole, I think he should change the title of this book to A Brief History of the Invention of Belief. Kneale is true to his title, by the way, he gives a history of belief, not religion.
He start on an individual note: "As the son of a Manx Methodist atheist and a refugee German Jewish atheist, I have never been much of a believer. Yet, like everyone else, I find myself surrounded by belief.” With that introduction, I find that Kneale does not preach atheism but dissects, like a historian, the pillar of society called belief. Starting with prehistoric man, the journey follows how belief became a part of our being, and why. This book, no doubt, soul food for atheists and an anti-theological thought experiment for agnostics and the liberally faithful. But regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), if you want a book to help you see/challenge your beliefs from various angles, this is the one.
What first prompted prehistoric man, sheltering in the shadows of deep caves, to call upon the realm of the spirits? And why has belief thrived since, shaping thousands of generations of shamans, pharaohs, Aztec priests and Mayan rulers, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Nazis, and Scientologists? What really happened? What had caused people to come up with such strange-seeming notions as paradise, hell, end of the world or sin? Or gods? Kneale offers his answers, his ideas based on research and history… that mean… not without his own personal bias and limited knowledge.
This book is divided into 10 chapters:
#1 Inventing Gods
#2 Inventing Paradise
#3 Inventing Deals with God
#4 Inventing the End of the World
#5 Inventing Humble Heaven
#6 Inventing a Religion, Inventing a Nation
#7 Inventing Elsewhere
#8 Inventions from the Underground
#9 Inventing Witches
#10 Inventing New Comforts
Matthew writes this forward: “This book does not seek to belittle religion. On the contrary, the more I have looked at intense beliefs, the more I have found them fascinating. They say so much about us. As a fiction writer, who tries to make a livelihood from imagination, I have considerable professional respect for what is, I would propose, humankind’s greatest imaginative project.” Read at your own risk!
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.