Hot Topic


by Marco Ursi

14 May 2007


When Time magazine published their infamous “Is God dead?” cover story in 1966, editors across the continent learned a valuable lesson: God sells. And controversial stories about God sell more. Just ask Dan Brown. Or Richard Dawkins.

With his atheist manifesto, The God Delusion, dominating bestseller lists since it was first published in September, Dawkins has been at the centre of nearly every God (or rather, anti-God) story recently published.The articles all seem to tell us the same thing: Science and religion are at odds. The Intelligent Design debacle made a lot of people angry. Religion and God are bearing the brunt of their anger. Atheism is hot and Richard Dawkins is the man who lit the flame. (Here, to prove that this subject is newsworthy, some other prominent atheists are mentioned, usually philosopher Daniel Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Aspiring freelancers take note: three=trend.) Religion is the cause of most of the world’s violence, the Atheists say. Stalin and Hitler were Atheists, the religionists say. Hmmm, the writer says.

In Novemeber, Wired published “The New Atheism.” That same month, Time ran “God vs. Science,” featuring a debate between Dawkins and faith-defending scientist Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, another bestseller. Maclean’s recently published “Is God Poison?”. The New Yorker just chimed in with a lengthy essay, Christopher Hitchens replacing Dawkins as the focus (new famous Atheist=fresh idea!). Nearly every newspaper in North America and Britain has published something on the subject (book review or otherwise).

If God doesn’t exist, someone needs to explain how he manages to sell so many magazines and newspapers.

While what’s already out there is generally thoughtful and well-written, I think we’ve heard enough from the Dawkins’s, the Dennett’s and the Harris’s. We’ve also heard enough from the writers and scientists and religionists who disagree with them. What’s missing, at least from what I’ve seen, are stories that explore Atheism from the ground level. Who is buying these books? Why? Are these people finding alternative ways to fill the “spiritual void” in their lives? What about non-religious people who still believe in a “higher power” of some sort? Who are they and what are they up to? The coverage has been all top-down. Let’s try a different angle.

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