Paul J. GriffithsOctober 4, 2010 - 10:45am0 comments
Religion after Idolatry
Princeton University Press, $24.95, 198 pp.
Princeton University Press, $35, 393 pp.
In these two closely connected volumes, the Princeton philosopher Mark Johnston argues for the following conclusions. First, that refusing to identify God as an idol requires one to reject the central claims of most versions of Christianity (as well as Judaism and Islam). Second, that there can be no coherent account of the resurrection of the body or of most versions of personal immortality. Third, that the hope for personal immortality is inextricable from an idolatrous understanding of God. And, fourth, that there is nevertheless a sense in which good people “are also able to literally survive death.” Johnston argues for these conclusions not with the purpose of demolishing Christianity, but in order to provide comfort to, and inspiration for, an imagined “intelligent young person who is religious, but who feels that his or her genuine religious impulses are being strangled by what he or she is being asked to believe.” Johnston wants to save what he takes to be the essence of Christianity from its deformations—to save God from idols. This is an ancient concern, one that almost invariably leads, as it does here, to a rejection of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
It might seem from my brief summary of his arguments that Saving God and Surviving Death should be categorized with the New Atheist tracts produced in the last few years by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and their acolytes. That is not the case. Those works are...