Quaker Universalist Conversations

The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, by Tim Crane

A Friends Journal review by Brian Drayton

The August 2018 Friends Journal includes Brian Drayton’s review of The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View (Harvard University Press, Oct. 2017).

The following is a brief excerpt from that review. We encourage you to read the review in full, in order to whet your appetite for the book itself.

The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, by Tim Crane People who applaud the movement to secularization…, especially the more polemical intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker, premise their arguments on descriptions of religious experience that seem quite uninformed—fighting against both straw men and straw gods, so to speak.

Tim Crane, an avowed atheist, is a philosopher who has decided not to start off with a simplistic framework upon which to rack religion, but to explore it in a way that neither compromises his atheist stance, nor oversimplifies what he calls “the religious impulse”.…

[He] points out that many of the modern atheist critiques of religion assume that the core of religion consists in the positing of a supernatural being, an assumption on which other irrational and unwarranted claims are made…. Crane assumes that something much more complex and subtle is going on….

This book … differs from some recent atheist writings on religion in two ways. First, it is not about the truth of religious belief but about its meaning: what it means to believe in religious ideas, what it means for believers, and what it should mean for nonbelievers too.… Second, it differs from much recent atheism in the picture of religion it draws.…

“While I think there are both cosmological and moral elements in religious belief, I reject the reduction of religious belief to either of them, or even to their combination.… We will fail to understand this fundamental human phenomenon if we try to force it into these preconceived categories.