Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents by Ian Buruma - review by John Gray

John Gray

Limits of Tolerance

Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents


Princeton University Press 142pp £13.95

Atheists campaigning to convert the world from religion present one of history's comic spectacles. The enemies of religion are shaped by what they reject, so that while they denounce religious beliefs their way of thinking replicates the categories and assumptions in terms of which these beliefs have been framed. Their obsessive concern with belief is itself an inheritance from Christianity. In the ancient world Greco-Roman polytheism was not much concerned with what people believed, any more than Judaism was. Practice was primary – ritual, prayer and the observance of law and custom. Proselytising for universal unbelief, contemporary atheists unwittingly mimic the religion they think they have left behind.

The campaign against religion is a continuation of religion by other means, a fact reflected in the noisy and tedious debates of recent years. Writers who approach religious experience as it should be approached – in a spirit of sceptical openness rather than anxious, dogmatic denial – are

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