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is a difficult subject in the modern world. Everywhere,
from popular media to the university, from the bookshelf to the dinner
table, religions are derided or marginalised and public figures, such
as Richard Dawkins, set upon anyone who admits to a belief in God. The
secular mind has been shaped by the Enlightenment legacy of Marx, Darwin
and Freud, where disbelief has arisen from the twin impact of the rise
of scientific rationalism and the revulsion against religious cruelty.
In Secularism, Mike King argues that the Enlightenment thinkers
who initiated these arguments intended to improve, not to eradicate
religion. Instead, a hidden factor is shown as the key to the origins
of Western disbelief: the rise of a non-devotional spiritual impulse,
best understood in Eastern terms. Its failure to be accepted, either
by mainstream religion or the secular world, encouraged the expression
of atheism. An uneasy détente developed between secular culture
and faith tradition, which coexisted in a `mutual ignorance pact' until
the rude awakening of 9/11.
King engages with a range of thinkers, including Pythagoras, Plotinus,
Spinoza, Darwin and Freud, and, most importantly, incorporates detailed
studies of a variety of spiritual leaders and Eastern thinkers, providing
a perspective that readers are unlikely to have encountered before.
A compelling case is made that the current antagonism between religion
and science has no basis: the `God' put forward on one side is too narrow
a historical conception, and the science put forward on the other side
is too limited to account for the variety of spiritual impulse.