Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt
Why have Western societies that were once overwhelmingly Christian become so secular? Looking to the feelings and faith of ordinary people, the award-winning author of Protestants Alec Ryrie offers a bold new history of atheism.
We think we know the history of faith: how the ratio of Christian believers has declined and a secular age dawned. In this startlingly original history, Alex Ryrie puts faith in the dock to explore how religious belief didn’t just fade away. Rather, atheism bloomed as a belief system in its own right.
Unbelievers looks back to the middle ages when it seemed impossible not to subscribe to Christianity, through the crisis of the Reformation and to the powerful, challenging cultural currents of the centuries since. As this history shows, the religious journey of the Western world was lived and steered not just by published philosophy and the celebrated thinkers of the day – the Machiavellis and Michel de Montaignes – but by men and women at every level of society. Their voices and feelings permeate this book in the form of diaries, letters and court records.
Tracing the roots of atheism, Ryrie shows that our emotional responses to the times can lead faith to wax and wane: anger at a corrupt priest or anxiety in a turbulent moment spark religious doubt as powerfully as any intellectual revolution. With Christianity under contest and ethical redefinitions becoming more and more significant, Unbelievers shows that to understand how something as intuitive as belief is shaped over time, we must look to an emotional history – one with potent lessons for our still angry and anxious age.
Praise for Unbelievers -
”'Unbelievers covers much ground in a short space with deep erudition and considerable wit. The history of doubt is still in its relatively early stages. This is an important and convincing contribution to it.” - Spectator
”'Highlights the dynamic role that emotions have played in the very human tendency to disbelieve religious claims … Those with an interest in the history of religion will be treated to a new perspective on the old opposition between believers and nonbelievers” - Library Journal
‘Ryrie’s contention that its power and effectiveness derive as much from its emotional impact as its rational argumentation makes considerable sense to me … what Ryrie’s engaging book suggests is that the battle over God is really a battle about a certain sort of emotional literacy. Giles Fraser, Unherd.com -
”'In Unbelievers we encounter heart-wrenching expressions of faith and its absence with nuanced attention to words and modulations of emotions. We find preachers, female writers, dramatists, poets and essayists who struggled daily with a religion that demanded faith … An arresting consideration of how their voices shaped what came after them. Deep insights are leavened with characteristic wit and humour, making this book a crucial read for anyone thinking about religion in our time.” - Bruce Gordon, author of Calvin
‘With wit and remarkable breadth of learning, Ryrie addresses an issue that touches us all.’ John O’Malley, author of Vatican I ‘How has unbelief come to dominate so many Western societies? The usual account invokes the advance of science and rational knowledge. Ryrie’s alternative, in which emotions are the driving force, offers new and interesting insights into our past and present.’ Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age -