What a misleading book title!
What I had expected was a book about… well… seven different types of atheism.
A reasonable assumption, isn’t it? But no. It’s not about seven types of atheism. It’s a very interesting book nonetheless—but it’s only peripherally about types of atheism, whether seven or not.
It does have seven chapters:
- The new atheism: a 19th-century orthodoxy
- Secular humanism, a sacred relic
- A strange faith in science
- Atheism, gnosticism, and modern political religion
- Atheism without progress
- The atheism of silence
So I suppose you could stretch a point and say that these are seven types of atheism.
But no, not really. What makes this book fascinating and informative is that it really is a history of important European figures who in one sense or another were atheists, from Spinoza and Marx to Santayana and Russell. Gray analyzes their religious/philosophical views, always in historical context, and debates with himself whether they were all atheists. There are a couple of themes that inform the narrative, such as the idea of progress and the notion that atheism is really a religion. Here is a representative paragraph:
The idea of progress is a mutant version of the Christian belief that human salvation is found in history, while modern revolutionary and liberal movements continue the faith in an end to history that inspired the teachings of Jesus. Partisans of revolution, reform and counterrevolution think that they have left religion behind, when all they have done is renew it in shapes they fail to recognize.