I don't know why I picked up Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of. Oh, wait, yes I do: it's been getting great reviews, has just been named a New York Times Notable book for 2008, and is by an author with whose name I'm vaguely familiar but whose novels I could never find the energy to read. Whenever I see nonfiction by a novelist I feel like I should read but never have, I'll invariably pick it up.
After reading the first line I had high hopes for this book:
"I don't believe in God, but I miss Him. That's what I say when the question is put. I asked my brother, who has taught philosophy at Oxford, Geneva, and the Sorbonne, what he thought of such a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a single word: 'Soppy.'"
That, as one of J.D. Salinger's characters once said, had the possibility of being an interesting answer, so I read on. Seventy pages later I was annoyed, bored, and I hadn't found another sentence that lived up to that first one, so I stopped. The book jacket here promises that Barnes, "an atheist at twenty, an agnostic at sixty, Barnes looks into the various arguments for and against and with God," but I didn't find much of that. In one other aspect the jacket is entirely correct: he also writes about "the writers--'most of them dead, and quite a few of them French'--who are his daily companions, supplemented by composers and theologians and scientists whose similar explorations are woven into this account." He also offers an account of his own family and their relationship with religion and believing, which I also couldn't get interested in...
...and I just realized I am doing a terrible job of describing this book and why I didn't like it. Although I find religion very interesting, I can't say I've ever been all that fascinated by any atheists' manifestos. The way I see it: Believe what you're going to believe (or not), and that goes for God, the afterlife, and everything. The atheists aren't going to convince me to give up a belief in God, and I know I couldn't convince them. And, frankly, I TOTALLY don't understand being afraid of death if you are a true atheist. I may just be a total downer, but "nothingness" actually sounds kind of relaxing, so why fear it? But most of all, I am tired of old men telling me about their religion or their lack thereof. Why do these guys (Richard Dawkins, Barnes, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) think their personal lack of belief is so fascinating? Does anyone know of any female atheists writing these types of books? It'd be nice to read one of these by a woman, just for a change of pace, if nothing else.