Militant atheism, pragmatism, and the God-shaped hole

  • Andrew FialaEmail author


This paper addresses recent examples of militant atheism. It considers the theistic reply that describes atheism as deriving from a “God-shaped hole” in the human soul. The paper will argue that American pragmatism offers a middle path that avoids militant atheism without suffering from this problem. The paper describes this middle path and considers the problem that is seen in Rorty’s recent work: how the pragmatist can remain critical of religious fundamentalism without succumbing to a militant version of atheism. The solution proposed is tolerant acceptance of religion along with melioristic criticism developed within shared norms of inquiry.


Atheism Pragmatism William James John Dewey Richard Rorty Christopher Hitchens Richard Dawkins Sam Harris 


  1. Aiken S. and Hodges M. (2006). Wittgenstein, Dewey and the possibility of religion. Journal of Speculative Philosophy 20: 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berman P. (2003). Terror and liberalism. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Boyer P. (2001). Religion explained. Heinemann, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Clifford W.K. (1964). The ethics of belief. In: Kaufmann, W. (eds) Religion from Tolstoy to Camus. Harper Torchbooks, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Dawkins R. (2006). The god delusion. Houghton Mifflin, BostonGoogle Scholar
  6. Dennett D. (2006). Breaking the spell. Viking, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Dewey J. (1934). A common faith. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  8. Fiala A. (2005). Tolerance and the ethical life. Continuum, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Fiala A. (2007). What would Jesus really do? The power and limits of Jesus’ moral teachings. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  10. Frankenberry N.K. (2006). Bernstein and Rorty on justification by faith alone. In: Davaney, S. and Frisina, W. (eds) The Pragmatic Century. SUNY Press, Albany, NYGoogle Scholar
  11. Harris S. (2004). The end of faith. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Harris, S. (2006). An atheist manifesto at (
  13. Hitchens C. (2007). God is not great. Twelve, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. James W. (1964). The will to believe. In: Kaufmann, W. (eds) Religion from Tolstoy to Camus. Harper Torchbooks, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. James W. (1981). Pragmatism. Indianapolis, HackettGoogle Scholar
  16. Kierkegaard S. (1980). The sickness unto death. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  17. Maritain J. (1949). On the meaning of contemporary atheism. The Review of Politics 11(3): 267–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pascal, B. (1660). Pensées. At “Christian Classics” etext library:
  19. Rorty, R., & Engel, P. (2007). What’s the use of truth? Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Rorty R. (1998). Pragmatism as romantic polytheism. In: Dickstein, M. (eds) The revival of pragmatism. Duke University Press, Durham, NCGoogle Scholar
  21. Rorty R. (1999). Philosophy and social hope. Penguin, New York Google Scholar
  22. Rorty R. (2000). Philosophy and social hope. Penguin, New York Google Scholar
  23. Rorty, R. (2001). Decline of redemptive truth and the rise of a literary culture from:
  24. Rorty R. (2002). Cultural politics and arguments for God. In: Frankenberry, N.K. (eds) Radical interpretation in religion. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK Google Scholar
  25. Rorty R. (2003). Religion in the public square: A reconsideration. Journal of Religious Ethics 31(1): 141–149 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rorty R. (2004). Philosophy as “Transitional Genre”. In: Benhabib, S. and Frase, N. (eds) Pragmatism, critique, judgment: Richard J. Bernstein. MIT Press, Cambridge Google Scholar
  27. Spong J.S. (1998). Why Christianity must change or die. San Francisco, HarperCollinsGoogle Scholar
  28. Spong J.S. (2001). A new Christianity for a new world. San Francisco, HaperCollins Google Scholar
  29. Tillich P. (2005). The new being. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, USAGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCalifornia State UniversityFresnoUSA

Personalised recommendations