the guardian Fri 03 October 2008
This French philosopher finds all the proofs of God wanting, though he does call Anselm's attempt "astonishing, fascinating, infuriating". Theodicy doesn't measure up either. We can, he argues, have "fidelity" (community through adherence to a shared inheritance of values) without having to have "faith". And instead of seeing humans as erring mini-images of a deity, we would do better to see them as animals, and of their triumphs say: "Not bad, for an animal!"
Many of the usual objections to believing-in-God, then, but in a tolerant key. "I loathe fanaticisms of all kinds," Comte-Sponville declaims, "including atheistic fanaticism." So his guides, happily, are Buddha and Spinoza rather than Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He talks about his friends and tells anecdotes from his lecturing career, and attempts bravely to describe an at-one-with-the-universe experience he once had in a forest. He is stylishly brisk: "Nature plays dice - this is just what distinguishes it from God." Perhaps, at the end of this amiable fireside chat, the author's idea of what a materialist "spirituality" is still seems a little woolly, but his heart, if we might say so, is in the right place.