“Only a Semitone from Faith”: Is KtB What James Wood Dreams Of?

We were struck by the concluding paragraph of James Wood’s excellent recent essay in the New Yorker, “God in the Quad” (August 31 issue). It finishes a discussion of literary critic Terry Eagleton’s recent book Reason, Faith, and Revolution, a reply to the new atheists. Brace yourself; this is great:

What is needed is neither the over-weening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief. Such atheism, only a semitone from faith, would be, like a musical dissonance, the more acute for its proximity. It could give a brother’s account of belief, rather than treat it as some unwanted impoverished relative. It would be unafraid to credit the immense allure of religious tradition, but at the same time it would be ready to argue that the abstract God of the philosophers and the theologians is no more probable than the idolatrous God of the fundamentalists, makes no better sense of the fallen world, and is certainly no more likable or worthy of our worshipful respect—alas.

Sound familiar? I can’t help but think of our Manifesto: “a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the ‘spirituality’ section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God”—”for people who somehow want to be religious, who want to know what it means to know the divine, but for good reasons are not and do not.” For nearly a decade, KtB has been doing just what Wood so rightly believes is needed. We do so not simply as atheists, as he suggests, but from all sorts of orientations, drawn into a common magazine by the conviction that religiosity deserves more respect than either thoughtless piety or knee-jerk repudiation.