Along the way he brings up several old clichés including this one:
"When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything." Whoever said it - he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.
He uses the Dan Brown book and how people believe its "silly, sub-Christian superstitions" as an example of this. Because, as we all know, atheists really, really want to believe that Christ was King of France.
Earlier in the year, however, the New Yorker had atheists needing ghost stories because otherwise their real and imaginative worlds would be so impoverished:
Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.
Neither of these ideas is generally true. People reject God for any number of reasons, reasons as varied as those for believing in him. It's a leap of faith either way. My darkened narrow material world is shared by any number of atheists, including, according to some list I found, Randy Newman, Joss Whedon and the agnostic Umberto Eco...
Then again, Eco isn't really talking about rejecting God so much as he's talking about rejecting religion:
Human beings are religious animals. It is psychologically very hard to go through life without the justification, and the hope, provided by religion.
It's hard, he's saying, to go through life without hope and religion is the easiest way he knows of giving hope. So there you go "become a christian, it's not as hard as the alternative" they should put it on a poster outside St. Peters tomorrow. Actually, as a sort of half-cocked Pascal's Wager it's honest, at least.
He then brings up a straw man of scientists who were also religious or believed in silly things. Eco must know this is a canard himself but he's decided that this Xmas will all need a little less X and a little more Christ so let's show that Scientist doesn't also mean Atheist. Of course it doesn't, why should it?
But, really, the whole thing is comprised of weasel words and slack thinking (and point scoring) summed up by this bit:
Many of the people who now go to the Louvre are there only to look at the Mona Lisa, solely and simply because it is at the centre of Dan Brown's book.
Perhaps given a generous definition of "Many" — "enough that you would remark upon it" maybe — this might be true. But as the French say with enough ifs you could put Paris in a bottle.