March 24, 2008

A man in the sky

I like John Gray, not the Venus / Mars guy, but the LSE /Straw Dogs guy. That book meant a lot to me a few years ago, mainly because I read it on a long bus ride coming down from Taipei after reading the Atomized [aka The Elementary Particles], my first Houellebecq, on the way up. Both considered the inability to overcome our animal nature, and reading them together left me intoxicated for several months.

I reread Straw Dogs [SD] last year and took notes. I reread the notes two months ago when I started this blog and found little worth repeating. I don't think that reflects too badly on either the book or myself. You climb the ladder and then it's unnecessary, or, as Alan Watts said of why he gave up acid: "When you've got the message, you hang up the phone".

One of the things that annoyed me in SD, and in the other works of Gray's I've read [all the popular one's apart from the most recent, Black Mass, which I'm waiting for fate to lay in front of me - things aren't just on the shelf in southern Taiwan], is the clinging to religion as a Good Thing. Nassim Taleb also has this, but in his Long Now talk he practically came out and said the function of religion is to keep the proles in line, since they can't take their philosophy any other way. I may have misinterpreted him on this.

Gray's set out another religious defense in the Guardian recently. Many annoying things, like the tiresome claim that atheism is another kind of religious belief, rather than an assertion of what is known against what's demonstrably unknown and / or unknowable. The odd thing is that Gray's theme across all his later works is to show up the illusions we have about ourselves, but he's unwilling to accept that religious belief is another one of these.

Still, he's a writer, the idea being to strike ideas together and create some light and noise, and in this he succeeds and is often fun, but never forget that what he and other public intellectual apologists of religion are defending so energetically is the belief that there is an invisible being who made everything, sees everything and can choose to intervene any time he wants, but chooses not to.

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