Response: Christopher Hitchens and Prayer

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Online Computer Science Degree for Guide to Online Schools.

 

The seemingly large number of people who seem to expect – or want – to pray for Christopher Hitchens, or who see Hitchens himself turn to prayer in the wake of his learning that he has esophageal cancer, is completely and totally baffling. Carl’s piece on Hitchens and prayer understands this quite clearly.

As a self-described “anti-theist” and someone who has made much of his career writing about religion and its negative effects upon society, which he explored thoroughly in much of his journalistic work as well as his nonfiction (particularly God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), it would make no sense for Hitchens to suddenly become a religious person in any capacity. It would appear, rather, as a complete and total cop-out, evidence of a man’s desperation to continue living that simply could not be justified in any capacity given who Hitchens is and what he’s made his life doing.

Carl Packman’s passage about Pascal’s wager makes especially clear why this is the case, as Hitchens would be “only doing this in case” it somehow were to miraculously cure him of a condition that very few people ever survive for more than a few years. Furthermore, Hitchens’ lifestyle has in many ways encouraged the development of his cancer, and you’ll hear this from Hitchens before anyone else, as Hitchens readily acknowledges his heavy drinking and cigarette smoking as a major factor in his having developed this condition.

Given that this is the case – and that Hitchens didn’t change his behavior for decades and is now undergoing treatment, but expects to live not longer than perhaps five years – one can safely assume that the essential qualities that make Christopher Hitchens Christopher Hitchens are not going to change anytime soon, and this includes his lifelong dedication to anti-theism and criticism of religion. Were Hitchens to embrace religion now and for nothing to change, he would merely prove his point; were Hitchens to embrace religion now and to miraculously recover, he would invalidate his career and ruin his legacy as a writer and thinker over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Not mentioned in the piece but also certainly of interest is the fact that Hitchens has also said that those who feel compelled to pray for him are welcome to do so, since it’s essentially harmless and may make people feel better. Rather than vehemently oppose all prayer about him, he’s simply chosen not to participate in it (including the day of prayer for Hitchens that some seemed to be interested in making happen). This stance seems surprisingly more atheistic than anti-theistic, though given that it is a personal belief and not one necessarily being imposed upon others, it could be viewed as less damaging or potentially destructive than other forms of religious expression and thus less immediately menacing.

What happens to Hitchens in the next several years, and his last writings, will be of great interest, but I don’t think either of us expect to see him turn to prayer anytime soon.

This is a response to my blog entry called Christopher Hitchens and prayer.

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Ed Miliband is atheist – so what?

An hour ago, the press association ran a piece entitled “Ed Miliband: I don’t believe in God”. This relates to an interview with Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 Live, where the question was raised, and the answer carefully noted how important it is to be tolerant of people whatever their view.

This will not stop the insults unfortunately. Nor will it help matters much that Miliband is the son of a Marxist heathen, unmarried, and the brother of an atheist who at least did his best by sending his child to a Roman Catholic school.

None of these things matter of course; and as Miliband said in his interview, his views should be a private matter, much like the atheism of our deputy Prime Minister.

But remember it is not just believers who have over-fetishised God in politics. Few may remember two years ago, when David Miliband was thought to be brewing a leadership bid, the philosopher and atheist A.C. Grayling making a plea in the Guardian for an atheist Prime Minister.

It levelled many ridiculous claims that should divide a believing PM from a non-believing one; atheists will not receive messages from beyond if going to war; they will be sceptical about giving special privileges to religious organisations; sectarianism through faith schools will be a thing of the past; neutrality between religious pressure groups will be the order of the day; and they’ll take more “down-to-earth” views.

Let’s throw this nonsense out of the water, just in case Grayling tries to write it again.

Of course, nobody can actually receive messages from beyond, but if we are dealing with stupid reasons to go to war here, suggesting this is the preserve of the religious is to forget the wars authored by such tyrants as Stalin and Mao.

This might evoke the redundant reaction given by the new atheists, usually that Communism is merely a demi-religion without supernatural Gods, and thus subject to the irrationality reserved by the religious (nb it also helps the “Ditchkins’” out in their mission to single religion out as only evil; secular reason as bringing only good).

Will an atheist be any more or less sceptical about giving privileges to religious organisation? The infection that says some religions are more evil than others strikes through even the most ardent atheist too. Christian schools have long been a feature in the UK educational system, yet Islamic schools still have the effect of discomfort for some people, whether that person is religious or not. This may be more political than theological, but then many attitudes on religion today are.

By no means am I saying that Ed Miliband will come to favour one religious institution over another, but what I will categorically suggest is that his atheism will not de facto ignore the level of favouritism or ill-feeling that is levelled at some religions, or even the level at which some secularists believe certain religions are far less compatible with secularism than others.

Furthermore, on the question of educational sectarianism, such institutions do not have a state sanction to be sectarian, but to open a school with a certain religious value system. I’ve little doubt that Ed, even as an atheist, will be happy, or even indifferent, to religious values being attached to schools. Sectarianism in schools, where it exists, is kept quiet, and is certainly not allowed as such – in fact admissions in most schools are still subject to anti-discrimination measures.

Moreover, this accusation, made by A. C. Grayling was made about David Miliband; who, as mentioned, did send his son to a Roman Catholic school.

On possible neutrality between faiths, Ed Miliband has already upset Israeli supporters by speaking at at a Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East reception. It is inevitable that a political position will eventually upset faiths when politics and faith have become so intertwined. It is quite clear, therefore, that an atheist is just as liable as a believer – a further element overlooked by Grayling.

And as for the point about Miliband being more level headed, this remains to be seen, but frankly the dividing line is not drawn between believer and non-believer, only in Grayling’s black and white mind.

Christopher Hitchens and prayer

There are an extrordinary amount of articles and blogs out there by people who are bothered by what Christopher Hitchens will do now that he has cancer and, now that there is a strong chance he will die (though, as he rightly says himself we are all dying, with him it has been accelerated). 

These aren’t necessarily religious people and writers, but they are all either concerned about what Hitchens will think or re-think on God, or are surprised that he has said he won’t be praying – surely it should drive some of these people to distraction just contemplating the unlikely event that Hitchens would turn to God; how stupid a reason for believing in God than being reminded of your own mortality.

Strikes me at first glance at being even more stupider than Pascal’s Wager.

Some examples are:

Christopher Hitchens tells The Atlantic magazine that he knows he’s dying, but still views all religion as manmade and all of its claims to divine revelation as false.

WTOL in Ohio

A month ago, the conservative Catholic writer challenged readers of the American Papist website to join him in praying one Hail Mary a day on behalf of the iconoclastic atheist Christopher Hitchens, who has been stricken with esophageal cancer, a disease that leaves few survivors.

Terry Mattingly for North West Arkansas Online

Nearly two months after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens has lost much of his hair but his unbelief remains intact.

Nathan Black for the Christian Post

He said that as for a deathbed conversion, he would not, while lucid, do ”such a pathetic thing”, and that if there are any rumours saying otherwise, ”don’t believe it”.

Matt Buchanan and Leesha McKenny for The Sydney Morning Herald

That won’t change while he continues to undergo difficult cancer treatments nor will his belief that praying won’t help him a lick. At least he is consistent.

Paula Duffy for Huliq news

Hitchens elsewhere has noted a “lets paray for Hitchens” day which will take place on the 20th of September, though says he will not take part.

Now I’m not religious, and I’m not strident in my atheism as Hitchens, nor am I as anti-thesitic as him, which he regards more important than atheism in itself. But I would question the intergrity of someone who throughout their career has professed a deep and thought out dislike for religion, but then on finding out they have a potentially life threatening illness, decides to say “well, i’ll give that God a go now”.

Like the wager appropriated by Pascal in the 1600’s, God if he had any dignity should say “sod off, you’re only doing this in case”; either that or forgive those who don’t believe on the grounds that ockham’s razor is demonstrably an easier tool to muck around with than blind faith.

For those who think cancer is an appropriate occasion for conversion, perhaps they would prefer to concentrate their attention on President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. For the second time a tumor has been detected in his thorax, between the lungs and the spinal column and like with Hitchens it will affect his lymph nodes.

The difference is, Lugo is the self-confessed “Bishop of the Poor”, a former Roman Catholic priest for 30 years. I don’t suppose they would want him to have a cancer conversion.

I shouldn’t like to be so strident (ever), but I will be for this reason: for those of us who don’t think religion is simply stupid, it is often quite a task to convince people who do, that religion doesn’t just pick on the vulnerable. With trying to encourage conversions for those with cancer, on their deathbed, or with any other illnesses, this doesn’t help my task out much.

So retire – and make the 20th of September just another day.

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 2/5

(Written 2008)

The Construction site of Woman

In a seminar called God and the jouissance of Woman which is published in his influential set of seminars Encore! Jacques Lacan explained of feminine enjoyment that since it requires more than just the phallus – the image definition of the symbolic order – it must exceed being. This excess of being, Lacan designates, is on par with God, for what God represents is the ‘other’ of being (the supreme being). Woman, as positioned in the (paternalized) symbolic order is the ‘other’ of Man’s being.

In light of this, how are we to interpret Haraway’s comments at the end of her manifesto ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’?

As both Haraway and Lacan would testify Woman is a socially constructed category. For Lacan, male sexual desire is not fulfilled in Woman, but rather she is his objet petit a (cause of his desire), or object a(-utre); the ‘other’ of Man’s being which, in the dominating world of the visual (which assumes the dominance of the phallus over the so-called ‘lack’ of the female genitals), organizes Man’s fantasy. Further, as Teresa Brennan in her book Lacan After History posits “the idealized woman is the anchor of man’s identity and the guarantee of his ‘Truth’ ” (26). Brennan points out in a footnote that Lacan’s complex position of “idealization” is that it “makes the ‘lady’ into something considerably less than a subject” (26, fn. 1).

For Lacan, the idealization and denigration of women, as Brennan puts it, is a transhistorical inevitability; the symbolic order is necessary for sanity though at the same time it gives rise to the world of the visual, in which the phallus dominates. Brennan quite pessimistically expresses that the idealization, that is the psychical fantasy of Woman, of her as, not subject but simply objet petit a, is forever more, or at least for as long as we are sane.

For a contemporary Lacanian insight on gender, Slavoj Zizek in his book The Parallax View concludes that “there is only One, the gap is inherent to the One itself” (36). So in Lacan’s terminology, feminine ontology functions as pastoute (not-all) “as a part which has to be integrated into the whole” (Benvenuto and Kennedy 1986, 186). For this reason, and again to qualify the Lacanese, ‘there is no sexual relationship’ (il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel) – there is only one identity; whole and partial. Donna Haraway recognizes this and in suit asks “[w]hat kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective – and, ironically, socialist-feminist?” (157)

The answer becomes clear.

“There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female” Haraway claims, “itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (155). On this point Haraway criticizes much of the US feminism movement for its second-rate response to domination with identity, and not, preferable to her ‘affinity’. Moreover, since, by Haraway’s own admission, ‘there is nothing about being “female” that naturally binds women’; feminism might be best embracing partial identities. This branch of feminism Haraway goes on to call cyborg feminism, partly against Marxian and socialist-feminism which “totalizes” Woman.

The wider world in which the cyborg feminist must struggle to achieve, according to Haraway, “might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). For a feminism which accepts the social construction thesis of Lacan – “nature’s discursive constitution” as Haraway specifies in her essay The Promise of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others (para. 4) – that Woman can never fully be a subject due to the visual nature of the symbolic order, and since sanity rests on their being a symbolic order so it remains, the cyborg theory of Donna Haraway issues a new emancipation in partiality, not wholeness.

Whereas the gendered world configures the sense of sight solely for the phallocrats, the cyborg world marks masculinity as partial.

To answer my question on how to interpret Haraway’s comments; though goddesses are superior beings, they are still mediated through masculinity; they are still so to speak of-god. The cyborg is a superior being, mediated not through the (ph)allacy of gender but by the totality of its environment.

Part 3 tomorrow

God of the Christian period

It is very likely that before Ancient Greece, some small unheard of tribe (one forgotten by history) decided to club together and stop the quibbles of other tribesmen over the decision-making, formed an orderly crowd, and gathered a small cohort of trusted men, gaged which of the men the rest of the tribesman trusted the most, and it was he from then who decided which of the tribesmen would hunt on one day, then gather the next – quibble-free (or at least if there were enough quibbles then the tribe could be brought together again and decide that the one who they trusted before no longer has their trust, and a re-election should take place.) It is likely that this, in some primitive form had occured, but yet democracy is attributed (rightly) to the Greeks.

The same occurs with monotheism; we today acknowledge the judeo-christian legacy of monotheism, though it has been speculated upon by some that Orpheus’ beliefs, set out in his verse (others even wonder whether it was he who invented the art of writing, by setting out his religious interventions on slate), point to Dionysious not being one of many deities, but rather a multidimensional monotheistic God, who had different functions, each named and personified, while Zeus is reduced to a kind of mere rulemaker (see for example W.K. Guthrie’s great book Orpheus and Greek Religion or my review of that book here, and also for a comprehensive book on the history of God, see Karen Armstrong’s aptly titled The History of God).

In the same light, therefore, we must attribute certain aspects of society as it is lived today, to eras and epochs that might not be said to have rightly created a way of life, but has it as a kind of historical referent. Forms of democracy may have gone unknown, and we can infer that this is the case, but where we cannot infer, or where the synonym is so strong that we cannot think of any other era to which we attribute modes of societal governance, law or ideas, then we must accept that the legacies of modes of societal governance, law or ideas be attributed (perhaps erroneously) to places in time decided by the historians.

Humanists will say that the moralism that came to its fore in the Christian era, with notable referents like the Golden Rule, have always been around and have to do with our natural indiscriminate attitudes towards others, and have emerged quite naturally, however through a basic read of the Christian era, we can see some of these moral codes have quite concretely been outlined in their fullest here. Further, the conditions with which these moral codes came about rely a great deal on the time they were written, which of course explains why some of them are wrong – and this is a further commentary on how we view these ideas today, they’re not divine endowment, they are products of a particular time, something which gay Christians, female vicars and liberals may insist on, saying that prejudice may be a product of a less enlightened time on these issues, and actually go against the true principles of Christian love (agape).

Never has a more robust explanation of our limits in knowledge been spelt out than in the Christian concept of a God, that mysterious realm. A God who pronounces love, but lets his Son die on the Cross – not even the Christians themselves could work out what God was, vengeful or caring, imminent or transcendent, one who can interfere or one who, as G.K. Chesterton famously said regarding the problem of evil, “seemed for an instant to be an atheist”. God, the term, works in the way Frege noted that concepts did not. For Frege a concept could not exist without there being attributed to it a material referent of which to properly conceive, but God resists this logic, for what God stands for is the immaterial thing that somehow glues a community together. In a strange twist, for God’s work to take place, a material referent need not exist at all, or more radically, God doesn’t have to exist at all for his work to be done – we as a community ensure God’s work takes place. The Christian concept of community can no better be explained than by Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. In the name of Christ, the son of God and his physical embodiment, a community gathered, and our proximity to one another, is bound by the immaterial thing that we call God. It is this that we owe to the Christian era, and it is this which is meant by God, and where it isn’t, it is wrong. There is no bearded man in the sky, there is the thing that exists, and affects us, and makes us act, that fundamentally doesn’t exist at all, and it is this which is the true Christianity, an atheistic Christianty.

For those who dispute the word God in this instance should remember the lesson first expounded at the start of this article, that though we might infer that this moral prescription has existed elsewhere, nowhere has it been so concretely expounded than around the Christian period, for which we, atheist or theist, should unequivocally acknowledge.

A person may act for the better or to the detriment of a community, but this does not preclude an emotional proximity to the community or other people. It is readily accepted that criminals who seem to show no mercy would’ve had to have gone through a severe amount of emotional abstraction or mental trauma, and this is because emotional response is a standard outcome from the proximity between people. An atheism which tips its hat to Christianity at this point notes that a no better understanding, and acknolwegdment of our limit in knowledge, of what is at play here, is realised at it’s most accurate with Matthew 18:20.

Review of Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve just noticed that my tweet chum Louise has reposted her review of Slumdog Millionaire, owing in part to recent excitement over the film and the Channel 4 airing tonight. So, as it’s Wednesday and I have no imagination, I have decided to copy Louise’s idea and re-publish my own review of the film from last year, first published on the Se7en Magazine website. And I’m sure you’ll agree, it is not your typical review…

There was hardly a thing not achieved by Benjamin Franklin in his lifetime: political theorist, scientist, inventor, statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He was also very well known for his discoveries in electricity. For example, he concluded that “vitreous” and “resinous” electricity were not different, but rather positive and negative, respectively.

Due to the scorn with which he poured on Christianity in his writings, critics denounced him as an atheist. This was not the case; in fact, Franklin was an avowed Deist, though to be a Deist at that time was as good as being an atheist. Rev. George Whitefield, who Franklin was in correspondence with, thought there no difference in the two, implying in his journal that a Deist is to an atheist what chalk is to charcoal.

Franklin’s biographer, James Parton, explained that Franklin’s God was a humane conception of Deism, and that “[h]e escaped the theology of terror, and became forever incapable of worshipping a jealous, revengeful, and vindictive God” (Parton, Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, p. 71). But it is precisely this benevolence, this impotence of a God who doesn’t stop disease that many people despair. For example, Christopher Hitchens, who has gained his reputation of late as an atheist with a bite, admits that he identifies himself less as an atheist and more as an anti-theist. What concerns him more is not the existence of God, but that if God does exist, then he really doesn’t like anyone. He didn’t step in while Jews where being gassed in the chambers in Auschwitz, for example. If there is a God, attests Hitchens, he is not to like.

The book that details this is his 2006 work God is not Great which appeared alongside other similar treatments of religion like Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins’ bestseller The God Delusion. In his book, Hitchens mentions Franklin and the work that Franklin undertook which led to the invention of the lightning rod, and the reaction it gained among some that it was a device with which to anger God. Hitchens uses these reactions to show what would happen if the superstitious had had their way with the regulation of scientific pursuit, whether society today would be as advanced as it is.

Franklin, in 1750, published a proposal for an experiment to show that lightning is electricity. His proposal included a demonstration with a kite during a storm (which, unfortunately, was to mark the end of one or two naïve scientists). On 10 May, 1752, Thomas François Dalibard of France conducted the experiment with tall iron rods. Lo, it extracted electrical sparks from a cloud and led to the invention of the lightning rod. In that same year Franklin noticed that the rods could be used to protect buildings and indeed, after some experiments on Franklin’s own house, lightning rods were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia (later to become the University of Pennsylvania) and the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall).

Franklin, in one of his yearly almanacs, noted that in showing “[h]ow to secure houses etc. from lightning…it has pleased God in his goodness to mankind, at length to discover to them the means of securing their habitations and other buildings from mischief by thunder and lightning.” But this was not enough to curb worries of the superstitious. In 1753, Dr. John Lining repeated Franklin’s experiment in South Carolina, but locals objected to his plans on the grounds that the rod was too “presumptuous”, in that it would interfere with the will of God and that it would attract lightning. Franklin replied to the protesters and, in particular, Jean-Antoine Nollet the leading electrical experimenter in France and a strong opponent of protective rods:

“…He [Nollet] speaks as if he thought it presumption in man to propose guarding himself against Thunders of Heaven! Surely the thunder of heaven is no more supernatural than the rain, hail, or sunshine of heaven, against the inconvenience of which we guard by roofs and shades without scruple. But I can now ease the gentleman of this apprehension; for by some late experiments I find, that it is not lightning from the clouds that strikes the earth, but lightning from the earth that strikes the clouds.”

So in knowing Franklin’s involvement in the public acknowledgement of electricity, irony was not lost on me when I watched Danny Boyle’s award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, in which we see the life of Jamal Malik played out alongside the filming of the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” on which Jamal is a contestant. The answer to each question asked of Jamal has a story of his past attached to it, and his great wealth of knowledge (as well as the prejudice attached to being an Indian Muslim growing up in a city slum) leads the host of the programme to suspect Jamal of cheating in some way. Jamal is interrogated by the police who ask him to justify his knowledge of the answers to them (which provides the film with its main narrative – the childhood and early adulthood of Jamal, his brother and Latika, the girl who Jamal falls in love with and whom he searches for in his older years. It is also this search that tempts Jamal into being a contestant on the game show).

One of the questions asked of Jamal on the show is to identify who appears on the back of a $100 bill (followed by the sarcastic remark: Do you see many $100 bills as a chai-wallah?” – a tea waiter which relates to Jamal’s job as an assistant in a call centre). Before answering, Jamal recollects a story of his past when he would have encountered a $100 bill. In being mistaken for a tour guide at the Taj Mahal and realising the financial benefits of such a job, he gives an American couple a factually inaccurate tour of the site. All the while, Jamal is aware that the couple’s car is being robbed. When Jamal, the couple and their driver (who is in on it) get back to the car to see the work of the thieves, the driver gives Jamal a slap round the ear. The couple, in a panic, give Jamal some American bills. Later on, Jamal gives the bill to a young, blind street beggar. He identifies the currency (somehow) but asks that Jamal describe the person on the back of the bill to determine its amount. Jamal describes his features and the blind boy recognises him as Benjamin Franklin. When the picture cuts back to the police interrogation, the sarcasm of Jamal (or, due to how unbelievable the story is) makes the police chief very angry, and he threatens Jamal with the electric rod he had previously allowed his assistant to prod him with in order to get Jamal to admit he’d cheated on the game show at the start of the film. The story of how Jamal came to know who Franklin was met with the threat to injure Jamal with an item Franklin had some part in inventing.

At the end of the film, Jamal’s brother Salim exclaims that God is great (“Allah akbar”) for the suspicion he has that God was watching over Jamal and Latika, and that they find each other in order for protection. Franklin also suspected God of being good when he allowed mankind to find electric rods to secure their “habitations and other buildings from mischief by thunder and lightning.” How modest both men were.

Do we want God back?

A simple message was uttered by Tony Blair this year in the staggers, we must do God. There is an element to which this is already true, and so embedded it is, that to suggest doing is pointless. But is how Blair meant it so true?

For Blair, doing God is more about globalisation than it is theology. The marketplace, a global landscape, must promote and understand different religious pratices and peculiarities, so as not to jeopardise trading with countries where religion and economics are not separated.

When we see it this way, Blair, in saying do God, did not actually mean do God in any way shape or form. He meant be sensitive to faith in order to avoid getting your fingers burnt in the economy.

But doing God generally is dificult not to do, though many have tried. John Gray for example, in his great book Black Mass argues that the bouts of militant atheism and secularism are features of the western christian tradition. Calvinism in the sixteenth century actually foregrounded the view that while theology was ‘an echo of the biblical text‘ it was not, stricto sensu, so much a commentary of the text, but an interpretive framework by which the text may be understood. As such, Calvin saw the stories of the creation and the fall as simple renditions, certainly not to be taken literally, so rather than being an obstacle to science, he was actually an obstacle to biblical literalism.

Todays new atheists tend to draw their guns at biblical literalists, though suggest that through reason all believers can be dismantled. It’s hardly observant of fact that they produce a caricature of people of faith, then attempt only to critique one portion of the religious body. Calvin didn’t see himself as part of the traditional institution, was a radical as such, and his theology is now widely regarded as a most popular strand of christianity. In fact, according to Alister McGrath, a biographer of Calvin, if Calvin’s ideas were even more popular, the structure of the religion vs. science debate would take a far different form, since for Calvin the story of creation was an illustration rather than a literal truth, room is apparent for evolution science, seen of late as the sole domain of post-religious enlightenment.

John Gray, this time in his book Straw Dogs, noted that strains of thought seen to be of the legacy of the enlightenment – the liberal philosophers for example, A.C. Grayling – tend to be progressive, and therefore, for Gray, doomed for failure since the realm of progressivism, either borrows heavily from preceding philosophies, rendering it non-progressive, or else nihilistic and destined for bankruptcy. It was because of this that Gray earned himself the reputation as a pessimist, which may be evidently true, but it cannot be forgotten his indebtedness to Isiaah Berlin and elements of Eastern philosophy – he’s not simply pessimistic, but partly unrecognisable by traditional western standards.

The so-called secular, progressive projects, according to Gray, have their own eschatology and are therefore either forever inseperable with demythologised christianity, or else inseperable to failed projects such as Nazism or Communism, which for Gray, have a religious, totemistic quality about them anyway.

This is something that atheists like A.C. Grayling would agree on, that, in his words, “Nazism and Stalinism … emulate … religions in being monolithic ideologies demanding absolute subserviance to a supposed ideal”. But this is true only insofar as religion is idolatry. Stalin of course was an atheist, Hitler in the thirties disuaded the religious from appealing to his ideology until he realised the amount of Catholic money he could get his hands on, and Eichmann even up until his death rejected the presence of a priest visit to his cell for his anti-religious sentiments were so strong.

There is the notion that Calvin works in both the Blair reference to God (Calvin and Calvinism was a product of Genevan society, an early hub of capitalism and profit) and also the way in which Gray understands it, that the secular projects of today are simply rejuvenated versions of the christian legacy. Whatever the case, and whatever your beliefs, God is still done today, both demythologised and capitalised, to change the world one must change God in these forms, not get rid of God.