Martin Amis, Literature, and Religion post 9/11

Martin Amis reflects on literature in this Guardian article: The voice of the lonely crowd. Amis is a good writer. He has an amazing ability to craft prose and to paint imaginative scenes with words. I have enjoyed reading his novels and his short essays. I plan to read his autobiography as well. Like most writers and artists, however, his politics and worldview are a bit off. This essay reveals Amis’ anti-religious attitude:

The 20th century, with its scores of millions of supernumerary dead, has been called the age of ideology. And the age of ideology, clearly, was a mere hiatus in the age of religion, which shows no sign of expiry. Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. It is straightforward – and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion.

This may be powerful prose but it is a load of BS. His definition of both ideology and religion are meaningless and warped. Amis reveals nothing but the schoolboy’s atheism. Just because some religionists are ignorant and irrational does not mean religion is “without reason and without dignity.” In fact religion has been the motivation for much of the intellectual progress in this country and much of its dignity. Considering that religion played a key role in the founding of most of the prestigious universities in this country and around the world; considering that theology, law, history, and philosophy are all encompassed in religion it seems weak at best to paint religion as irrational or anti-reason. Did the abolitionist lack dignity? Was the dignity of Martin Luther King Jr. unrealted to his religious belief? Was Mother Teresa’s dignity and grace removed from her religion?
I know it may seem silly to attack Amis for this hyperbole but it is one of my pet peeves: the ignorant slander of faith based on little more than oversimplified history and a disdain for others beliefs. Surely Amis must know that the worship of reason and science has led to more than its fair share of death and destruction but we do not toss them aside because flawed human beings warped their true meaning. {If one is looking for a more intelligent critique of ideology, one with a true appreciation for the role of religion, Russell Kirk would be a far better choice.}

Amis argues that writers turned to political op-eds because their fiction seemed obsolete and out of place on September 12 but he is fooling himself if he thinks novelists and the literati are “individual voices, and playfully rational, all espousing the ideology of no ideology.” In fact we have learned that much of the cultural elite are instead trapped in leftist ideology and irrational anti-Americanism. Far from being the people we turn to in a time of crisis they have been the people we mock for their lack of insight. Sadly this seems true of Amis as well. For all his talent and skill with words Amis offers nothing but sophistry and emptiness. I will take my religion thank you.

Nabokov's Speak Memory

Speaking of Classics, here is a quote from a great one:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). {Opening paragraph of Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography Speak Memory}

Dark poetry no?

My book addiction continues

In the ongoing saga of my addiction to book buying, I fell off the wagon hard tonight! A bookstore in town (actually a chain) called half-price books got a hold of a bunch of the Everyman’ Library versions of classic works. I had picked up some Nabokov, Conrad, Faulkner, and Mann previously but it proved too great temptation and I returned for Kafka, Kipling, and Hemingway. I also got a beautiful edition of Moby Dick and a couple of quality paperback versions of The Wandering Jew and Balzac’s The Bureaucrats. Whew! Now I have more books than I can possibly read but these are works that will be relevant for a long time so no rush.

I also bought my wife a beautiful art book on The Oriental in Western Art that she had been drooling over recently – see I am not selfish I can share my addiction!

The firs step is admitting you have a problem right?

Ambrose and plagiarism I wanted

Ambrose and plagiarism
I wanted to comment on the Stephan Ambrose plagiarism story, as it is one area where I have a small bit of qualification (I have a graduate degree in History and have read much of Ambrose?s work). I think the left right issue (raised by Kausfiles) is a stupid one. Oddly enough I think Talking Points is just about right – in other words this was sloppy scholarship and writing that should embarrass Ambrose but not serious plagiarism that should put him outside the pale of respectable scholarship (my paraphrase). I think the likely cause of the mistake is Ambrose’s recent slide from serious scholarship to quick topical books based on the historical record already available. This is all too typical of book publishing. An author gets hot and his publisher naturally wants to get as much product out as he can. Ambrose?s work on Eisenhower, Nixon, Lewis and Clark, the Transcontinental Railroad, and World War Two are all readable, enjoyable, and scholarly work. His recent spat of WWII works, however, seem to be increasingly focused on speed rather than precision. If you are putting out a book a year it is likely that you are not doing research but rather compiling material – hence Ambrose?s slide towards journalistic history and/or works made up of secondary source material. I am sure Ambrose has a great deal of material on WWII but does he need to constantly be issuing books focused on smaller and smaller areas of the war? It looks like his rush to publish has finally caught up with him. (BTW – The riddicuous number of books on the Cival War, World War II, and Vietnam, often linked to the lack of popular works on other subjects, frustrates some historians. The Greatest Generation hoopla has only added to this problem. Although I see some merit in this critique, I am a fan of Ambrose?s work.)

More on Harry Potter I

More on Harry Potter
I came across some more overblown rhetoric on Harry Potter and thought I would share: Here is a site that reveals the true danger of HP! A big clue that you are about to go off the deep end = this quote “The New World Order is coming! Are you ready? Once you understand what this New World Order really is, and how it is being gradually implemented, you will be able to see it progressing in your daily news!!” I am surprised George Bush and the trilateral commission aren’t involved! Here is another. Do these parents really fear anything not explicitly Christian? I am really taken back by the overblown seriousness of the accusations that Harry Potter is leading kids down the road to satanism and witchcraft. This reminds me of the Satanism and Rock music craze, popular among evangelical Christians when I was younger. Remember subliminal messages – its back with Harry Potter. Here is another. This quote typifies the sort of anti-intellectualism that Christians can easily fall into: “The Bible is clear that in the last days witchcraft and sorcery will be widespread. In fact, it even reveals that many Christians will be caught up in it! These Harry Potter books are right on time in the end time scenario. We all know it. We all expect it. But it is so sad to watch. It is hard to watch so many young children embracing blatant witchcraft. There was a time when children’s fiction stories contained dragons and witches; yet they were always evil. Then things began to change: 20th century fiction and fantasy began to divide witchcraft into the “good magic” and “bad magic”. Even magnificently talented writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) helped to plant the foundation for sorceries revival in our day. As wise as they were in so many things, they were often very naive in regard to evil and Satan’s whole agenda. Tolkien did write about evil goblins; yet he would make the wizard to be a good guy. C.S. Lewis followed this practice by pretending that there is good and bad magic, and that God Himself used the “good” kind. He would make “magicians” (i.e. sorcerers) to be the good guys. For these reasons, these most wonderful books, filled with deep, Christian insights, deserve to be thrown into the trash can. What a waste. No parent should allow a child to read such books.”
People – get a grip. Use common sense, a little good judgement, and communicate with your kids! Harry Potter will not lead your kids to the devil. Any parent who deprives their children of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is rejecting intelligence and imagination not satanism and witchcraft. My very strict parents bought me my first copies of both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. No wonder so many see Christians as naive anti-intellectuals – what a waste indeed.

For those of you into

For those of you into “heavy lifting” on topics of religion, literature, philosophy etc. Check out the excellent book review in First Things this month. Edward Oakes discusses the ubiquitous Stanley Fish’s book “How Milton Works.” It is not necessarily a quick or easy read for the uninformed but it does deal with some fascinating and important issues surrounding faith, knowledge, and religion. For example: Can rationality and empiricism lead one to God’s existence or does a belief in God lead one to search for empirical or rational “proof” of that existence? Should one be obedient to God because he is good or because he is God? These and other fascinating theological, philosophical, and literary questions also relate back to a 1996 give and take in the pages of First Things between Fish and editor Richard John Neuhaus. It is articles like this that make me long for graduate school – where ideas seem to take on real meaning and debates on important questions can be had regularly.
If you haven’t checked out First Things you really should – reliably thought provoking and well written material every month.