Atheist Myths & “The Silence of Animals”

John_GrayI’ve just bought an e-book to take with me to the beach next week: “The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths” by John Gray. As illiterate as I am, I had never heard of Gray until I watched this British RSA video. Interestingly, when considering Gray’s subtitle, this bit of the RSA’s mission is a tad ironic:

“Underpinning our work are enduring beliefs in human progress,…”

Gray deeply admires Joseph Conrad’s insights and art and uses his works to to illustrate his theme in the opening chapter — which I began today. I still vividly remember being deeply disturbed by the 1965 movie “Lord Jim” based of Conrad’s novel. I was was only about 13 years-old (my son’s age now) when I saw the film. The influences of that film still resonate with me to this day.

As I watched the RSA video, I simultaneously read a few reviews which discussed Gray’s writings and ideas and I thought, “Wow, I share much with this man.  I’ve got to read him.”

On Triangulations, I explore both the foibles of religion and the tendency to think that only religionists organize their lives around flawed myths. One of those myths is “Progress” — but putting it that way simply begs for misunderstanding as does any sound-byte banner.  However, I will wait to explore that in future posts.

I look forward to reading Gray’s insights and re-watching Lord Jim and perhaps actually reading Conrad with the mind of someone who has now seen, first-hand, British imperialism. As I read the first seven pages of “The Silence of Animals”, I’ve am already thinking about how, like Conrad, people go into medicine (the Congo) with myths that change the person by the two options of culpable absorption or nihilistic disillusion. But it is the third, fourth and fifth options I am interested in and curious to see how Gray understands them.

Question to Readers: Many of my readers have probably read Gray. I hope to understand him a bit more by the end of the summer. But for now, tell me your impressions.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Atheist Myths & “The Silence of Animals”

  1. David

    Gray seems to divide opinion rather sharply. I read ‘Straw Dogs’ – for which Gray is perhaps best known – a few years ago and felt I had found a fellow traveller on a road less travelled. It remains one of my favourite books and I often reread parts of it. But I know it drives many folk nuts! If you take for granted the inherent superiority of human beings and worship at the shrine of human progress (as most humans seem to) then you will probably want to mark Gray as a bad man, but if you don’t subscribe to these dogmas then you may welcome him into your heart. I read ‘The Silence of Animals’ quite recently and found it less compelling, though engaging in parts. If you get on with Gray then I’d strongly recommend ‘Straw Dogs’ as your next read.

  2. Thanks for the comment, “David”. Have you visited here before? What, in particular, did you not find compelling about “The Silence of Animals”? By the way, do you live in England, near the Brean Golf Club, just cross the sea from Cardiff?

  3. David

    Sabio, Yes, I’m an occasional visitor to your site. When I read ‘Straw Dogs’ I was utterly captivated and so I had very high hopes for ‘The Silence of Animals’ when it came out as it is, I think, supposed to be a sequel of sorts. Don’t misunderstand me, I did enjoy it, some of it very much. Its just that it didn’t hold my attention as ‘Straw Dogs’ did and I even found myself drifting a bit in places. I can’t really be much more specific and please don’t let me put you off. Yes, I do live in England but not near the Brean Golf Club, I’m afraid. I’m intrigued as to why you think I might! I live on the Welsh border about an hour and a half from Cardiff.

  4. Ah, thank you David — I will definitely look into his other books and especially the one you mentioned.
    Concerning location — I am glad you are intrigued.
    Per chance, are you affiliated with the Aro Buddhist group — with organizations near your local? It is fun to know a little bit about commentors here. I think that understanding each others background can often actually facilitate meaningful dialogue.

  5. David

    No links to Aro, Sabio. Was once into Buddhism though, now mercifully a thing of the past! Incidentally, I noticed this very good review of Gray’s book today:

  6. @ David,
    Ahh, thanx. The link was useful and inspired my post today.

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