OUR CULTURE IS A FLAT EXPANSE OF RUBBLE
John Carroll’s irrational anti-humanism
“Everything hinged on this. If Erasmus
won, Christ was done for. The history of the next five hundred years would
prove Luther right…Once reason is given an inch, the questioning begins, and
there is no way to stop it. This is why Luther calls ‘Mistress Reason’ the
‘Devil’s whore’. She is seductive, deceiving, offering a moment of pleasure
in order to seize the whole soul.”
- John Carroll (2004)[i]
“Not infrequently, Luther himself was bewildered by the new world he
encountered, and his instincts in such moments were conservative.”
- John Dillenberger (1961)[ii]
“Objection, evasion, happy distrust, pleasure in mockery are signs of
health: everything unconditional belongs in pathology.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1886)[iii]
John Carroll's The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited
(Scribe, 2004) is a very strange book. Its author believes he has ‘diagnosed what has gone wrong with Western
culture’. The West has replaced faith with reason and has, in consequence,
wrecked its culture.[iv] Things started to go wrong about 500 years ago and
now “we live amidst the ruins of the great, five-hundred-year epoch of
humanism”. To recover, he asserts, we must restore the authority of
Christianity, since without Christ crucified there is nothing but death in
store for us.
To see the past 500 years as an epoch of failure and decline within Western
culture requires a heroic inversion of reality. Yet we can grant Carroll
that some things are wrong, perhaps very seriously so, within Western
culture. Many observers, from very different vantage points, have made a
similar claim. One thinks, for instance, of Jacques Barzun[v], or Harold
Bloom[vi], both teachers, as John Carroll is, and also prolific authors.
Carroll’s diagnosis and prescription are other matters entirely.
The assertion that something is fundamentally wrong with Western culture is
a commonplace. The ideological Left, whether Marxist, anarchist, anti-globalist
or environmentalist, has asserted it for many decades. The ideological and
religious Right has been prone to make it at least since the French
Revolution. Metternich saw the decline as dating from the sixteenth century,
because the invention of the printing press undermined ecclesiastical
authority, while the invention of gunpowder and the conquest of the Americas
undermined the old aristocratic order[vii].
Carroll belongs somewhere in this Metternichian tradition. With his
insistent complaint that Western culture has lost its sources of authority
and his appeal to some kind of ill-defined Christianity, he is certainly not
a man of the Left. His renunciation of virtually the entire Western canon,
from Erasmus and Shakespeare to Voltaire and Kant, Marx and Darwin makes him
sound at times like a cardinal secretary of the Holy Office providing
grounds for the prohibition of books. He calls Marx and Darwin ‘wreckers’,
but comments that “There were, of course, hundreds of others in all cultural
areas.”[viii] One wonders what would be done with libraries full of such
humanist writings, or the works (or even the persons) of ‘wreckers’, in
Carroll’s ideal Christian state.[ix]
Would he ban such works, as Plato, in the 4th century BCE, wanted to ban the
old poets from his Republic? Carroll’s theological enthusiasm brings to mind
the marvellous legend, judged by Edward Gibbon to be apocryphal, concerning
the destruction of the great library at Alexandria. Asked by his general
Amrou, who had captured the city, what to do with the vast collection of
books, the Muslim Caliph Omar is said to have responded, “If these writings
of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be
preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be
Carroll does not advocate book burning, but his anti-humanism is so
irrational that something like Omar’s legendary judgement is implicit in it.
He asserts that things have been going fundamentally wrong for centuries,
because we have strayed from collective belief in the God of the Bible. He
asserts that we have so strayed because we relied on reason, instead of on
faith.[xi] He asserts that all humanism is vitiated by the nihilism that
follows from reliance on reason, so that humanism “was doomed from the
start” and that it is now in ruins. He even sees the attack on New York by
Muslim fanatics on September 11, 2001 as demonstrating the hollowness of
humanism and precipitating its complete demise.
I believe he is in error on every count.
The simplest response to his sweeping polemic would be to turn his own
rejection of reason back on him. Reason, he asserts, is the root of the
problem - give it an inch and there is no stopping it, Christian faith is
done for. There is, of course, a rich Catholic tradition which takes a very
different view of the matter. But consider that, having repudiated reason
itself, he tries to reason us into agreeing with his interpretation of the
last 500 years. That he does a bad job of this is the least of his problems.
By his own account, he has no business even attempting the task. After all,
either he (with Luther) is right and reason is the Devil’s whore, or else
they are wrong, in which case the entire polemic against reason and humanism
It is Christ or reason, the “I Am” of the God of the Bible or the ‘‘I am’’
of the human individual, Carroll asserts[xii]. “The early men of the
Renaissance were not aware that they would have to choose,” he comments.
“They were Christians. The most instructive example, Erasmus himself, tried
in his moderate Christian humanism to adapt his religion to the methods of
the new secularism. It took Luther to smell a rat…When Luther said to
Erasmus…‘You are not devout!’, he had, philosophically speaking, hit the
nail on the head. He had prophesied the inevitable path of humanism once it
had chained itself, as it must, to a belief in free will. This simple and
direct, uncouth German peasant had told the most refined, best educated,
wittiest and most eloquent man of his time, a man he admired, ‘You stand on
This is Carroll’s most constant refrain: humanism stands on nothing - and
that we have to have a place to stand. He asserts, with Luther, that the
place to stand is unreasoning faith in Christ, which he freely describes as
‘the darkness of faith’. Yet he appears to expect either that we shall agree
with him, because of the reasons he provides, or attempt to reason him out
of his stand. He provides us with a superficially impressive display of
knowledge, only to declare that “The path of knowledge leads in circles,
spiralling down - into the heart of darkness.”[xiv]. If knowledge leads us
inexorably on such a downward spiral, why does he take us on that path? But
if, as he seems to imply by his use of it, knowledge can lead to
enlightening insights, why does he assert that it leads only to the heart of
In short, we could dismiss Carroll out of hand, because of his radical
intellectual incoherence. But consider the case he makes that the past 500
years have seen a rebellion against Christianity, with the consequence that
our whole culture is now in ruins. For if such a case could plausibly be
made, even if Carroll himself made it badly, and even though he undermines
his own case by repudiating reason and knowledge, it would be useful to
respond to it. Otherwise, we run the risk of a Christian counterpart to
Islamism arising in our midst, based on the proposition that ours is an
apostate culture and must be overturned in the name of revealed truth.[xv]
Throughout his book, Carroll seems to imagine himself to be presiding over
the funeral of ‘Caesar’, by which he fairly clearly means modern humanism.
“A requiem must be sung,” he writes in his Prologue, “one that gets the
story right, in all its magnificence and its meanness. We come less to
honour Caesar than to bury him, that there be no mistaking that he is dead,
that we understand him so as not to choose him again.”[xvi] This is, surely,
not merely an appropriation of Shakespeare’s famous setting of the funeral
of Caesar, but also a deliberate inversion of celebrated passages in Hegel,
Heine[xvii] and Nietzsche which proclaimed the death of God. But what does
he mean by getting the story right?
He means, if I have understood him at all, telling the truth about the
history of ideas from Pico della Mirandola and William Shakespeare to
Sigmund Freud, Joseph Conrad and Marcel Duchamp. He also means telling the
truth about the consequences of those ideas in the ‘real world’ - the world
of material life and social institutions. He thinks he knows the truth in
both cases and can rationally compel us to agree with him. He has, of
course, no place to stand in this regard. But that aside, the story he tells
The truth in the first case, he argues, is that humanism’s idea of the
self-sufficiency of the human individual is negated by the reality of death.
“Without God, without a transcendental law, there is only death,” he
declares.[xviii] This is quite a characteristic statement by Carroll, but we
have to work hard to ascertain what, precisely, he means by it. His
interpretation of Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Shakespeare’s
suggests that he means, without God, life is futile, because it ends in death[xix]. He places particular emphasis on
Hamlet in this regard.
Shakespeare, “the greatest of all humanists”,[xx] he writes, was the
principal teacher of the futility of humanism and Hamlet “the hub of
Shakespeare’s whole work”.[xxi]
Hamlet is death obsessed, Carroll suggests, and is “obliteratingly
alone”.[xxii] His dilemmas are those of the humanist individual and modern
humanism has been obsessed with him. “Hamlet, Hamlet and Hamlet again - the
West would come to know it by heart,” he writes.[xxiii] Harold Bloom has a
similar view of the importance of Shakespeare and of Hamlet. He even agrees
with Carroll that Hamlet’s fierce intelligence leads him to nihilism.[xxiv]
But Bloom has a far wider and less theologically frantic perspective on what
we can learn from the great play and its central character. His view of our
fate as mortal beings is elegiac. Carroll’s might be called Elijiac, since
he seems, like Elijah, to be bent on slaying the priests of Baal - the
‘wreckers’ of culture.[xxv] More generally, Carroll completely fails to
address the question of why Christianity is any better a response to the
reality of death than are any number of other sets of beliefs.
It is with regard to material life and social institutions, however, that
Carroll most exposes how tendentious his interpretation of both past and
present really is. In his Preface, he states that The Wreck of Western
Culture: Humanism Revisited “has given stronger acknowledgement to the
achievements of liberal democracy” than did his 1993 book, Humanism: The
Wreck of Western Culture. He states:
“Humanism succeeded in building its city of light…The wreck of humanist
culture is in stark contrast to the physical edifice that its drive to know,
channeled into science and technology, and applied in factories, has
produced. Humanism’s lasting achievement has been industrial civilization
and its brilliant triumph over most of the trials inflicted by age-old
necessity: poverty, starvation, disease and brute labor…Who in their right
mind would give up clean water, sanitation and sewers, antibiotics, reliable
supplies of varied foodstuffs, civic police, the jumbo jet, computers and
skyscrapers in exchange for what came before - the filth, contagion and
stench of medieval Europe?”[xxvi]
Given his repudiation of reason and knowledge as futile and as leading to
the heart of darkness, this acknowledgement of the benefits of Western
culture borders on the hilarious.
It brings to mind the celebrated scene in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian,
in which Reg (John Cleese), leader of the Judean People’s Front, asks his
fellow malcontents “What have the Romans ever done for us?” One after
another, the others mention things the Romans have (allegedly) actually
introduced to Judea: the aqueduct, sanitation, roads, irrigation, medicine,
education, wine, public baths, public order and peace. The retort of an
irritated Reg is classic, “Yeah, alright, fair enough…Alright, but apart
from sanitation, the public baths, education, wine, public order, the roads,
the fresh water supply and public health, what have the Romans ever done for
us??”[xxvii] In the case of Monty Python, the list of benefits brought by
Rome is inaccurate in various respects, but Carroll’s list of the benefits
of modern humanism is perfectly accurate and could easily be extended. This
makes it all the more bemusing that he takes the stand he does.
One could argue with Carroll endlessly about his various observations, but
there is little point. He is lost in the labyrinth of the past and we need
not chase him there[xxviii]. For his assertion that humanism stands on
nothing is empty. It is a mere metaphysical conceit. What humanism has, in
fact, done is to open up the world to our understanding in ways never even
remotely approximated by religious ‘revelation’. Has it wrecked our culture
in the process? Not compared with anything before 1500[xxix]. On the
contrary, it has made available to countless millions of people the riches
of human culture across all the ages.[xxx] This has put a great deal,
including Carroll’s kind of Christian fundamentalism, into the melting pot,
but it has no more wrecked Western culture than the cosmopolitanism of
Athens and Rome ‘wrecked’ archaic Mediterranean culture.
All that said, there are more interesting speculations on the condition and
possible fate of Western culture, and even human civilisation as a whole,
than Carroll’s. One of them is a little book written more than 30 years ago
by Carroll’s own mentor, George Steiner - In Bluebeard’s Castle. Steiner
ruminated on the possibility that scientific humanism would open up too much
knowledge and bring self-destruction on humanity in the process. What he did
not do was to quail at this thought and try to take refuge in some
unreasoning and atavistic form of religion. He allowed at least two possible
responses: stoic acquiescence or a “Nietzschean gaiety in the face of the
inhuman, the tensed, ironic perception that we are, that we always have
been, precarious guests in an indifferent, frequently murderous, but always
Carroll has failed to rise even to the level of his mentor, in allowing that
there is more than one possible way to respond to how the world looks, at
what Steiner dubbed “this cruel, late stage in Western affairs”.[xxxii] Yet
even Steiner could have allowed other possibilities. There is no
self-evident reason to believe that the stage we are at in Western or human
affairs is either especially cruel or ‘late’. St Augustine believed he lived
in the senescence of the world.[xxxiii] We have far more reason to believe
that, God or Nature permitting, we stand on the cusp of extraordinary
possibilities[xxxiv]. Death does not make any of these futile. On the
contrary, it gives them their savour and their magnificence.
[i] John Carroll The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited, Scribe,
Melbourne, 2004, pp. 53-55.
[ii] John Dillenberger Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, Anchor
Books, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1961, Introduction, p. xii.
[iii] Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, ‘Maxims and Interludes’
#154, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 1973, p. 85. Consider, also,
Nietzsche’s remarks, in his famous polemic against Christianity, The
Antichrist (1888): “Truth has had to be fought for every step of the way,
almost everything else dear to our hearts, on which our love and our trust
in life depend, has had to be sacrificed to it. Greatness of soul is needed
for it: the service of truth is the hardest service. For what does it mean
to be honest in intellectual things? That one is stern towards one’s heart,
that one despises ‘fine feelings’, that one makes every Yes and No a
question of conscience! - Belief makes blessed: consequently it lies…” #50.
Or again: “One should not let oneself be misled: great intellects are skeptics…Convictions are prisons…The believer is not free to have a
conscience at all over the question ‘true’ and ‘false’: to be honest on this
point would mean his immediate destruction. The pathological conditionality
of his perspective makes of the convinced man a fanatic - Savonarola,
Luther, Rousseau, Robespierre, Saint-Simon - the antithetical type of the
strong, emancipated spirit. But the larger than life attitudes of these sick
spirits, these conceptual epileptics, impresses the great masses - fanatics
are picturesque, mankind would rather see gestures than listen to reasons…”.
[iv] John Carroll The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited, Scribe,
Melbourne, 2004, Prologue, p. 1.
[v] Jacques Barzun From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, Harper
Collins, New York, 2000, 877 pp.
[vi] Harold Bloom The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages,
Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, San Diego and London, 1994, 578 pp. and
Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, Riverhead Books, New York, 2004, 284 pp. In an
interview following publication of The Western Canon, Bloom remarked “I am
aware that I am fighting a rear-guard action and that the war is over and we
have lost.” Newsweek 7 November 1994, p. 62.
[vii] Henry Kissinger, in his study of the Congress of Vienna, rather
curiously, extolled what he called Metternich’s ‘lucid and powerful’
worldview. “Up to the sixteenth century, Metternich maintained, the forces
of conservation and of destruction had been in an increasingly spontaneous
balance. But then there occurred three events which, in time, caused
civilization to be supplanted by violence and order by chaos; the invention
of printing and of gunpowder and the discovery of America. Printing
facilitated the exchange of ideas, which thereby became vulgarized; the
invention of gunpowder changed the balance between offensive and defensive
weapons; and the discovery of America transformed the situation, both
materially and psychologically. The influx of precious metals produced a
sudden change in the value of landed property, which is the foundation of a
conservative order, and the prospect of rapid fortunes brought about a
spirit of adventure and a dissatisfaction with existing conditions. And then
the Reformation completed the process by overturning the moral world and
exalting man above the forces of history.” A World Restored: The Politics of
Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age, Universal Library, Grosset and Dunlap,
New York, 1964, p. 201.
[viii] John Carroll The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited,
Scribe, Melbourne, 2004, p. 162.
[ix] One thing which springs to mind in this context is the notorious
Syllabus of Errors promulgated by Pope Pius IX (1792-1878, Pope 1846-1878),
in December 1864 - 140 years ago. In it, the Pope denounced 80 common ideas
of the Enlightenment as “errors”. It would be of interest to ask Carroll
which of these ideas he, too, would denounce as errors and which of them he
would endorse against the teaching of the Vatican. They included the
following: “14. Philosophy is to be treated without taking any account of
supernatural revelation; 15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that
religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true; 18.
Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian
religion in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic
Church; 21. The Catholic Church has not the power of defining dogmatically
that the religion of the Catholic Church is the only true religion; 23.
Roman pontiffs and ecumenical councils have wandered outside the limits of
their powers, have usurped the rights of princes, and have even erred in
defining matters of faith and morals; 55. The Church ought to be separated
from the state and the state from the Church; 76. The abolition of the
temporal power of which the Holy See is possessed would contribute in the
greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church; 77. In the
present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be
held as the only religion of the state, to the exclusion of all other forms
of worship; 80. The Roman Pontiff can and ought to reconcile himself and
come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.” Walter
Kaufmann Religion From Tolstoy to Camus, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1961,
1964, pp. 163-170.
[x] Edward Gibbon The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Everyman
Library, J. M. Dent and Sons, London, 1969, Volume 5, pp. 345-46. Gibbon
rejected the story on several grounds: that it was not related by the
Christian sources one would expect to have testified to it; that such an
action would have been contrary to Muslim practice, which was that “works of
profane science, historians or poets, physicians or philosophers, may be
lawfully applied to the use of the faithful”; and that there is evidence of
gradual destruction of the library by Roman or Christian actions centuries
before Amrou’s armies stormed the city, in 638 CE. He went on to observe: “I
sincerely regret the more valuable libraries which have been involved in the
ruin of the Roman empire; but when I seriously compute the lapse of ages,
the waste of ignorance, and the calamities of war, our treasures, rather
than our losses, are the object of my surprise.” (p. 347). For a brief
history of the library of Alexandria, see Luciano Canfora The Vanished
Library, Vintage, London, 1991, 205 pp.
[xi] For a careful reflection on the struggle between the darkness of faith
and the uses of reason in the millennium and a half before Erasmus and
Luther, see Charles Freeman The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of
Faith and the Fall of Reason William Heinemann, London, 2002, 470 pp. It is
well worth reading, also, Richard E. Rubinstein’s Aristotle’s Children,
Harcourt Inc, 2003, 368 pp.
[xii] For a very different understanding of who ‘Christ’ actually was - one
which relies on painstaking scholarship and reasoning and which puts in
serious question all Christian claims about the man from Galilee, see Geza
Vermes The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, Allen Lane, Penguin, 2003, 446 pp.
Vermes is of Hungarian origin and is Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at
Oxford University, as well as director of the Forum for Qumran Research of
the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. This is his fifth book on
Jesus. He remarks, in his Prologue: “Acting as a sympathetic historian and
discarding denominational biases, both the deification of Jesus by
Christians and his traditional Jewish caricature as an apostate, a magician
and an enemy of the people of Israel, I have simply tried to put the record
straight and to reconstruct a genuine likeness of Yeshua, son of Joseph of
the Galilean townlet of Nazareth.” He adds that his wife “has greatly helped
to improve the clarity and logic of the presentation of the book by applying
to it the trained mind of an experimental scientist.” John Carroll could do
with such a companion.
[xiii] Carroll op. cit. p. 4.
[xiv] Ibid p. 199.
[xv] David Daniell dedicates his superb work of humane scholarship, The
Bible in English (Yale University Press, 2003, 899 pp) “To the memory of
William Tyndale, ?1494-1536, translator of genius, martyred for giving
English readers the Bible from the original languages.” The freedom to
inquire and not merely accept ecclesiastical authority or some kind of
literalist ‘revelation’ was hard won and Western culture would, indeed, be
wrecked if this freedom was to be undermined.
[xvi] Ibid p. 2.
[xvii] In his History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, published in
1834, Heine wrote: "We will speak of this catastrophe, the downfall of
deism, in the next instalment. A strange misgiving, a mysterious reverence,
forbids us to write further today. We are rent with the most terrible pity.
It is Jehovah himself who is preparing for his death. We have known him so
well, from his cradle onwards in Egypt, where he was brought up amidst
divine calves, and crocodiles, sacred onions, ibises and cats. We saw him
say farewell to the play-fellows of his childhood, and to the obelisks and
sphinxes of his native Nile valley to become a little god-king in Palestine
to a tribe of poor shepherd folk where he lived in a palace of his own. We
saw him later coming into contact with the Assyrian and Babylonian
civilizations and putting off his all-too human passions [a title later used
by Nietzsche]; no longer fulminating wrath and revenge at every turn, or at
least not thundering about every paltry trifle. We saw him emigrate to Rome,
the capital, where he renounced all his national prejudices and proclaimed
the divine equality of all peoples, and organized an opposition against
Jupiter with such fine phrases and went on intriguing so long that at last
he came into power and reigned over the city and the world-urbem et orbem-from
the Capitol. We saw him becoming more and more spiritual; whimpering
tenderly, a loving father, a friend of humanity, a universal benefactor, a
philanthropist at the last. And nothing could save him. Do you hear the
passing bell? Kneel down. They are bringing the sacraments to a dying god."
My friend Chris Coffmann drew this particular passage to my attention.
[xviii] Carroll op. cit, p. 32.
[xix] Ibid. p. 33: “The pursuit of knowledge is futile. What is the point if
it provides no defence against the skull? Plotting the motion of the stars
will not help to provide direction in life. Playing the lute will not soothe
raw nerves once the whiff of a corpse has penetrated the nostrils, not
unless the music intimates a greater frame, one within which the human
individual can stand. The greatest of all humanist institutions, the
university, is a mausoleum of dead ideas, a rattling of dry bones. Its
teaching is incapable of reaching out to hold the hand through the darkness.
Holbein has put it with brutal simplicity: there is no humanist solution.
The most learned men have no answer to death. Once faith is gone, fate is
reduced to necessity - and the ultimate necessity is death.”
[xx] Ibid. p. 45.
[xxi] Ibid. p. 38.
[xxii] Ibid. p. 43.
[xxiii] Ibid p. 50.
[xxiv] Harold Bloom Hamlet: Poem Unlimited, Riverhead Books, New York, 2003,
[xxv] 1 Kings 18:40 “And Elijah said unto them, ‘Take the prophets of Baal;
let not one of them escape.’ And they took them: and Elijah brought them
down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.” Holy Bible: King James
Version, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1979, p. 499.
[xxvi] Carroll op. cit. p. 8.
[xxvii] Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Handmade Films, 1979, directed by
Terry Jones. DVD Criterion Collection 1999.
[xxviii] “Few are made for independence - it is a privilege of the strong.
And he who attempts it, having the completest right to it, but without being
compelled to it, thereby proves that he is probably not only strong but also
daring to the point of recklessness. He ventures into a labyrinth, he
multiplies by a thousand the dangers which life as such already brings with
it, not the smallest of which is that no-one can behold how and where he
goes astray, is cut off from others and is torn to pieces limb from limb by
some cave minotaur of conscience. If such a one is destroyed, it takes place
so far from the understanding of men that they neither feel it nor
sympathize - and he can no longer go back! He can no longer go back even to
the pity of men!” Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, Penguin, 1973,
#29, p. 42. I quote this aphorism of Nietzsche’s here not because it applies
directly to John Carroll, but because it is worth pondering in regard to the
difficulties and dangers of any quest for serious knowledge about the human
condition and the nature of existential reality.
[xxix] The work of Norman Cohn offers rich insights into the religious
culture and psychology of pre-1500 Europe. He draws particular attention to
the roots of apocalyptic thinking and fear of demons and witches in both
Biblical and popular religion. See his The Pursuit of the Millennium
(Paladin, 1970), Europe’s Inner Demons (Paladin, 1975) and
and the World to Come (Yale Nota Bene, Yale University Press, 2001). Clearly
and unfortunately, apocalyptic beliefs did not end in 1500. They have
persisted down to the present, in all manner of sects and cults, but their
seed bed is the Bible and especially enthusiastic, ‘darkness of faith’
readings of it.
[xxx] Consider the rich survey of religious belief, art and ethics in the
work of the humanist philosopher Walter Kaufmann, for instance. His
Religions in Four Dimensions: Existential, Aesthetic, Historical,
Comparative (Readers Digest Press, New York, 1976), is far more enlightening
and inspiring than any dogmatic scholarship of which I am aware. His
Critique of Philosophy and Religion (Princeton University Press, 1978) is a
quiet classic. But something like Roy Rappaport’s Ritual and Religion in the
Making of Humanity (Cambridge University Press, 1999) is only possible
because of humanistic scholarship and demonstrably transcends the dogmatic
claims of any particular religion.
[xxxi] George Steiner In Bluebeard’s Castle, Faber and Faber, London, 1971,
[xxxii] Ibid. loc. cit.
[xxxiii] “Augustine thought of himself as living in the Sixth, the last, the
old Age of the World. He thought of this not as a man living under the
shadow of an imminent event; but rather, with the sadness of one for whom
nothing new could happen. All that needed to be said had been said: a man is
old at sixty, Augustine thought; even if he drags on, as some had done, to
one hundred and twenty. It is futile to calculate the end of the world: for
even the shortest spell of time would seem too long for those who yearned
for it.” Peter Brown Augustine of Hippo, Faber and Faber, London, 1967, p.
[xxxiv] “With the strength of his spiritual sight and insight the distance
and as it were the space around man continually expands: his world grows
deeper, ever new stars, ever new images and enigmas come into view. Perhaps
everything on which the spirit’s eye has exercised its profundity and
acuteness has been really but an opportunity for its exercise, a game,
something for children and the childish. Perhaps the most solemn concepts
which have occasioned the most strife and suffering, the concepts ‘God’ and
‘sin’, will one day seem to us of no more importance than a child’s toy and
a child’s troubles seem to an old man - and perhaps ‘old man’ will then have
need of another toy and other troubles - still enough of a child, an eternal
child!” Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, Penguin, 1973, #57, p. 64.