Monday, April 04, 2011

grayling failing

I bow to no man in my admiration for AC Grayling, who I reckon is the most intelligent and articulate of the celebrity atheists, and is certainly a far more formidable thinker and debater than Richard Dawkins, the media's usual go-to guy on the subject. I mean no disrespect to Dawkins by that, it's just that he is primarily a biologist and not a professional philosopher in the same way that Grayling and Daniel Dennett are. And Grayling does have the most phenomenal hair, which adds a bit of slightly rakish scholarly gravitas as well. I think there's just a faint possibility that he could be Robert Plant's dad (image is from Crispian Jago's Skeptic Trumps).

Having said all that I was therefore surprised to find myself cringing on his behalf a bit when he popped up on the Today programme this morning to plug his new book, called - wait for it - The Good Book: A Secular Bible. Nothing wrong with the contents, indeed I'm sure it's largely excellent, but the title seems like a bit of an own goal to me. I mean, I can see what he was trying to do, but, well.....the very easy criticism for theists (and Christians in particular, of course) to make now is: see, we told you atheism was just another religion, and now you've proved it by having to have your own holy book, because for all your criticism you obviously think the Bible is a pretty admirable model, don't you, eh? Giles Fraser, who they'd wheeled in to provide an opposing view, could barely conceal his glee at being on the not obviously completely silly side of an argument for once, although he did manage to slot in a bit of Eagletonesque scoffing at any hopelessly unsophisticated literalists who might imagine that the Bible might set itself up as a source of moral guidance (or, to put it another way, about 99% of all the Christians in the world).

Needless to say given a bit more space and time to make a case, like for instance this Guardian article, Grayling does so in a typically persuasive and erudite way. I still think not aping the title of a religious work would have been best, though, although I'm not ruling out some pressure from his publishers to cook up a bit of controversy and hence sales.

I should point out also that I recall a book called Bible Two being published back in the early 1980s - its fate and that of its author are a salutory lesson. Take ye not the Lord's name in vain, lest he visit his vengeance upon you.

A quick footnote: the link I provided above for Giles Fraser is to the splendid Platitude Of The Day site, which simultaneously summarises and satirises the daily Thought For The Day slot on Radio 4. I've added it to the blog sidebar as well.

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