This quote from an interview with Peter Watson, author of Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud, from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has generated a lot of harumphs from various quarters (including John Miller and Ross Douthat):
Q: What do you think is the single worst idea in history?
Without question, ethical monotheism. The idea of one true god. The idea that our life and ethical conduct on earth determines how we will go in the next world. This has been responsible for most of the wars and bigotry in history.
I agree that this is an absurd statement which reveals much about Watson and little about anything else (those pantheistic religions of yore being so famously pacifist). I also agree with Douthat that the “without question” is a bit of hilarious preemptive egotism. Elsewhere he responds to the objection that religion has invested countless lives with meaning by declaring “I lead a perfectly healthy, satisfactory life without being religious. And I think more people should try it.”
What a shmuck.
But I found this statement about literature far more damning and revealing:
First, this is nonsense. More importantly, the phrase “It has not achieved anything collective” sends a chill down my spine. This guy clearly despises traditional religion but he also despises individual liberty in the form of personal discovery. His standard for greatness is some non-religious “collective” enterprise. Elsewhere in the interview he says “I do not believe in the inner world….I do not believe that meditation or cogitation leads to wisdom or peace or the truth.”
The rise of the novel generally is a great turning in. But I don’t think it has given a lot of satisfaction to people. It has not achieved anything collective. It’s a lot of little personal turnings that lots of people love to connect with. But these are fugitive, evanescent truths. They don’t stay with you very long or help you do much.
Personal revelation? Irrelevant. Religious transcendance? Irrelevant.
Is this guy a Borg?