Black Mass – Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, by John Gray
Before I get into ‘Black Mass’ I want to put into context John Gray’s previous book, ‘Straw Dogs’ which had a profound influence on me. Straw dogs left me bewildered and disillusioned for almost a year. I was unaccustomed to Grays style of writing, his strong point of view and the utter sense of powerlessness his argument and evidence against Humanism leaves you with. The point needs expansion. Humanism is the idea that by the study of human beings, we can find by mutual consensus, ethics and qualities that we all find agreeable and universally applicable. That there are universal qualities about us by which all humans can considered equitably.
In Straw Dogs, John Gray shatters this notion and gives us plenty of examples by which he shows that the search for this very ideal is the cause of misery all over the world.
In ‘Black Mass’, Gray continues with the theme, a strong attack on humanism, and an even stronger attack on liberalism, which he claims to have been corrupted by human fallibility to faith and the need for historical narration. Expanding on this would be a lengthy process and I don’t want to get into it but what I do find intensely depressing about this work is its sense of fatalism. If our very ideals are the cause of misery then what is the point in anything. As Gray admits, perhaps the greatest problem will be our ability to accept this truth: that in the name of liberalism, freedom, and human rights, we have committed horrors beyond imagination. And the future does not bode well unless we realize this.
In this there is nothing new, shedding of ideals has been talked about by various philosophers, but what Gray argues is even more subtle than that. What he is saying is that we need to shed our instinct to see history as a progression of events and furthermore cease trying to impose our ideals on others, even if it is the shedding of ideals itself. The very act of trying to convince (which leads to forcing) your fellow human being of what is right and wrong is what creates mistrust, disenfranchisement and ultimately more conflict than what was previously imaginable.
If History is not seen as a progression of humanity, then it is just a dry repetition of facts. Facts that we are forced to confront and deal with. Grays, prediction for the future of the Middle East is grim. Considering I am a foreigner living in this part of the world, I hope to god that he is wrong. His predictions for the world, for ecological disasters & resource conflicts are even worse.
What are we to do in a world like this! A world in which we must recognize ‘hope’ as fantasy and nothing more than an evolution of ancient doctrines. i.e. based on the irrational faith of Utopia.
Moreover Gray argues that the Human need for faith and religion may actually be in reality insatiable. We need religion to give us purpose, and liberal ideas to separate religion from state and to individualize religion are misplaced and dangerous in an ever complicated world.
Whatever he says, I don’t like it, that doesn’t make it not true though. I still want to have faith in humanity, I need to believe that we can make it, that history has some purpose that we are continually improving ourselves and that we will find solutions to future conflicts and potential ecological disasters.
Without faith, what do we have? and perhaps, that’s the point.