against secular faith


Gray’s most acute loathing is for the idea of progress, which has been his target in a number of books, and which is continued in the rather uneventful first 80 pages or so of The Silence of Animals. He allows that progress in the realm of science is a fact. (And also a good: as Thomas De Quincey remarked, a quarter of human misery results from toothache, so the discovery of anesthetic dentistry is a fine thing.) But faith in progress, Gray argues, is a superstition we should do without. He cites, among others, Conrad on colonialism in the Congo and Koestler on Soviet Communism (the Cold War continues to cast a long shadow over Gray’s writing) as evidence of the sheer perniciousness of a belief in progress. He contends, contra Descartes, that human irrationality is the thing most evenly shared in the world. To deny reality in order to sustain faith in a delusion is properly human. For Gray, the liberal humanist’s assurance in the reality of progress is a barely secularized version of the Christian belief in Providence. With the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt in mind, Gray writes in Black Mass (2007): “Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion.” Politics has become a hideous surrogate for religious salvation, and secularism is itself a religious myth. In The Silence of Animals, he writes, “Unbelief today should begin by questioning not religion but secular faith.”

more from Simon Critchley at the LA Review of Books here.