Life Without Redemption

In an incisive review of John Gray’s latest book, The Silence of Animals, Richard Holloway explains the essence of the political theorist’s approach to human nature:

Gray believes that humanity’s obsessive search for a cure for its own ills is its most dangerous disease. Here, he both commends and condemns the religious approach to the problem. He commends it because, unlike the optimistic humanism of the new atheists, it understands the incurable sickness of the human soul and has been rich in stories that express it. Where he departs from religion is in its myth of supernatural rescue and salvation. Realistic in its assessment of the human condition as fallen and self-obsessed, Christianity pulls a metaphysical rabbit out of the hat by promising that, while we are unable to save ourselves, there is one who will rescue us from the bondage of our own nature and deliver us into a state of eternal bliss.

The “new note” that appears in this most recent work:

To his prophetic contempt for those who destroy others in the name of their theories has been added a lyrical new theme he calls “godless mysticism”, through which he calls us to an attitude of contemplative gratitude for the only life we will ever have. He writes: “Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being. There is no redemption from being human. But no redemption is needed.”

Relatedly, in an interview about his new book, JP O’Malley asks Gray, “Why do you dispute the notion that knowledge is a pacifying force?” Gray’s answer:

Well there is this notion in some intellectual circles that evil is a kind of error: that if you get more knowledge you won’t commit the error. People often say: if we get more knowledge for human psychology won’t that help? No. All knowledge is ambiguous in this way. The Nazis were very good at using their knowledge at mass psychology. Or if you were a Russian revolutionary like Lenin, you might use the knowledge of the causes of inflation to take control of the central bank, create hyper-inflation and bring about your revolutionary project. So knowledge can never eradicate the conflicts of the human world, or produce harmony where there are conflicting goals to start with. Because knowledge is used by human beings as a tool to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.