Gray keeps on saying much the same thing in many different ways, such as his contention that “secular thought is mostly composed of repressed religion.” This is all so obviously correct that, like so many other blindingly obvious things that we prefer to ignore, nobody likes to discuss it. Perhaps most definitive of all is his observation that godless searches for a universal law are futile. “Without a law giver, what can a universal moral law mean?” he asks. “If you think of morality as part of the natural behaviour of the human animal, you find that humans do not live according to a single moral code. Unless you think one of them has been mandated by God, you must accept the variety of moralities as part of what it means to be human.” Well, exactly. No God: no law. No law: no morals, just situational, alterable ethics. I am amazed that so few seem to realize the implications of atheism for the rule of law over power, the one thing that really sustains human civilization.
…For if there are justice and law and hope in the universe, they are surely to be found only on the far side of the grave. And if none of these things exists, then there is no unimaginable reality, nor any point in one, nor any point in poetry and music and speech and temporal love—just mud and silence.
By conventional reckoning, Hitchens is a devout believer and I’m an atheist, but I dare say my faith in the good and beautiful things of this world seems stronger than his; in fact, his strikes me as rather presumptuous. I’ve said for years that “either monotheism or nihilism” is the mother of all false dichotomies, but today, I’ll just paraphrase the German poet Ludwig Jacobowski and say, “Don’t cry because these things aren’t divinely guaranteed to last forever; smile because they ever happened at all.” But I suspect that these things mostly come down to an innate difference in temperament, and that a lot of theology reduces to personal psychology.
He calls John Gray the Spinoza of today. Simon Critchley previously described Gray as the “great Schopenhauerian Buddhist” of our age (which I think is more accurate). I have to say, I would be quite self-satisfied with accolades like that.