Martin Amis, Literature, and Religion post 9/11

Martin Amis reflects on literature in this Guardian article: The voice of the lonely crowd. Amis is a good writer. He has an amazing ability to craft prose and to paint imaginative scenes with words. I have enjoyed reading his novels and his short essays. I plan to read his autobiography as well. Like most writers and artists, however, his politics and worldview are a bit off. This essay reveals Amis’ anti-religious attitude:

The 20th century, with its scores of millions of supernumerary dead, has been called the age of ideology. And the age of ideology, clearly, was a mere hiatus in the age of religion, which shows no sign of expiry. Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. It is straightforward – and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion.

This may be powerful prose but it is a load of BS. His definition of both ideology and religion are meaningless and warped. Amis reveals nothing but the schoolboy’s atheism. Just because some religionists are ignorant and irrational does not mean religion is “without reason and without dignity.” In fact religion has been the motivation for much of the intellectual progress in this country and much of its dignity. Considering that religion played a key role in the founding of most of the prestigious universities in this country and around the world; considering that theology, law, history, and philosophy are all encompassed in religion it seems weak at best to paint religion as irrational or anti-reason. Did the abolitionist lack dignity? Was the dignity of Martin Luther King Jr. unrealted to his religious belief? Was Mother Teresa’s dignity and grace removed from her religion?
I know it may seem silly to attack Amis for this hyperbole but it is one of my pet peeves: the ignorant slander of faith based on little more than oversimplified history and a disdain for others beliefs. Surely Amis must know that the worship of reason and science has led to more than its fair share of death and destruction but we do not toss them aside because flawed human beings warped their true meaning. {If one is looking for a more intelligent critique of ideology, one with a true appreciation for the role of religion, Russell Kirk would be a far better choice.}

Amis argues that writers turned to political op-eds because their fiction seemed obsolete and out of place on September 12 but he is fooling himself if he thinks novelists and the literati are “individual voices, and playfully rational, all espousing the ideology of no ideology.” In fact we have learned that much of the cultural elite are instead trapped in leftist ideology and irrational anti-Americanism. Far from being the people we turn to in a time of crisis they have been the people we mock for their lack of insight. Sadly this seems true of Amis as well. For all his talent and skill with words Amis offers nothing but sophistry and emptiness. I will take my religion thank you.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).