Saturday, August 22, 2009
Between the Monster and the Saint: Reflections on the Human Condition, by Richard Holloway
Sex and violence are primal forces in nature, and in this well-intentioned book the former Bishop of Edinburgh wants us to contemplate how these forces have used us in our own lives. There’s a strong feminist slant courtesy of Andrea Dworkin, and rather too much WH Auden, so with its mix of poetry, fiction and philosophy it’s a bit like Radio 4’s Something Understood. There’s a touch of trendy vicar (God is a bit like a radio broadcast), but the serious message is that cruel people lack imagination and don’t empathise with the suffering of their victims. A capacity to feel is our salvation, says the ex-bishop, although he cannot offer us heaven, just a nicer planet. Religious myths still have worth because they elicit our pity, especially the crucifixion story. Yes, religion can make us violent, but so can football, nationalism and politics. Perhaps this slim volume will encourage some of us to act in a more saintly manner, although the sort of monsters he describes are unlikely to pick it up.