A. C. Grayling: Meditations for the Humanist

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Grayling, A.C. Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

A. C. Grayling's Meditations for the Humanist exercises not only his own talent for aphorisms, but also those of the many notable writers and thinkers whom he quoted and paraphrased. In just the first two dozen pages, Grayling cites--among others--Burke, Cervantes, Emerson, Euripides, Goethe, Mill, Montaigne, Plato, Rilke, Schopenhauer, Seneca, Shakespeare, Socrates, Sophocles, Voltaire, and Wilde. In the wrong hands such a breadth of sources could prove disorienting, but Grayling manages it well.

The author's antipathy toward theism is noted early on, when Grayling observes that "some will take offence at the inclusion of religion in this category [Foes and Fallacies]:"

If all espousers of religion behaved like Quakers or shared the views of Theraveda Buddhists, there would be little to quarrel with in religion save its supernaturalistic beliefs. But religion for the greater part has been, and still remains, an affliction in human affairs, and cannot be omitted from discussion of the considered life.

(p. ix, Introduction)

Freethinkers may most appreciate the middle of the book (pages 99 through 141) where Grayling covers Christianity, Sin, Repentance, Faith, Miracles, Prophecy, Virginity, Paganism, Blasphemy, and Obscenity. My favorite passages come from this section:

...religious morality is not merely irrelevant, it is anti-moral. The great moral questions of the present age are those about human rights, war, poverty, the vast disparities between rich and poor, the fact that somewhere in the third world a child dies every two and a half seconds because of starvation or remediable disease. The churches' obsessions over pre-marital sex and whether divorced couples can remarry in church appears contemptible in the light of this mountain of human suffering and need. (pp. 102-103)

This [the response to the AIDS epidemic in contemporary America] is a dispiriting tale, but although it is not a new one, it reminds us that of all the diseases that afflict humankind, religious moralities are among the worst. (p. 110)

God...is the name of our ignorance. As real knowledge and mastery advance, there is diminishing need to invoke supernatural agencies to explain the world. (pp. 121-122)

Blasphemy is a destructive idea, a dangerous, subjective catch-all used by superstitious people to deny others their liberty of thought. [...] ...blasphemy is a healthy phenomenon because it is a sign of free speech, and demonstrates the maturing of society from one level of belief and practice to another. (p. 137)

There is much thought-food here, to ruminate upon and to savor.

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