October 5, 2013

"'What happened today was not credible,' were the stunned and wooden words of Tom Clancy..."

A line on page 4 of the Martin Amis book "The Second Plane/September 11: Terror and Boredom," which I began rereading last night.

Tom Clancy died last Tuesday, and I did not blog about it, because I don't blog every obituary and because I've never read (or felt motivated to read) a Tom Clancy book. It doesn't mean anything — of course, I'm not superstitious — that I'd never taken an interest in Clancy and then I run into his name on the second page of the first essay in a book I happened to take down from the shelf for no apparent reason — was it on Tuesday?

I took the book off the shelf and immediately saw something I'd written inside the back cover. I didn't remember getting this idea, but I could recognize it as my own thinking and knew that something in the book had inspired me to think that. Because my graphomania extends to marginalia — as the first post on this blog attests — I'm able to find the place in the text that inspired the back-of-the-book notes.

First, I'll show you the Amis text (with my marginalia). It's on pages 13 and 14:

scrapbook 5_0001
scrapbook 5_0002

Now, I'll let you read my notes:

scrapbook 5_0004


Ann Althouse said...

The last word on the second line of my back-of-the-book notes is "reason."

Ann Althouse said...

The crossed-word on line 6 of the notes is the beginning of "discovery."

Ann Althouse said...

The last word of the 7th line is "nowhere."

Carl said...

Saint Peter wrote that way about the foolish and destructive worship of the Emperor and the gods of Olympus. Martin Luther wrote that way about the destructiveness of the veneration of the Pope and saints. Here comes Amis and fellow travellers, with the supreme confidence that is one of God's gifts to the youthful, certain that now we understand the One Truth Faith, and can discard the mockeries of reason and morality our benighted ancestors clenched in their fumbling fingers, and march forward into the everlasting sun.

A hundred years from now, if he's lucky, Amis's text will be dragged out to be mocked by the next prophet.

There is nothing new under the Sun, at least in this area of human ratiocination, and so far as my reading of history and anthropology suggests, there never has been, not in 40,000 years, nor will be in the next 40,000.

That's why Techne is my god. You can actually see genuine progress between the screw of Archimedes and an OLED screen.

David said...

Belief makes human society murderous. In order to disparage religion, atheists define non mystical beliefs as quasi religious, thus trying to expand the category. Nevertheless they are still beliefs. Individuals will kill for all kinds of personal reasons--love, revenge, greed, fear, etc. Only beliefs can mobilize groups and whole societies to killing on a mass scale.

Beliefs can ennoble us, but they are also our most destructive characteristic.

m stone said...

AA: do you distinguish between the "modern Jesus character" and Jesus revealed in the Bible or historical Jesus?

Or does he not exist?

Ann Althouse said...

"AA: do you distinguish between the "modern Jesus character" and Jesus revealed in the Bible or historical Jesus?"

The notes are a plan for a fictional story in which a Jesus character -- with knowledge from beyond -- would appear in modern times and reveal what the true religion is.

It's not a story that was ever [strike]fleshed out[/end strike] made flesh.

Ann Althouse said...

I guess in the logic of the notes, the "modern Jesus" could not be the same as the original Jesus, since the modern Jesus is revealing the truth, which is that God always tried to stay hidden and stayed hidden successfully, unless you write the historical Jesus as the only-a-man Jesus and portray him as not an effort by God to reveal himself.

Ann Althouse said...

It's best to pose the idea without a Jesus character, because the modern Jesus character has God ending his hiddenness.

To put it simply, the hypothesis is that there is a God, and the true religion from His point of view is atheism, since the atheists are the ones who are seeing the perfection of the hiddenness. The other people are making things up, acting like the hiding was not successful, and succumbing to irrationality instead of rising to the gifts of reason and perception.

Ann Althouse said...

You can see that my notes were inspired by Amis saying that if there were a God, he would not have given us religion.

I'm building on that idea, flipping it. There could be a God who gave us the tools to arrive at no religion, and that was His gift to us. We're falling short, in what God wants, by indulging in religion.

Here's an aphorism I thought of a while back: I believe a God that doesn't want to be believed in.

Think about it!

Ann Althouse said...

What if there is a God and what He really objects to is all the things people claim to know about him. Religious people are often afraid of God, and they think they will be punished for doing the wrong thing and rewarded for doing the right thing.

But what if the right thing is not to believe?

Ann Althouse said...

I'm interested in this paradox, and I like the way it is objectionable to religionists and atheists alike.

It shows that there is no safe bet.

Mark Trade said...

That's the old "fastest gun in the west" routine. You didn't see me pull my gun out of my holster? I'm that fast. My skill is so perfectly "hidden" it is terrifying.

Even now my power is granting your wishes. You don't see them being granted? That doesn't mean they're not being granted and that I'm the one doing it. That just means you can't see it.

Hogwash, silliness, all. Martin Amis was on to something and not for the last time I find myself missing Christopher Hitchens very much.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

The 20th century ideologies were not a hiatus from religion. They were religions.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Human nature contains a religious impulse. Either that has some metaphysical meaning, or its an evolutionary accident. There's no answer to that through scientific reasoning or discovery (I've read a lot of "just so" nonsense trying to explain religion in scientific, evolutionary terms).

Either way, the impulse is there and will never go away as long as we are recognizably human.

Michael K said...

I've never felt clever enough to know for sure. I guess I'll find although only if there is one. Atheists, not agnostics like me, are the most arrogant people on earth.

Karen said...

Ann, it's really odd that Tom Clancy should have said that since in 1994, he wrote Debt of Honor, a book I read in the year 2000. It ends with a lone Japanese terrorist flying a boeing 747 into the Congress. He had the idea long before the terrorists did.

Lydia said...

Oh, hell, let's go for it and have a Festival of Reason come November -- from Wikipedia on the Cult of Reason established during the French Revolution:

"The official nationwide Fête de la Raison, supervised by Hébert and Momoro on 20 Brumaire, Year II (10 November 1793) came to epitomize the new republican way of religion. In ceremonies devised and organised by Chaumette, churches across France were transformed into modern Temples of Reason. At Notre Dame in Paris was the largest ceremony of them all. The Christian altar was dismantled and an altar to Liberty was installed; the inscription "To Philosophy" was carved in stone over the cathedral's doors. The proceedings took several hours and concluded with the appearance of a Goddess of Reason who, to avoid idolatry, was portrayed by a living woman. The overarching theme of the ceremony was aptly summarized by Anacharsis Clootz who claimed that henceforward there would be 'one God only, Le Peuple'."

Would Amis approve?

Patrick Henry was right! said...

So, the mob of the French Revolution had it right? Power makes right because the more powerful either reason better or ghetto define reason itself. Atheism is the absence of morality, it is all preferences I enforced by the powerful.

MDIJim said...

Ideology and religion, same thing. Some day we will know the answer about the existence of god, or not. Until then, atheism, convinced that there is no god, is the flip side of religion. The cult of Reason and Communism are religions guilty of the same sins against humanity as religion has committed. The motivating thought is this, "WE know what the truth is. Those who do not know must be taught the truth. Brainwash them! If they resist, kill them! Their resistance is a crime against the truth."

Ann Althouse said...



Maybe he thought he'd made the story more believable.

Fiction needs to be believable. When things happen in real life, people say you wouldn't accept that if it were in a novel. The standard is actually higher. In life, it's enough that it did happen.

I remember after 9/11 constantly cycling back to the shock that it happened and thinking that really happened. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I'd have to re-accept that it happened, and throughout the day I'd go through that again and again.

On 9/11, the cycle occurred multiple times per minute. The cycle lengthened over time, but it took years before I stabilized into simply knowing that it really happened

Ann Althouse said...

"I've never felt clever enough to know for sure. I guess I'll find although only if there is one. Atheists, not agnostics like me, are the most arrogant people on earth."

In my idea, it is the atheists who please God the most. You see why? Their arrogance is part of what's so satisfying. Their conviction that He does not exist is the affirmation that He created a perfect hiding place.

Agnostics may still be looking and not finding, but come on, give up. He wants you to BELIEVE.

Ann Althouse said...

Their arrogance -- in this view -- works exactly like humility amongst the traditionally religious.

Lydia said...

I picture Althouse's God as a kind of frustrated auteur, putting us in our proper place and with the proper equipment, but finding us unable to learn our lines. Such dunces, and here he'd imagined the most wonderful creation ever.

Steven said...

I disbelieve in gods the same way as I disbelieve in leprechauns, space turtles, or effective centrally-planned command economies.

My depth of belief, and any arrogance associated, are the same in each of the four cases. I do not treat "God" as a privileged class because it might hurt your feelings to treat it otherwise; it's as evidence-free as the others.

I am not an agnostic, because I do not lack knowledge or deny the possibility of knowledge. On the other hand, one might fairly call me, say, avevaic (which probably butchers the Greek unidiomatically), denying certainty or the possibility of such. Show me evidence of God, leprechauns, space turtles, or planned economies that work, and you can change my mind.

But I don't expect you to be able to show me any.

traditionalguy said...

OK, God hides behind disguises such as a helpless baby and a weak and crucified carpenter from nowhere.

Maybe He wants an authentic loving relationship with us without over awing us or frightening us into to getting it.

So what should people do with an all powerful Spirit of Truth that wants our company? I suggest we believe He exists as love and light shown in The Son of Man in the Gospels. Unbelief is not God's goal here.

Unknown said...

I wish this idea had been fleshed out into a story.

Steven said...

traditionalguy, this tactic you're suggesting God is following is completely contradictory to the tactic followed in the Old Testament, with, for example, Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. Or the Flood. Or the smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or the plagues he rained on Egypt. Or . . . well, you should be able to add several of the others, right? You're the believer, not me.

So if God wants "an authentic loving relationship with us without over awing us or frightening us into to getting it", why'd he start with the showy, over-awing, You Should Be God-Fearing approach?

Guimo said...

Read "Without Remorse."

Guimo said...

Read "Without Remorse."