29 August, 2004


I was reading the newspaper this morning, and I happened to stumble onto an article reviewing Alister McGrath's The Twlight of Atheism. Erm? That's an interesting title for a book; to me it seems as if atheism is on the upswing. So I started to read it.

I believe the review is highly critical. I can't honestly say, because I got no further than 4 or 5 paragraphs before the reviewer wrote the following:

The names one would expect to be listed as the great, dark champions of disbelief are absent from the roster. The English social theorist William Godwin, the great novelist Dostoevsky, the truly radical philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous existentialist Albert Camus do not make the list of important enemies of religion because McGrath finds vindication for all of them.
I just about exploded with disbelief. Dostoevsky an atheist? How many essays about Dostoevsky have I read that acknowledge that his Christianity was the foundation of every one of his great novels? Has the man actually read any Dostoevsky?!?
Alyosha got up, went to him and softly kissed him on the lips.
I popped off a letter to the editor through the N&O's web interface. Unfortunately, I forgot to copy it, or I'd paste it here. If I manage to find a copy, I'll add it below.

Between then and now, I explored a little online, and found that there is a school of literary thought that believes Dostoevsky really was an atheist. I still have no idea how this is possible; by now I've read Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov. That puts me through all of the great novels, and all of them appear to be anti-atheism.

So, I suppose the reviewer's ignorance is not entirely criminal. However, I will be expanding on Hugo vs. Dostoevsky in the coming days, and there will be no doubt that I see Dostoevsky as firmly entrenched in the Christian camp.


Anonymous said...

If atheism is on the increase, then isn't McGrath's book entirely wrong?

Hwo could such a scholarly Christian be so wrong?

jack perry said...

I really don't care much about Alister McGrath, and I don't know whether he was mistaken. I care about Dostoevsky. :-)

When I say that it seems to me that atheism is on the rise, this is based on my interactions with younger people. But many of my work and internet circles are 99% anti-GW Bush, too. Does that suggest that 99% of all people are anti-GW Bush? Of course not, but if I were left to my ordinary, day-to-day perceptions, that's what I'd have to conclude. I read an awful lot about young Christians (including Catholics) being well-organized and full of energy, but I haven't met any of these people.

That's why the book review caught my eye: I was intrigued. The reviewer skewered the book, but as I pointed out, he also got one of his facts wrong. I went back later to read the rest of the article: he repeated his assertion that Dostoevsky was an atheist, so this was no casual mistake.

I consider this an important error on the reviewer's part: I've checked a few more sources, and nearly all of them state unambiguously that Dostoevsky was a Christian. That's also my understanding from reading his book. This error isn't very material to the reviewer's criticism; nevertheless, I don't know what to think.

I'm just baffled yet again: a simple fact, easily checked, can be so brazenly disputed.

ktismatics said...

I tracked down your blog after reading your comment on "blogging lameness" elsewhere. Recently I reread Camus' essay "Absurd Creation." I don't have it in hand for this comment -- I think it's next to my bed someplace and I'd wake up my wife looking for it. The idea, though, is that in Camus' view Dostoevsky's Christianity was a kind of failure of self-discipline. Through his fictional characters D. could acknowledge the absurdity of life, recognizing that perhaps suicide was the most noble response. But it's hard to keep hope at bay forever, and D. jumped mystically into a way out of despair. Is this arrogance on Camus' part? Camus clearly loved Dostoevsky's work and knew it well. He certainly doesn't regard D. as an atheist.

BTW, I like your (now suicided) blog. It is, though, hard to see why keeping going is worth it, since it seems to take as much effort to drag people onto your site as it does to write it in the first place. Why not either write full-length essays or just keep a journal? And why should a discussion topic like Dostoevsky's atheism die in a week? Are today's topics always more interesting than yesterday's?