Little can be learned from the views of New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, but cats have much to teach us according to leading philosopher John Gray who is speaking at Wigtown Book Festival.
Prof Gray, author of a number of influential books, will be at the 20thannual event on Friday, 21 September to discuss his latest work Seven Types of Atheism.
A non-believer himself he is nonetheless critical of the aggressively anti-religious views of the group known as “New Atheists”, which he regards as “recycled Victorian arguments” and possessing an evangelical dogma close to religiosity.
He says: “The trouble is that they don’t know much about the history of atheism.”
One of Gray’s key observations about atheism in our own society as that it tends to be “Christianity with God scooped out”.
His preferred approach is to avoid clinging to Judeo Christian ethics, which he sees as having brought good and bad, in order to think afresh about the universe and our role within it.
He says: “People often ask whether there can be morality without religion, which obviously there can. But when you abandon Christian monotheism the question does arise of what morality you should then follow.”
Much Judeo Christian thought puts humanity at the centre of creation and also sees history as being necessarily a process of improvement. Gray questions both of these ideas and points out that many religions such as Buddhism also reject such notions.
The rise of the brutal Nazi, fascist and communist states in the 20thcentury and the current resurrection of extreme right wing ideologies suggest that progress in terms of human rights, tolerance and understanding is far from assured.
This, perhaps, puts an even greater responsibility on each of us to live well: “You can be very active in the world but not believe in the idea of progress. If you can help hold off the barbarians for the next few generations that is a noble thing to do.”
While the talk at Wigtown will be about the Seven Types of Atheism, Gray’s mind is already turning to his next work which will explore what we can learn about life from cats.
“Christianity has tended to put humans, as the only creatures with souls, at the centre of things. I do not tend to think that humans are the pinnacle of cosmic achievement.
“By looking at the world through the eyes of a cat we see something very different from the human world, and something much bigger. Cats know how to enjoy simply being alive.”
Gary’s own cat Julian, sprightly at the age of 21 and with a hearty appetite for both food and affection, is an inspiring example.
Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Book Festival Artistic Director, added:“Thinkers like John Gray do the world an enormous favour by challenging all of us to really consider what our beliefs and values actually are.
“In a part of the world where many of us have little religious faith we need to think about what our guiding principles should actually be, and whether it’s complacent to assume that things will generally get better.
“In a world threatened by climate change on the one hand and extremism on the other, perhaps the best way to ensure that we face up to these threats is to abandon any cosy cultural assumptions that things will ultimately get better.”
Wigtown Book festival takes place in Scotland’s National Book Town from 21 to 29 September and involves a host of events and activities including theatre, film and music.
For full details of Wigtown Book Festival go to wigtownbookfestival.com.
- Festival goers will also be warmly invited to attend another colourful regional event – The Kirkcudbright Festival of Light, which will be taking place in Scotland’s Artists’ Town from 5 to 14 October – see kirkcudbrightlight.com.
- Lovers of crime writing can also enjoy the Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling from 21-23 September. See https://bloodyscotland.com.
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For further information and interview requests contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org
About John Gray
- One of Britain’s leading philosophers talks about the importance of atheism in the modern world, revealing a tradition, in many ways as rich as religion itself, and deeply entwined with what is often crudely seen as its “opposite”. John Gray is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. His major books include Straw Dogs, Black Mass and The Silence of Animals.
- Event: Seven Types of Atheism, Festival Marquee,Fri 21 Sep, 12:30pm, tickets. £9.00.
About Wigtown Book Festival
- The event is for people of all ages and tastes. There is a strong programme for children and young people.
- Among the guests this year are presenter Clare Balding, bestselling author Patrick Gale, comedian Susan Calman, Louis de Bernières, comedian and radio presenter Robin Ince, historian Tom Devine, crime writer Ann Cleeves, actor, writer and comedian Arabella Weir, philosopher John Gray,mountain walker and writer Cameron McNeish and broadcaster and writer Sally Magnusson.
- The festival always puts an emphasis on authors from and books that are relevant to Dumfries and Galloway. Historian Ted Cowan will discuss John Ross of Stranraer’s ill-fated voyage to discover the Northwest Passage, Shaun Bythell talks about his bestselling Diary of a Booksellerone year on and Sara Maitland presents A Pocket Pilgrimage – St Ninian’s Cave.
- Julia Muir Watt will look at Whithorn: An Economy of People, and Mike Morley shares stories of sacrifice and bravery from his book Wigtown Warriors. Meanwhile journalist Stephen Norris explains the unique charm of the Galloway hills and Jessica Fox discusses her re-released memoir Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets, which has now been optioned by a major Hollywood film company.
- There will also be a series of events as special celebrations for the 20th These include panel discussions offering writers’ perspectives on how Scotland has changed in the past two decades and what Europe will look like 20 years from now.
- The festival is supported by Dumfries and Galloway Council, EventScotland part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, Creative Scotland and The Holywood Trust.
EventScotland is working to make Scotland the perfect stage for events. By developing an exciting portfolio of sporting and cultural events EventScotland is helping to raise Scotland’s international profile and boost the economy by attracting more visitors. For further information about EventScotland, its funding programmes and latest event news visit www.EventScotland.org. Follow EventScotland on Twitter @EventScotNews.
EventScotland is a team within VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, the national tourism organisation which markets Scotland as a tourism destination across the world, gives support to the tourism industry and brings sustainable tourism growth to Scotland. For more information about VisitScotland see www.visitscotland.orgor for consumer information on Scotland as a visitor destination see www.visitscotland.com.
- A global first, YoYP 2018 is a part of the Scottish Government’s themed-year programme which focuses on celebrating Scotland’s greatest assets.
- A year-long programme of events and festivals are taking place across the whole of the country for all ages to enjoy, led by EventScotland part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate. More information at www.visitscotland.com/yoyp2018
- Local authorities, schools, youth groups and organisations are running their own YoYP 2018 activity. Search #YOYP2018 on Twitter for the latest news.
- Young people co-designed the Year. A group of young leaders, Communic18, lead on all key decision making.
- The Year is delivered in partnership between the Scottish Government, VisitScotland and EventScotland – part of the VisitScotland Events Directorate, Young Scot, Scottish Youth Parliament, Children in Scotland, YouthLink Scotland and Creative Scotland.
- More information can be found at yoyp2018.scot, searching @YOYP2018 #YOYP2018 on Twitter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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