Category: Atheism


AFTERLIFE written, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais

(A Netflix Original, 2019)

Screen shot 2019-03-11 at 18.59.48Yesterday, I blogged about Gus Van Sant’s flawed attempt to deal with complicated issues of guilt and grief in ‘The Sea of Trees’.

In that movie, the death of the lead character’s wife drives the leading male into a narcissistic flirtation with suicide until he finds some vague spiritual redemption. This kind of cop-out is all too often the way these stories go.

God’s reputation for moving in mysterious ways allows scriptwriters to sidestep the less palatable, but all too probable, conclusion that when this mortal coil is cut there is no heaven or hell, no all-knowing deity. …. nothing.

These too infrequently voiced non-beliefs are squarely addressed in the unlikely form of a new comedy vehicle for Ricky Gervais. Since Gervais has been outspoken advocate of atheism, it is with a knowing sense of irony that he should choose to call his six part series on Netflix ‘Afterlife’. Continue reading

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HOMO DEUS by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage Books, 2017)
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Subtitled ‘a brief history of tomorrow’, Harari’s sobering study of where humankind is heading envisages a future in which secular sapiens are increasingly marginalised by the by now unstoppable march of technological innovation.

It is a quirk of human nature that we all like to think of ourselves as individuals. In reading this book you’ll quickly realise that we’re not as unique and irreplaceable as we’d like to imagine.

Although each of us has a unique DNA, the evidence of our online activity proves that our goals, desires and actions follow relatively rigid and wholly predictable patterns . Continue reading

SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage Books, 2014)

41mjx6yzfel-_sx324_bo1204203200_History is full of big mistakes and there’s a common notion that we should study it to avoid repeating the errors of the past.

However, Yuval Noah Harari explains one of the key problems with taking lessons from previous cultures and generations is that “History cannot be explained deterministically and it cannot be predicted because it is chaotic”.

Such a view could give credence to the belief that “History is just one damn thing after another”.

Harari’s populist approach to the subject is a breath of fresh air. He has been criticized for his lack of scholarly rigor but his non-elitist position is that historians cannot and should not assume an objective, dispassionate position. Continue reading

new_skin_for_the_old_ceremony As a gift to a friend of mine who is retiring soon, a group of friends and colleagues have been asked to write articles about a poem or song.

These texts will be connected by the themes of one, or more, of the four elements – fire, earth, water and air.

I have chosen to write a piece on Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire which, as you may know or recall, goes like this:

And who by fire, who by water,
 who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
 who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
 who in your merry merry month of may,
 who by very slow decay,
 and who shall I say is calling? Continue reading 

A good God is hard to find

A PRAYER JOURNAL by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013)

flanneryMy favorite joke about praying is by the surreal American comic Emo Philips (although it’s also been attributed to Al Pacino) and goes: “I asked God for a bike but I realized it doesn’t work that way, so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness”.

I think the Southern Gothic novelist Flannery O’Connor would have appreciated this witticism. She was a staunch Catholic but she also had an eagle eye for life’s absurdities.

As an atheist I am biased, but surely even believers can recognise that praying ought to consist of more that than reeling off a wish list to some kind of celestial Santa.  Continue reading

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