Saturday, August 28, 2004

God hates it when you get up late

And so, this morning, I got up at just past eleven o’clock and tottered down to teh kitchen in search of the coffee–jar. The post title comes from a wonderful article which reviews Tom Hodgkinson’s How To Be Idle, a book which apparently rhapsodizes on the virtues and really concrete benefits thereof. And, even more encouragingly for me, I’m told, Dr. Johnson once said: “Whoever thinks of going to bed before 12 o’clock is a scoundrel.” But this book doesn’t just deal with blank idleness. It deals with the virtues of sexual idleness, mental idleness (absolutely not to be confused with mental inactivity), etc.

Anyway, another thing about God — or god, to be properly agnostic about it — is that the belief system in this particular being will drive people to believe the strangest things, whatever their religion. And that, argues the writer of another book, is very very dangerous. The thrust of the book, which is ferocious as far as I can tell from the review, is that religion is the only thought system which takes pride in stubbornly refusing to update itself at all, even though it was only perfectly relevant to its own social world about 3000 years ago.

Therefore, since the 21st century is hemmed in by violent politics, catastrophic threats to the environment and our future potential to survive, massively destructive weapons etc., religion by itself is revealed as nonsense when it tries to deal with any of this. And that alone makes its closest adherents – people who believe firmly in what they say – actively dangerous. About as dangerous, he seems to suggest, as a flame in a cavernous petrol–tank. I won’t go into any theorising about 9/11 but I think the author of the book itself does.

The Daily Telegraph has a list of phrases by book reviewers. Phrases that should be banned from articles about books. The list includes: emotional rollercoaster, epic — as if synonymous with “long”, event — “a new epic by Homer is always an event”, heady mix, in his inimitable style — incidentally, inimitable people often turn out to be quite imitable: “the inimitable Sean Connery”, lightness of touch, searing indictment, unputdownable.

What puzzles me is why, in these relativistic times where one thing is supposedly as good as another, reviewers are not taken to task for using this language of ultimate praise. Not that they should be, of course. In books, just as in music or any other art, one thing is rarely as satisfying as another.

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