Conflict Within and Without

Title: The Martyr
Author: Liam O’Flaherty
Genre: Depressing Historical Fiction
Pages: 216
Rating: 3 of 5

This fictionalized account of the capture of a small town in Ireland requires a basic understanding of the Irish Civil War. The edition that I read included a basic overview in the introduction, but my knowledge of Irish history was sketchy enough that I had to supplement from Wikipedia.

This falls into the “War is stupid and depressing and twists people into something ugly” category of war fiction rather than the “honor, heroism, and glory!” variety. O’Flaherty examines the character, motivations, and ideologies of people on both sides of the brother-against-brother conflict. Characters range from a vengeful atheistic communist soldier of fortune to a pacifistic religious officer with a martyr complex (both on the same side) and every shade of zealotry, nationalism, and religiosity in between. There is as much conflict within most of the characters as there is between characters (pacifism vs. patriotism, vengeance vs. love, faith vs. fear, etc.)

After a lot of angry disillusioned “ugliness and heartbreak of civil war and macho soldiers” stuff, the story devolves into an increasingly outrageous faith vs. atheism confrontation which ends with neither side in a particularly flattering light. I appreciated the book for a look at a part of history I hadn’t read about before and for some astute observations about the darker side of human nature, but it certainly wasn’t an enjoyable read.

A Guided Tour of Atheism

Title: Seven Types of Atheism
Author: John Gray
Genre: Philosophy/Theology
Pages: 176
Rating: 3.5 of 5
(Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley – this in no way affects the content of this review)

I believe that it is important to understand where other people are coming from in terms of differing culture, beliefs, and worldview. It can help foster respectful dialogue rather than talking past each other or yelling at each other. To that end, I picked up this overview on atheism.

Just as no major religion is monolithic in its belief and practice, those who espouse atheism have a wide variety of arguments, beliefs, ethics, worldviews, etc. John Gray gives a guided tour of seven kinds of atheism, describing major proponents and beliefs of each category and pointing out its strengths and weaknesses. He strongly criticizes most versions, mostly alleging inconsistency via partial dependence on a monotheistic or even Christian worldview. He speaks favorably only of what he calls “Atheism without progress” (George Santayana & Joseph Conrad) and “The Atheism of Silence” (Arthur Schopenhauer & Benedict Spinoza).

Obviously, the seven categories are Gray’s own generalizations, but they were helpful in getting an overview of a huge topic. As far as persuasiveness, some of Gray’s argumentation is pretty shoddy. For example, he summarily dismisses certain topics touched on by some atheists philosophers (e.g. Nietzsche & Rand) as “silly” without any further explanation, and his main argument against Christianity is little more than “there are much more likely explanations of who Jesus was than the one offered by Christianity.” Overall, this was a helpful overview, and that is what the author stated as his primary goal, so I guess he was successful in spite of occasionally lackluster arguments.