by Vitaly Malkin, Arcadia, 416pp, £25
Why read a lavishly produced, glossy hardback book with the subtitle How Religion Deprives Us of Happiness? After all, it is likely to be provocative, ill-informed and written with all the passion of militant atheism.
Dangerous Illusions is all these things, but I was nonetheless curious about how the author, a Russian former physicist and banker, now a businessman and philanthropist, would tackle a highly complex subject that has occupied the greatest minds for many centuries.
Malkin makes statements one would expect, such as that his mission is “to expose the most common chimeras – parasites that have been torturing humanity for thousands of years”, or that religion is like “cancer cells, malignant, indestructible”. He is keen on the word “chimera”, arguing that religion has filled men’s minds with monstrous perversions.
Although he discusses his views on Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, my guess is that Christianity is Malkin’s main, if implicit, target, as it is fatally easy for those hostile to the Church to misunderstand its teachings on suffering and sex. They require a capacity for reflection, an enquiring spirit and humility – none of which are in evidence in these pages.
The author warns the reader that he likes to use “a lot of sarcasm”, citing Voltaire as an influence. Where he does mention St Augustine or Aquinas, it is always in order to critique them.
What does Malkin offer instead of “religion”, in which he includes 20th century totalitarian systems, such as his own country’s experience of socialism? Personal experience, “natural values”, accepting that we are simply biological machines with extraordinary brains, enjoyment of the pleasures of life and recognition that death is the end of everything.
His illustrations include skulls, skeletons and the kind of pornographic postcards touted in the Edwardian era, accompanied by his own banal (and sarcastic) commentary. Despite the author’s gusto for his subject, reading it was not a pleasurable experience.
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