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ss triple helix - winter 2005,  Straw Dogs - Thoughts on humans and other animals (Book Review)

Straw Dogs - Thoughts on humans and other animals (Book Review)

Straw Dogs - Thoughts on humans and other animals - John Gray - Granta 2002 - £8.99 Pb 246pp - ISBN 1 86207 596 4

We have become used to modernism, and got the hang of postmodernism but what comes next? Perhaps post-humanism? Christians and humanists mostly get along. We share a broadly similar and liberal vision of what is good for society because we both believe that being human is special and valuable. To a humanist we are special because we possess a high degree of reason, self awareness and moral agency. As Christians we see ourselves as special because in addition, God created us in his own image, with the capacity to relate to him. But can you imagine a world where humans no longer see themselves as special but as just another animal? A world where we do not see ourselves as free or responsible? A world where we do not see any point or purpose to our lives?

Gray writes off both the Enlightenment and its progeny humanism as a blind alley. He follows Schopenhauer in his view that humanism is just Christianity with God left out, and that without God it is unsustainable. But if the 21st century does indeed leave humanism behind as a pseudo-Christian hangover, then what is left? According to Gray, only a bleak mixture of nihilism, Eastern philosophy and a dash of neuroscience.

This book is horribly readable. It paints a vividly accurate picture of how this world would be without God. What value our ethics if humans have no special place? What value beauty if there is no meaning? What value my personhood or my relationships with those around me if consciousness is just a cosmic accident and 'free will is a trick of perspective'? According to one reviewer 'nobody can hope to understand the times in which we live unless they have read Straw Dogs'.

Gray may be a prophet for the 21st century. He joins the likes of Dawkins, Dennett and Singer in seeing only a world without God. But as CS Lewis pointed out, if you abolish God then the abolition of man as a free and worthwhile being is not far behind. It remains to be seen whether people will really accept Gray's despairing message. If the 21st century world does indeed become bleaker and more futile, then the treasure we possess in knowing the living God through Jesus his son should shine all the more brightly. Read this book – you will be glad you are a Christian.

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