Religion and Power: No logos without mythos
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IT WOULD be idle to pretend that this book is an easy read: its
260 dense pages are more apt for a sociologist than a theologian to
assimilate. You also need a quick mind to follow the changes of
scene and emphasis. Professor David Martin enjoys an enormous
reputation in academic circles, however, and Religion and
Power is the summation of a long career; so perseverance
brings its rewards.
The main theme is a potent one: the persistence of religion as a
force in this modern world. This is more obvious now, with the rise
of militant Islam, than it was fifty years ago, when Martin began
his career at the LSE, where he has been ever since; but he was a
pioneer against the mainstream in academia when his views were
originally unpopular. He writes of elucidating the "grammar of
faith", which underpins the whole of society, not just those
segments of it that are overtly religious.
One strand is a refutation of Professors A. C. Grayling and
Richard Dawkins in their debunking of religion, which Martin
describes as simplistic. "Bully-boy polemic of the kind deployed by
Grayling offends against the canons of rational debate and
scientific comment" - you cannot be much ruder about a
fellow-academic than that.
Dawkins comes into even sharper focus in Martin's sights. In
January 1995, Dawkins was Sue Lawley's guest on Desert Island
Discs, a context in which he could allegedly make gross
assertions without fear of contradiction. His statement that
"religion causes wars . . . is not simply an off-the-cuff locution
made in a moment of gross intellectual carelessness. . . It
represents a standard hit-and-run raid on the vast storehouse of
history. . . The verbal assailant achieves a cheap victory and is
away before anyone can mobilise."
Martin returns to the fray later, claiming that the atheism of
Dawkins achieved popularity in Russia before Presidents Yeltsin and
Putin turned Russian Orthodoxy virtually into a state religion.
Martin is well versed in the vicissitudes of religion in Eastern
Europe, and devotes the last chapter to this, besides introducing
scattered references elsewhere to countries as diverse as Albania,
Lithuania, and Armenia. He compares Pussy Riot in the Cathedral of
Christ the Saviour in Moscow, and the "Occupy" movement at St
Paul's Cathedral, London. One notes that in London there were no
arrests, not even when a group of women interrupted a service
itself, and chained themselves to the pulpit during a sermon, while
the Moscow Patriarchate called for the maximum sentence for the
Russian punk group (they received considerably less: two years in a
penal colony for a demonstration lasting 40 seconds).
The final sentence of the book cites the Crimea as the rightful
homeland of the Tatars, who are once again being threatened, though
not yet as devastatingly as they were under Stalin, who deported
them en bloc and tried to wipe them out of existence.
What Martin writes on the religious aspect of urban geography is
interesting. Chapter 14 ("England and London") is fascinating and
He is not without fault, however. There are many musical
references scattered throughout the book, but not all will agree
with his claim that "about 1960" small professional choirs began to
lead the way in the UK. This did not even begin to happen until at
least a decade later. The rise of the Philharmonia Chorus - a large
amateur body founded by the impresario Walter Legge and trained by
Wilhelm Pitz - by virtually universal acclaim of the critics held
the musical world in thrall until at least the 1970s.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is President of Keston Institute,