But he's also scathing about the cultivated, European mindset; his view is that the world is actually much nastier than you think.
The second example is Roberto Calasso, an urbane Italian polymath, a publisher, and the author of many books. I've read almost all of them, and I'm still not sure exactly what he believes. He seems to be a really sophisticated Neo-Pagan. When he talks about the gods rustling around, he's provoking his complacent secular readers. At the same time, he abhors the crudity of Christians with their monotheism.
Stross, Calasso, and others we could name agree on one salient point: The world is different from what secular reason tells us. They're saying, "This notion of the world you have, that you assume is shared by all enlightened people, is wrong." Does that resonate with you?
Yes. It absolutely does. I mean, Stross is, with every conscious fiber of his being, a thoroughly enlightened, distinctly anti-Christian European writer, and for that matter sort of anti-Judaic writer as well (I think he's a completely secularized Jewish guy). As far as he's concerned, every moral commitment he has—to equal rights of various kinds, and issues to do with sexuality, and so on—makes it completely impossible that he could ever give the time of day to this barbarous Christian stuff, with its well-known one-book, anti-pluralistic biases.
But he is also omni-interested, and extremely clever, and constantly nibbling away at all directions, and so long as he can tell himself these things are just fascinatingly different mythological operating systems, he's very interested in burrowing into them. And as you say, he keeps coming back to this picture of the world in which you have your rational, enlightened surface with lots of other dangerous stuff going on underneath it.
Calasso I know less well, but the way he does mythology seems to me to be so suave and Italian. On the other hand, that, too, is operating from deep within the European psyche. It is feeling the pull back toward the pre-rational.
It makes me think of the joke about reality having a well-known liberal bias: one could also say that reality has a well-known theological bias. I think it's observably the case that our understanding of the world is just not exhausted by talking about our daylight enlightened systems, our best intentions, our codes of law and science, the things that in the bright light of noon we want to be true about ourselves. There's all the other stuff, too, and anyone who is paying attention keeps tripping over it. You get back onto theological ground no matter what your opinions are.
I think you're absolutely right. There are a couple passages in the Laundry Files where Bob talks about praying, and he says, "Of course I know it's ridiculous, but I do it anyway," and then he repeats the line I mentioned earlier: "I was much happier when I was an atheist, you know."
He also says at one point, "I believe in a God, I know he's coming, and I'll be waiting for him . . . ."
. . . with my shotgun."
In some respects, the way you describe things in Britain is not so different from the way it is over here, in what you might call elite culture.
I agree. You can find within the States places that are much more like secularized Europe. I do see that here, too, Christianity talks across a gulf when it is trying to reach where some people live. I think it's a differently constructed gulf from our European gulf, but perhaps gulf-hood is something that it's got in common there.
I have asked myself whom Unapologetic is for in America. Again, it's supposed to be primarily for those who don't believe, not those who are in a state of settled, happy hobbyist anti-theism, but those who are curious but have never really felt that thing over there called religion reaches out to where they live.
There's an irony in this, because in Britain I hear far more about [the book's] adventures among those who already believe, because they're the ones connected into the same network as me. I hear back from them, so I know it gets read in a way that has maybe helped refresh the faith of people who are already committed.