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Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia
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Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  578 ratings  ·  67 reviews
For the decade that followed the end of the cold war, the world was lulled into a sense that a consumerist, globalized, peaceful future beckoned. The beginning of the twenty-first century has rudely disposed of such ideas--most obviously through 9/11and its aftermath. But just as damaging has been the rise in the West of a belief that a single model of political behavior w ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2007)
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Jim Coughenour
Picking up where he left off in his genuinely iconoclastic book Straw Dogs, John Gray turns his attention to the ineluctably human penchant for utopia and apocalyptic fantasy. His style here is less abrasive but no less bracing. A British commentator recently wrote of Gray, "He is so out of the box it is easy to forget there was ever any box" - which fairly describes the intellectual jolt he'll deliver to readers dulled by boxy thinking.

The previous reviewer has done a decent job of describing t
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Rob Cook
The paradox of this kind of brilliantly game-changing book is that most of the people who really need to read it won't, and those that do will dismiss it because it criticises them. What Black Mass essentially amounts to is a call for realism in politics (not the same thing as realpolitik at all), an acceptance and toleration of difference, and a plea for the civilised cause of modus vivendi. To get to that, though, you have to have your brain exploded by the most clear-eyed, devastating and dow ...more
Szplug
A singularly unsettling offering from John Gray, upsetter of apple-carts and disturber of conventional wisdom par excellence. In Black Mass he continues his assault upon Progressivism, this time concentrating on the pernicious effect of Western European monotheism - having infected philosophy and, subsequently, Enlightenment thought and science - on modern political and societal institutions, soaking the latter in eschatological and utopian myths and illusions and being ultimately responsible fo ...more
David Rush
Good book. It offers a cool way to understand how the modern world has apparently been taken over by irrational but thoroughly convinced fanatics, be they jihadists, christian fundamentalists or simple tea-party nut-jobs.

He starts off with a review of Millenarian-ism. And thinks that the idea of utopia came from religion but is now taken up by the modern conservative movement and many radical religious people. Meaning there is a wonderful and almost perfect world that is an achievable goal, but
...more
Abailart
Sometimes I just have to read Gray to get centred. This is largely an interpretation of the fairy stories inhabiting many of the key players in the disastrous and wicked decision to invade Iraq. As ever, the whole is interpenetrated with a hatchet job on neo-enlightenment myths ofprogress.
Dimitrije Vojnov
Pročitao sam BLACK MASS Johna Graya, knjigu u kojoj ovaj politikolog razjašnjava pitanja uticaja religije u savremenoj politici, prepoznaje njene konstruktivne i destruktivne uticaje, i slično mnogim drugim teoretičarima otvara pitanje sekularizma, i njegove povezanosti sa religijom odnosno neizbežne sprege religije i sekularizma. Međutim, ono što je ključni doprinos koji Gray donosi jeste iznošenje teze da su veliki utopijski projekti, od komunizma i nacizma do neoliberalizma zapravo bili bazir ...more
H Wesselius
Brilliant so brilliant I read it twice. He describes the Enlightenment and its offspring's visions of progress as merely the secularization of the Christian eschatology, positioning the New Jerusalem on earth. Like all utopian movements its adherents are so faith driven they become compelled to impose it by force. Thus, he compares the Reign of Terror and the Purges to the Crusades and the Inquisition. Of interest is the tracing of secular utopianism from the left to the right in the form of neo ...more
Dave
John Gray's a pretty interesting character. Most writers I can fit into a category within the first 10 pages. With this guy I'm still not really sure how I feel about him. He definitely said a lot of things I hated but there are good things here as well. He points out that communism and capitalism, contrary to popular belief, are not polar opposites, that history isn't teleological, that humanity isn't better off trying to converge on one universal system of perfect governance and that many of t ...more
Lazarus
The leitmotif of Black Mass is the historical relationship between progressive or revolutionary thinking and religious apocalypticism. Gray argues that the very notion of revolution, conceived as the turning over of society into a new era and a metaphysical "rebirth" of humanity, is the consequence of a legacy of religious apocalyptic expectation. Christianity and Islam, the two great occidental religions, infused the religious quest for meaning into the fabric of history itself, producing a con ...more
Tom
One can easily think of ways in which organized religion has resulted in gross atrocities, but usually we attribute these to misrepresentations of the underlying belief system(s). This book goes further in laying the pointing to the basic premise of those religions that include the belief in a utopia or heaven. This basic belief causes even more chaos when taken up by secular systems (nazism, communism).
Jon Beech
Bracing stuff on why utopian narratives are all basically hollowed out religious texts with despotic tendencies, but along the way he sort of meanders off around the Iraqi Invasion and gets a bit boring
Laurel
Gray offers an insightful perspective on liberalism and human rights, a line of thinking I was curious about after reading Zizek's essay Against Human Rights. Many of the liberal values taken for granted today have obscured roots, which Gray addresses in some depth. A good read for anyone looking for a broader knowledge of current affairs. Gray challenges some of the fundamental aspects of globalisation in ways that many authors on the subject ignore in favour of a purely economic analysis. Prov ...more
Alex
In ' Straw Dogs' Gray takes on and utterly demolishes human nature, in ' Black Mass' he does the same for modern and post modern human institutions. The main thesis criticises western secular regimes of the last 200 years as utopian projects rooted in enlightenment-inspired eschatological ideologies. From Jacobins to Lenin, Mao, Hitler, to Blair and Bush the West has been unsuccessfully trying to rely on reason to bring about a final paradise, each time ending in disaster. All these projects are ...more
Ioan Prydderch
The fact that as a man who considers himself very much of the Left finds himself nodding along in agreement with a conservative philosopher underlines the ideological relationship between socialisms and conservatisms. The crux of the argument that the Enlightenment, rather than a liberation of humanity from religion has merely re-worked itself into modern political utopian ideologies, namely those of liberalism and, by extension, socialism is a compelling one.

The historicisation of the developm
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Al Bità
Another bracing foray by the maverick John Gray; this time essentially to critically examine the international politics of the last few decades or so. No one escapes his acerbic writing, and as he writes it, none of them should!

Gray's main thesis is that the horrors and stupidities perpetrated by the powers that be are all tinged with the grievous error of Apocalytic Religions which posit some kind of Utopia which they believe is achievable on earth through the implementation of military force i
...more
Chris Lynch
John Gray has written a powerful critique here of those who would seek to apply their prescriptive political formulas to the whole world, demanding that human nature re-shape itself to fit their narrow ideals.



Gray's thesis is that the globalist utopian political movements of the past century - first totalitarian communism, then unfettered capitalism, are rooted in western Christian eschatological thinking and an expectation that, after some great apocalyptic struggle or upheaval, the world will
...more
James Perkins
Gray explores the history of religion in politics across recorded human history and how each has been a tool of the other in various attempts to produce a utopian society, free of the trappings of the human condition. Of course, this is just delusion, and he demonstrates clearly that such efforts always result in social disaster. He spends quite a lot of time exploring American involvement in the Middle East, particularly the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, since this is a prime example of e ...more
Clark Hays
Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, John Gray, is not for everyone. Here’s a short list of people who probably shouldn’t read this book:

* Supporters of the Iraq war — you’ll be distressed to see all of the justifications ripped to shreds and various lies and contortions of “logic” laid bare.
* Opponents of the Iraq war – you will be distressed all over again.
* Religious fundamentalists – if you think religion (any of them) has the answers to the world’s problems, you will be
...more
Josepha
Even though this book is considerably less silly than Straw Dogs it is still full of empty criticism and half-truths. I get the point that there may be many different viewpoints in a society yet that doesn't mean that a capitalist system with a democratic system is anymore satisfactory than a communist system. This particular argument of pluriformity is only used by Gray against communism yet in democratic countries any real change on the economic side is barely - if at all -possible.
Another dub
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Simon Wood
PESSIMISM OF THE WILL, PESSIMISM OF THE INTELLECT.

At the centre of John Gray's book "Black Mass" is the not unreasonable assertion that grandiose plans to turn the world upside down and reach Utopia overnight have entailed a great deal of human misery and very little Utopia. There is nothing particularly novel in this assertion, though it is a little more palatable from the pen of John Gray, than say Isaiah Berlin (see "The Crooked Timber of Humanity") who liked to promote his own particular -i
...more
Gail
I can't praise Gray highly enough.

'Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion', the book begins. And from there Gray shows how modern political movements are by-products of (eschatological and apocalyptic) Christian thought. Liberal secular faith in progress by piecemeal reform (with occasional violence and torture) is merely a belief in salvation by another name.

"If anything defines 'the West' it is the pursuit of salvation in history. It is historical teleology - the belief tha
...more
Esther Greenwood
I really didn't think I was going to be able to make it through this book. For the first half, it all seemed extra repetitive and wordy. I think for the first one hundred pages I was just saying to myself "yep, yep, I get it" while I read the same sentence or idea just reformatted. I mean it was interesting material, yes. But it just wasn't holding my attention well enough. So I put it aside for awhile. Read some other books. Then it came time for me to return this book to the library very soon, ...more
Michael O'Donnell
Political Science and Philosophy. A hard read but a good read. It changed the way I view what is happening in Iraq and Syria and Iran and the USA and Israel and Afghanistan and in Australia.

I am neither a philosopher nor a political scientist. Words like teleology and Positivism lost me because I did not have the background. It did not matter.

The idea that the religious Christian West "is / is not" the root of all evil. And yet religion is good.

The idea that acceptance of difference of religi
...more
Michael Horsman
Recently read. Basic premise is that the most destructive versions of our civilization have come from a pursuit of utopian ideal, that is a promise of human nature remade. Millenarian apocalyptic religions(such as Christianity) are the basis for this recurring violence. He takes issue with a tradition that takes as given that history is fable of human "progress," that history moves "forward." The examples he provides are numerous. The argument is not simple but is logical in my opinion and a bit ...more
Greg Linster
Voltaire once wrote: “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” In his book, Black Mass, the British political philosopher John Gray, argues that this unchecked Panglossian sentiment is what leads to utopian thinking by both the devoutly pious and progressive secularists alike. Essentially, Gray asserts that Voltaire is the quintessential example of an Enlightenment thinker and his ideas have contributed to modern progressivist style thinking that leads to the newest rendition of ...more
Hugo Filipe
Excellent first chapters about the foundations of politics laying on religion. But when it gets to analyze modern regimes, it just gets redundant.
Faine Greenwood
Very disturbing, mostly because it's rather convincing. I keep privately referring to it as I read the news.
Jordan
I don't know what to say really, except that John Gray is my God. Before reading his books (this is the third one I have read) I was marred by the radical left that I encountered in college. Only after understanding and digesting his ideas have I been able to understand where I stand in the world politically and philosophically. He really is a great thinker, and a great critic of utopianism and the idea of progress. Nothing is as exhilarating as reading a John Gray book. I have another one on my ...more
David
To me, this is Gray's best work. Forceful, eloquent and humorous, Gray is a pleasure to read. His discussion of millenarianism and its modern manifestations in both religious and atheistic guises is compelling, and its political implications profound. Here Gray sets out an important challenge to much of contemporary political thinking, and for that reason alone this is recommended reading to anyone with an interest in politics.
Phil
John Gray fills my need for a heretical British academic after the death of Christopher Hitchens. He expands from his argument that Russia that Russia was victim to two Western utopias in the 20th century in his earlier (and excellent) "False Dawn." This book examines the consequences of efforts by everyone from the Jacobins to Al Qaeda to bring society to no place (What "utopia" literally means). Gray empirically proves Shaw's remark about the pavement on the road to hell, and makes an impassio ...more
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