Secular Falls from Grace
Religion and (New) Atheism in the Implied Worldview of Ian McEwan's Fiction
Over the last ten years public atheism has experienced a revival as a result of several bestselling publications by authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. These authors advocate a specific branch of atheism, known as “New Atheism”. New Atheism endorses a (Neo-)Darwinist worldview and is openly hostile towards religion, which is considered irrational and essentially dangerous.
The flipside of this rejection of religion is a quasi-Arnoldian appreciation of art, especially literature, which is seen as a suitable platform for human self-reflection. In response, several artists and writers have expressed their support for New Atheist ideas, including novelists such as Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. Especially the latter has come to be viewed as the paradigmatic New Atheist author.
This study takes this claim as its point of departure and scrutinises McEwan’s creative development with respect to its discussion of religion and atheism. Starting with a discussion of the metaphysical, epistemological, ethical and political components of New Atheism, the study then uses these components as a basis for an analysis of the implied worldview of McEwan’s short stories and novels. The analysis shows that a straightforward identification with McEwan’s novels and New Atheism is not possible. Although views similar to New Atheism can certainly be found in his novels, especially in those written after 1990, all his texts also include elements which relativise an unequivocal categorisation. This ideological ambiguity is not a sign of postmodern randomness. Rather, it is indicative of the notion put forth by Ian McEwan that the novel is a locus of empathy – and hence a place where various ideological positions can co-exist.
[Rezension: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Band 41 (2016), Heft 2]
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ISBN 978-3-86821-560-1, 214 S., kt., € 26,50 (2015)