Thursday, 28 April 2011

Prometheus Unbound(ed self congratulation)

A while back I think I made the same point, but I increasingly find that my disagreement with the mainstream vociferous atheists is not so much about faith (except they don't seem to understand the term), or reason (which they often equate with 'the most likely answer') or even history (about which many of them are astoundingly ignorant) but their absolute lack of irony. Seems the case with the Prometheus Publishing House.

For those not acquainted with Aeschylos, Prometheus was a titan chained to a rock for stealing fire and giving it to humanity. At the end of the play a creepy little guy comes up to him and gloats that as punishment Prometheus will have his liver pecked by an eagle every day. To which Prometheus replies 'Know clearly I would not exchange my misfortune for your subservience'.

Pretty powerful stuff. Though I'd guess the nobility of Prometheus might make him one of my favourite characters, but certainly not someone I'd really want to compare myself to, given that I've never had my liver pecked out for the good of mankind and if I'd been told I would, I probably wouldn't be in the mood to feel chuffed that at least I wasn't a snivelling little sycophant. OK, I'd love to think that if I was told I'd have my liver pecked out for the good of mankind I'd feel chuffed with myself for not being a snivelling little sycophant. But the thing is, I might suffer from chronic self-esteem or something but I tend to ask to be judged on how I've actually acted, rather on how I'd love to think I'd act.

Such quibbles are of no interest to Prometheus Books who have 'spread free thought world wide'. No kidding? Presumably they have publishing houses in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan? Or does that just mean they holler to secular/lapsed Prods about the evils of religion and then make out they are freedom loving titans for doing so? Let's have it in their own words:

'It came into being to fulfil what we viewed as a critical need, namely, publishers willing to produce and distribute dissenting books on religion and the paranormal... We selected Prometheus as the name of the press by reference to the mythological Hellenic Titan, because he was the symbol of achievement: he stole fire from the gods and he bequeathed fire and the arts and sciences to humankind, challenging the gods on high. He did so, according to legend, because he loved humankind, and felt that without the arts and sciences, humans would huddle in their caves in fear and ignorance.'

My goodness, dissenting books on the paranormal? Do you mean you could be shot for criticising Yuri Gellar or something? Were people broken on the wheel for saying the spoons weren't really bent? My goodness, we'd be living in caves if we didn't have such dissidents. Anyway, I don't think you've congratulated yourselves enough, Surely there's more?

'were an advocacy press fulfilling a mission: to cultivate reason, science, humanistic values, and free inquiry in all areas of human interest. Some of the first books we published were on Humanism, Atheism, and Biblical criticism – all challenging the reigning ‘sacred cows’ and all going against the grain.'

Going against the grain and the reign of sacred cows must have been awful. But guys, surely you haven't finished congratulating yourselves yet, have you? Oh, you've not finished starting.

'We were like Prometheans, challenging the powers that be and resolving to publish books that we thought ought to appear. I am proud of the dedicated professional staff that we have since developed. I doubt that such a venture would succeed today, as we are confronted with fierce competition from huge publishing and marketing conglomerates.'

You know what I think guys? I think you're being to kind to Prometheus in claiming to be his disciples. After all, what's having your liver pecked out compared to the raw courage of 'challenging the powers that be': in taking on the beardy lay line enthusiasts, the UFO specialists, the prince of spoons and all the other armies of irrational darkness that were enveloping the Anglo-Saxon world. But guys, hrmhrm, whilst the compliments are flying so thick and so fast, any words of praise for the sophisticated geniuses that buy your books?
'Our effort throughout has been to try to bring to the educated public books of high quality on themes not generally covered by the large conglomerates. Our readers are for the most part seriously interested in controversial books, and they are educated and knowledgeable.'

Obviously. If they weren't educated and knowledgeable they would have been looking for the Loch Ness Monster or reading about the Philadelphia Project or something. But anyway, you've spent enough time complimenting other people, surely you should get back to praising yourselves:

'We are gratified that we remain the leading rationalist, humanist, freethought, and sceptical press in the world, offering provocative and controversial viewpoints.'

Leading in the world? And 'offering provocative and controversial viewpoints'. Offering these throughout the world, surely, not still banging on to secular prods about how awful religion is?

'Since we founded Prometheus, the entire publishing industry has been radically transformed. First, most of the finest independent houses ceased operations or have been absorbed by large conglomerates, which now dominate well over three-quarters of the total books published in the United States. Second, the independent bookstores have largely given way to chains, and books are now marketed primarily through wholesalers. Third, with the advent of the worldwide web, books are now sold over the Internet, and there are alternative sources of information beyond traditional book publishing. The fact that we manage to survive in the light of these factors is, in one sense, a publishing ‘miracle’.

We hope, as we move beyond our first third of a century, that readers will continue to welcome our books for themselves, their children, their friends, and their colleagues. For, in the last analysis, satisfying the insatiable interests of educated readers is the best guarantee of our viability. The invention of books, a truly remarkable creation, in our view, still provides the most enduring thought of ages to the public.'


Perhaps the irony is that whilst attacking myths they see a dichotomy in choosing an ancient Greek myth as a metaphor. And yet, whilst I don't see faith as a metaphor, I do think that such tales as Prometheus do give a kind of faith and come from the Ancient Mediterranean that provided the intellectual and verbal tools for discussing Christianity. Whilst the vociferous 'rationalists' like to criticise faith in a confrontational manner, it does seem to me that our classical civilisation is also under threat in a more insidious way. Just look at the barely literate Melanie Phillips being given a Sappho award and Spectator era Boris Johnson raving that he is inspired by Pericles... presumably because 'freedom' means being a surveillance state liberal interventionist tax bore.


  1. You know, I always did get Anthanasius and John Chrysostom mixed up with Whitley Strieber and Erich von Daniken! But seriously, do the New Atheists recognize that much of the great Western art and science they claim to appreciate so much came out of an explicitly Christian cultural milieu? I don't recall a modern version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling featuring Bigfoot and the Chupacabra.

    Of course, the attempt to equate all religion with things like Pink Unicorns and the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" simply does not do justice to the religious impulse in Man. Indeed, I would think that even a convinced atheist could at the very least see the beauty and meaning that religion gives to believers. Unfortunately, New Atheism seems defined by its boorishness.

  2. 'Indeed, I would think that even a convinced atheist could at the very least see the beauty and meaning that religion gives to believers.'

    I can't help noticing how in Blighty the new atheists are increasingly astoundingly vulgar and utterly uncultured people. If someone did draw the bigfoot and chupacabra on the cistine chapel they'd probably hardly notice an aesthetic difference!

    Oddly, I've noticed Christopher Hitchens seems to adopt a very moderately more respectful tone about religion recently. I wonder if it's partially because he is a well-read individual who wonders if Johann Hari and Penny Red really do represent a Matthew Arnold style Athens over Jerusalem spirituality or just big mouthed philistinism?