chat about silence


Recently I reviewed Unspeakable [paywall] by Harriet Shawcross for the FT which opens up that strange and disturbing vale of silence.

Shawcross begins the book wanting to “exorcise silence” from her life and then seems to fall in love with its transformative capacities. By the end it has become her secret power.

Then a few weeks ago I went to hear the philosopher John Gray talk about something similar – godless mysticism.  Gray has recently published his Seven Types of Atheism and is now taking his show on the road.

His case is that many so-called atheists are themselves rather too dependent on the positions they are rejecting. He says it’s his own indifference that makes him an atheist.

What’s noticeable about these two writers is that they seem to be unaware of the rich literature on silence within Christian Theology.

The apophatic tradition has its roots in the Desert Fathers and has a host of contemporary champions such as  Cynthia Bourgeault.

Shawcross ends up, however, at a Buddhist retreat centre and Gray talks about having “no use” for belief. I would be happy for him to remain an atheist, but there’s stuff here even a godless mystic could find useful.