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Mark Johnston

That Magnificent 9th by Mark Johnston & Alamein by Mark Johnston and Peter Stanley

April 2003, no. 250

At 9:40 pm on 23 October 1942, in the North African desert, the heavens lit up with myriad flashes from more than one thousand guns, and the roar of the British Commonwealth Eighth Army’s opening barrage rolled out towards Field Marshal Rommel’s poised Panzerarmee Afrika. Promptly, at 10 pm, when two search-lights arced across the sky, beams crossing, the waiting infantry from Australia, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Great Britain rose from weapon pits, where they had been lying doggo all day, and began to fight their way forward through wired and dug defences, and ingeniously laid enemy minefields stretching up to six thousand metres deep.

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Mark Johnston’s Saving God: Religion after Idolatry is an astonishing book. Its surprise consists in its topic, style, passion, range of religious and philosophical scholarship, and its daring blend of human depth and philosophical originality. Johnston describes it as an essay that ‘gradually evolves into a sort of jeremiad’. There are plenty of complaints, and it is at times a tirade, especially in the final chapter, but the term ‘jeremiad’ does too little justice to the book’s subtlety and persuasive intelligence.

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