Gore Vidal on Monotheism

“Monotheism is easily the greatest disaster to befall the human race.”
― Gore Vidal

“It is astonishing to think that millions of people in my time—now, too, I suppose—actually thought that at a given moment in history two human beings had evolved to a higher state than that of all the gods that ever were or ever will be. This is titanism, as the Greeks would say. This is madness.”
― Gore Vidal (from his novel, Creation)

Gore Vidal (photograph by Carl van Vechten)

Today (October 3rd) is the birthday of the eminently quotable Gore Vidal, who recently died this past July.  Gore Vidal has always been one of my heroes and role models, and I daresay his novel Julian should be *required reading* for anyone who identifies as a pagan, polytheist, or Heathen.

Gore Vidal was a remarkable writer and a remarkable man.  His many books and essays are the sublime creations of a true public intellectual, a self-described “gadfly” with razor-edged wit, and the incredible ability to write historical novels that are often more insightful and illuminating than anything you’ll find in a history textbook or in a “nonfiction” book written by a more traditional historian.  I daresay Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series (Burr, Lincoln, 1876, etc.) may be one of the great American epics and certainly one of the best chronicles of this nation’s history.

Many years ago, I had the privilege and the pleasure to meet Gore Vidal after a book reading and lecture/discussion series.  A friend of mine had somehow gotten tickets to the cocktail party following the event, and when Gore Vidal finally entered the room, my precocious 20-year-old self (at the time I was just a pretty blonde slip of a youth), marched right up to him, with my beloved copy of Julian under my arm, and enthusiastically thanked him for writing one of my favorite novels.  I was quick to proudly exclaim that “Emperor Julian is my hero!”  Gore Vidal (who had a remarkable presence – he seemed larger than life, and he absolutely radiated both charisma and gravitas) then stared directly into my eyes, as if he was boring right into my soul.  Having apparently found what he was looking for, he huffed in a deep breath and loudly barked:  “He’s my hero too!  I wish he’d won!”  And then, in a booming voice that could be heard by the entire room, he bellowed out:  “MONOTHEISM!  It’s gotta go!”  I was delighted, especially when he followed with:  “And I have the solution!”

“What’s your solution, Mr. Vidal?”

He took time for a dramatic pause (everyone was listening now), as he proclaimed:  “Tax the churches!”  We then had a relatively brief but fascinating conversation about the separation of church and state, Julian’s life and philosophy (he dismissed Julian’s Neoplatonism as “absurd but harmless,” though certainly preferable to the alternative represented by Constantine and his Christian heirs), and how different the world might be if Julian had lived and found time to solidify his reign and launch a dynasty.  Vidal then signed my battered and well-loved paperback of the novel.  It was a remarkable experience that I will always remember, and I still can’t believe the grand old gadfly has left us.  However,  his words definitely still carry a sting:

Gore Vidal on the United States:

“We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.”
― Gore Vidal

“America started out wanting to be Greece and ended up Rome.” ― Gore Vidal

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
― Gore Vidal

“The American press exists for one purpose only, and that is to convince Americans that they are living in the greatest and most envied country in the history of the world. The Press tells the American people how awful every other country is and how wonderful the United States is and how evil communism is and how happy they should be to have freedom to buy seven different sorts of detergent.”
― Gore Vidal

“I believe there’s something very salutary in, say, beating up a gay-bashing policeman. Preferably one fights through the courts, through the laws, through education, but if at a neighborhood level violence is necessary, I’m all for violence. It’s the only thing Americans understand.”
― Gore Vidal

“Today’s public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can’t read them either. ”
― Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal on Writing:

“Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. ”
― Gore Vidal

“Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”
― Gore Vidal, The Essential Gore Vidal

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
― Gore Vidal

“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head.”
― Gore Vidal

“In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you’re a great writer, you must say that you are.”
― Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal on Life:

“The unfed mind devours itself.”
― Gore Vidal

“The malady of civilized man is his knowledge of death. The good artist, like the wise man, addresses himself to life and invests with his private vision the deeds and thoughts of men. The creation of a work of art, like an act of love, is our one small yes at the center of a vast no.”
― Gore Vidal

“Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge, all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. Because there is nothing else. Nothing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.”
― Gore Vidal

“Of course his dust would be absorbed in other living things and to that degree at least he would exist again, though it was plain enough that the specific combination which was he would never exist again.”
― Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
― Gore Vidal

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If you are interested in learning more about Gore Vidal’s life, I highly recommend the documentary The Education of Gore Vidal, which aired on PBS as part of the American Masters series (it also used to be available on Youtube, but it appears to have been taken down).  Though there are also a ton of great clips of Vidal online.  This Youtube user has many wonderful examples.  And here are two more:

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We’ll end with a few more marvelous quotes, all from Gore Vidal’s Julian:

“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“We are given our place in time as we are given our eyes: weak, strong, clear, squinting, the thing is not ours to choose. Well, this has been a squinting, walleyed time to be born in.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“Nothing human is finally calculable; even to ourselves we are strange.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“Never offend an enemy in a small way.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“I have been reading Plotinus all evening. He has the power to sooth me; and I find his sadness curiously comforting. Even when he writes: “Life here with the things of earth is a sinking, a defeat, a failure of the wing.” The wing has indeed failed. One sinks. Defeat is certain. Even as I write these lines, the lamp wick sputters to an end, and the pool of light in which I sit contracts. Soon the room will be dark. One has always feared that death would be like this. But what else is there? With Julian, the light went, and now nothing remains but to let the darkness come, and hope for a new sun and another day, born of time’s mystery and a man’s love of life.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

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