I have a book out this week and, as always, it’s a torrid time, alternating between delight at good reviews (A.N. Wilson in this magazine) and despair at the massacres (the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton in the Guardian). It was just after one such dark assessment of my future that happier news arrived from an unexpected source. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, had just read the book (it had only been out two days) and tweeted his assessment to his 153,000 followers: ‘Just read Religion for Atheists. Great writing, thoughtful, disturbing. Highly recommend.’ At once, pandemonium broke out: Murdoch’s account is followed by pretty much every newspaper in the world. Journalists were calling from LA to Auckland — and my wife had to swing into her characteristic crisis-management mode, explaining that I was sadly on a plane to Newfoundland and couldn’t comment.
The real value of the tweet is what it tells us about one of the most powerful newspaper proprietors of the age. First, he reads and (without blowing any trumpets at all; Eagleton has smashed those up for me) not wholly unambitious works. Second, he is interested in how the world might function better by drawing on the lessons of religion. We’re dealing with a theologically alive mind. And third, he feels; he gets disturbed by books, he cares about ideas. None of this should be surprising, but people get so abstracted when you hear about them only from newspapers, you forget they are three-dimensional beings all along. The tweet also threw up one of those classic moral dilemmas: someone many of whose actions you haven’t approved of (Fox News) turns around and decides they like you (they might even invite you for dinner).