Religion and the Rebel Returns

Aristeia Press’s new edition of Colin Wilson’s second book, Religion and the Rebel, to which I was honored to contribute an Introduction, will be coming out next month. This is good news for Wilson readers, young or old. I’ve often considered Religion and the Rebel Wilson’s ‘lost book’. Because of the critical about-face that followed The Outsider’s – Wilson’s first book – success, Religion and the Rebel was almost universally panned, its reception setting the stage for practically all the subsequent notice Wilson would receive from mainstream literary pundits. Yet the rejection of Wilson’s second born had more to do with his erroneous association with the Angry Young Men and the media hoopla about them, than with the book’s own merits. Of these there are many, and in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, I devote several pages to spelling them out. In essence Wilson asks if the Outsider can find a solution to his dilemma in religion. At one point Wilson himself considered entering a monastery, but in the end decided against it. Religion and the Rebel gives us an idea why.

Yet although Wilson was never as angry as he was expected to be, in Religion and the Rebel, he does let off some steam about modern civilization, which he saw as riddled with “cheapness and futility,” and on the face of which his evolutionary protagonist, the Outsider, appears as a kind of existential pimple, “lonely in the crowd of the second-rate.” This alienation could lead to “a maniac carrying a knife in a black bag, taking pride in appearing harmless and normal to other people,” or to “a saint or visionary, caring for nothing but one moment in which he seemed to understand the world, and see into the heart of nature and of God.” It could also lead, as it does in this book, to insightful examinations of figures like the Bohemian mystic Jacob Boehme, the mathematician and religious thinker Blaise Pascal, the ‘biologist of history’, Oswald Spengler, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who holds the distinction of being so weary of his thought-riddled nature, that he tried to put an end to philosophy, twice. But read for yourself.

5 thoughts on “Religion and the Rebel Returns

  1. When I was in London in 1975 I bought a copy of Religion and the Rebel from Foyles Bookstore after discovering about 20 copies of the 1st Edition abandoned and unloved on a bottom shelf in a dusty corner of the store (I have it in front of me now). It’s testimony to how savage the attack on CW’s book was at the time that 13 years later copies of it still couldn’t be moved.

  2. Whoops. Got my math wrong. Should be 18 years since publication the books had been gathering dust.

    I also made another curious discovery in Bangkok in the mid 80’s. A huge stack of CW’s Sex and the Intelligent Teenager published by Pyramid in paperback in 1968. The cover described it as “A modern sexual code for young adults”. I guess Thai youth didn’t see the need such a code given the number of copies left unsold after all those years. I gifted my copy to Howard Dossor who didn’t have it in his vast CW collection.

    Just finished reading your fascinating and perceptive biography on Ouspensky. Not sure whether rigid mental discipline is the right path if it means sacrificing spontaneity. If humans are machines, then they are very subtle machines requiring a loving touch.

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