Monday, January 05, 2009

A Sense of God

The Fall 2008 issue of The Paris Review featured an interview with Marilynne Robinson, whose Gilead is one of my favorite novels. Robinson is a Christian, and I found her thoughts on religion to be some of the most interesting in the interview. A sampling:
Calvin says that God takes an aesthetic pleasure in people. There’s no reason to imagine that God would choose to surround himself into infinite time with people whose only distinction is that they fail to transgress. . . . To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga. Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.
Faith always sounds like an act of will. Frankly, I don’t know what faith in God means. For me, the experience is much more a sense of God. Nothing could be more miraculous than the fact that we have a consciousness that makes the world intelligible to us and are moved by what is beautiful.
Religion . . . has presented itself in some extremely unattractive forms. . . . People seem to be profoundly disposed toward religion, yet they’re not terribly good at it.
Science is amazing. On a mote of celestial dust, we have figured out how to look to the edge of our universe. I feel instructed by everything I have read. Science has a lot of the satisfactions for me that good theology has.
As an achievement, science is itself a spectacular argument for the singularity of human beings among all things that exist. It has a prestige that comes with unambiguous changes in people’s experience -- space travel, immunizations. It has an authority that’s based on its demonstrable power. But in discussions of human beings it tends to compare downwards: we’re intelligent because hyenas are intelligent and we just took a few more leaps.

The first obligation of religion is to maintain the sense of the value of human beings. If you had to summarize the Old Testament, the summary would be: Stop doing this to yourselves. But it is not in our nature to stop harming ourselves. We don’t behave consistently with our own dignity or with the dignity of other people. The Bible reiterates this endlessly.

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Anonymous pf said...

Wonderful. I especially like her summary of the Old Testament, which to me goes nicely with what I've always thought is the central message of the New Testament: Love one another. How refreshing to get beyond the ugly face religion often wears these days.

12:19 PM  

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