Friday, December 21, 2007

God snores as another Sparrow bites the dust

The first thought I had upon finishing the Sparrow (by Mary Doria Russell, and the latest reading by our group – The Non-Believing Literati) was an echo of a recent comment. I’m not sure who wrote it. I’m not sure what blog it was on. But it was, essentially, “why can’t there be some great atheist literature that starts and, especially, ends with the premise – the whole idea of God is absurd?”

Oh sure, there was great doubt about god in the Sparrow. But the nagging feeling I was left with is still – "oh yeah, there is a god. We just don’t comprehend It’s ways."

That is so deeply intellectually bankrupt. If the God of the Christians and the God of protagonist Emilio Sandoz is this far beyond our limited understanding, wouldn’t it be better to proceed with life minus the trappings of a god we can never hope to comprehend?

I thought I might have missed something, so I felt compelled to read the interview with Russell in the back of my copy of the book. What a surprise to find out that she used to be an atheist, had a kid, and resurrected belief – jumping from Christianity to Judaism!

I guess she at least brings a lot of science to her belief. She accepts evolution. She even seems to accept the evolution of consciousness (a leap that many other theists are unwilling to make). But, sadly for her, god still looms out there someplace. And that "someplace" can't even be too far away for Russell. She realized that the morals she needed to pass on to her offspring were morals that came from religion. Uh... no they aren't Mary! There is plenty of evolutionary evidence that "morals" were around before any god-like mythologies popped up.

All three of the books we have read so far, while essentially rejecting fundamentalist notions of religion, still can’t make the final short leap into reality. I sincerely hope the book I have chosen for our fourth reading can do that much for me. Is it really too much to ask?
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For those who didn’t see my earlier post on the subject, the current reading for The Non-Believing Literati is The Plague, but Albert Camus. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it. I learn from everything – it’s a matter of will. But I know I’d be learning a lot if I was reading deGrasse Tyson’s “Death by Black Hole; and Other Cosmic Quandaries”. It beckons lovingly…

14 comments:

The Exterminator said...

“why can’t there be some great atheist literature that starts and, especially, ends with the premise – the whole idea of God is absurd?”

Better yet: Why can't there be some great work of literature that features a character agonizing over religion, who decides triumphantly at the happy ending that god is a complete crock?

John Evo said...

Yeah... what he said!

Were you the one that said that in some other comment? Sounds the same.

The Exterminator said...

Well, actually, I thought you were the one who originally said it.

John Evo said...

Holy crap!

Naw...

My mind can't be...

What were we saying?

Lynet said...

Deciding triumphantly that God is a complete crock? You're right, we don't see that often. Well, not in fiction anyway. I have seen it in a few deconversion stories, though.

I guess it's out there, just waiting to be written, really. Mind you, Pullman's His Dark Materials sequence is pretty triumphantly humanist, if you don't mind the way the good side also has a supernatural embodiment of sorts. In fact, I think Mary Malone does decide in a sort of triumphant way that God is a complete crock. So there you are.

ordinary girl said...

I've found that most books that don't accept a premise of a god, don't talk about one at all.

I guess it's a weakness of mine, but I like flawed characters. Even when a character makes a choice I dislike, at least it seems real.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Flawed characters are real. I don't know about you, but I rarely meet any unflawed people... I think the single line in Sparrow that annoyed me the most was the throwaway line by one of the Jesuits in Rome (John, I think, but I don't have the book here so I can't check), about atheism : I think they call that stage 'adolescence'. In other words, it's childish to be an atheist and when you grow up you put away childish things and accept the God that can't be explained or understood...

Hmph.

John Evo said...

@ Lynet - I'll go see the movie. Movies only take up a couple hours of my time. But I DO still have a problem with the supernatural aspects.

@ OG - You are probably right. Still, I'm surprised some atheist writer wouldn't see the same thing on the landscape of fiction that you and I see and proceed to write a great book like the one Ex mentions in comment 2. It's waiting I suppose... Ex???

@ el Ridgero - Well, I'm a VERY flawed atheist. There probably isn't a particularly good book in my life, but you could certainly populate a novel with characters like me, rather than "flawed" characters in black robes, wasting precious moments contemplating god.

Yeah, I'd kind of forgotten about that line you mentioned! But on reflection, it echoes Mary's personal POV. She was a so-called atheist in adolescence, and "matured" to the understanding that god gave her a bunch of morals and he's out there somewhere. But, hey, who am I to criticize a lady who is a whole lot more educated than I am?

Lifeguard said...

I agree that agonizing or flawed characters make for far more interesting reading.

While I have never encountered an agonizing atheist who triumphantly deconverts, I think "The Brothers Karamazov" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" draw some very dramatic portraits of characters suffering internal religious struggles (although i never completed the latter).

Ex: How do I join the literati?

Lynet said...

Actually, John, Mary Malone doesn't show up until the third book, so the movie won't help you much. But while she's a pivotal role, she's still a fairly small character, so I wouldn't advise reading the books just for her in any case.

It's funny you hated that line about "I think they call that period of spiritual development 'adolescence'". I took it charitably and assumed that, for that character, it was adolescence. Atheism can take different forms, some of which are adolescent and some of which are undisputably mature. Whether the author knows that is open to question, but, even so . . .

John Evo said...

@ Lynet -

Actually, it was Ridger that "hated" it. I was just commenting that based on my reading of Mary Russell's own words that it very much reflected her own viewpoint. She was an atheist in adolescence. Then she supposedly "matured". I think she had that point of view reflected in her characters.

@ Lifeguard -

Based on my understanding of Ex - YOU ARE IN!!

The Exterminator said...

Lifey:

Evo's got it. YOU ARE IN!! I'll add you to the list when I next visit my own blog.

The Exterminator said...

As to the question of flawed characters: Every single interesting character ever written about has at least one character flaw. Even comic book heroes have to have a flaw, a weakness of some kind -- that's why kryptonite was introduced into the Superman series.

Emilio's character flaw, however, was merely a hook on which Russell could hang her drab literary laundry.

John Evo said...

Emilio's character flaw, however, was merely a hook on which Russell could hang her drab literary laundry.

Ouch...

I agree with everything you said about character flaws. Every book's primary character is based in part on some "fatal flaw". It's what makes for an interesting story.

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't have flaws, as I said before. I'M FLAWED! It can still be ABOUT someone who, as EX says, is "lost" and comes to a happy conclusion - there is no god! (and do so without any other supernatural crutches).