Marilynne Robinson calls us to our better selves

Saturday, September 26, 2015

It has been a long, long time since The New York Review of Books has published anything overtly, confessionally Christian (they used to, but that was at least 20 years ago. Well, maybe Eamon Duffy counts, but not really, since he writes as a Cambridge historian.) Anyway, all of a sudden here comes the unimpeachable literary icon Marilynne Robinson, who has written an article entitled, simply, FEAR. The first sentence is, “America is a Christian country.” She is not being ironic. She is serious. “As a result, we carry a considerable responsibility for its [Christianity’s] name in the world, though we seem not much inclined to consider the implications of this fact. If we did, some of us might think a little longer about associating the precious Lord with ignorance, intolerance, and belligerent nationalism.”

How many A-list American intellectuals would undertake to confess our “precious Lord” in the ultra-highbrow NYRB? This article is astonishing. (It’s acidly funny, too, in spots.)

She states her two basic premises: 1) “…contemporary America is full of fear”; 2) “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” She elaborates: “Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.”  Wish I’d written that.

The article is illustrated with a photo of a Glock (?) with an American flag tag attached to it, and an image of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry with his gun. Yes, the article is certainly about our gun culture, and it is about French Protestantism, and the United Nations, and various other things, but mostly it is about Christianity in America, and the fear-filled turn it is taking in some quarters (see for instance this link):

Here is an excerpt from the closing section of Marilynne Robinson’s piece:

I take very seriously Jesus’ teachings, in this case his saying that those who live by the sword will also die by the sword….Death is no simple thing when Jesus speaks of it. His thoughts are not our thoughts, the limits of our perceptions are not limits he shares. We must imagine him seeing the whole of our existence, our being beyond mortality, beyond time. There is that other death he can foresee, the one that really matters. When Christians abandon Christian standards of behavior in the defense of Christianity, when Americans abandon American standards of conduct in the name of America, they inflict harm that would not be in the power of any enemy. As Christians they risk the kind of harm to themselves to which the Bible applies adjectives like “everlasting.”

I think this is the first time I have ever urged my readers to read a specific essay. It’s short, only two pages. You will probably have to pay to read it, but it’s worth it. Here is the link:

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