(a book review of sorts)
Fiction is a very important genre of literature. People have told me in the past that they don’t read fiction, because it does not deal with life. When in fact the opposite is true, for to read fiction is to learn about life, to think deeply on many areas of existence, that may not be attended to, unless read about in a fictional work of some sort. It is the inner life that is often dealt with, how a person responds, thinks, lives and at times dies.
I am reading a novel by Philip Roth titled “Everyman”. It is not a complicated story; it is about the last few years of a man who has to deal with his worsening health, his regrets and his deep loneliness. It deals with the stark fact of our mortality, aging, loss and yes deep regrets about decisions made that had long lasting effects.
I also like the book because it allows me look into the mind of a man whose understanding of life, its meaning, is different than mine….well at least on a conscious level. The hero of the novel is an atheist, who believes that religion is false and those who believe are sheep. He rejects any consolation that faith has to offer and lives his life with the stark belief that this is it, and then we die.
It is not a fun read, but one that is interesting like any fictional work that deals with themes that most of us will have to face….the theme of slowly being backed into a corner until there is nowhere else to go. I am on my second read at this point. To enter into the mind of an atheist is a very good experience for a believer, it allows for deeper understanding to develop, as well as a real liking for the man, that comes with and though a glimpse of his inner life. He is in indeed everyman on many levels.
I can understand why fiction is feared by some cultures and religions. When I was a young man, I was told that there were certain books that could not, must not, be read. Well to read an author, a good one, is to enter their world, and actually for a time to take on their belief systems, at least as long as one is immersed in the book. Then when the book is put down, it can lead to a deepening understanding of others, as well as a more critical look at ones own beliefs. So yes, I would suppose that to read fiction that deals with life from a different perspective can cause some anxiety, but that is only because an inner expansion is happening. Perhaps that is why it is important to understand what one truly believes or thinks about life, so that when reading other perspectives, something important can happen. It is no small thing to grow in understanding of others; it keeps the creations of ‘straw-men’ down to a bare minimum.
I believe that most of us are tempted to atheism from time to time. Perhaps atheists are tempted to theism as well. In the end, a choice needs to be made for any kind of real life to be experienced….well at least that is my opinion, for I know many will disagree with me. I have been attacked quite a few times in my life because of my beliefs. From other Christians because I am Roman Catholic, from atheist, well because I am a Christian, and worst of all, for being Roman Catholic, but in the end, I am proud of my faith. I love the Catholic life and am not ashamed of it. I can do this because I have embraced the many failures of the church, but identify with the teachings of Christ Jesus and do not let the failures of others as well as my own, to lead to despair or an anger that leads nowhere, well perhaps just to an ever deepening rut. People in ruts can become very boring over time and people tend to avoid them.
It is true that at times I find belief in God ‘absurd’, yet on the other hand, atheism at least for me, is even more so. So much has been said over this issue that is has all become one big cliché for me. Who would have thought there are so many straw men and women in the world, created to be beaten down, even though they have no actual existence? It seems the best way to deal with an opponent is to turn them into a mindless, two dimensional stereotype. Perhaps it is just instinctive, that way it allows the dehumanization to be done without guilt or remorse. In the past we killed each other (still do, sad to say, in some instances), now mostly, we just drown others in contempt, thinking it is something good and a worthy pass time. It is still brutal and cyclic, and in time will lead to I believe, to bloodshed.