Saturday, January 26, 2013

quotes from Marilynne Robinson's collection of essays, "When I was a child, I read books"

on a huge and easy-to-overlook distinction: "Rationalism and reason are antonyms: the first is fixed and incurious; the second, open and inductive. Rationalism is forever settling on one model of reality; reason tends toward an appraising interest in things as they come...Like paranoia, it all makes perfect sense, once its assumptions are granted. Again, like paranoia, it gathers evidence opportunistically, and is utterly persuaded by it, fueling its confidence to the point of sometimes messianic certainty." (This is similar to what Chesterton writes so brilliantly in Orthodoxy.)

“Cranky old Leviticus gave us – gave Christ – not only ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ but also the rather forgotten ‘Thou shalt love the stranger as thyself,’ two verses that appear to be merged in the Parable of the Good Samaritan."

"The notion that religion is intrinsically a crude explanatory strategy that should be dispelled and supplanted by science is based on a highly selective or tendentious reading of the literatures of religion. In some cases it is certainly fair to conclude that it is based on no reading of them at all...[T]here is no moment in which, no perspective from which, science as science can regard human life and say that there is a beautiful, terrible mystery in it all, a great pathos. Art, music, and religion tell us that..."

"Modern discourse is not really comfortable with the word 'soul', and in my opinion the loss of the word has been disabling, not only to religion but to literature and political thought and to every humane pursuit. In contemporary religious circles, souls, if they are mentioned at all, tend to be spoken of as saved or lost, having answered some set of divine expectations or failed to answer them, having arrived at some crucial realization or failed to arrive at it. So the soul, the masterpiece of creation, is more or less reduced to a token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with that miraculous thing, the felt experience of life..."

"I was taught, more or less, that we moderns had discovered other religions with narratives resembling our own, and that this discovery had brought all religion down to the level of anthropology. Sky gods and earth gods presiding over survival and procreation. Humankind pushing a lever in the hope of a periodic reward...I think much religious thought has also been intimidated by this supposed discovery, which is odd, since it certainly was not news to Paul, or Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, or Calvin. All of them quote the pagans with admiration..."

"Two questions I can't really answer about fiction are (1) where it comes from, and (2) why we need it. But that we do create it and also crave it is beyond dispute. There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter..."

"It has been orthodox through most of Christian history to treat the Old Testament as rigid, benighted, greatly inferior to the Gospels. This error has never been truly rectified. The Old Testament is very difficult to read, and the churches seem to do little in the way of making its hard texts accessible, so it is known largely by reputation, and its reputation is daunting. It is generally thought of as a tribal epic which includes the compendium of strange laws and fierce prohibitions Jesus of Nazareth put aside when he established the dominion of grace.” 

"The Old Testament is not for Christians to denounce because we need only put it respectfully aside, as a Methodist might the Book of Mormon, as a Jew might the New Testament. The Old Testament certainly is not our to misrepresent, since in doing so we slander the culture we took it from, an old and very evil habit among us.”  

"The Bible is terse, the Gospels are brief, and the result is that every moment and detail merits pondering and can always appear in a richer light...The Bible is about human beings, human families—in comparison with other ancient literatures, the realm of the Bible is utterly remarkable—so we can bring our own feelings to bear in the reading of it. In fact, we cannot do otherwise..."

"If we have entertained the questions we moderns must pose to ourselves about the plausibility of the incarnation, if we have sometimes paused to consider the other ancient stories of miraculous birth, this is no great matter. But if we let these things distract us, we have lost the main point of the narrative, which is that God is of a kind to love the world extravagantly, wondrously, and the world is of a kind to be worth, which is not to say worthy of, this pained and rapturous love."

"Americans, for no reason I know of, take Europe to be the wave of the future and dismiss the fact of our vigorous religious culture in light of the supposed fact of the collapse of religious belief in Europe. It would seem that Americans have internalized a great prejudice against Christianity, assuming that it could not withstand the scrutiny of what they take to be a more intellectually sophisticated culture."

"Thomas Jefferson wrote, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'...We don’t know the nature of Jefferson’s religious beliefs...[But Jefferson] used Scripture to assert a particular form of human exceptionalism, one that anchors our nature, that is to say our dignity, in a reality outside the world of circumstance...What would a secular paraphrase of this sentence look like? In what nonreligious terms is human equality self-evident?"


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