Monday, September 20, 2004

the letter killeth?

Well, it's less than two weeks now until I start university, where I will be studying English Literature. Since becoming a Christian, I have thought about switching to Theology on more than one occasion, but ultimately I think I have too much existential angst to go through with it. Having said that, I do find that my studies in English have helped my walk of faith. In fact, it was the poetry of John Donne that first got me thinking about anything vaguely spiritual in the first place. I have become increasingly aware this year of the need to treat our religious texts in the same way we treat our poetry and fiction. It is often far too tempting to open the Bible or the Qur'an or the Gita and expect to find a history book, or even a science book. We don't want to be drawn into mystery, but rather to have everything explained to us. These great spiritual books become as banale as a user manual when treated in such a fashion.
'A good religion works like a good novel: it makes you suspend your disbelief.'
Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi

I've just finished reading Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights; a novel which almost defies catergorisation. It is meandering tale that wanders through generations of characters, with history repeating itself imperfectly, as if reflected in a warped mirror. Many people come to the novel expecting a classic romantic fiction, but as Lucasta Miller notes in her preface to the Penguin Edition, the key relationship in the novel is 'oddly unerotic'. She mentions that from then on, her preconceptions of what a book should be were changed dramatically: 'It shattered my complacency and gave me the first hint that great literature was as much about questions as about answers'. How true this is of great religion too.

If we're dealing with great stories, when we approach the potential theophony in scripture, then maybe the best way to approach them is through the lenses of literature. Assuming you get to see things outside an anglo-centric perspective at least a little your studies could be illuminating to us all...
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