I believe that reading is one of the greatest human delights. C.S. Lewis has this quote where he says that we owe an “enormous extension of our being” to books, and I’ve found that’s true for me. Reading The Brothers Karamazov wrecked my life for a while, and I’ve found very few things in this world that can shape someone as dramatically as a good book can.
On a more practical level, I realized in college that I had essentially stopped reading for pleasure and I decided to keep public reading lists in order to hold myself accountable. Tumblr has also made me more likely to read, because I can use it as a commonplace book for all of the quotes from the library books I read.
As to your main point, about how uncomfortable you are with growing in knowledge: I have to admit I’m somewhat troubled by your definition of ‘relevance to your life.’ I read a lot of theology and history, a huge number of articles and essays on ideas and sports and television and politics, and an ever-increasing number of poems, because I decided one day that poetry was good for my soul. None of those things are directly relevant to my life, except insofar as the person I am changes based on what I read. If we have a telos, reading good things will help us reach it.
Somewhat random quick thoughts: I think on first read Job is utterly unappealing because of the sheer size of God, because he appears to be unwilling to listen to Job and simply brags about his power. Even more troubling, God is the one who picks Job to suffer in the first place, because he believes that Job will not curse him even when everything is taken away. The ending is also frustrating, with Job getting beautiful replacement children and more possessions than he had before.
In high school, my class read and discussed a number of books in the Hebrew Bible, including Job. As far as I can remember, that was the point where I actually began to appreciate Job. My entire class spent weeks criticizing how boring the rich poetry was, and how power-hungry God seemed. For my final essay, I tried to write the entire thing as a defense of this portrayal of God. I probably sounded very Calvinist, as I ended up having to appeal to the supremacy and power of God, and argued that God did not have to make himself more appealing to humans if he did not want to. But what I wanted to say, and what I think my essay reached towards, was this idea that God respects Job for speaking out.
In college, I took classes in which I began to appreciate the literary value of the book and its place within the Biblical canon. But, still, what I ultimately find most compelling about the text is that Job ends up thoroughly vindicated. Like the psalmists who lament and the prophets who moan about the wickedness of the people around them, Job demonstrates his faith, the kind of faith that trusts enough in God to challenge him to fulfill his promises and to explain himself, the faith that reminds me of the cry of Jesus on the cross. “Behold Job the human,” Daniel Berrigan says in his book on Job. “God takes him seriously.”
The Brothers Karamazov, most of the time. In the Bible, John or Job. In non-Dostoevsky fiction, I am a passionate defender of all things Jane Austen. In theology, I really liked Barth’s Evangelical Theology and thought it was pretty accessible.
T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, but mostly Little Gidding.
You’re talking about this quote, right? Chesterton is basically saying that trying to understand everything is exhausting, because there is an infinite amount of knowledge. Reason tries to make all of that knowledge finite, while poetry is content to just understand parts of it.
The Brothers Karamazov, probably. East of Eden is a very close second though.
I read it as soon as I could find it in Barnes and Noble. I just sat in the Starbucks at the store and read the whole thing. It’s a disappointing book in a lot of ways; she seems to be lost, wandering around in a fog, and drags all of us along with her. She’s a lovely writer, of course, and a lot of people try to imitate her and fail. But Still felt like she had just churned it out in the depths of her sadness after her divorce, although the book was carefully organized. And I understand how that kind of writing can be attractive for a lot of people. There’s too little lament or ‘dark night of the soul’ stories from women’s perspectives, and so I was really looking forward to reading the book. It never delivered anything of substance.
I remember reading this review on Amazon after I finished the book; it is kind of devastating. If I wrote a book that I cared about and got a review like that, I would probably cry in my bed and just eat ice cream for days.
But the reviewer brings up a lot of good points. The more important among them is that Winner never really takes responsibility for what happened to her marriage. She doesn’t necessarily owe us the answers, of course, but if you want to write a memoir about how God left then you kind of need to say why. Why did her marriage fall apart? She just says she left one day. How does her marriage falling apart connect to what she says about marriage and sex in Real Sex? What can people who struggle with anxiety like she does learn from her? She talks a lot about Hauerwas and Sam Wells. I recognized some of the priests she names too. But in naming all these names and writing so beautifully about books, she didn’t say what she learned from her mother’s death and her divorce. It’s just books and beautiful gems like
Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, and not left alone. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.
I mean, seriously? I want to write like that. She’s obviously really smart and she has a great job at Duke and I respect her accomplishments. I was just disappointed in the book.
I liked it fine. Nothing entirely earth shattering, but I had to confront the issues with Genesis from day 1 in my religion classes so I’m used to the arguments by now.
To summarize the key points for people who haven’t read it, Enns basically argues that evolution and the Bible, particularly as it pertains to Genesis 1 and 2 and Paul’s discussion of Jesus as the Second Adam, cannot be reconciled in the way we usually discuss them. He proposes instead that we rethink both Genesis and Paul.
Enns believes that the main reason people are reluctant to accept evolution is not simply because of the accounts in Genesis, but, more importantly, the way Paul talks about Jesus. Paul’s explicit comparison between Adam and Jesus the Second Adam means that Adam must exist as a historical person, because otherwise there are severe implications for Jesus. And so people end up fervently defending the existence of a historical Adam (and Eve) against any more generalized evolutionary process.
Enns doesn’t believe that is necessary, and seeks to reframe the issues:
A proper Christian understanding of the creation narratives will follow the lead of the New Testament writers in seeing the gospel as the culmination of the ancient message. Christians should not search through the creation stories for scientific information they believe it is important to see there. They should read it, as New Testament writers did, as ancient stories transformed in Christ. (76)
I basically agree that Paul is making midrashic comments on the Adam story; he’s rereading it in light of Christ and the formation of the church. And I also agree that the evangelical idea of reading the Bible ‘literally’ is a very modern one, and one that at times is very ill-suited to understanding the Bible as it is and how the original writers and readers would have seen it. I just wish he had spent more time trying to come up with an answer to the theological issues raised about God’s wrath and the necessity of Jesus’ death if Adam didn’t exist.
Wow, that’s a bunch of questions
Favorite book: The Brothers Karamazov. Buy this translation, people. Dostoevsky will rock your world.
Favorite movie: Hmm… I watched A River Runs Through It last night. That’s probably close to my favorite, definitely top five.
Perfect meal: Lebanese restaurant, meat skewers, garlic sauce.
Perfect day: I don’t know. It probably involves low humidity, temperatures in the mid ’60s, ice cream, and driving in the countryside. Or, you know, sitting in a coffee shop and reading.
First book: Thanks, I’m flattered. But to be published you need platforms and large readership and stamina to write a lot, so there won’t be a book anytime soon.