James Wood and God

Readers of the work of literary critic and novelist James Wood will know that he is God-haunted. The title of his first novel was, after all, "The Book against God." Wood’s preoccupation with God, specifically the problem of evil, is addressed head-on this week’s New Yorker, in which he consider Bart D. Ehrman’s latest book, God’s Problem. Wood was raised in a Christian household, but eventually rejected his faith. To his credit, he does not present a caricature of religion in the same way that his countrymen Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do. He has read, and quotes from, eloquent Christian writers such as Simone Weil and Marilynn Robinson. Yet his essay ultimately left me dissatisfied, and not just because I am a believer and he (apparently) is not. I was tantalized, for example, when he invoked Robinson, a devout Protestant whose writings on God and faith are quite profound. Yet Wood merely quotes a line from her novel Gilead to spin off a reflection on Christianity’s understanding of heaven. His invocation of Weil is also superficial and disappointing. How much more interesting would if he had wrestled with the serious theistic arguments Robinson develops in The Death of Adam, a collection of her essays. Wood seems to resist this sort of disputation, as if engaging in such a debate grants theology a legitimacy he does not think it deserves. It’s too bad. Wood is a brilliant critic, and one wishes that he would bring the same rigor and precision of thought to theology as he does to literature. Tim Reidy
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pa., speaks during a meeting in late January at the headquarters of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
“I think we need complete transparency if we’re going to get the trust of the people back,” said Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico.
Mélanie Thierry as Marguerite Duras in “Memoir of War.” © Music Box Films
The film tells the story of a woman who worked for the German-controlled Vichy government but secretly joined the Resistance movement.
A. W. Richard Sipe (photo: Facebook)
Sipe's research into celibacy and priestly sexual behavior helped guide the work of church leaders and others responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Catholic News ServiceAugust 17, 2018
Did Pope Francis depart from Scripture and tradition in declaring the death penalty "inadmissible"? Or was his declaration rooted deeply in both?
Tobias WinrightAugust 17, 2018