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
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