Monday, December 14, 2009

The Sparrow

Brittian first mentioned this book to me. Mind you, he mentions an awful lot of books to me. Second, I believe I heard the author (Mary Doria Russell) on Speaking of Faith on NPR. After borrowing the book and thumbing through the first first 3o pages or so over the course of a few weeks, I finally was hooked.

I don't know when it happened, but I dropped all other readings and was suddenly and totally engulfed in this story of a Jesuit priest on a mission to make first contact with aliens. Weird, right? But knowing that my own journey in and out of faith and doubt was at least somewhat similar, I felt deeply connected to several characters in the book.

I'm not going to tell you the plot or describe the characters. If you wanna read the book, pick it up. You won't regret it.

But there is a passage toward the end of the book that really resonated with me and I thought that I would share that. It's something the main character (Emilio) of the book is saying, considering his trip to this new planet and all his experiences, both beautiful and horrific (to say the least).

"You see, [this] is my dilemma: ...if I was led by God to love God, step by step, as it seemed, if I accept that the beauty and the rapture were real and true, then the rest of it was God's will too... But if I am simply a deluded ape who took a lot of old folktales far too seriously, then I brought all this on myself... The problem with atheism, I find, under these that I have no one to despise but myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God."

Powerful. The issue of God's agency in the world, especially in terms of dealing with pain/evil, is not a light topic. And I feel that Russell dealt with theodicy in a fairly thoughtful way. One that, at least to me, met me where I'm at.

What good is God for? is the question that persists. Personally, I wouldn't label myself athiest, but I really don't know that the existence of God matters much to me anymore. What difference would it make?

Keep in mind, I'm not saying that I have not been deeply formed by a tradition that holds God's very existence at it's center. I am stating where I'm at now.

I can hear the barrage of potential questions and flaming exhortations that could come in response to this post, and I'm fine with that. But I really wonder why this is such a delicate subject to approach.

My holiday gift :) to you are these questions to ponder...

What if there is no God?

Would it really change your life drastically? Are you certain?

And what does that say about you? About us?


brett said...

Yes a wonderful book and it's sequel is worth the read as well.
Emilio struggles with his conceptions of god while on earth but feels he has truly met the maker when he meets the Runa because it all fell into place for him there. I feel as if I have operated the opposite of Emilio in that I was expectant of god for years but now am resigned to an uncertain, albeit very hopeful and peace-seeking, place where I have let go. I no longer have to wrestle with a vicious god.
Here is (my) deal with god right now. Whether there is a god or not the real thing that matters is the human relationships we nurture. All of human activity, even those directed toward a divinity, has meaning and purpose only when shared with others. Contemplatives efforts are only valuable when shared with others. Chris McCandless' (aka Alexander Supertramp) story is only poignant when it is told to others. If god exists it seems to me that these interactions are the form that god prefers for us as far as meaning and purpose.
Emilio's conception of a vicious god is not just a result of his horrid abuse but by his seeming utter abandonment.

adam said...

good question.

David Wierzbicki said...

I need to find ways to bring these questions up more often.

I hope the existence or nonexistence of an outside God-being wouldn't c change MY life too much.

I think the question that should impact our lives (and our decisions about God's existence) is 'what if there is no love?' I think that question's answer WOULD impact our lives in some real ways.

And that is worthy of some holiday cheer. *clink*

Brittian said...

that passage...more than any other affected hit me like a knife when i had read it. Reading it all over again leaves me feeling much the same.

Your questions are apt ones...and in some ways it reminds me of what Bonhoeffer said within the year of his death, languishing in Nazi prison after a long denial of his expectation that God (and man) would come to his rescue. "In the Light of God we must live as though there were no God."

we will talk more.

I'm stoked you liked the book my friend.

Thomas said...

Existence only deals in finite things, at least far as the sciencey logical positivist crowd goes. As God is infinite, God's existence is kind of a pointless question.

I'm probably more committed to the Christian (and particularly Methodist) tradition that you are, but I'm also getting to a point where the whole "does God exist" question seems kind of pointless.

It's an interesting book, though I doubt I'd reach the same conclusions as the author on theodicy.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Yah, I'd say you're dead on, Thomas. I don't know that we could ascertain that sort of information. God either is or isn't there.

I really want to explore what's behind the desire to have certainty on one's side. And I'm curious why people think that the existence of God is so fundamental to living well on this planet earth.

I've found that this is a very difficult conversation to have with someone who is still deeply committed to the idea of God. I guess I understand why that's so. It's hard to be critical about things we hold very close to us. I just don't know how to bridge that gap and slip into a conversation about perspective and essence instead of the Name.

Anyway, thanks for reading along.