Monday, June 25, 2007

Reading God

An interesting snipet from a WSJ article on Christopher Hitchens:
Mr. Hitchens makes a passionate case against organized religion as well as theocratic, fundamentalist states. He writes that "religion is not unlike racism." "Literature is a better source of ethics and a better source of reflection than our holy texts," he says. "People should read George Eliot, Dostoyevsky and Proust for moral leadership."
In and of itself there's nothing wrong with the last statement, but I'd think a more comprehensive version of it would rather read "People should read their holy texts like they read George Eliot, Dostoyevsky and Proust." Much of books like the Bible and the Koran are dramatic narratives involving complex characters dealing with serious and timeless real world issues. In other words, a Biblical literary theory akin to "constitutional originalism" (which likely derived from how many people rather obtusely read the Bible) doesn't hold much water because because the events that occur in the Bible mirror, to some degree, events that occur during every generation, but never really mean the same thing because the context has changed.

Literature is keenly aware of this phenomenon -- think of Ezra Pound's declaration to "make it new" -- but the more fundamentalist the theology, the more attached to an established and entrenched interpretation that likely is well behind the modern context.

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