May 29, 2007

Literature and/as Faith

Excerpts from my recent reading in James Wood's The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief and Christopher Hitchens's god is Not Great:
Nervously aware that they have killed off Christianity as a faith, [Arnold and Renan] must reinstate it as a religion, as a guide to life, as a poetry ... the poeticizing of nondivine religion was a characteristically nineteenth-century gesture. (Wood 246)
We [atheists] are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. (Hitchens 5)
The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. (Hitchens 283)
The Hitchens comments would make provocative epigraphs for a seminar on literature and morality; Wood points to the genealogy of claims such as Hitchens's.

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