Friday, December 11, 2009

"We are never at home"

Several friends have told me that I should read Marilynne Robinson, especially Gilead and Home. I possess an irrational reluctance to accept such suggestions even when I know that my friends have tastes and interests similar to my own. "Simple Gifts" by Cheryl Miller in the current Claremont Review of Books may succeed where they have failed. It is a review of those books that makes very clear why I ought to like them. For instance, Miller on Robinson and original sin and the wages of utopianism:
.... "Gross error survives every attempt at perfection, and flourishes." Robinson may call herself a liberal Protestant, but it's not for nothing that she says "my heart is with the Puritans"—no novelist working today has a deeper understanding of original sin. For Robinson, discontent is our natural condition. "There is a wound in the flesh of human life that scars when it heals and often enough seems never to heal at all," Ames reflects in Gilead. Glory too wonders "how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home." But such a restoration cannot be achieved: "[W]e are the Ishmael of species...while we belong in the world, we have no place in the world." We are never at home.

Robinson allows that this might seem a "harsh doctrine," but it has proven far kindlier than the belief that we can "reason our way to a code of behavior that is consistent with our survival, not to mention our dignity or our self-love." Ever the student of history, Robinson asks, "what could have been more brutal than these schemes to create happy and virtuous societies?" It is our desire to remake the world "without strain and conflict," she reminds us, that has "made most of the barbarity of our century seem to a great many people a higher philanthropy." By contrast, "the belief that we are all sinners gives us excellent grounds for forgiveness and self-forgiveness." ....
The Claremont Institute - Simple Gifts