Saturday, October 29, 2011

the God theme in literature



Poetry and prose writers through the ages have produced some epic creative works with their visions of the immortal God(s), as conceived at particular times in history. Think of the Greek plays and epic poems, the Hindu epics, and the Middle Eastern and European pagan mythologies. The gods and super-heroes in these may be immortal beings endowed with supernatural powers, but they generally resemble or approximate human form, and have familiar human appetites.

The rise of the later monotheistic religions, beginning with Judaism and proceeding through Christianity and Islam, present a more mysterious God, but either through revelation or inspiration, the later writers retain some anthropomorphic qualities for the one God. For example, He occasionally speaks in a familiar language; He's concerned with interpersonal relationships between Himself and humans, and between humans; and He has given some laws which are to govern these relationships.

The descriptive qualities and characteristics of God given by these three dominant monotheistic religions have not changed much, if at all, in the last 1500 to 2000 years, and seem somewhat frozen in the language and conceptual abilities of the authors who committed them to writing. The stasis became reason enough for some philosophers to declare God was now dead. Further modern scholarship, scriptural criticism, and science, have continued to bump up against the traditional, dogmatic views of God. Indeed, there now seems a plethora of books by modern writers promoting the atheist view: God is not Great, by Christopher Hitchens; The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; and others. None of the atheists seem, however, to adequately address a resulting, fundamental issue of why then is there something instead of nothing?

Theologians have sometimes been hampered by religious authorities and a fear of heresy from more fully exploring the questions and nature of a revealed God in a religious dogma. Too bad. A lot more might have been discovered in all those years.

Even literary fiction might happen onto some useful insights to God, through imaginative story-telling, guided by human experience and psyche. Think: Moby Dick. Recently I came across a reference to Kafka in an article by Robert Pogue Harrison (NY Review of Books, Oct. 13, 2011), which got me thinking again about this topic:

"In his conversations with Gustav Jaknouch, Kafka reportedly remarked:

God dwells in darkness. And that is a good thing, because without the protecting darkness, we should try to overcome God. That is man's nature.

"These are the words of a modern individual speaking in the wake of what Nietzsche called the death of God. Something similar could be said of Shakespeare. Like Kafka's Deus absconditus, he withdraws into a protective darkness that prevents us from getting a secure handle on him, hence from overthrowing him."

Awesome. Hope the topic was of interest to blog readers.

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