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Author David Adams Richards (Peter Power)
Author David Adams Richards (Peter Power)

David Adams Richards

Canada's literary community gets religion all wrong Add to ...

This anti-religious sniping has become more prevalent over my lifetime because of a dual condition of pandering: one by the artists themselves to the audience; and the other by the audience's acceptance of this pandering as their due without seriously questioning it, so as not to displease others in the audience who, they believe, must share a common ideology.

Only the middle class could act this way toward the middle class, and deem this pandering somehow a forthright and noble condition for an ongoing discussion of justice. Many will not admit to the discomfort they feel when they hear this creed spoken to them, out of fear or disinterest - to stand against it is not within the boundaries of their own moral compass.

So it becomes within this kind of pandering an oxymoron to suggest that the ongoing search for justice has anything whatsoever to do with an ongoing search for God. They have become the antithesis of each other. This has been at least part of the mainstay of our literary jurisprudence since the 1950s and is now so ingrained into the consciousness of young writers that many of them have found few independent ways to think of God, except either to dismiss or to rebuke.

But even this in a strange way is an acknowledgment of God.

Now, I don't mean all writers are like this, but I am certain many are. For writers, if not careful, will find themselves conforming to what is popular in order to be considered unique. And I suggest it is intellectually dishonest to view the world this way. And this intellectual dishonesty will in some way either shrink or lessen the value of their work. Because many of them deny their own continuous search for a meaning beyond themselves - one that is greater than ourselves.

Am I speaking of our great writers, such as Alice Munro or Al Purdy or Alden Nowlan or P.K. Page or Jack Hodgins or Alistair MacLeod? No, I am not. Yet I do think in many ways religion and faith have become the one true polarizing gap within our culture. And in a strange way I feel this is inhibiting even if it is thought of as liberating. And that young man and woman I spoke about above are cases in point.

Do I think that questions about religious power and control have no place in our literary discourse? The secret is if I didn't I wouldn't be writing this polemic. The church has done an enormous damage. It has not forgiven when it should have; it has held sway over people and oppressed them and it for a long while forgot how to love.

Yet there is still much good that it does, and there is power and control on both sides of the aisle. Many people of faith, like little Amy in The Lost Highway, are truly innocent, without any power at all, and more importantly their beliefs are as valid as anyone else's.

So I have been bothered on occasion, especially reading younger people's novels, by the largeness of certain religious targets, the ease with which the mark is hit, and the smallness of the points sometimes made. It has become, in many movies and many books, the status quo of our Western society, and leaves out so many people I grew up loving.

But if Tom Hanks can save the world from Catholicism every two years, I can remind myself that there is still much good in my religion. If Bill Maher can tell me my faith is silly, I can at least answer and say it is not. If Christopher Hitchens can courageously take on Mother Teresa or declare the Ten Commandments meaningless - as if he bore false witness in any other universe he wouldn't be known for exactly who he was - I can at least say I disagree, and face the ridicule if I have to.

If Richard Dawkins can tell me I cannot prove there is a God, I can remind him that he cannot prove something else: He cannot prove that he doesn't pray to God every moment of every day in ways he might not himself know for reasons that benefit only himself.

And if one of them asks me what faith is, I can say it is not something we have, but it is who we are. No matter our numerous failings and trials in this life, it is part of the very cortex of our humanity. It is the one thing God gives us that we cannot refuse, and if we did not have it, nothing would ever happen - not even the line I am writing now.

Adapted from God Is: My Search for Faith in a Secular World. Copyright © 2009 Newmac Amusement Inc. Published by Doubleday Canada. All rights reserved. In stores this Tuesday.

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