Marilynne Robinson and Rowan Williams Talk “Faith, Imagination, and the Glory of Ordinary Life”


Marilynne Robinson

Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.  Williams is the former Archbishop of Canterbury.  They were at Wheaton College recently for a conference celebrating Robinson’s work.  Christian Century has published some of their exchange.  Here is a taste:

The novel Gilead presents us with life in its ordinariness. But in our celebrity-obsessed culture there’s almost a disdain for the ordinary. Could you help us to think about how to give more attention to ordinariness and more value to ordinary life?

Williams: It’s a version of the earlier question about time. Sometimes we want the immediate sense of glamor, gratification, or drama. We can’t understand that the prosaic, the everyday, always accumulates toward glory, because we want the glory now, we want the fix.

I think of Augustine in the Confessions saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t that God’s not here. The problem is that I’m not here.” I’m everywhere but here in this moment, in this particular prosaic, ordinary, physical environment. Part of the function of really effective art is to slow us down and bring us to that particularity.

Robinson: When I think about the ordinary—and that’s a word apparently that I use a lot—I think about the strange miracle of one’s self-ness. When I’ve been away from home for a while, I come downstairs in the morning and I put together what I consider to be the perfect breakfast, which has a lot to do with toast and butter. Combining the sense of the ordinary or the habitual with the sacramental—that’s very strong in my mind.

We talk ourselves into things, like that we’re interested in a celebrity. Very few people over the age of 14 identify in a serious way with a celebrity. But they are distractions, they are the shiny objects. We get told things like “we’re interested in celebrities” and this makes us pay more attention to the magazines at the checkout of the grocery store. But in terms of how people actually live and what they feel, it is: “How do I get along with my children? What do I do with a problem that looks like a looming problem that will require all the understanding that I can muster?” I think people live at that level and maybe take a certain amount of relief from the fact that there is always a new magazine cover.

Read the rest here.

Marilynne Robinson Would Like to Talk to Donald Trump


Lisa Allardice of The Guardian recently spoke with Pultizer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson.  There is a some stuff in this piece on fear, democracy, and history.  She also talks about Donald Trump. Here is a taste:

Of Trump’s predecessor she says: “He’s very gentlemanly, very thoughtful, very funny.” They have kept in touch since he left office. She wrote to him expressing her worries about Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and he is consulting her on preparations for his library in Chicago. “There are jokes about the Trump library,” she says mischievously. “Because there won’t be any books in there.” But what if the current incumbent of the White House decided he, too, would like to sit down with one of his country’s greatest writers? “I would like to get a look at him,” she muses. “Everybody has seen every cartoon – those little hands, his long neckties, his strange bald spot and all the rest – but when all is said and done, he is a human being and it would be sort of interesting just simply to talk with him.” She would hate anyone to think it “was any gesture of approval”, although she concedes of his recent conversations with Kim Jong-un, “I like it when people talk to each other. I don’t care why they do it.”Perhaps the most engaging of all the essays is the last, “Slander”, an unusually personal reflection on her sometimes difficult relationship with her mother, who, until her death, aged 92, she would speak to for nearly an hour every day. “My mother lived out the end of her fortunate life in a state of bitterness and panic, never having had the slightest brush with any experience that would confirm her in these emotions, except, of course, Fox News,” she writes drily. Her mother was “scary and wonderful. Taller than me,” Robinson recalls now. “I realised that there was a great intensity about her. It was almost as if there was a kind of selfness about her that really kept her vividly alive for a long time, which I always found quite beautiful.”

Read the entire piece here.

Marilynne Robinson on Guns


The Pulitzer Prize-winning author believes that carrying a gun is “an immoral act.”  Eric Allen Been interviews Robinson at Vox.  Here is a taste:

Eric Allen Been

It’s probably some magical thinking here, but I’m starting to get the feeling that we’re finally hitting a breaking point when it comes to guns in this country.

Marilynne Robinson

It’s uplifting to see how articulate these young people are. They are so incisive in their thinking and passion. All we’ve been hearing about is how schools are failing and the rest of it. But I don’t think we’ve ever had young people that were more beautiful specimens of ideals and insightfulness. It’s beautiful.

Eric Allen Been

What are your thoughts about the [National Rifle Association’s] proposal, which Trump endorsed, to have armed teachers in school?

Marilynne Robinson

Normalizing the idea that we should all go around capable of a lethal act at any moment is completely corrupt and crazy. I wouldn’t carry a gun. The reason I wouldn’t carry a gun is because it is an immoral act walking around imagining you’re going to kill someone. It’s a recipe for a completely deranged society. It’s grotesque.

I acknowledge the intimate difficulties that seem to be involved in this thing, but if guns were banned, it would not hurt my feelings. But that’s impossible to imagine. As a practical matter, they will be around forever, probably in enormous numbers. But if they weren’t, I’d be happy.

Read the entire interview here.

The Latest From Marilynne Robinson

RobinsonNovelist and public intellectual Marilynne Robinson has a new book of essays out.  It is titled What Are We Doing Here?

Over at The Guardian, Robinson answers a few of Vanessa Thorpe’s questions.

Here is a taste:

Are you likely to be best understood by an ideal reader who comes to you with Christian faith already in place?

I don’t really have an ideal reader in mind at all, whether one with or without faith. When I write it is to try to figure out something for my own purposes. It is self-indulgent really. It is much more the blank page that I write for, in some way. I have this feeling, should a problem present itself, that I should try to resolve it.

How troubled have you been by the extent of God-fearing Christian support for Donald Trump in the last two years?

The terrible turn this part of the populist culture that calls itself Christian has taken is appalling. It is terribly destructive, too. It is a failure of the Christian argument. Religious leaders have failed in that they have not inculcated a good enough understanding of what Christianity should be. They should have paid much more attention to this. That is not to say that the history of Christianity is not pretty scary, even before now. It is very liable to being treated as subservient to some other cause or political purpose.

Read the entire interview here.

Marilynne Robinson: “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”


If you haven’t read Robinson’s 2015 essay on fear you should.  Today she receives the Chicago Tribune‘s Literary Prize at the Chicago Festival Humanities and Tribune reporter Steve Johnson is covering it.

Here is a taste:

She laments that “some of us” are “associating the precious Lord with ignorance, intolerance and belligerent nationalism.” And she ties that growing strain of fear in American society with the increasing grip that guns have.

What’s especially compelling about those words is that they were published in 2015, before last year’s presidential election in which the winning candidate ran on a platform profoundly informed by fear.

Asked if she wrote that essay while in possession of a crystal ball, Robinson demurred: “Just the usual one of paying a reasonable amount of attention to what I hear and what I see,” she said.

“I’m 74 years old,” she added later in the phone conversation from her home in Iowa City. “I’ve had a fairly long career as an observer of this country. I don’t remember people using fear as an amusement or as a drug of some kind the way that they seem to do now. It scares me. Roosevelt was right. Fear is an appropriate object of fear.”

Read the rest here.

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Marilynne Robinson on John Calvin


Fans of Robinson‘s fiction and non-fiction know that she is an admirer of John Calvin.  Over at Commonweal, Matthew Sitman just publishe an interview he conducted with Robinson that focuses on her love of the Genevan reformer.

Here is a taste:

MS: I have heard your fiction, especially Gilead, described as being “sacramental.” Yet it also possesses an obvious debt to Protestantism—for example, John Ames is informed largely by Protestant theology and the literary tradition that derives from Calvinism—which often, if perhaps mistakenly, is associated with “disenchantment,” a world increasingly emptied of God’s presence. How much of your work is an intentional retrieval of an alternative Protestantism, a non-disenchanted Protestantism? What’s distinctive about a Protestant vision of a world imbued with grace?

MR: I don’t think I had heard until I was in college that the Protestant world was “disenchanted,” so the notion has never had much importance for me. It is not surprising, given European history, that there is a tradition of polemic available for use against Protestantism and Catholicism as well. It really ought not to be taken seriously as cultural analysis. I know it is a feature of modern thought that these drastic pronouncements are made and pondered. But they can be remarkably superficial. From a Protestant point of view the world is intrinsically enchanted. Nothing need be added. The world is filled with the glory of God. I doubt a Catholic would disagree! The two traditions simply respond to the fact differently. Protestants acknowledge only Baptism and Communion as sacraments, using ordinary water in the first and ordinary bread in the second—which implies the holiness of the ordinary, of all bread and all water. This seems to me to broaden the sphere of the sacramental and to give every holy—that is, loving or generous—use of the ordinary things of life a sacramental character.

Read the entire piece here.


What if Trump Did That?


Instead of asking “What if Obama did that?,” perhaps we should think about this kind of “whataboutism” in a different way.

Barry Friedman, a comedian who blogs at Friedman of the Plains, asks this question in the context of Barack Obama’s 2015 conversation with novelist Marilynne Robinson.

Here is a taste of Friedman’s piece:

Chronicled in two parts in the New York Review of Books, the conversation is not rushed, not formulaic, not fawning. The president, in fact, does most of the asking.

There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics. And some of it has to do with all the filters that stand between ordinary people who are busy and running around trying to look after their kids and do a good job and do all the things that maintain a community, so they don’t have the chance to follow the details of complicated policy debates…

Why bring up this 2015 interview now?

Because Donald Trump has no such approach to life — or governance. Rather than being awed by the things he doesn’t understand, he blames them, discounts them, ignores them, or claims special powers over them. Can you imagine him going to talk to a writer about books — imagine him with book — and asking about culture and direction and national mood, instead of barking about them? Can you imagine him trying to understand, to appreciate, to respect the 65,844,610 who didn’t vote for him? Can you imagine him trying to deconstruct the new 21st Century paradigm, not only for himself, but for the country?

Read the entire post here.  (HT: Richard Bernstein, via FB)

Alan Jacobs: Christian Intellectual

jacobsOn Friday we published Marilynne Robinson’s response to Alan Jacobs’s Harpers essay on Christian intellectuals.  You can read that post, with all the pertinent links, here.

Since we posted this piece I learned that Jacobs has responded.  Here is a taste:

I am not sure why Robinson writes “I think the word ‘secularist’ itself is a crude presumption, disrespectful of the mysteries of the soul” — I don’t use the word “secularist” in the essay, though I do use the word “secular,” and I quote Robinson herself saying “I have other loyalties that are important to me, to secularism, for example.” Why “secularism” is something she can be loyal to while “secularist” is crude and disrespectful I cannot guess.

While I was over at Jacobs’s blog I also found some other thoughtful pieces.  For example:

Jacobs on the recent New York Times piece on hijab-wearing political science professor Larycia Hawkins and what it says about Wheaton College.

Jacobs on why he can’t vote for Hillary Clinton

Jacobs on Eric Metaxas and evangelical support for Trump

Marilynne Robinson Responds to Alan Jacobs


Many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home are familiar with Alan Jacobs‘s recent Harper’s essay on Christian public intellectuals.  Jacobs is critical of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson.

He writes:

In light of the history I have been narrating here, the career of Marilynne Robinson looks like a case of opportunities taken, but also opportunities missed. It is true that, especially in her fiction, she offers to a (largely secular) audience a picture of what the world looks like when it is irradiated by faith or the possibility of faith; but it is never a faith that calls upon her readers to act differently, socially or politically or morally, than they would normally be inclined to act. In her essays, she often speaks explicitly as a Christian, but there tends to be a strange mismatch between her subject and her audience. Take “Fear,” an essay from 2015 in which she writes that “contemporary America is full of fear” — a fear manifested largely through a kind of cult of firearm ownership — and “fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” If Robinson wants to persuade her fellow American Christians to reject the culture of guns and overcome their fear, The New York Review of Books is an odd place to do it. My point is not that Robinson’s argument is wrong but that it offers a highly critical interpretation of people who are not reading it, and leaves the core assumptions of its audience unchallenged…

In another recent essay, “Memory,” she writes,

I am a Christian. There are any number of things a statement of this kind might mean and not mean, the tradition and its history being so complex. To my utter chagrin, at this moment in America it can be taken to mean that I look favorably on the death penalty, that I object to food stamps or Medicaid, that I expect marriage equality to unknit the social fabric and bring down wrath, even that I believe Christianity itself to be imperiled by a sinister media cabal. It pains me to have to say in many settings that these are all things I object to strenuously on religious grounds, having read those Gospels.

There is, it seems to me, a good deal to find fault with here: the apparent implication that, since Robinson says she holds the views she does simply by virtue of having read the Gospels, those Christians who see things differently than she does have not read the Gospels; or the notion that such reading could settle practical questions of social policy; or the notion that she “has to” distance herself from other Christians who do not share her political and social views.

That last point above all. For when we read the great Christian intellectuals of even the recent past we notice how rarely they distance themselves from ordinary believers, even though they could not have helped knowing that many of those people were ignorant or ungenerous or both. They seem to have accepted affiliation with such unpleasant people as a price one had to pay for Christian belonging; Robinson, by contrast, seems to take pains to assure her liberal and secular readers that she is one of them. (From the same essay: “I have other loyalties that are important to me, to secularism, for example.”)

Something similar might be said of Robinson’s recent conversation, also published in The New York Review of Books, with Obama, to whom she returns the name of friend. It may be poor form to use a conversation with a friend in order to speak truth to power, but I for one would have appreciated a dose of Cornel West–like poor form. After all, the claim that “contemporary America is full of fear” might also be applied to the person who promised but failed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. I think Robinson may well be the finest living American novelist, and at her best a brilliant essayist, but whatever her religious beliefs, her culture seems to be fully that of the liberal secular world — and it may matter, in this regard, that her professional career has been at a public university. While surely she must know some living Christian subculture from the inside, she does not seem to be interested in representing its virtues, or its mixture of virtues and vices, to an unbelieving world, or to speak on its behalf, or to speak to it in any general way.

I fear that this sounds like a reproach, though I mean for it to be a lament. Blame is hard to assign here. If we cannot imagine Robinson being invited to preach at a big-box Bible church somewhere in suburbia, that may say less about her than about the anti-intellectual and artistically indifferent culture of much of today’s evangelicalism; but then, those developments may have been exacerbated by Christian intellectuals’ neglect of their responsibilities to the life of their churches. At some point in the past sixty years or so a perverse and destructive feedback loop engaged, and I cannot see how to disengage it.jacobs

Still, it is noteworthy how consistently inward and solitary the faith of the characters in Robinson’s novels is, including that of her most compelling creation, the elderly pastor John Ames in Gilead. The community of church is not a strong element in these people’s lives; they tend not to speak for anyone or anything more than themselves, and the conversations that they have about faith are mostly internal. I can’t help wishing that someone, someone of Marilynne Robinson’s stature and gifts, would tell readers of The New York Review of Books that such church communities need not be scorned or feared, and then tell those church communities the same about the readers of The New York Review of Books. That would require a patience, a kindness, a courage that it seems scarcely possible to ask for in our current climate.

Marilynne Robinson has responded to Jacobs in a letter to the editor of Harper’s.  Here it is:

There are a great many things those of us who call ourselves Christian need to talk over. One very important one is secularism. Interpreting my career in light of this phenomenon as he understands it, Alan Jacobs notes that I have taught for many years at a big public university, where, he assumes, one must encounter penalties for being identified with Christian faith, and that I must have made concessions to these pressures [“The Watchmen,” Criticism, September]. I can only assure him that the hostility he imagines has had no part in my experience. I have taught Old and New Testament fairly frequently, answering to the job description for my position when I was hired. At my university and, I assume, others like it, many people are variously religious, members of communities of faith, and many are in some state of questioning and transition that is by no means dismissive of religion. We meet on other terms and usually talk about other things, which does not signify indifference or hostility on any side. These great public environments where everyone feels equally welcome are an invaluable achievement of our society, a culture of mutual courtesy and service that is no less compatible with Christianity because it accommodates the same values in other faiths and ethical systems. The essay on fear that he imagines I wrote for The New York Review of Books and its secular readership was actually a speech written for and read to a conservative church in Michigan. I have no idea how many secularists read my books, but then I think the word “secularist” itself is a crude presumption, disrespectful of the mysteries of the soul. Judge not, said Jesus, and I think the commandment particularly warns us away from the kinds of harsh, categorical judgments that make too many Christians feel and act as though they live in a hostile and oppressive world. This kind of thinking, this habit of antagonism, has done incalculable harm. It has contributed in a way unbecoming in Christians to the bitter divisions that afflict this country.

Marilynne Robinson
Iowa City, Iowa

Marilynne Robinsion Wins Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction


Here is the press release:

Acting Librarian of Congress David S. Mao has announced that Marilynne Robinson, author of such critically acclaimed novels as “Gilead” and “Home,” will receive the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction during the 2016 Library of Congress National Book Festival, Sept. 24.

The National Book Festival and the prize ceremony will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The annual Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction honors an American literary writer whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination. The award seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that—throughout long, consistently accomplished careers—have told us something new about the American experience.

Mao chose Robinson based on the recommendation of a jury of distinguished authors and prominent literary critics from around the world. He said of the selection, “With the depth and resonance of her novels, Marilynne Robinson captures the American soul. We are proud to confer this prize on her and her extraordinary work.”

“American literature has been a kind of spiritual home to me for as long as I have been aware of it. So this award could not be more gratifying,” Robinson said.

Previous winners of the prize are Louise Erdrich (2015), E. L. Doctorow (2014) and Don DeLillo (2013). Under its previous name, the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for fiction, the awardees were Philip Roth (2012), Toni Morrison (2011), Isabel Allende (2010), and John Grisham (2009). In 2008, the Library presented Pulitzer-Prize winner Herman Wouk with a lifetime achievement award for fiction writing.

Robinson was born in Sandpoint, Idaho, in 1943. She is the author of four novels: “Lila” (2014), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; “Home” (2008), winner of the Orange Prize (UK) and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; “Gilead” (2004), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and “Housekeeping” (1980), winner of PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction. Her five nonfiction books include “The Givenness of Things: Essays” (2015) and “The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought” (1998).

Robinson’s many other honors include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Fund, the National Humanities Medal, and the American Academy of Religion in the Arts Award. Robinson, a longtime faculty member of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Robinson lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where she is a deacon for the Congregational United Church of Christ.

Marilynne Robinson’s Latest Collection of Essays

RobinsonIt is titled The Givenness of Things and it was published near the end of last year.  Natasha Moore reviews it at the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

In The Givenness of Things, Robinson carries her characteristic refusal to recognise any gap between her indelibly theological view of the world and her mainstream secular audience to a new level. Like a theologian of old, like a twenty-first century Jonathan Edwards, she nonchalantly invokes concepts long out of use in public conversation. She muses, with unselfconscious seriousness, on questions of Christology or the workings of the Trinity in relation to urgent contemporary issues like the partisanship of American politics, or the travails of the modern university.

Some readers will find this refreshing; others, I imagine, quixotic or baffling. But then, I thought that about Gilead too, and it won the Pulitzer.

The pointy end of Robinson’s high view of humanity, rooted deeply in what she understands to be God’s high view of humanity – the imprint of his image in us – comes in her periodic excoriations of a public discourse that defaults so easily to contempt for other people. Her diagnosis of the problem leaves quite a few of us, on both sides of politics, pinned and wriggling on the wall – whether in Trump’s America or Operation-Sovereign-Borders Australia:

“Cultural pessimism is always fashionable, and, since we are human, there are always grounds for it. It has the negative consequence of depressing the level of aspiration, the sense of the possible. And from time to time it has the extremely negative consequence of encouraging a kind of somber panic, a collective dream-state in which recourse to terrible remedies is inspired by delusions of mortal threat. If there is anything in the life of any culture or period that gives good grounds for alarm, it is the rise of cultural pessimism, whose major passion is bitter hostility toward many or most of the people within the very culture the pessimists always feel they are intent on rescuing.”

Read Moore’s entire piece here

Thoughts on Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

On Thursday morning Barack Obama delivered his last National Prayer Breakfast speech as President of the United States.

He spoke out of his own deep religious convictions and connected the Bible and prayer to American values.

His speech (or should we call it a sermon?) came from 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

It is hard not to acknowledge Obama’s debt in this speech to writer Marilynne Robinson and her September 2015 New York Review of Books piece on fear.  Robinson is one of Obama’s favorite authors. The President even spent some time last year interviewing her in Des Moines, Iowa.

I appreciate Obama’s use of history in this speech.  Americans have been through difficult times before.  When we see things with a longer view we realize that Americans have been reacting to change, tragedy, and an assortment of difficult situations for a long time.  In some small way we might be comforted by our connections with the human beings–the Americans–who have gone before us.

Obama used 2 Timothy 1:7 to rehash a common interpretation of the Christian Right and political conservatism generally.  It goes something like this: in times of rapid change people respond in extreme ways that are motivated by fear.

There is truth in this interpretation.  If American history is any indication, nativism, racism, and other forms of discrimination have emerged when people respond in fear to the winds of change.

Future American religious historians will not miss the irony of it all.  When they study this generation they will find people living in fear who embrace a Christian faith that teaches them that they have nothing to fear. As Obama alluded to in his speech, Christ triumphed over death through the resurrection.  Because of this, Christians believe, they too will one day triumph over death. It is a fitting message as we approach the season of Lent.

Obama was very specific about the changes taking place in American society that might elicit fear.  He mentioned terrorism, homelessness, incoming refugees, and eroding shorelines.  When Obama says that Jesus is “pointing us towards what matters,” he means that Christians should not only be unafraid of these developments, but should faithfully work to do something about these problems.

Of course abortion, same-sex marriage, and other conservative moral concerns are apparently not things that “matter.”  These issues are the leftover remnants of a now- antiquated Christian tradition–the kind of tradition that progress, by its very definition, must overcome.

When conservatives in the United States talk about Christianity’s role in public life, they often look backward in order to move forward.  Theirs is an approach to Christianity rooted in historic doctrines and time-honored theological and moral truths.  Obama’s forward-looking faith represents a progressive brand of Christianity centered more on activism and social change than on theology or confessions of faith.

My intention here is not to endorse one approach to Christianity over the other.  That would not make any sense because they are two sides of the same coin.  I will, however, suggest that these differences might be yet another way in which the Christian faith in America has been politicized.

If we learned anything from the visit of Pope Francis last Fall, it is that Christianity does not fit well with any American political party or ideology.  Yet we just can’t help placing it in the Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative boxes that we have constructed for ourselves.

Marilynne Robinson: Christian, Liberal, Calvinist

I really enjoyed Robert Long’s piece in The American Conservative on Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson.  Not unlike the writings of cultural critics such as Wendell Berry or Christopher Lasch, Robinson’s work appeals to both liberals and conservatives.  Her respect for religious belief, tradition, rootedness, and duty tends to attract the attention of conservatives.  Yet she claims that she is a liberal Christian who grounds her faith in the teachings of John Calvin.

Here is a taste of Long’s article:

Calvin looms large in Robinson’s work: Gilead and its 2008 companion novel, Home, are surely the only bestsellers to hinge on a scene where a preacher ruminates about predestination. In her essays, Robinson presents Calvin as a Christian humanist—contrary to his stereotype as a cold-hearted theocrat—and his intellectual heirs as a vital corrective to our cheapened discourse.
As she tells TAC:
Something I find regrettable in contemporary Christianity is the degree to which it has abandoned its own heritage, in thought and art and literature. It was at the center of learning in the West for centuries—because it deserved to be. Now there seems to be actual hostility on the part of many Christians to what, historically, was called Christian thought, as if the whole point were to get a few things right and then stand pat. I believe very strongly that this world, these billions of companions on earth that we know are God’s images, are to be loved, not only in their sins, but especially in all that is wonderful about them. And as God is God of the living, that means we ought to be open to the wonderful in all generations. These are my reasons for writing about Christian figures of the past. At present there is much praying on street corners. There are many loud declarations of personal piety, which my reading of the Gospels forbids me to take at face value. The media are drawn by noise, so it is difficult to get a sense of the actual state of things in American religious culture.
Most Americans still call themselves Christians, but Robinson finds our politics afflicted by a debased and un-Christian view of ourselves. “We have forgotten that old American nonsense about alabaster cities, about building the stately mansions of the soul,” she writes in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought. Instead, we “adopted this very small view of ourselves and others, as consumers and patients and members of interest groups.