Friday, 24 February 2012

Marilynne Robinson on Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred

Marilynne Robinson, ‘Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred’, The Chronicle of Higher Education (12 February 2012).

In an earlier post, I referred to a forthcoming collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson. One of them, published in the book as ‘Freedom of Thought’, is available online here.

Beginning with her own experience of education, she writes:

‘At a certain point I decided that everything I took from studying and reading anthropology, psychology, economics, cultural history, and so on did not square at all with my sense of things, and that the tendency of much of it was to posit or assume a human simplicity within a simple reality and to marginalize the sense of the sacred, the beautiful, everything in any way lofty.’

She goes on later in the piece to reflect on the general societal assumption that the physical and material preclude the spiritual:

‘[A]lmost everyone, for generations now, has insisted on a sharp distinction between the physical and the spiritual. So we have had theologies that really proposed a “God of the gaps,” as if God were not manifest in the creation, as the Bible is so inclined to insist, but instead survives in those dark places, those black boxes, where the light of science has not yet shone. And we have atheisms and agnosticisms that make precisely the same argument, only assuming that at some time the light of science will indeed dispel the last shadow in which the holy might have been thought to linger.’

And a little later:

‘The notion that religion is intrinsically a crude explanatory strategy that should be dispelled and supplanted by science is based on a highly selective or tendentious reading of the literatures of religion. In some cases it is certainly fair to conclude that it is based on no reading of them at all. Be that as it may, the effect of this idea, which is very broadly assumed to be true, is again to reinforce the notion that science and religion are struggling for possession of a single piece of turf, and science holds the high ground and gets to choose the weapons.’

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