In a search around the Web while I procrastinate and contemplate my relationship with a man who seems sometimes a Christian fundamentalist to me, I came across this lovely piece by Mary Gordon wherein she describes the importance of literature to civilization's moral make-up. (Though my dear one's occasional bouts of fundamentalism worry me, his erudition and love of ideas have led me in intellectually enriching directions. For that I am grateful.)

Gordon writes at some length about John Gardner's "On Moral Fiction," a book of criticism I did a major paper on a thousand years ago while a senior in college.

From her essay:

In a country where pornography is ubiquitous and twelve-year-olds on school buses are performing oral sex, I can understand the longing for a return to a world in which the idea of chastity is once more in the conversation. I can understand a revulsion against unbridled individualism, a longing for community in a world where families are fragmented and loneliness can eat into the soul. I can see that strict rules—even, or perhaps especially, tied to punishment—might seem the only way to stem the chaos in which we feel we are drowning. We in the West must come to grips with the fact that we are vulnerable to people we are used to thinking of as our inferiors; that gender roles are confusing and vexed; that the economy seems to be spiraling out of control, with no one to understand it.

I'm interested in the nexus between beauty, art, meta- and astrophysics and our concepts of goodness and morality, hence my appearance here in atheist nexus-land.

The book I'm currently reading is by the Calvinistic and beautiful Marilyn Robinson; next is The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.

From an interview with Robinson in The Paris Review:

Nothing could be more miraculous than the fact that we have a consciousness that makes the world intelligible to us and are moved by what is beautiful.

Fair warning: these essays are long. I hope Atheist Nexus is the right place for this kind of conversation.

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Comment by Lee Roberts on December 26, 2008 at 6:17pm
You're welcome. I really love Marilyn Robinson's writing and in no way consider myself a Calvinist except that I think the hard core Puritans get too little credit from feminists. Puritans were the first Europeans to give girls the same extremely high level of literacy as boys.
Comment by Lee Roberts on December 25, 2008 at 2:41pm
Hmmm. Did you read the essay(s)? Do you know the authors' work?

Or are you saying this is the wrong place to try to understand our neighbors with these worries?
Comment by Mark A. Siefert on December 25, 2008 at 1:22pm
Oh noes! Pictures of naked people and curious teens exploring their sexuality! And individualism! Horrible, terrible individualism!

All hail the Community! Obey the hordes of prigs, prudes, and anal retentive tyrants--from politicians to the your next-door neighbor--with their rules and laws designed to make everyone safe and "moral." Obey the Community....

Obey, OR ELSE!



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