“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” The first words of English novelist Julian Barnes’s hauntingly beautiful memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, suggest that this is not going to be your typical atheist’s manifesto. There will be no shots across the bow à la Richard Dawkins, no overblown criticisms of religion’s deleterious influence à la Christopher Hitchens.
It’s the day after the election, and I am clicking around on one of the many interactive maps of the nation available on the Internet. I’ve found one that shows, in reds and blues, how every single county in the nation voted. You click on a state and the data for each county appear, down to the very last vote.
I did not own one for ages. The first reason was personal: driving the car was a kind of Sabbath for me, with nothing to do but listen to music and watch the scenery. Why muck that up with a ringing telephone? The second reason was ecological: if I detested the microwave towers that were springing up all over the countryside, then why participate in their proliferation?
There are times when the world, instead of being the solid stage on which we conduct our affairs, instead of enveloping us in its massive givenness, seems to totter at the cliff’s edge. The news announces financial meltdown, the friend who seemed forever young dies, the best plans and provisions crumble. What does the future hold?
What is Jack Boughton really like? How will he respond to Reverend Ames’s blessing as he gets on the bus to leave Gilead again? Will he embrace the grace and forgiveness of the blessing? Or will he return to his old ways?
When the liberal political pundit Ana Marie Cox decided to come out as a Christian, she was worried less about the response from her secular colleagues than about that of Christians. She worried that they wouldn’t approve of a “progressive, feminist, tattooed, pro-choice, graduate-educated believer.” When people ask her why she now seems happier and freer, she’s tempted to say it’s because she moved out of Washington, D.C. But the honest answer is: “I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray.” Cox said, “I am saved not because of who I am or what I have done (or didn’t do), but simply because I have accepted the infinite grace that was always offered to me” (Daily Beast, February 28).