Religion, Science, and Democracy: A Disputational Friendship

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One thing I tend to do is to go against the grain of what seems to be the received state of a question, academically speaking. I make the case in the hope that somebody will say, oh you are so wrong, you have missed something so essential — I have this dream of stimulating an argument.

Religious pluralism

You mean your ideal would be to have a disputation with somebody or a set of people, to stimulate that sort of fierce argument? And then when you think of them galvanising all the resources that they would have to make the reply to me, then I would learn things from that.

It would be wonderful. From the standpoint of your Christian faith, with its Calvinist influence, you also argue for a broader idea of what religion means.

Dear old Calvin! And I think we do that now.

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And all of that is incredibly trivialising. Do you feel that on every level of your life? Does religion permeate the emotional, intellectual, spiritual planes? I feel that, yes.


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There is a striking gap in your career as a novelist: Housekeeping was published in , and when you returned with Gilead in , and in your subsequent novels, religion was at the forefront. What happened? What did you want to do when you returned to fiction?

Advanced Seminar in Religion and Science – Fall 2013

Well, you know, I became a strange novelist, if not simply a strange person outright. I tend to do what I want to do. Then suddenly a fictional world was in my imagination, so I wrote it.


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The trilogy made up by Gilead , Home and Lila has had immense success. But what has it meant for you? My impulse is to think that religion is often too self-regarding.

One of the things that Calvin does, which I love, is that he says that God presents people to you, or he gives people to you, that are occasions, and God wants something out of that occasion; an understanding that the other person is precisely as important to God as you are. Is that too pessimistic? I think that one of the problems that we have in contemporary society is this willingness to speak dismissively of people in general.

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People live profound lives. People care for their parents, and care for their children, and have ideas of what would be right and wrong, or better at any rate.

But to assume that these things would be meaningless to people creates an artificial famine that makes people less and less competent in these things that they could otherwise enjoy and being enriched by. You come across as very free of vanity, but you must feel that the response to your books proves you right, in a way.

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By continuing, you agree to the use of cookies. To learn more, visit our Cookies page. This page was processed by aws-apollo2 in 0. Skip to main content. Copy URL. See all articles by John F. Abstract If, as David Walsh has argued, the strength and weakness of the liberal order is its inability to articulate the moral impulse upon which it stands, then Alexis de Tocqueville offers the most profound reflections upon this paradox as well as exhibiting the symptoms of it.