The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis (1946)
Towing Jehovah, by James Morrow (1994)
In the last 24 hours I’ve finished these two books with rather radically different views on similar issues. I’m not sure how much I have to say about the different views except to say that I am certainly more comfortable in Morrow’s understanding of the world than Lewis’s, and that Morrow is certainly more respectful of different views than Lewis. Lewis tells a story of a visitor to Hell and Heaven. Though the traveler goes by bus from one realm to another, the mode of his writing is unmistakably Medieval, that of a Medieval dream-vision.
Morrow’s story, on the other hand, is a kind of naval adventure to retrieve and bury the Dead Body of God, which has mysteriously appeared floating in the South Atlantic. Sporting a mad cast of characters, from a ecological-guilt-ridden sea captain, a rabid atheist-feminist and her Rationalist Society friends, some neo-pagans, World War II reenactment actors, Vatican agents, dying angels, the corpse of God, and more.
Now, Lewis’s understanding of the world is astute in its diagnosis of human weakness, of human tenacity in wrongthinking, and in its seriousness. Lewis’s writing is not supposed to be literally true or “realistic”, but his writing is not intended as fantasy in the pejorative sense. I find myself almost admiring his sense of urgency, his desire to help others.
But the problem, as I see it, is that Lewis does not even half so tenaciously interrogate the authoritativeness of his own beliefs, the understanding of God and Heaven and Hell that he received upon his conversion. He is quite prepared to cast his faith in with a deity whose love cannot conquer human frailty, and whose love somehow coexists with demands that are Herculean for most living souls, souls which he supposedly designed; he is willing to demand human faith in something that even he admits is incomprehensible to humans. And worse yet, in the face of skepticism, he abjures readers to become once again like children, to ask questions to seek “truth” instead of further discussion. How he thinks asking questions in the mortal world can lead to any kind of absolute “truth”, however, is only circularly supported: it’s supported by his faith, and it is the basis of his faith.
Morrow, on the other hand, despite being an atheist, depicts a God more sane, sensible, and compassionate and more loving than anything you see in Lewis’s writing. Morrow, of course, is a satirist, and undoubtedly he’s attacking, if nothing else, the notions of those like Lewis, who sell the idea of an authoritarian male deity who can be (even if only effusively) described authoritatively by human institutions. His is the first book about the monotheistic God of the West that has surprised me, that has asked questions about whether we do or don’t need Godand all I can take from his conclusions is that we don’t, but for now, at least, as a species we seem to think we do, and may well need the Idea of God.
While there are more books by both of these authors that I am looking forward to reading, I’m far more excited to read more of Morrow, especially the next two books of The Godhead Trilogy, of which Towing Jehovah is only the first book.
But for now, I’m off theological investigationsuntil I can get my hands on some Swedenborg, whose ramblings may come in useful for my ghost storyand I’m going to get gobble up some SF, and maybe a book of history or something…