My religious life slowly evaporated after repeated Saturday night visits to mass as a child. There is no “right time” to drag an angsty teen to listen to sermons, singing and highlights from Ezekiel—Sunday mornings would be twice as heinous as a Saturday night after a week spent slogging through school and its time-bending boredoms. So when I left to make my fortune in the Big Town university, I wasn’t prepared for how fast and fatally I would fall into godless despair and need something kind and beardy to cling to. Blaming my brutal shyness on an unforgiving universe absent of kind beardy deities, I turned instead to Dostoevsky (successfully), Camus (less successfully), and Nietzsche (pointlessly).
Dostoevsky’s tormented narrators and characters were a perfect fit for my own bleeding soul, especially the Underground Man, whose melodramatic rants and lacerating self-hacking laments chimed with my own outlook on the world. To cope, I adopted the aloof attitude of Mersault from Camus’s The Outsider, and wrote screeds of brutal prose by night, including a whole novel of howling woe called Don’t Tread on Me (I still have the tear-soaked MS in a folder whenever I want a chuckle). I had phased out Our Lord entirely until my final year, when hiccups of hope began hopping up my throat.
What I sought was not the worship and belief (I simply have no faith at all in God or Jesus), but for the transcendent love and kindness to other humans to work its way into my system of undying cynicism and loathing for human stupidity. I was after a form of “drive-by” belief, as if by rubbing myself up against church walls I could absorb some of that celestial essence and find myself less poisoned by bitterness and snarky detachment. Eventually I read the novels of Dickens, and was struck by the holy transcendence of his characters, and his attitude towards them, and the perfectly beautiful religious ecosystem in evidence. My own flickering spark of religious whatevs returned with attendant warmth.
But how does belief impact on one’s writing? Nowadaze, the standard position from young authors is smug detachment and a know-and-above-it-all attitude towards religious matters, and an assumption the reader starts out from a position of atheistical superiority (or, at least, this is one of the prevailing positions). So I if were to toddle back into the arms of a kind and beardy being and sat down to write my characters, would my writing take on a fresh new compassion, or would it lapse into sermonising banality? The point being: a positive move for the writer is not necessarily the best move for the art. My opinion is that it doesn’t matter: skilled writers won’t lapse into the same religiosity that plagued Tolstoy in his final years, they will find a way for their beliefs and work to cohabitate.
So there isn’t an actual point to this post as such, except to doff my yarmulke to God-lovers everywhere and say keep it up, on the QT, and watch this face for conversion experiences.