December 10, 2007 Atonement
Atonement is the name of the novel by Ian McGowan. I picked the novel up after seeing the preview for the movie on TV. The commercial reminded me of Damon’s House, so I looked up the book up on the internet. I later got the book from the library.
The book was dark in many ways, but did not match my Gothic tone in Damon’s House. Both books with English Estates and young girls during World War II and both contained love affairs and rapes. Atonement does not address the themes of haunting, madness and murder though.
“Atonement” in Damon’s House was left for another life time. The novel by Ian McEwan explores the idea of guilt and forgiveness in a subtle way, which ties into the other book I read this week, God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
McEwan tends to dismiss the notion the Briony could truly ever make up for her mistake. Even when given the chance to set things right (to some degree anyway) she fails to do so. We see she is sorry, but that isn’t enough. Atonement is a Christian notion, yet the novel is devoid of any real discussion of religion. You have to interpret the author’s attitude toward God—through his tone and through what is not said. There is no neatly tied up ending, no Happily Ever After. Atonement is not a heavenly matter, but rather and earthly one. There is no hope for relief from the burden the Briony bears. In confusion, jealous, anger and perhaps simply immaturity, Briony makes a huge mistake. She is sympathetic in that she doesn’t intend to hurt anyone. Her weakness is the secular sin and there doesn’t seem to be much faith in forgiveness. No ritual belief in a savior will put together what she tore apart.
God is Not Great is dedicated to the author’s friend Ian McEwan. Although Hitchens and McEwan may not see eye to eye on everything, I would guess that they hold similar views. Hitchen’s premise is that religion poisons everything. His book argues that great atrocities have been committed in the name of Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, God and Jesus. To be fair, Hitchens attacks Hinduism, Buddhism and even Secularism. No belief system is safe from his scathing criticism. The book should have been titled Humans Are Not Great! It is true that no one religion has been able to improve humanity perfectly. Every single belief system is corruptible and easily perverted. People always find a way to use religion for power and pain. Nothing is truly sacred or safe. Hitchens comes to the conclusion that religion is at fault, which I do not agree with.
While Hitchens has many valid points and examples to back up his theory, his theory is still fatally flawed. His book is one long rant about all that is wrong in the world. His call for a new belief system is a weak call. There is no solid outline for what he feels might work. The book is more of a political attack on religion. It lacks in the areas of psychology, philosophy and theology. He doesn’t acknowledge any of the positive aspects for spirituality. Faith and hope make life much better. Life is harsh and full of dark times, but there are moments of life. Happiness does exist. It isn’t an illusion. A sense of something larger often is a part of that happiness. Can you imagine a world without religion? Can you really fathom the repercussions both good and bad?
For better or for worse, Christianity is perhaps the largest and most influential religion on Earth. It is only natural that Christians are resistant to change. Lord or Legend by Boyd and Eddy addresses the recent arguments or developments surrounding the person known as Jesus. I admire that Boyd and Eddy take a very academic and rational approach. The book is logical and well organized. At first it felt unbiased, but then it slides toward Christianity. It is definitely in favor of traditional faith. The authors acknowledge that we don’t know everything about Jesus. In fact, all we really can prove with any certainty is that the biblical figure was based on a real person. For Boyd and Eddy that fact is enough to keep the faith. They are not willing to alter their beliefs, despite the inconsistencies in the gospels. At the end of the book, I was disappointed that they ignored the Gnostic Gospels and dismissed the archeological evidence for the Jesus family tomb.
What do these books mean? Why read them when no one can agree and nothing proves affective at the end of the day? Why study Jesus if he doesn’t offer atonement for our sins? Atonement is about stopping the isolation and reconnecting. Our shame and guilt make us feel alone. It is forgiveness that connects us and makes us feel at-one with the universe. Resurrection, or the belief in it, offers atonement. Believing in Karma, Responsibility, Self-Forgiveness and Righteous Action also offer atonement. Jesus can be an example, not an out.