Midway through this brief examination of the nature of faith and his somewhat confusing personal statement of belief, David Adams Richards writes the following.
“I believe that all of us, even those who are atheists, seek God - or at the very least not one of us would be unhappy if God appeared and told us that the universe was actually his creation. Oh, we might put Him on trial for making it so hard, and get angry at Him too, but we would be very happy that He is here.
“Well, he is.”
After several years of Dawkins and Hitchins and God knows who else, it was, I suppose, inevitable that people would start reacting to their strident anti-religion messages and argue the other way.
I don’t mean theologians, who are arguing this sort of thing all the time and, in fact, often chop logic to microcosmic bits, but ordinary people who simply have become fed up with being told that they are stupid, deluded and socially conditioned to accept a fantasy.
Thus we have a book by David Adams Richards, a Canadian novelist who has, by all accounts especially his own, lived a very rough life and spent years being the very antithesis of a “good person”.
Cursed from birth with a partially paralyzed left side, doomed to all the taunts that malformed children must endure, raised in a culture that held his chosen field of work in some disdain, predisposed to heavy drinking, Adams nevertheless maintains that he has always been aware of the presence of God, even when he didn’t really want to be.
This is not a work of Christian theology then.
“It is not a book about one faith or one church - though I mention more than others my own church, which I fell away from and have struggled to come back to - an ongoing struggle, I assure you.”
This is not an elegantly reasoned book. It rambles in the way of Richards’ fiction and substitutes little narratives for logic, much as the parables of the Gospels did.
Richards, who is a year older than this reviewer, grew up in a world which paid lip service to religion on the one hand, and was fashionably ready to proclaim that God was dead on the other. He admits that he succumbed to the latter doctrine during his university days. But eventually he came to realize that it was simply another doctrine, as self-indulgent as John Lennon’s beloved “Imagine” in which the former Beatle begins by singing the praises of having nothing to believe in, fight or die for, and then invites everyone to join him in what can only be a new faith, in which the world lives as one.
Richards rambles though his own life story, including the epiphany and interventions that finally stopped his destructive drinking in his 30s. He investigates the lives of Stalin and Napoleon and discusses the nature of the ultimate evil, This is, he says, murder, which takes many forms up to and including the actual taking of life.
He looks at the works of great writers that he admires and finds that much literature, even that which would claim otherwise, really deals with the nature of humanity’s struggle with notions of the divine.
“Do I believe in God? Far more now than when I was 20, far more than when I was 35, and I hope not as much as when I am 70.”
As for the problem of a good God allowing evil in the world, he dismisses the argument on which journalist Gordon Sinclair built his own crusty rejection of God.
“Have you done serious wrong?” someone might ask him.
“I have done serious wrong many times - but God I’m afraid, had nothing to do with it.”
The closest Richards comes to a statement of faith is probably in this passage in the final chapter (there are only three) of the book.
“’Peace which passes all understanding’ is what faith actually is. It is nothing less than a complete transcending of earth, of geopolitical concerns. That does not make us comfortable, nor can we always achieve this. Yet it is a transcendence of murder and horror, not a participating in it. It is a transcendence of what is not living or life-affirming towards what is. That is all.”
Unless we have the faith that we can do so, he writes, we will never be able to solve all the many moral, ethical and practical issues which bedevil us.
“Because goodness, simplicity and truth can be had and maintained - and maintained is the word - through one condition only, and that is faith.”