A STUDY IN THE BINARY, IRRECONCILABLE OPPOSITES THAT ARE CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE
A study of the binary, irreconcilable opposites that are Modern Literature and Christianity
There is no absolute, no “truth”, no centre in modern-day literature and co-incidentally, the absolute certainty of these elements form the crux of Christianity. So many writers and literary theorists have dabbled or rather grappled with these concepts and have come up with less than satisfying answers and observances.
How did literature, the same medium that was used to pen magnum opuses and classics like Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, Hound of Heaven, Ballad for Gloom to cite a few of my favourite spiritually life-affirming works turn into a tool that justifies deviancy, depravity and creates a moral vacuum that has permeated every sphere of existence? Where did it all go south? What was the causal link? I suppose these are all questions for the ages. But this brings us to the greatest question of this particular age. To be or not to be.
A man cannot serve two masters. Either, you choose to be a scholar or you choose to be a Christian. Either you choose to be “intelligent”, critical, unbiased, sophisticated, complex, open and ready OR you choose to be a Christian. “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions”-Emerson.
And in the context that I am talking about, this idea, the idea of the all-pervading, superior and carefully engineered and transcendental intellect is like a flood-gate that ushers in hitherto novel, undiscovered conceptions but once this gate is opened, it washes over you. And once the original surge, the inflation of pride at the knowledge that knowledge brings has passed, one is left with a sufficiently battered flood-gate and broken confines. One does not know how to confine oneself or control oneself. This idea is the forbidden fruit of the 21st century but what makes it more insidious and fearsome is that you do not realize that it is so unless you taste of it. One taste damns you incontrovertibly.
And before you, in stark clarity, is the ultimate question, the ultimate decision. Do you go forward or not? Going forward in this knowledge will cost dearly if you have Christian roots. Life will become a process of erosion, of unlearning or expanding until there is only emptiness and a gaping void left inside of you. But going forward will illumine you. The cost is right before you, so is your self-acknowledged chief end. Do you choose, do you cast the die or do you deny it as long as you possibly can? And here lies the irony. If you go forward, you conform yet at the same time, you refuse to conform forever.
But for those of us still engaged in the precious, precarious act of balancing, life will, must become a daily struggle. You ready yourself to accept an amusing mixture of audacious denial and absolute conformation. You begin to lead a dual life. You grow up, in simple terms. You draw the line between the private and the professional and this is the most preposterous state to be in. You exist in order to live and believe the antithesis. But consider the question carefully, weigh your options judiciously before you decide to sojourn in this grey area. This is also the most dangerous place to be in.
The scholarly Christian who chooses to explore this area might end up a permanent resident and find that he keeps on gaining knowledge until only the scholar is left behind. In Lewis Caroll’s Great Divorce, we find a narrator who “… inexplicably finds himself in a grim and joyless city, the "grey town", which is either Hell or Purgatory depending on how long one stays there. He eventually finds a bus for those who desire an excursion to some other place (and which eventually turns out to be the foothills of Heaven). He enters the bus and converses with his fellow passengers as they travel. When the bus reaches its destination, the passengers on the bus — including the narrator — are gradually revealed to be ghosts. Although the country is the most beautiful they have ever seen, every feature of the landscape (including streams of water and blades of grass) is unyieldingly solid compared to themselves: it causes them immense pain to walk on the grass, and even a single leaf is far too heavy for any to lift.”(Wikipedia) But as one keeps on journeying, they finally attain more weight and all the objects around them become lighter and they realize they are journeying heavenward. But those inconvenienced by the first trial decide to stay back in this Grey Town forever and end up regressing, journeying back to the eternal, infernal gates of Hell. It is this book I am alluding to when I try to describe the Christian scholar or the scholarly Christian. Jerry Pinto, winner of the Hindustani literary award says that writers are discoverers and not creators. And most writers opine the same way. Northrop Frye’s idea of the archetype, myth in action all wind their way around the same tracks. Here I am using the words of the some of the greatest antagonists of actual faith(believing without seeing) to substantiate my own ideas and one sees how easy it is to twist facts to suit arguments instead of the other way round.
Though I would like to expound at great length on this area, I realize that I am not fully prepared to do so since I am still in the process of understanding this better myself. I hope however, I have been able to shed some light on an area that many must have tread before. This dilemma, this notion of the grave unknown; it fills me with an unnamed dread and in the words of the man responsible for the end of life as we knew it a cold shudder passes through me. “Often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may have not devoted myself to a fantasy”-Darwin. We might probably know better when the curtain unfolds, at the final denouement but until then, we are posed with one of the most seemingly trifling but also the most riveting, confounding and chilling moral, ethical and religious question that ever confronted the modern, “evolved” man of letters.