Marilynne Robinson on writing about faith

This is very much worth reading, saving, thinking and talking about. The following, for obvious reasons, are two excerpts that directly spoke to me, but I expect that the whole thing is going to churn around in my head for quite some time.

From her reply to a question about the language of faith as a source for writing:

We have anxiety about differences. We are different, anyway, so we might as well calm down about it. But one of the things that we have to do is understand that within the system that is anyone’s difference is incredibly enabling.


Her reply to a question about why there are so few good authors who write about faith:

Religion has been associated with narrow denominationalism, where people think if you explore religion in the language that your own tradition makes available to you, that you are making some assertion about the superiority of your tradition over the one next door. But there’s no reason to think that. We simply have different vocabularies that come out of different traditions. Anyone can explore the brilliance of their received vocabulary.


7 thoughts on “Marilynne Robinson on writing about faith”

  1. My favorite lines: “It’s too exhausting and demanding to write; I would never write about anything I didn’t really want to write about. So my imagination goes to where it basically lives.”

    I think one reason relatively few writers write about religious faith is because many of them are not faithholders, and do not feel comfortable trying to represent something that is outside the realm of their own sympathies — like white writers who are reluctant to write about blacks, or straights who are shy in writing about gays. I don’t think they ought to be, so long as they’re willing to put the imaginative effort into figuring out what faith means to those who have it, rather than settle for a caricature (such as, for example, Tony Kushner does about Mormons).

    As for those of us who do have faith… I think the biggest fear among Mormons that keeps us from writing about our religion is the fear that we won’t do a good enough job; that people won’t think as well of our religion as we do because of our writing.

  2. I don’t know, I think many writers have faith in something-it may not be religious, but it might be spiritual. The biggest reason I have trouble writing about my faith is being comfortable exploring the nebulous areas-the gray areas where I doubt. I don’t feel especially comfortable being exposed like that in a religious tradition that isn’t comfortable with the concept of doubt.

  3. I write about people of faith even I sometimes stress about the way I’m portraying the church, which then leads me to remember I’m not trusting the reader to discern that I’m NOT writing about the church. And above all I try to trust the reader.

    I’m writing about imperfect people of faith practicing their faith imperfectly. As we all do. My most devout character breaks the Sabbath from March to October.

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