Where is everyone today? At church?
Whenever I see conversations about recent books like The God Delusion or god is not Great, I always notice that someone has to point out that these books are preaching to the choir.
I’d like to make two points in response:
1) Preaching to the choir is not a bad thing. I used to nod when I heard people make comments about preaching to the choir, but I never actually gave it much thought. That it was a waste of time was an assumption I’d adopted somewhere along the way and had never bothered to evaluate. Then I heard the playwrite Tony Kushner speaking about the subject and I completely changed my mind. One simple response is, â€œSometimes the choir needs to be preached to.â€ The choir might need inspiration, the choir might need to be bold and sing more loudly, the choir might need to know it’s OK to be in the choir, the choir members might need to know they are not alone. You get the point.
2) I don’t believe these authors are just preaching to the choir. I’ve seen mention of their books in many places over the last few years, and lately these appearances are cropping up in some very unusual places.
This week I’ve been reading The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative by Thomas Larson. The book is about the way memoir has been coming into its own as a literary genre, with discussions of the various forms of memoir that have been popular in recent decades. All in all, an interesting book only to those who are already interested in reading or writing memoir. What shocked me completely was the conclusion of the book.
“Enlightened thinking by way of personal experience is taking many breathless forms these days,” Larson writes, “and not just in memoir. I have been moved by Sam Haris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2005), a polemical book Harris wrote following a long apprenticeship during which he personally explored Eastern and Western religious traditions.”
Larson goes on to discuss the content of The End of Faith, and paraphrases a few of Haris’s main points, then he makes a few of his own:
Memoir writers believe like Harris and other rational thinkers that there are new means by which we can understand why we have–why we’ve always had–such a prediliction to believe our self-deceptions. The science of mind (neuroscience) and the study of consciousness (psychology) can ground us in this pursuit. Our culture may be moving in a truth-telling mode like memoir, which questions traditions of myth-based literature, in the same way that our society may be moving toward science, which counters traditions of myth-based belief… To waken from superstition–be it religious or literary, cultural or personal–is the goal of human inquiry as well as the memoir’s reason for being.
By ending his own book with this topic, Larson gives it special emphasis in the discussion. I found it both encouraging and hopeful. Reading about neuroscience and cognitive science was a key turning point in my own journey from faith to reason. I’m proud to be a part of this growing choir.