So, I have returned from a walking holiday and we have a new pope. I say ‘we.’ I am a lapsed Catholic (a long and difficult process with a few set-backs along the way). That is not to say I am not interested in religion. As Counting Crows so aptly put it:
‘Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
I want to be someone who believes.’
Or, if you prefer Karen Armstrong’s version, ‘In the beginning, man invented God.’
And yet an exploration of belief was not what I set out to achieve when writing These Fragile Things. It was, at least in part, a reaction to the aggressive atheism of Richard Dawkins, who I found blatantly disrespectful when interviewing people about their faith (at the same time as accepting their hospitality). You might argue that people should know enough about their religion to be able to enter into intellectual discussion at the dinner table, but faith isn’t like that. For some it is deeply buried, deeply personal, the essence of who they are.
I hope that I have been able to faithfully represent the concept of the miraculous (both the everyday and the extraordinary), envy for those who have faith, the particular role that faith plays in times of personal loss, how a belief system can make suffering seem worthwhile and how religion can divide, albeit on a very small-scale.
A few years ago when I told my father that I had started to write, he asked me what I was writing about. I must have been in a deliberately provocative mood, because I answered, “Sex and religion.” He retorted, “What do you know about either of those things?”
If he asks me again, I like to think I will have the confidence to say, “This is the novel I have been researching my entire life.”
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