Wandering pilgrim

Literature is a greater rival to religion than science is because both religion and literature seek the same kind of good. Science proposes explanations of the physical world, but literature, in its most persistent form, evokes and then presses hard at deep human dilemmas. Darwin, Einstein and Hawking may set off theoretical fireworks; but the slow burn of Melville, or Chekhov, or Roth is, I suspect, the more profound challenge to the resilience of belief. Where scientists compose an alternative priesthood, writers are fellow pilgrims on labyrinthine paths, aiming, like religious believers, for a kind of transcendence, for mystery, for some hard-won light to relieve human pain. In a context in which both literature and religion have lost whatever assumed moral authority they once had, visionary literature—art for our sake—is something like what religion might be if it were forced to start from scratch without a Redeemer.


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