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489 “There is no god and we are his prophets”: Cormac McCarthy and Christian Faith Matthew L. Potts Christianity and Literature Vol. 63, No. 4 (Summer 2014) I worry that crucial and important imprecision recurs throughout Paul Elie’s essay, “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?” Elie takes for granted that Christian faith, Christian belief, and Christian character easily and appropriately elide into one another, and his argument moves among these diverse and complex concepts without much anxiety. Indeed, although his essay takes faith as its titular topic, within a few paragraphs Elie has named a listless sort of belief as the true object of his complaint, writing that Christian belief functions in American literature as “something between a dead language and a hangover.” After surveying several examples of an evacuated and deracinated Christian dogma in American fiction, Elie advances towards his final—and perhaps central—concern: that American fiction lacks convincing and convicted Christian characters. Indeed, it’s not that belief is entirely ignored by American authors, it’s that American authors fail to render convinced Christian characters convincingly.1 Belief “as upbringing, belief as social fact, belief as a species of American weirdness: our literary fiction has all of these things. All that is missing is the believer.” Elie laments that, although many of these characters are lovingly developed, although he has “been to church with these characters, [has] stood at font and graveside with them,” nonetheless he doesn’t know “what they believe or how they came to believe it.” And for Elie this is a problem. (Nevermind that in my own experience of standing at actual font and graveside with Christian folks, I’ve rarely—if ever—learned from them what Elie says he’s missing.) What he appears to want most of all are close descriptions and expanded explorations of how Christian characters make sense of their worlds. He wants more than Christian characters who wander only warily past font or grave. He wants convinced Christian characters who will also articulate their own convictions convincingly, who will stand at font and grave with reasons why and tell you so. 490 Christianity and Literature For a theologian and reader of contemporary fiction like myself, there are several concerns that arise on this account. First of all, the easy equation of belief with faith seems problematic at best, and not just for contemporary American readers. At least as early as the Reformation, Christian theologians (most notably John Calvin and Martin Luther) have sought to emphasize the nature of the New Testament pistis as more akin to trust or fidelity than cognitive assent or discursive justification. The subtleties of this understanding have been investigated in interesting ways among contemporary scholars of Paul the apostle too, not to mention in both scholarly and popular works of theology.2 And although Elie’s easy elision of doctrinal embrace with faithful trust opens one path of inquiry into this essay, that way is complicated in fascinating ways by Elie’s instinctive incorporation of the additional concept of character. Elie longs for a fiction “writer who can dramatize belief the way it feels in your experience, at once a fact on the ground and a sponsor of the uncanny, an account of our predicament that still and all has the power to persuade.” In this paper, I will propose Cormac McCarthy as just such a writer, and The Road as just the sort of novel Paul Elie should attend to. To be sure, McCarthy will not truck much with doctrinal content, and this to Elie’s likely chagrin. Indeed, in The Road “the sacred idiom [is] shorn of its referents and so of its reality” (88). I would not therefore claim somehow to have baptized McCarthy as a “Christian” writer by any means. It may be that McCarthy’s severe aversion to doctrine precludes any such classification. Doctrine fails spectacularly in The Road. Meaning as an intellectual endeavor has been almost entirely abandoned. In this way, McCarthy likely only exacerbates Elie’s concern. Nonetheless, a form of faith remains in The Road, a faith that dramatizes the way belief—or the struggle with it—feels in our experience, a faith that sponsors the...


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