A chronicle of elegant wrestlings. Richard Harries takes a series of often lively and impassioned glances at the presence, or telling lack, of faith in some of the great writers of the past century.
Taking its title from a description of absurdist playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, there are literary treasures to be found in Haunted By Christ, as well as some genuinely thoughtful theological reflections. But interjections and parentheses are kept to a minimum. Aside from channelling a deep love of the writers covered, as well as occasionally questioning how some have received their words, Richard Harries lets the works of the writers speak for themselves. This is not a memoir of writers whose publications have moved Harries, though I don’t doubt that such a book could easily occur. Rather, it presents their struggles with doubt, spiritual homelessness, disaffection, domineering Christian establishments, doctrine and mysticism in the ways only truly gifted writers can.
Covering the vast ground from Dostoevsky's working-out of higher order through novels like The Brothers Karamazov to the leading writers of today, the choice of authors in Haunted by Christ show the growth of cultural movements in (mostly) Western society, and how with each cultural shift the approaches and wrestlings with faith changed also. And this, for me anyway, is where Haunted by Christ’s strength lies. In the wider narrative. Trying to cover twenty different writers, as well as their lives, works and struggles with faith in a single book is ambitious at best. Some writers inevitably get a bigger slice of the pie. As Richard Harries’ enthusiasm for each never wanes, I was unfortunately left wanting a little more. Each chapter boasted a sparkling intelligence and a passion that comes from having a mind-forged in the pages of fiction and poetry at a young age.
But, as mentioned, Haunted By Christ isn’t so much about individual writers as it is a chronicle of the way Literature has grown and changed in its understanding of, and wrestling with, Christianity. Starting with writers who grappled with the concept of a God who permits suffering, to the depictions of a culture growing increasingly disaffected with grand narratives and higher meanings, via trips into absurdism, spiritual-but-not-religiousness, hostile reactions to cultural Christianity, and the lasting weight of Catholicism’s demands - there is sketched a growing story of the ways culture and faith have taken tentative steps apart. But there is also a light shone on the authors working to bring the two together again without sacrificing literary merit not religious conviction.
Lively and essential for Christians with a love of the literary, Haunted by Christ articulates struggles for and against faith that take place in literature. The book also lays a rather daunting challenge for Christian writers today. That what makes good literature about faith is not a dogmatic adhesion to preserving a personal or cultural idea of Christianity, nor is it using the medium of fiction to espouse or communicate a preconceived message. Fiction is a place of working out truths, and not of hammering readers with messages. The writers examined in Haunted by Christ all had their problems, their pain and fears and disillusions. But they also approach Christianity with a naked honesty that is startling at times, and deeply challenging. Their words illuminate because they also want to see the light.
Haunted by Christ by Richard Harries is available to order today.
September 29th, 2018 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon