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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Geniuses for Jesus

Some would have us believe that religion and science are incompatible, but as the late evolutionary biologist Steven J. Gould (who was, at best, an agnostic) once remarked (Scientific American, 1992):
To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time. . . science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists. . . Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism, thus proving that the two great realms of nature’s factuality and the source of human morality do not strongly overlap.  
While Gould isn't the final word on the matter, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that science and religion are not incompatible. Take, for instance, James Henry Leuba's 1914 survey of scientists, which some mistakenly point to as evidence of their incompatibility. Leuba asked a large sample of scientists: "Select one of the following statements about belief in God"
  1. I believe in a God to whom one may pray in the expectation of receiving an answer. By “answer,” I mean more than the subjective, psychological effect of prayer.
  2. I do not believe in God as defined above.
  3. I have no definite belief regarding this question.
42% of the scientists chose the first option, which is remarkable considering it's a highly restrictive definition of belief. In fact, most mainline Protestant pastors probably couldn't affirm it. Less restrictive definitions can be found on more standard surveys, such as the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey, which asked the following question: "Which one statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about God?"
  1. I have no doubts that God exists
  2. I believe in God, but with some doubts
  3. I sometimes believe in God
  4. I believe in a higher power or cosmic force
  5. I don't know and there is no way to find out
  6. I am an atheist
  7. I have no opinion
It's likely that if Leuba had phrased the question like this, the percentage of scientists who affirmed a belief in God or a higher power (whether with some doubts or not) would have been higher. Perhaps more interesting is that when Leuba's survey was repeated in 1996, 40% of scientists chose Leuba's first option, a statistically insignificant change from the first survey more than 50 years before. So much for the inevitable march of secularization...

Similarly, increased levels of education don't seem to damper church attendance rates, at least not in the United States. As the table below indicates, people who didn't graduate from high school are more likely than any other group to report that they don't attend church at all, and their rate of non-attendance is only slightly higher than those with only have a high school or junior college degree. Just as striking is the group that is most likely to report weekly attendance: those with a four-year college degree (those with junior college or graduate degrees are right behind):


If we use these data to predict average days of attendance per year (see the graph below) there is a slight but clear increase as one moves up in terms of level of degree earned. In other words, on average people who have earned a graduate degree report that they attend church at higher rates than do those without a high school degree.


But I digress. Sociologists of religion have known about this relationship between education and religion for decades although for some reason, it has not filtered out to the larger population. My intention in this (extended) post is not to reiterate known facts but to provide a series of brief biographies of "geniuses" who are/were also Christians. Some are scientists (e.g., Steven Barr, Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne), some are philosophers (e.g., René Girard, Alasdair MacIntyre, Gabriel Marcel, Charles Taylor), some are writers (e.g., Maya Angelou, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Day, Marilynne Robinson, Dorothy Sayers, John Updike), and some are hard to classify (e.g., Jaques Ellul, C.S. Lewis, John Sexton, J.R.R. Tolkien). Most are Roman Catholics, which is somewhat surprising given the disdain that many intellectuals have for the Catholic Church. This, of course, isn't a random sample, so I may have a bias toward Catholics although I'm not one myself. And there are some notable folks I could've included but didn't (e.g., Alastair McGrath, Peter Berger, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Søren Kierkegaard, Cornell West), and I purposely left professional theologians out since they might be seen as "biased." Of course, although this post focuses on intellectuals who are Christians, one could just as easily write about intellectuals who are affiliated with other faiths (e.g, the philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas). But, I'll let someone else take up that task.

Note: Information on the geniuses was gleaned from numerous sources, such as Wikipedia, news reports, websites about the individuals, etc. They appear in alphabetical order.

Maya Angelou (Baptist)—Angelou is probably best known for her series of autobiographies, the first of which, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells about her life up to the age of 17. She became a poet and writer after holding a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, prostitute, nightclub performer, and coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was active in the Civil Rights movement and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. From 1982 onward she taught at Wake Forest where she held the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. She taught a variety of subjects, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing. In 1993 she recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" (1993) at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, becoming the first poet to give an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost gave one at President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. Angelou used the same "writing ritual" for many years. She'd wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards, Roget's Thesaurus, and the Bible. She averaged 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she would edit down to three or four in the evening. Angelou was a member of both Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem (for over 30 years) and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. Both held services after she passed away in May 2014.

Stephen M. Barr (Roman Catholic)Stephen Barr is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware, and a member of its Bartol Research Institute. He does research in theoretical particle physics and cosmology and in 2011 was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, the world's second largest organization of physicists. Barr obtained his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University in 1978. He went on to do research at the University of Pennsylvania as a post-doctoral fellow (1978–80), the University of Washington as a Research Assistant Professor (1980-85), and Brookhaven National Laboratory as an Associate Scientist (1985-87), before landing at the University of Delaware in 1987. Barr is a Roman Catholic and writes about religion and science. He is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, and he serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the religious journal, First Things, in which many of his articles have appeared. In 2007, he was awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Benedict XVI, and in 2010 he was elected a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology.

Francis S. Collins (Evangelical)Collins is an American physician/geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is currently the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at Yale in 1974 and then enrolled in medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated in 1977. He became known as a gene hunter when working at the University of Michigan, which led him to be to be appointed the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. Collins's parents were, at best, nominal Christians, and by graduate school he considered himself an atheist. Dealing with his dying parents, however, led him to investigate various faiths, and C.S. Lewis's book, Mere Christianity, played an instrumental role in becoming a Christian. H has written several books on science, medicine, and spirituality, including the bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Dorothy Day (Roman Catholic)Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist, who after living something of a bohemian life in New York, converted to Catholicism and helped give birth to the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. Her parents were nominal Christians who rarely attended church, but as a young child she displayed a religious streak, reading the Bible frequently. When she was ten she started to attend an Episcopal church, after her brothers join the church choir. She eventually was baptized and confirmed in that church. She quickly drifted away from the faith, however, and she soon described herself as an anarchist and a socialist. She worked for several Socialist publications and wrote in support of women's rights, free love, and birth control. She had long love affair with Mike Gold, who later became a prominent Communist, and in the early 1920s, after the end of a love affair that resulted in an abortion, she was married in a civil ceremony to Berkeley Tobey. The marriage evidently didn't take because she soon became involved with Forster Batterham, but their relationship became strained when Day became increasingly interested in Roman Catholicism. Soon after the birth of their daughter Tamar Teresa, she had their baby baptized in July 1927, but Batterham refused to attend the ceremony. And after one last fight in late December, Day was baptized into the Catholic Church.

Jaques Ellul (Reformed)Ellul was trained as a sociologist although many consider him a philosopher. He was a professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the faculty of Law and Economic sciences at the University of Bordeaux. He authored 58 books and more than a thousand articles. Many of these focused on the threat to human freedom and religion created by modern technology. Ellul was educated at the universities of Bordeaux and Paris, and during World War II he was a leader in the French resistance. For his efforts to save Jews he was awarded the title, "Righteous among the Nations," by Yad Vashem in 2001. He converted to Christianity when he was about 20. According to Ellul, a few years before, while translating Faust, Ellul knew he was in the presence of a something so astounding and overwhelming that he jumped on a bike and fled, eventually concluding that he had been in the presence of God. This kick started a conversion process that continued over the next few years. Ellul was heavily influenced by the work of three people: Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, and Karl Barth. Marx and Kierkegaard were the only two authors of which he read all of their work, and he considered Barth the greatest theologian of the 20th century. Ellul was active in the worldwide ecumenical movement although he later criticized it for its often uncritical endorsements of leftist positions. He was, however, also critical of those on the right, and he staked out an explicitly anti-political stance as an alternative to both. Ellul is also credited with coining the phrase, "Think globally, act locally."

René Girard (Roman Catholic)Girard was born on December 25, 1923, in Avignon, France. He studied in Paris’s École Nationale des Chartes and specialized in Medieval studies. In 1947, he emigrated to America and earned a doctorate at the University of Indiana. He remained in America and taught at several different institutions, including Indiana University, State University of New York in Buffalo, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Bryn Mawr, and Stanford until his retirement in 1995. During the beginning of his career as lecturer, Girard was assigned to teach courses on European literature. As he read the great European novels in preparation for the course, he became especially engaged with the work of five novelists in particular: Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky and Proust. His first book, Mensonge Romantique et Vérité Romanesque (Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure) (1961), is a literary comment on the works of these great novelists. Until that time, Girard was a self-declared agnostic. As he researched the religious conversions of some of Dostoyevsky’s characters, he converted to Christianity and ever since has been a committed and practicing Roman Catholic. However, his Christian views were not publicly expressed until the publication of Des Choses Cachées Depuis la Fondation du Monde (Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World) (1978), widely considered to be his greatest work. In 2005, Girard was elected to the Académie Française, one of the highest distinctions that French intellectuals can attain.

C. S. Lewis (Anglican)As an undergraduate student at Oxford University Lewis won an unprecedented triple first, that is, the highest honors in three areas of study: Greek and Latin literature in 1920, Philosophy and Ancient History in 1922, and English in 1923. He was then elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he worked for nearly thirty years until 1954 when he was awarded the newly founded chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and elected a fellow of Magdalene College. As a scholar he concentrated on the later Middle Ages, but he is probably best known for his Christian apologetics (e.g., Mere Christianity) and the Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland (Anglican), but he became an atheist at 15, describing himself as being "very angry with God for not existing." He slowly re-embraced Christianity, influenced largely by arguments with his colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien (see below) and the book, The Everlasting Man, by G. K. Chesterton. He first converted to theism in 1929 and then to Christianity in 1931, following a late-night discussion with Tolkien and another friend. He became a member of the Church of England, much to the disappointment of Tolkien, who had hoped he would become a Roman Catholic. Lewis is commemorated on the 22nd of November in the Episcopal Church's church calendar, which marks the day he died in 1963 (the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated). On the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis was honored with a memorial in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Alasdair MacIntyre (Roman Catholic)MacIntyre is a Scottish philosopher known primarily for his moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology. He was educated at Queen Mary College, London, and has Master of Arts degrees from the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford. He began teaching in 1951 in the UK and then moved to the US in 1970. He has taught at numerous universities, including University of Manchester, Oxford, Vanderbilt, and Notre Dame. He was a relatively well-known Marxist philosopher for years until his "conversion" to Aristotelean ethics, which he articulated in his most famous book, After Virtue. Shortly thereafter he converted to Roman Catholicism after he became a fan of Thomas Aquinas. His conversion to Aristotelian ethics and the Roman Catholic Church hasn't led him to completely abandon his Marxist leanings, however. He has, for instance attempted to combine historical insights of Marx with those of Aquinas and Aristotle, and he does nothing to hide his contempt for liberal capitalism, which he believes dominates the world both in the realm of ideas and in its manifestations in political and social institutions. Thus, although he is in many ways a traditional Catholic, his politics often leans to the left.

Gabriel Marcel (Roman Catholic)Gabriel Honoré Marcel was born in Paris in 1889 and is remembered as a philosopher, playwright, music critic, and Christian existentialist. He authored over a dozen books and at least thirty plays, but he is best known for his two-volume work, The Mystery of Being (1951), the 1949–50 Gifford Lectures, one of the most prestigious lecture series in the world. Marcel's mother died when he was young, and he was raised by his aunt and father. His father was an agnostic, and Marcel was an atheist until he covered to Roman Catholicism in 1929. Marcel obtained the agrégation in philosophy in 1910 at the age of 21. During the WWI he worked with the Red Cross to convey news of injured soldiers to their families. He then taught in secondary schools, was a drama critic for various literary journals, and worked as an editor for Plon, a major French Catholic publisher. For many years, he hosted a weekly philosophy discussion group through which he met and influenced important younger French philosophers like Jean Wahl (Jew), Paul Ricoeur (Christian), Emmanuel Levinas (Jew), and Jean-Paul Sartre (Marxist). Evidently, Marcel was disappointed that he was known almost entirely for his philosophical works and not on his plays, which he hoped would appeal to a wide lay audience.

Flannery O'Connor (Roman Catholic)—Flannery O'Connor was an American writer and essayist, who wrote two novels—Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960)—and 32 short stories, some of which are collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). Her posthumously published collection of short stories, The Complete Stories, won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. O'Connor was born in 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, and her writing reflects her Southern roots. In 1945 she graduated with a degree in social sciences from Georgia State College for Women (Georgia College & State University), in an accelerated three-year program. In 1946, she was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa where she got to know a number of important writers and critics who lectured or taught in the program, including Andrew Lytle, who was the editor of the Sewanee Review in which he published several of her short stories. In 1951, she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, the same disease her father died of. She was only expected to live 5 more years but lasted 14, dying at the far too young age of 39. O'Connor was a devout Roman Catholic. She collected books on Catholic theology and gave lectures on faith and literature, sometimes traveling quite distances in spite of her poor health. In 2013 her prayer journal ("A Prayer Journal"), which she kept while in Iowa and was just recently discovered among her papers, was published to rave reviews.

John Polkinghorne (Anglican)The Rev. Dr. John Charlton Polkinghorne is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest. A prominent and leading voice explaining the relationship between science and religion, he was professor of Mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1979. For 25 years, he worked on theories about elementary particles, played a role in the discovery of the quark, and researched the analytic and high-energy properties of Feynman integrals, and the foundations of S-Matrix theory (whatever that is). He also spent time at Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, and at CERN in Geneva, and in 1974 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, which is the oldest an probably the most prestigious society for science in the world. In 1979 he resigned his chair in order to study for the priesthood, and in 1982 he was ordained an Anglican priest. He is the author of several book on physics and theology (e.g., Belief in God in an Age of Science), the latter of which tend to focus on the relationship between science and religion. He delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1993-94, he was knighted in 1997, and in 2002 he was awarded the Templeton Prize, which is something of the Nobel Prize for religion; it is awarded to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension."

Marilynne Robinson (Congregationalist)Marilynne Robinson was born in 1943 and is an American novelist and essayist. She has received several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2012 National Humanities Medal. She was born and grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, and earned her undergraduate degree in 1966 (magna cum laude) at Pembroke College, the former women's college at Brown University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington in 1977. Robinson has written three highly acclaimed novels: Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008), and Lila (2014). Housekeeping was a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (US), Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer, and Home received the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (UK). Lila, which was just released this year, has received excellent review. Home and Lila are companions to Gilead and focus on different aspects of the family of a Congregationalist minister. Robinson grew up in the Presbyterian church but later became a Congregationalist, worshipping and sometimes preaching at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City. Her Congregationalism, and her interest in the Protestant Reformer John Calvin, have influenced her writing. In an interview with the Church Times in 2012, Robinson said: "I think, if people actually read Calvin, rather than read Max Weber, he would be rebranded. He is a very respectable thinker."

Dorothy Sayers (Anglican)Although she was a poet, playwright, essayist, translator (e.g., Dante's, The Divine Comedy), and worked in advertising (she is credited with coining the phrase, "it pays to advertise"), she is best known for her mystery novels featuring the Lord Peter Wimsey, which are still in print and continue to remain popular; in fact, several have been turned into BBC and PBS movies. Sayers also wrote several essays and plays on the Christian faith, including Creed or Chaos? (1940), The Mind of the Maker (1941), and The Man Born to be King (1942). In fact, her religious works presented the orthodox Anglican theological position so well that, in 1943, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a Lambeth doctorate in divinity, but she declined. Although not a member of the Inklings, she was good friends with many of them, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. Sayers was born in 1893 at the Head Master's House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where her father was chaplain and headmaster of the Choir School. When she was six, her father began teaching her Latin, and in 1912 she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where she studied modern languages and medieval literature and finished with first-class honors. At the time women Oxford did not award women degrees, in 1920 when the policy changed, Sayers became one of the first women to receive a degree (Master of Arts) from Oxford.

John Sexton (Roman Catholic)—John Sexton is New York University's (NYU) 15th President. He joined the University's Law School in 1981, was named the Dean of NYU's Law School in 1988, and became NYU's president in 2001. While he was the Law School's Dean (1988-2002), it was named one of the top 5 law schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, since he has taken over as the school's President, NYU has been named the “number one dream school” four times by The Princeton Review. And in November 2009, Time Magazine named Sexton one of the 10 Best College Presidents. Sexton earned a B.A. in History in 1963 from Fordham College; an M.A. in Comparative Religion in 1965 and a Ph.D. in History of American Religion in 1978 from Fordham University; and a J.D. (magna cum laude) in 1979 from Harvard Law School. Unlike a lot of university presidents, he continues to teach a full course-load, including the exceedingly popular (and hard to get into) class, "Baseball as a Road to God," which was featured on Bill Moyers Journal and was later turned into a book of the same name. The class had its genesis in a crack about baseball that a student made to Sexton several years ago:
I hear you're a big baseball fan. I think the sport is silly and I don't understand why anybody would waste time on it. 
To which Sexton replied,
You are among the unwashed...   
If you will read twelve books that I choose next semester, I will direct you in an independent study at the end of which you will realize that baseball is a road to God.
And the rest, as they say, is history ("Baseball as a Road to God").

Charles Taylor (Roman Catholic)—Taylor is a Canadian philosopher who has been awarded the Kyoto Prize (arts and philosophy category), which is Japan’s highest private award for global achievement, and the Templeton Prize, which is is awarded to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." He also delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1998-99 (and again in 2008-09), which became the basis of three books: Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited; Modern Social Imaginaries; and A Secular Age. Many people (e.g., Robert Bellah) believe the latter is already one of the most important books ever written on social and philosophical theory. Taylor earned his undergraduate degree at McGill University (B.A. in History in 1952) and then studied at Oxford, first as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College in 1955 (B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics), and then as a post-graduate (D.Phil. in 1961) where he studied under Isaiah Berlin and G. E. M. Anscombe. He was the founder of the Universities and Left Review (predecessor to the New Left Review) and a vice-president of the New Democratic Party. Perhaps his best known student is Michael Sandel, whose "Justice" series (the Harvard class, the PBS series, and the book) turned Sandel into something of an academic rock star and helped raise Taylor's profile outside of the academy.

J. R. R. Tolkien (Roman Catholic)—John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is best known for his books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but he was also a professor of English Literature at Oxford for a number of years. Tolkien's first job after WWI was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked primarily on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter "W." In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest professor there. In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. While at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. As most people know, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and he played a significant factor in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. Tolkien vocally opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party prior to WWII, and he especially despised Nazi racist and anti-Semitic ideology. He retired in 1953 and lived quite comfortably because of the sales of his books. He became something of a cult figure among the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, something with which he wasn't too pleased. He was, after all, a traditional Catholic.

John Updike (Episcopalian)John Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic. He is considered one of the greatest American fiction writers of his generation and is best known for his "Rabbit" novels (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest). He is one of only three authors (Booth Tarkington and William Faulkner were the others) to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction more than once. Updike was also a Christian and theological themes pervaded his books (see e.g., Roger's Version). In fact, at a 2004 talk at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, he told the audience of 300 that his Christian faith had “solidified in ways less important to me than when I was 30, when the existential predicament was realer to me than now. … I worked a lot of it through and arrived at a sort of safe harbor in my life... When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays, I begin to hunger for it and need to be there... It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.” Unlike many of his mainline Protestant contemporaries, Updike apparently wasn't afraid to affirm tenets of the Christian faith, such as Christ's bodily resurrection, which many find embarrassing if not downright intellectually irresponsible:

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

-- "Seven Stanzas at Easter," John Updike (1960)

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