Why An Atheist Wrote a Novel About Faith

Why An Atheist Wrote a Novel About Faith

I’ve always had a credible nature. I’m not paranoid – consipiracy theories aren’t my thing. And neither am I gullible. If something is bogus I’ll be the first to debunk it. But I’m susceptible to belief in all sorts of things that can neither be proved nor disproved with any certainty: ghosts, ESP, reincarnation, telekinesis, even faeries. (Why not faeries? What’s the harm?) I like the idea that some of these phenomena might exist: indeed, would welcome a little ambiguity in our overly rational world.  
 
So imagine my disappointment that I can’t quite manage the God thing.  But I genuinely envy those who can.  
 
It’s a problem that has dogged me all my life, ever since I made my first holy communion at the bewildered age of seven, draped in a white veil and clutching a cheap plastic rosary, and was instructed to swallow a flavorless wafer dipped in sour wine while being told that it somehow tasted of flesh and blood. To a seven year old, Catholic ritual seemed bizarre and creepy. Why would I let a strange man put his fingers in my mouth? And why in heaven’s name would anyone want to eat Christ, anyway?
 
Religion failed to stir my imagination at seven, and it later alienated me as a teenager, when I formally parted company with the Church.  In subsequent years I wandered in the wilderness, reasonably content with my heathenism, until the last decade or so, when my orientation began to shift once again.  Over the past few years I’ve found myself simultaneously entranced and estranged by religion, like a child standing outside the playground peering in.  
 
On the one hand, religion disappoints me on so many levels: in its need to endlessly differentiate itself (honestly, do Christians really need 41,000 denominations?) In its dogged insistence, which too often tips over into righteousness. In its all-too-frequent transgressions against humanity (which sadly, we are seeing more and more of.)  And in its singular failure to engage my soul.  
 
But on the other hand, wouldn’t it be fabulous if God did exist? I would be the first to text him! So in spite of all its failures, I remain that child entranced: a faith groupie, without the faith. 
 
So why did I write this book?  I suppose it was a way of gaining access to the playground, of entering the fray. Even if I couldn’t engage spiritually, I could still engage intellectually and artistically with the idea of God. And I could examine why the religious landscape of my own country (America) has undergone such a profound transformation since I left it nearly three decades ago. I wanted to explore the difference between faith and belief, and show how the search for truth can sometimes lead us away from it, in spite of our best intentions. 
 
Naturally, I decided to make it a comedy. How else to approach a topic that stirs the passions of so many, in so many different ways? Humour is a relatively benign form of scrutiny. While this book is sometimes tough on organised religion, it is very kind to faith. And it raises questions for both believers and skeptics alike.
 
The book is set in small town Ohio in the 1970s, and the story revolves around two teenagers whose budding romance is thwarted when their community is overwhelmed by a series of bizarre miracles. It’s the tale of Annemarie: a blind, chaste 17-year-old who finds herself inexplicably pregnant at the novel’s outset; and Ethan, the boy next door whose hapless two-year quest to woo her forms the backbone of the narrative.
 
So while religion informs the novel, it’s ultimately about first love. It’s about that wonderful moment in adolescence when we finally become who we are going to be.  Too often, coming-of-age tales are framed in terms of loss – I wanted to write about that perfect moment when we finally gain ourselves – as thinking, feeling, sentient human beings. And I wanted to write a story that was both generous and good-hearted: one that spoke equally to those with and without faith.  
 
So I wrote a comic novel about love. And if God is out there, I think he’d approve.