Adam Kirsch on Emmanuel Carrère, faith, and Christianity’s ability to scandalise

From the April 21st TLS:

The decline in churchgoing across Europe over the past two centuries has had the paradoxical result of restoring one of Christianity’s most notable features – the ability to scandalize. When a man like Emmanuel Carrère – an esteemed and successful French writer of fiction, non-fiction and screenplays, a sometime member of the Cannes film jury – suddenly declares himself to be a devout Christian, as he did in the autumn of 1990, the effect on his secular acquaintances brings to mind the effect of a similar announcement by a Roman matron 2,000 years ago. It’s not just shock but a kind of contempt: how could a person like you believe a story like that?

When Carrère was “touched by grace” – “it embarrasses me to put it that way today, but that’s how I put it at the time”, he writes in his new book The Kingdom – he was also undergoing psychoanalysis, and the reaction of his analyst to his declaration of faith was telling. Wasn’t Carrère’s new found belief in God the Father actually just “a crutch that I’m using on the journey toward an understanding of the place occupied in my life by own father?” This widely held secular view echoes the Nietzschean and Freudian assumptions that religion is always an imaginative compensation for suffering.

Carrère understands both faith and unbelief. … For as his reference to “embarrassment” implies, he had long ceased toe be a Christian by the time he began this book … But he is still torn, and fascinated, by the knowledge that his past self would have been devastated by his current self’s scepticism, just as his current self is aghast at his earlier faith.

The whole review is interesting, and while Kirsch is pretty sceptical of the book’s literary merits, the piece is a worthwhile meditation on the “literary shaping of Christianity” as the headline has it.


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