Sunday, June 10, 2012

Norman Mailer on God

Norman Mailer is not an author whose work I would recommend as worth reading again.  (Perhaps an essay in his early collection of essays Advertisements for Myself, is worthy, but I do not have a copy at hand.

Dollar Tree is a chain store where all items are a dollar, including books!  I was delighted to find there a week ago a copy of On God: An Uncommon Conversation, by Norman Mailer with Michael Lennon  (New York, Random house, 2007).  

Norman Mailer gives no evidence in his dialogues with Michal Lennon that he has heard of process theology, much less Charles Hartshorne.  Lennon does mention process theology in passing.  However, Mailer's concept of God resembles that of Hartshorne and other exponents of process theology.

Basically, Norman Mailer argues for the existence of a God who is limited, finite in His or Her power, a God who is embattled by the Devil, who is a kind of counter-god.  God calls for us to take his side in the struggle for Creation or at least that portion of Creation which he brought into being.

Norman Mailer concludes that Jesus was a messenger of God, not himself God.  This is not a surprising concept for Mailer to arrive at given his Jewish background.  Also, the concept of Jesus as merely a divine messenger is in accord with the view of Jesus presented in the Koran.  On pages 174-5, Mailer offers the following regarding Jesus that is of particular interest:

" In The Gospel According to the Son, I concluded that two things happened because of the crucifixion.  God lost to the Devil and, worse, he had expected to win.  He thought Jesus was going to change mankind profoundly and immediately.  He did not foresee the end.  God, having so much to oversee all at once, is not necessarily focused on what each one of His Particular Creations is capable of.  While I'm willing to assume that Jesus was his bold stroke, I would add that in chess when a really bold move is made and the player is not sure how it is going to turn out, you record it with an exclamation point plus a question mark.  Then, like many another bold move, it did not turn out as expected.  The Devil won -- Jesus was tortured.  At this point, God in His brilliance came up with an answer to the Devil.  He gave us to believe that His son actually died for our sins.  What a human chord was struck!  But to suggest that this was all planned in advance -- crucifixion and resurrection -- dubious.  God may well have been responding to a crushing defeat with claims of half a victory.  That makes more sense to me:  God was rewriting the depths of what had happened after the events ensured -- which is exactly what humans do all the time.  We call it history.  It is one of our fundamental activities.  I suppose I even offer the assumption that not only is God like us in many ways but, indeed, He or She also has an ego to protect, that is, a necessary reservoir of confidence sufficient to keep striving. "

Mailer does not cite John 8:44, but it would seem to be pivotal point in the struggle between God's messenger and the Devil.  Mailer argues (on page 181 and elsewhere) that the concept of a limited God can actually save faith for many people because it answers the problem of evil.  

There is nothing original in Norman Mailer on God, but what Mailer says is thought-provoking, even if it has been better expressed in Hartshorne's work.  

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