Marilynne Robinsons’ What are we Doing Here? Essays (2018) (ii)

Some of Robinson’s attitudes give me pause. She segues from the slave-owning South to a broad and implicitly anti-English attitude, one fully expressed in what says of Churchill: ‘Did his famous stand against Hitler really amount to no more than waiting for the colonies and the United States to step in?’ This reminds me of the practice of Barak Obama of referring to BP when it had been responsible for an oil spill as British Petroleum, a name it had abandoned, and his petulant threat that if Britain wanted to negotiate a new trade deal with the USA after Brexit it would have to go to the bottom of the queue, which was presumably intended to influence opinion in Britain and hence constituted an attempt to interfere in its affairs. I do not know what lies behind such hostility.

Some of the historical connections are a bit thin; I’d be reluctant to trace a line between the Waldensians, Lollards and Wycliffites and the Calvinists (in terms of ideas, Augustine would be a better place to start, but Robinson skirts around him, perhaps because he looks like a Catholic.) The hagiographical treatment of Edward VI is surely overdone. It is not helpful to label some Anglican teachings that Robinson approves of as ‘Calvinistic’ when in fact they were shared by Protestants of all stripes. And no matter how rationally argued they may have been, those long sermons to which the Puritans were prone don’t sound like fun; Quakerism, Quietism, ritualism and Pentecostalism are among the traditions in Protestantism that have sought to pull away from such practice.

Bu there is so much to learn from what she says. ‘The great public universities…are like beached vessels of unknown intent and origin. (perhaps, tho it remains possible to do good work within them.)…The dominant view now is that their legitimate function is not to prepare people for citizenship in a democracy but to prepare them to be members of a docile though skilled working class.’ (Yes, and this despite society being much richer now and presumably having the resources for non-utilitarian education.) It is good to think, with Robinson, that ‘We have grounds for supposing that Being is vaster, more luminous, more consequential than we have allowed ourselves to imagine for many centuries.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *