Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present

By John Gatta | Go to book overview

Afterword

When John Cheever's character of Lemuel Sears asks “Is nothing sacred?” he means the question rhetorically, to deride those who would tolerate ruining a lovely pond for profit. And yet, in the current cultural climate, the question must also be entertained in earnest. It is no longer clear to what extent society at large recognizes any space, time, or being as authentically sacred—that is, as inviolately preserved from ordinary human manipulation. In contemporary America, even the indoor architecture of worship sites may not be constructed or apprehended as sacred space. Many newly built or renovated churches are staged to resemble talk-show settings rather than temples of the numinous. So it is perhaps symptomatic of our time that the elderly, reclusive artist whom John Updike makes the central consciousness in his recent novel Seek My Face(2002) should feel an indefinable loss over what she takes to be evidence of God's absence or nonexistence in the world. Postmodern secularism no longer construes this shift as a momentous existential drama involving “the death of God.” It presumes instead a quiet evaporation of all thoughts about signifying presence. If a hermeneutic of suspicion becomes all in all, nothing indeed can be sacred. Moreover, our aggressively consumerist culture has the effect not of assailing but rather of trivializing godliness, rendering pursuit of the numinous irrelevant. By now, Victorian and modernist hopes that humanity s spiritual hunger could be satisfied by replacing religion with art have faded as well.

Yet the very title of Updike's novel, based on the Psalmist's resolve to seek the face of the Lord (Psalm 27:8), testifies to the insatiability of this hunger even in the new millennium. It is telling that a decidedly worldly character named Hope, the narrative focal point of

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