Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

"If Only God Would Give Me Some Clear Sign!" God, Religion, and Morality in Woody Allen's Short Fiction

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

"If Only God Would Give Me Some Clear Sign!" God, Religion, and Morality in Woody Allen's Short Fiction

Article excerpt

Woody Allen's obsessive preoccupation with scrutinizing ontological arguments is at the core of his artistic creation. It generates and subsumes a series of assorted concerns with regard to the predicaments of modern man, such as the desire to understand the nature of reality, the concept of ultimate justice, the role of spirituality as a guiding principle, the illusory character of redemption as advertized by organized religions, or the need to find a coping mechanism for the ominously foreshadowing future, which can only lead to extinction. As Woody Allen himself admits, mortality and theology are at the center of his work. In an interview by Eric Lax he confessed that his entire creative effort is underpinned by "an obsession with death, an obsession with God or the lack of God, [and] the question of why are we here."1 Even though these concerns span Woody Allen's entire artistic universe, they allow specific nuances in his short stories, which come to complete their exploration as done in his films

Although he has been often labeled atheist, mainly because of his rejection of normative religious worship, in my opinion, Allen's deep preoccupation with theological questions contradicts this labeling. Behind his quarrel with religion, his outright condemnation of normative religion on moral grounds, and his chronic questioning of God's existence, Woody Allen's texts reveal a sense of bitterness emerging from a mixture of the awareness of the abandoned world and a nostalgic understanding of the individual's need for the comforting idea of a higher power. Therefore, my contention is that, while his view on religion is grounded in the twentieth-century demystified and secularized reality, his exploration of faith and morality is not only a reaction, but an addition to a moral system consistent with secular humanism: he embraces and promotes the idea that moral guidelines should come from within, but he also obsessively explores the individual's need to believe.

Woody Allen's recurrent, obsessive, almost fanatical preoccupation with the existence or the absence of God emphasizes the ethical and moral dimension of living in a potentially godless world. Ranging from crude, ludicrous aphorisms built on non sequiturs to complex quests and meditation, from agnosticism to atheistic remarks, Woody Allen's quest for God and the doubts it brings along constitute an infinite source of disillusion which continuously nourishes the neuroses of the characters that populate his literary and artistic universe.

Although Woody Allen exploits the universalizing potential of his theological quest and extends his inquiry into religious questions to epitomize the predicaments of the individual living in the contemporary society, given his Jewish upbringing, the exploration of theological questions begins and develops within the framework of Jewish religious practices and beliefs. As Woody Allen himself confessed, "the only religion I feel I can write about with any accuracy is the Jewish religion. I have no feel for the details of Christianity."2 Nevertheless, his challenging, often inimical, attitude towards organized religion has often been interpreted as specifically targeting Judaism and its religious strictures and therefore has given rise to accusations of ethnic self-hatred or anti-Semitic conduct.

Besides Allen's intimate knowledge of Judaism, the hardship and victimization of the Jewish people offer him the prerequisites to exercise his argumentative reasoning, which starts with the discrepancies he perceives between the religious representations of the divine power and the evil which overruns the world. Richard Blake also points out that, "[f]or Woody Allen, God's simultaneous love for humanity and tolerance for unspeakable evil present a supreme theological mystery, even when he reflects upon it in comic terms."3 Woody Allen's skepticism about the goodness and righteousness of the higher being promoted by organized religions constitutes the drive for his ceaselessly challenging the existence of God. …

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