The idea for this book emerged unexpectedly on a crowded and noisy train, on a dimly lit December afternoon, as I was returning home from a meeting of the Virginia Seminar on Lived Theology. We were still getting acquainted with one another, the members of this group, and wrestling with how each of us might best conceive of a project that would shed light on the ethical, pragmatic dimension of religious belief. I don't think it was anything specific that anyone said during those three days that forced the idea out of its hiding place in my brain; it was just the overall effect of sustained thinking in the company of incredibly gifted and affable individuals that did the trick, I think.
Of course, any book that shows up in such a way has been gestating for years, invisible to the inner eye. All of my life, for as long as I can remember, I have puzzled over death, which has always struck me as the greatest injustice of all, and so senseless. Maybe it has something to do with all those executions I saw broadcast on live television when I was a small boy in Havana, courtesy of Fidel Castro's revolutionary “justice.” Maybe not: perhaps I was already thinking this way before Fidel rolled into town and Che started killing people right and left simply for having the wrong ideas in their heads. But it's not the source of the obsession that matters; rather, it's the simple fact that my scholarly work has been informed by it for the past thirty-five years, in one way or another.