More on Eat, Pray, Love: ‘Faith’

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Gilbert’s book. I realize now that she smudges the idea of faith. She does not, as I said, want a faith–but she does not clearly want faith either, despite claims to the contrary (e.g.,  sec. 57 of the book, if I remember correctly). The sort of mystical religion that I believe she ultimately (albeit confusedly) wants is a religion that actually has no grammatical space in it for the notion of ‘faith’. Instead, it has what I will call the grammar of ‘experience’. Central to it is the notion of ‘the experience of oneness’ or of ‘becoming one with the Infinite’.  It is a religion that really has no place for notions of ‘guilt’ or ‘repentance’ (although both ‘guilt’ and ‘repentance’ whirl around on Gilbert’s pages, the first mostly to be rejected, the second as little more than the act of apology to herself for failing to accept herself as herself). Nonetheless, Gilbert takes herself to have glommed something essential to religion, to all religions, including Christianity.

I suppose Gilbert would say something like this: “But look, it takes faith to start on the journey to the experience of the Infinite.” I admit that there is something to this, but less than Gilbert thinks.  This is not a sense of ‘faith’ that overlaps much with the Christian sense of the term. Notice that hers is, crucially, an ahistorical sense of the term; it may look up but it does not look back, back into the past.  But I take the Christian sense to look back, to be deeply historical.  It looks back, to put it simply, to the Incarnation. (The Christian sense looks up by looking back.) Gilbert finds the Incarnation limiting–like many mystics, she finds Christ foolishness: she is quite sure she can get to the “Father” even while bypassing the “Son”.

But all this means that Gilbert is talking right past the Christian even though she thinks she is not. She has not got hold of some “core” of religion that belongs alike to all the major religions, but only of a word (or a small set of words) that is featured in many of them. Gilbert thinks she grasps the essence of religion, and so of Christianity; yet all she grasps is what is essential to her own conception of religion. What she needs is someone to teach her differences–but if someone did, that would make it harder for her to believe that all is one.

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