Dismissing God: Modern Writer's Struggle Against Religion

By D. Bruce Lockerbie
Grand Rapids : Baker (1998). 254 Pages.

Reviewed by
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 311-312

As one of the literati of the premodern age, Thomas Carlyle observed in 1828, “. . . [I]n every man’s writings, must lie recorded—what sort of spiritual construction he has . . .” (“Goethe,” in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays [Boston: Dana Estes & Co., 1869] 1:242.). In doing so, Carlyle recalls that literature becomes a mirror of an author’s soul—a reflection of his or her world view. In this regard, Bruce Lockerbie offers the reader a fine exploration of the spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of the literary icons that have shaped and defined the present era.

D. Bruce Lockerbie is presently chairman and CEO of Paideia, Inc., a comprehensive consulting firm serving various non-profit institutions in the public sector. As an educator, Lockerbie served for thirty-five years as both an administrator and faculty member at the prestigious Stony Brook School in New York with the late Frank Gaebelein. He has been a prolific lecturer and author with such notable titles as Thinking and Acting Like a Christian (Multnomah), A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Moody), and The Cosmic Center: the Supremacy of Christ in a Secular Wasteland (Multnomah). His knowledge of the world of modern literature, coupled with an avowed Christian world view, makes Dismissing God a particularly welcome volume.

Originally given as a series of four lectures on Christian life and thought at Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, Dismissing God: Modern Writers’ Struggle Against Religion is an expansion and further articulation of those earlier discourses. The book offers a survey of the literary contributions of a select group of modern authors, with particular attention to their perspectives on religious belief. Those view s range from mild ambivalence concerning God to caustic disbelief and hostility. The text is easy to read, well-written, and replete with illustrations to supplement the author’s analysis. Beginning with Matthew Arnold, Lockerbie explores the religious belief (or lack thereof) of such luminaries as Melville, Crane, Twain, Yeats, Hemingway, and Nietzsche. The text offers a good introduction and biographical survey in each chapter, but some familiarity with each author under discussion is helpful. In the concluding chapters, the author shifts from a detailed literary analysis and criticism of a select author to a general philosophical critique of Nihilism and a discussion of the literary aftermath of the Holocaust. Though such a shift does not detract from the quality of the work, this reviewer felt that the change caused the author to hurry through his twentieth-century survey.

Christian thinkers who are analyzing and engaged in a dialogue concerning modern culture and its accompanying literature will find Dismissing God a welcome contribution. This reviewer found himself wishing for a sequel that might include other literary notables absent in Dismissing God, such as Poe and Steinbeck, or a counterpoint work that embraced authors whose writings demonstrate their religious belief and the relationship between their writing and faith, such as Lewis, Donne, or Milton. At several points, the deeply personal and sensitive struggles articulated by the various authors impacted the reviewer, particularly in the opening chapters. The volume offers a well-articulated analysis of the modern writers’ world view in relationship to God, but one cannot help feeling compassion for the deeply spiritual questions that precipitated the poetry or prose under discussion.

This book will benefit the casual reader, and will be of particular benefit to those in Christian or home school environs that desire an informed critique of the modern authors who largely shape the literary canon. The text would particularly benefit Christian students in their later years of secondary education or as a survey text in an introduction to literature course at the collegiate level. Coupled with Gene Veith’s Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), Dismissing God offers an important critique of the modern literary world and its accompanying world view. In an age of pulp literature and deconstructive methodologies, Lockerbie reminds the reader that an author’s world view will break forth in his/her literature. If Carlyle’s premise is accurate, knowledge of the author’s belief is indispensable to a proper understanding of his/her literary world view. Dismissing God provides such a perspective.