In a previous post, I addressed Bentley Little’s thematic use of aberrant sexuality in The Vanishing, observing that he employs it in this novel for the same purpose as he does in his others: it expresses and represents the degenerate nature of the men and women who engage in it. I concluded that, in Little’s fiction, sexual debauchery suggests that men and women, separated not only from God and nature, but also from any sense of moral decency or even decorum, are haunted, or even possessed, by an idolatrous sensuality and a demonic sexual deviance and that, regardless of the shapes and appearances of the monsters in Little’s novels, sexual perversion--or, rather, what it symbolizes--the moral degeneracy that issues from the godlessness and idolatry of modern, secular society--is the true demon about which he writes, the nature of the human beast, unclothed by cultural pretenses and rhetorical rationalizations.
However, Little has no evangelical mission. He seeks not to proselytize. He wishes to make no converts to traditional Christian faith, in either its Roman Catholic or its Protestant versions. Indeed, Little appears to have serious misgivings about Christian faith as it is interpreted and practiced by both Roman Catholics and Protestants. His omniscient narrator makes this clear in such comments as these:
After characterizing Christians as irrational, if not insane, Little suggests that their holy book is unsatisfactory as a guide to anthropology, using myths to explain away, rather than to explain, mysteries of nature:
. . . “Reverend Charles asked about you the other day.”
“Really?” he said noncommittally.
“He knows you’re a writer and thought you might help us out with our letter-writing campaign. The school board refused to allow science teachers in the district to talk about creationism or intelligent design. We’re trying to get that changed.”
“Mom. . .”
“Don’t worry. I told him you wouldn’t be interested.”
“Yeah, you’re right. They should be teaching religion at school and leave the controversial stuff like science for the parents to teach their kids at home.”
“Don’t you start blasphemin’ with me.”
. . . His mom had always been religious, but she’d never been nutty. He wasn’t sure that was still true. . . .
. . . Disbelief in evolution was no longer just a fringe viewpoint. An antiintellectual [sic], anti-science attitude no seemed to hold sway over vast sections of the country (17-18).
It was a graveyard unlike any they had ever seen, not least for the fact that the graves had been big enough to accommodate giants. . . . and footprints led away from the pit through the muddy soil, monstrous footprints that were not only four times the size of an ordinary man’s but resembled those of neither animal nor human.
. . . And how had the one giant come back to life and emerged from the grave?
“There were giants in the earth in those days,” Morgan James said, quoting the Bible as if that explained everything.
Of course, it explained nothing . . . (129).
Next, the author implies that Christians are stubborn and prefer to attribute impossibilities to God rather than to accept the possibility that bizarre phenomena may contradict their faith in the order and intelligibility of the universe and the rule of an omnipotent and omniscient creator, behavior that an agnostic character sees as fanatical:
Many other passages depict Christians in an unfavorable light, such as this one, that implies believers’ trust is both absurd and inadvisable, if not, indeed potentially fatal:
. . . in this new land they were encountering phenomena no civilized man had ever seen. But the religious among them took this to mean that God Himself was intervening on their journey, performing miracles, scourging the land of evil, and for the rest of their trip they had prayed and proselytized to the point where [sic] Alf Thomas raised his hands to the sky and yelled, “God, if you’re up there, strike these” men “mute so I don’t have to listen to their. . . voices any more.! Do. . . it. . . right. . . now!” When nothing happened, he turned to Emily Smith and her group of fanatics and said, “See? Either God is dead or He doesn’t exist. Now shut the hell up!”
But of course they didn’t (131).
So they parted ways after happening upon the well-worn tracks of the Mormon Trail and connecting with another wagon train a few miles up the route. The religious contingent headed west on the California Trail, claiming God would protect them from the winter, though they had been warned by fellow seekers that Donner Pass was inaccessible. The remainder headed northwest along the Oregon Trail. . . (134).If aberrant sex marks humanity as morally degenerate, their faith (or fundamentalism, mistaken for faith), as Little characterizes it (as irrational, unscientific, fanatical, absurd, and potentially fatal--the Donner party was caught in a blizzard and, when some died of exposure or starvation, the others cannibalized them), depicts them as hopelessly dependent upon a vain and foolish tradition that, far from having any survival value, is not only fantastic and incredible but is also likely to get them killed.
What answer, if any, to the problem of the human predicament, as involving moral degenerates whose faith is absurd and impotent, does Little’s fiction suggest? I’ll save the answer to this question for my next post concerning The Vanishing.