John Updike, R.I.P.

We Pennsylvanians lost one of our great ones yesterday, and I lost one of my favorite writers.  He even once helped me in my “day job” pursuing science and religion dialogue.

A character from John Updikes’ novel, Roger’s Version, warns of a danger in pursuing something like the “constructive engagement of science and religion”:

Whenever theology touches science, it gets burned. In the sixteenth century astronomy, in the seventeenth microbiology, in the eighteenth geology and paleontology, in the nineteenth Darwin’s biology all grotesquely extended the world-frame and sent churchmen scurrying for cover in ever smaller, more shadowy nooks, little gloomy ambiguous caves in the psyche where even now neurology is cruelly harrying them, gouging them out from the multifolded brain like wood lice from under the lumber pile.

Maybe.  But it seemed to be not like that for Updike himself. Not entirely.  Not unambiguously.  In this novel, for instance, it’s the “scientist” who’s out to prove God’s existence once and for all, and the world-weary Divinity School professor who’s giving the advice above.  The professor has proof of another sort:

Indeed, it has occurred to me that in my sensation of peace post coitus, of sweet theistic certainty beneath the remote vague ceiling, of living proof at Verna’s side, I was guilty of heresy, the heresy of which the Cathars and Fraticelli were long ago accused amid the thunders of anathema–that of committing deliberate abominations so as to widen and deepen the field in which God’s forgiveness can magnificently play.  Mas, mas.  But thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.

Updike did, I think, understand temptations well…of all sorts.  No one could conjure abominations better.  R.I.P.


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