Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chico novelist ponders how the Bible speaks


Retired Chico State University English Professor David Downes has written a series of novels reflecting on the meaning of life and love. His latest story takes up the matters of death and God, but there is no easy piety here. "The Mysterious Furies of the God In a Tent" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris), written under the name David Anton, presents the reader with an aging Aaron Steinmetz, brilliant brain scientist and secular Jew.

Steinmetz has been diagnosed with cancer and his son,David, also an agnostic, thinks his father might benefit in his last days from connecting with his Jewish heritage. It's arranged that Rabbi Calev Soloch will visit Aaron and together the two will read the Hebrew Bible. Aaron, who studies how brain neurons might produce consciousness, can hardly abide what he considers stories of a mercurial and vindictive God.

Aaron tells his son: "I have been reading the Hebrew Bible about how God chose us as His people. It was a calamity for Jews from the beginning, David, to be so chosen. The Bible is full of this racial grief and now we read it with a piety that belies its deepest meaning--punishing alienation. We were chosen to be God's sacrificial lambs to be burned in hatred ever since. We accepted God's wish and so it has been until this day."

David, meantime, has developed a deep friendship, love even, for his lab assistant, Hannah Richter, a Catholic with a German heritage. The novel is a series of dialogues as David tries to understand Jesus and why most Jews reject him as the Messiah, and Aaron and Calev wrestle with "the Jewish God" whose biography, Aaron says, "ends as a closed book . . . as if God has left his tent or is asleep in it, has finished his active adventures with the descendants of Abram." For Aaron, God is silent.

Can faith grow in Aaron, self-described as "a philosopher of neuroscience, an amateur historian, a reader of the newspaper"? Is there another kind of language, mysterious as human consciousness, through which one might come to terms with the "mysterious furies"? Anton does not give simple answers, but the hint is clear that we are more than solitary selves. The heart knows.

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