Can faith live again once it is lost? I was reading a book, Theology of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann. It referred to Walter Isaacson’s The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. According to Brueggemann the world these six friends made ended in the Vietnam World. More accurately, it ended with the Berlin Wall falling down, but with the United States no longer certain of what its goals in the world actually were. It was actually Ronald Reagan who first promised dolorously to “Make America Great Again,” and whatever one makes of his presidency it did not deserve to have this central phrase picked up by the shrill, nasty bludgeoning of hate by Donald Trump. Yet even with Reagan, the question was “is this banner being waved because America hopes or because it follows an era of cynicism and despair?” I admit that I am one of the few of my generation–I was born in 1978–to believe America’s side of the Cold War justified and even heroic. Of course, nobody believes in Vietnam anymore–but with an amorphous, multifrontal war, is it possible that we would not stumble someplace? The problem was that we had difficulty admitting it to ourselves: America could lose a war. Pride comes before a fall.
Looking through A Treasury of American Folklore, I am looking for the Promised Land of the Past. Though I know my country has had its sins, I insist it has had it’s moments of glory, too. More, I deny that any culture which loses faith in itself can truly succeed. What today’s Progressives need to remember is that Teddy Roosevelt–one of the original Progressives–hoped to reform America, but only because he loved in and believed in America. People forget that Teddy Roosevelt gave Edward Curtis a salary to take pictures of the Amerindians whose traditions were dying off; gave another government salary to poet Edwin Arlington Robinson; granted land for National Parks; and out of public office wrote the four-volume The Winning of the West (admittedly it was left “unfinished”). All of these show an abiding love for America–both that contemporary of Roosevelt and that which was already past. Part of his charm was his belief in himself and his country were part of the mix with his phenomenal energy to disarm even political adversaries.
Anyway, the question I posed is: having lost faith in a country, how does one find it again? My feeling is that it is in the History and Literature of a people. My feeling is that while a person should believe in God–perhaps that is even more natural and necessary to believing in a person’s native land–the rationale for this faith is not the same. Or at least, in America they were never the same, as a person could believe pretty much whatever he or she chose and nobody could say anything about it. It is true that racism has stained our national character–the Civil War had to be fought because of it and even that did not settle the matter–but to quote Barak Obama, we are still working “to form a more perfect union.” Sexism is a worldwide phenomena, but from the beginning of our country, Abigail Adams reminded her husband John Adams, “Remember the ladies.” I actually have never felt–as a woman–that I was maltreated because of my gender. This is not to say I have never suffered, but I believe there was never a time when somebody in a position of authority was mean to me based on my gender…
Even so, I believe that writing about women suffering in History–by writing The Bible According to Eve–was a liberating experience perhaps made possible because of living in America. I have two Russian friends at my synagogue who told me that before the 20th Century, there were no major women writers in Russia. There was no Willa Cather or Helen Hunt Jackson or Emily Dickinson or Louisa May Alcott or Laura Ingalls Wilder. We discussed this in some depth: Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy possessed great minds, but no woman was ever allowed to become one. Chekov was the same way. No women of note wrote in Russia. It was true that Catherine the Great was a figure of immense clout in the Russian empire. Yet the moment her dull-witted son became tzar he made it so no woman could inherit the position of ruling as “tzar.” No tzarina could rule Russia, for herself or as a regent. I still hope to find that there is a folklorist or some other unappreciated authoress before Anna Akhmatova (a poet forced to leave Russia in the twentieth century) in Russia. Yet I have not found her yet.
Yet in America, women have always been valued more highly than, say, Russia. In the 19th Century, this was also true of England or France. Alexis de Tocqueville commented that if anyone ask why America was destined to succeed he would say, “The superiority of it’s women.” This was said by a man who normally was ambivalent about the country, and–more–ambivalent about democracy itself. He claimed that the strength and character of America’s women was based on how they were raised.
The point is that I could not come from a better place to write a book raising questions about our traditional scriptures. Of course, I do not mean to say by writing my book that women ought to reject God, or–for that matter–the Bible. Yet if a book can criticize a culture while loving it–think of Charles Dickens–then I believe I can attempt to do that with the Bible. I truly believe our understanding of the Bible can be evolving and not static. I believe that of my country, America, too.