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Michael Chabon on heaven


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 04:59 PM

Apparently, the President's mentions of heaven in his memorial speech for the victims of the Tucson shooting bothered author Michael Chabon.

Having struggled all the way through to make my own sense of sorrow and confusion congruent with what I saw happening in Tucson, having found that point of tangency at the rueful and admonitory heart, the father's heart, of the speech, I fell all the way out again, right at the end. "If there are rain puddles in heaven," the president said, evoking the words of an unnamed contributor to an album of photos of babies born on 9/11, "Christina is jumping in them today."

I tried to imagine how I would feel if, having, God forbid, lost my precious daughter, born three months and ten days before Christina Taylor-Green, somebody offered this charming, tidy, corny vignette to me by way of consolation. I mean, come on! There is no heaven, man. The brunt, the ache and the truth of a child's death is that he or she will never jump in rain puddles again. That joy was taken from her, and along with it ours in the pleasure of all that splashing. Heaven is pure wishfulness, an imaginary solution to the insoluble problem of the contingency and injustice of life.

But I've been chewing these words over since last night, and I've decided that, in fact, they were appropriate to a memorial for a child, far more appropriate, certainly, than all that rude hallooing. A literal belief in heaven is not required to grasp the power of that corny wish, to feel the way the idea of heaven inverts in order to express all the more plainly everything—wishes, hopes and happiness—that the grieving parents must now put away, along with one slicker and a pair of rain boots.



#2 opus

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 05:21 PM

Hmm... it seems like one of Chabon's primary issues with the mention of heaven, aside from the whole non-existing thing, is that it somehow downplays and diminishes the pain and anguish of loss, that it diminishes the tragedy and horror. At least, that's how I read the second paragraph in the above quote.

If that's what he thinks, then I disagree with it. I believe that heaven is, in some way, an answer to the pain and suffering of this broken world -- but knowing there's an answer need not mean that you diminish or downplay pain, suffering, and tragedy. Rather, it puts them in a different context where such things, as horrible as they are, don't have the final word, don't serve as the final condition.

#3 Russ

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 06:07 PM

You should comment on his article. It looks like there's some chance you'll get a response from Ayelet Waldman, or from somebody trying hard to give that impression.

#4 Ryan H.

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 09:31 PM

I have problems with the view of heaven presented in Obama's speech, but it's more along N. T. Wright-ian grounds ala SURPRISED BY HOPE.

#5 Persona

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 01:42 AM

I have problems with the view of heaven presented in Obama's speech, but it's more along N. T. Wright-ian grounds ala SURPRISED BY HOPE.

Wow, I'll bet we're close to agreeing on something again. This time it only took us a few months...

Of course there are puddles in heaven! Duh! Take a look around. Do you see puddles on earth?

Unless the reconciliation of all things means no more rain. But I would eventually miss the rain. So there must be puddles in heaven.