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(RNS) In an interview, Pultizer-prize winning writer Marilynne Robinson explained why she thinks Christians are fearful, why she loves John Calvin and whether she’ll join Twitter.


  1. She has very little understanding of scripture. But then again she thrives in Fiction

  2. I generally like the things Ms. Robinson says here, though I would prefer a bit more detail. One thing which I didn’t like was her failure to grasp the reasons some Christians oppose a health care system which mandates employers to provide birth control services, which actually amounts to abortion services, to employees against their moral principles. It’s hardly a manufactured concern for those who take life seriously, and make no mistake, it is about life and not reproductive services. I also object to the limited argument that those who are concerned for life at it’s very beginning must be unconcerned for life once it has exited the womb. That tree fails to bear fruit and I seriously doubt that anyone shows more concern for children brought to term than right to life organizations.

    • Probably because it is a silly partisan based issue having to do with employers who think they own their workers. Some Christians oppose the idea of others making personal decisions without their assent.Lets make this clear, if its not your womb, its not your business.

      Her point was some Christians are more concerned with a fetus than about children starving or lacking proper education.

  3. She increasingly carries herself like a haughty diva. Even here, where she acts like she’s being broadminded, she dismisses what she doesn’t like or understand with a broad stroke, and, POOF!, it’s gone. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid here. This is one self-obsessed “thinker.”

  4. Rev. Clyde Baker

    Conservatives are clear in their opposition to abortion and gay marriage on the basis of their beliefs. And, understandably, they feel sideswiped by mainline Christians who don’t share that passion. However, those same beliefs encompass responsibility for the poor and homeless. There should be equal zeal among conservatives for the government to do more to address those issues. It seems hypocritical that conservative Christians urgently want the government to act on their principles regarding abortion and gay marriage. But you see nothing from them pushing the government to act on those Christian principles regarding poverty and homelessness. Conservatives often point to the local work they do in those regards–such as mission trips for the youth. But it makes no sense for them to expect the government to enforce their principles regarding abortion and gay marriage while they make no effort to enlist the government in addressing poverty and homelessness–and (not always) but often we see supposed Christian conservative officials leading the effort to reduce and eliminate government programs aimed at poverty and homelessness. Even if one argues that the government does a poor job of it and even argues that the government traps people in poverty–that’s still no excuse for not pushing our government to aggressively act to reduce poverty and homelessness. If they do it badly, make them do it better. They can call their critics ‘divas’ or ‘have little understanding of Scripture’ or ‘don’t recognize the post-birth efforts of Right to Life agencies’–the bottom line is they have failed to demonstrate genuine, broad-based, public efforts to diminish these human tragedies and I am convinced they will never achieve the support of most sincere Christians while they continue to turn a blind eye to everything except their own soapbox issues. Ask any secular person on the street if they personally know a conservative Christian. If they do, then ask them what issues that conservative Christian has expressed concern for. I guarantee it won’t be poverty or homelessness. The sad truth is, if conservative Christians would band together with mainline Christians (while not surrendering their conservative beliefs) to target these shared concerns regarding the public neglect of the poor and homeless–then something good that all Christians believe in could be achieved. As it is, all we do is throw stones back and forth at each other.

    • I agree with you up to a point. But the hypocrisy cuts both ways, of course. If conservative Christians “urgently” want government to act on their principles regarding abortion and gay marriage then progressives do not hesitate to respond that religion has no place in this debate. Funnily, however, they NEVER make this objection to faith-based efforts to increase government spending on poverty–and will themselves trot out the relevant scriptures if necessary. It seems that religion is acceptable in the public sphere only where it might open someone’s wallet for the funding of programs that keep Democratic votes coming in; otherwise, out with it entirely.

  5. Diane D'Angelo

    Noteworthy that the personal insults toward Marilynne Robinson all come from men.

    • Nothing noteworthy about that at all. Foolishness being called out has nothing to do with gender.

    • David Vardeman

      Amen to that, Diane. I suspect those who call her a “big windbag” and a “haughty diva” feel personally threatened for reasons they can’t or don’t care to articulate. No one spouts puerile insults unless he feels cornered.

  6. The Great God Pan

    “Sometimes I wonder about the authenticity of the controversies themselves. My own denomination (the United Church of Christ), has blessed same-sex relationships … so when you read in the newspaper that there are people calling down brimstone, it’s startling.”

    Right. She is startled to hear that Christians have been calling down brimstone on gay rights for decades. Of course.

    She either lives in a state of extreme ignorance and denial or she is… Well, let’s be charitable and assume she’s merely ignorant of what her religion has been doing on the ground while her head has been in the clouds.

    As to the “authenticity” of the controversy… She could try talking to some gay people and finding out just how authentic the hatred from her Christian cohorts is and always has been.

    “Progressive” Christians. Who needs ’em? At least the right-wing fundamentalists are sentient beings. Robinson seems to have the awareness level of a tree.

  7. At the start of the interview, she says:

    “I do think in both cases it’s a little bit unChristian to have thinking and behavior governed by fear.”

    Um, what? She’s read the New Testament and certainly Calvin’s Institutes – they both are repeatedly clear that the whole religion of Christianity is based on the manufactured fear of an imaginary Hell. How could she have missed that fear is the central point? If there was no fear of Hell, then Christ’s self-inflicted sacrifice of himself to himself was pointless.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Wow, Jon.Leaving aside the very real existence of Hell (unless you would have us believe Jesus was a liar), let me ask you a question:Why is the fear of death so universal? Who manufactored”said fear, Jon? Should this very real fear be considered imaginary? The depths of your ignorance of the true nature of The Saviour’s advent is beyond astonishing; If you’re not intractably closed-minded, perusal of a good systematic theology tome might actually foster a modicum of enlightenment on this issue, because as one who is intimately acquainted with the Christian faith, I can assure you, it was NOT fear of Hell that brought me to Christ.It was His.LOVE. God so loved the world, Jon-Peace & Love in Him!!

  8. Like her interviewer I have been fascinated with MR’s enthusiasm for calvinism, and I was sorry her response to the question about this was so brief. Would Calvin have recognized her calivinism, which seems to limit human sinfulness to societal issues such as poverty and homelessness? Her seeming dismissal of concerns about abortion and sexuality suggest she does not see sin as a relevant concept in these internsely hunan areas. This seems out of synch with the New Testament, let alone calvinism.

    Having ssid all this, I must add I find Gilead and her other novels simply inspiring. Can’t wait for Lela.

  9. MR’s comments are generally quite gracious toward others and respectful of scripture. The dismissive tone throughout the interview and the platitude about eating oysters almost don’t sound like her. I guess I find her limiting of morality to the care for the poor (an essential Christian obligation) to be a narrowing of religious possibility, something I would imagine she might lament. It seems that truth should be generally accepted on its own terms. I love MR and her writing. I love her defense of the vulnerable. I love her insistence on honoring each person. I feel like here she was speaking to the questions offered, which were not entirely thoughtful, and her impatience seems to reflect that. Still, a pretty disappointing offering from one of the great religious minds of our time.

  10. I have recently just picked up one of her non fiction books, a collection of essays called The Death of Adam. I find her writing exquisite and thought-provoking. As a Biblical Christian, I have for years learned to put all things through the Biblical prism and arrive at my conclusion based on whether the material/piece is Biblical, that is, true or not. However, I find her Calvinism to be a tad too philosophical and not as Biblically deep as really is. I don’t think that Calvin would be so welcoming to the ideal of same-sex marriage being the theologian he was. The Bible is not ambivalent about the issue. It is a sin.

    MR seems to have a lot more concern about the plight of the poor, and that is certainly a valid concern, but the unborn are also of concern. Their “unborn” status does not mean they have not yet been created by God. The birth process is not what determines (in Biblical terms) whether an individual is one or not. I am surprised by her naive understanding about this given the fact that she appears to be a sound and deep thinker.

    I am a bit disappointed about her liberalism on the issues discussed in the interview, and though I don’t seek to malign her, I find her views lacking. But in my faith walk with Jesus Christ, I have learned not to make people more than what the are; not to make them infallible. People are not God and we all have limited understanding.

  11. just goes to show most people can’t understand the artists’ sensibility. Imagination, folks: it’s as essential a limb as arms and legs.

    What Is The Purpose Of Life?
    That Answer? The only purpose befitting this lofty position is: Dedication to the goal of becoming a species of Self Determining Individuals, thereby fulfilling the mission too which we were created.

    Isn’t it amazing that it was not necessary to climb mountains, swim oceans, or seek out the remote cave, of the wisest of ancient sages, in order to solve mans most perplexing mystery.

    Revealed in the first few words of the worlds most published and widely distributed book, the answer, awaiting acknowledgement, has resided from day one within the heart of every person who has ever pondered the question.

    In keeping with this philosophy, it is my conviction that

    The moment a dominant portion of mankind finally shakes the dependence upon religious interpretations of God, thereby acknowledging our parentage;

    Accepts our good fortune, thereby recognizing the fact that far more is expected, with far greater rewards, of sons and daughters than is expected of servants;

    Assumes the attendant responsibilities,

    The Human Race Will Have Stepped Into An Unobstructed Universe!

    This I Have Done; in addition to the rejection of the Christian contention, that I was conceived in sin, and born of iniquity!
    Sex Necessarily Perpetuates The Creation, Thus Fulfilling Our Creators Plan!

    Indebted to neither alter nor throne for my existence, I, a unique Son, individually created in the image and after the likeness of my Creator, am dependant upon neither clergy nor governor, for either salvation or justification!

    Therefore, I am not required to fall on my face, get on my knees, contact a priest, nor either join or be added too any religious body, for the purpose of either establishing communication, or enjoying the endowments, inherent of family.

    Wherever I find myself, regardless of circumstances, through special entitlement, one of the endowments of my unique status, requires only that I, through thought, open a direct line!

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    […] But her insight into Calvin is very real, and very genuine. She loves her some Calvin. Q&A: Marilynne Robinson on guns, gay marriage and Calvinism – Religion News Service Q: You have a pretty big fan base among Calvinists (those who follow the works of John […]

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    […] all be doomed for violating the Sabbath and all kinds of other things, if we were literalists. Q&A: Marilynne Robinson on guns, gay marriage and Calvinism – Religion News Service __________________ __________________ "My desire is to exalt the grace of God; to […]

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