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The Givenness of Things: Essays The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson
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“To value one another is our greatest safety, and to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“If there is anything in the life of any culture or period that gives good grounds for alarm, it is the rise of cultural pessimism, whose major passion is bitter hostility toward many or most of the people within the very culture the pessimists always feel they are intent on rescuing. When panic on one side is creating alarm on another, it is easy to forget there are always as good grounds for optimism as for pessimism, exactly the same grounds, in fact. That is because we are human. We still have every potential for good as we ever had, and the same presumptive claim to respect, our own respect in one another. We are still creatures of singular interest and value, agile of soul as we have always been and as we will continue to be even despite our errors and degradations for as long as we abide on this earth. To value one another is our greatest safety, and to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“It seems these days as if the right to bear arms is considered by some a suitable remedy for the tendency of others to act on their freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, and especially of religion in ways and degrees these arms-bearing folk find irksome. Reverence for the sacred integrity of every pilgrim’s progress through earthly life seems to be eroding.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“I have mentioned the qualitative difference between Christianity as an ethic and Christianity as an identity. Christian ethics goes steadfastly against the grain of what we consider human nature: the first will be last, to him who asks give, turn the other cheek, judge not. Identity on the other hand appeals to a constellation of the worst human impulses. It is worse than ordinary tribalism because it assumes a more than virtuous “us” on one side and on the other a “them” who are very doubtful indeed, who are in fact a threat to all we hold dear.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Open a book and a voice speaks. A world, more or less alien or welcoming, emerges to enrich a reader’s store of hypotheses about how life is to be understood.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Science of the kind I criticize tends to assert that everything is explicable, that whatever has not been explained will be explained--and, furthermore, by their methods. They have seen to the heart of it all. So mystery is banished--mystery being no more than whatever their methods cannot capture yet. Mystery being also those aspects of reality whose implications are not always factors in their worldview, for example, the human mind, the human self, history, and religion--in other words, the terrain of the humanities. Or of the human.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Now we are more inclined to speak of information than of learning, and to think of the means by which information is transmitted rather than of how learning might transform, and be transformed by, the atmospheres of a given mind. We may talk about the elegance of an equation, but we forget to find value in the beauty of a thought.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Cultural pessimism is always fashionable, and since we are human, there are always grounds for it. It has the negative consequence of depressing the level of aspiration, the sense of the possible... it is easy to forget that there are always as good grounds for optimism as for pessimism--exactly the same grounds, in fact--that is, because we are human. We still have every potential for good we have ever had, and the same presumptive claim to respect, our own respect and one another's. We are still creatures of singular interest and value, agile of soul as we have always been and as we will continue to be even despite our errors and depredations, for as long as we abide on this earth.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Let us say, as a thought experiment, that someone in a country equipped with doomsday weapons fears attack from another country and strikes preemptively. There would be thousands of years of cultural history and some few decades of personal history behind the decision. Madman though he might be, he would have brought the species to a culmination that humankind had been preparing for eons. To say that a spasm of activity in a region of his brain was crucial to the event would be utterly trivial.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Touch a limit of your understanding and it falls away, to reveal mystery upon mystery.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“So, we have an element newly prominent in American religious and political life, a new form of entitlement, a self-declared elect. What some have seen as a resurgence of Christianity, or at least a bold defense of American cultural tradition—even as another great awakening!—has brought a harshness, a bitterness, a crudeness, and a high-handedness into the public sphere that are only to be compared to the politics, or the collapse of politics, in the period before the Civil War. Its self-righteousness fuels the damnedest things—I use the word advisedly—notably the acquisition of homicidal weapons. I wonder what these supposed biblicists find in the Gospels or the Epistles that could begin to excuse any of it.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“I do believe that we stand at a threshold, as Bonhoeffer did, and that the example of his life obliges me to speak about the gravity of our historical moment as I see it, in the knowledge that no society is at any time immune to moral catastrophe.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“We are moved to respond to the fact of human brilliance, human depth in all its variety because it is the most wonderful thing in the world, very probably the most wonderful thing in the universe.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Inevitably, this is how Christianity has come to be understood by a great many good people who have no better instruction in it than they receive from ranters and politicians. Under such circumstances, it is only to their credit that they reject it. Though I am not competent to judge in such matters, it would not surprise me at all to learn in any ultimate reckoning that these “Nones” as they are called, for the box they check when asked their religion, are better Christians than the Christians. But they have not been given the chance even to reject the beautiful, generous heritage that might otherwise have come to them. The learned and uncantankerous traditions seem, as I have said, to have fallen silent, to have retreated within their walls to dabble in feckless innovation and to watch their numbers dwindle.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Thinking that we know more than we do, therefore rejecting what we are given as experience, blinds us to our ignorance, which is the deep darkness where truth abides. And our wealth of ignorance grows and multiplies. Much”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“It is the elegance of nature that creates even the appearance of simplicity... It is not respectable to say that an organism is designed to be both stable as an entity and mutable in response to environment, though it must be said that this complex equilibrium is amazing and beautiful and everywhere repeated in a wealth of variations that can seem like virtuosity regaling itself with its own brilliance.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“We would not now have a sizable part of our own population prepared to engage in homicidal violence if they truly believed that that young man in the hoodie was an image of God.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Prayer opens on something purer and grander than mercy, something that puts aside the consciousness of fault, the residue of judgment that makes mercy a lesser thing than grace.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“The physicality enshrined by the neuroscientists as the measure of all things is not objectivity but instead a pure artifact of the scale at which and the means by which we and our devices perceive. So to invoke it as the test and standard of reality is quintessentially anthropocentric.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Nothing can account for the reductionist tendencies among neuroscientists except a lack of rigor and consistency, a loyalty to conclusions that are prior to evidence and argument, and an indifference to science as a whole.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“I admire Calvin more than I do any of the Calvinists, Edwards included.”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays
“Now we are less interested in equipping and refining thought, more interested in creating and mastering technologies that will yield measurable enhancements of material well-being—for those who create and master them, at least. Now”
Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays