American religion and its discontents : American ideology and alternatives in DeLillo, Pynchon, Castillo, and Robinson.



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This study examines the critiques of American civil religion by four contemporary American authors: Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Ana Castillo, and Marilynne Robinson. The works of these authors revolt against secularism as a normative worldview, showing religious faith to be an unvanquishable facet of human life. Yet these writers also insist that religious faith is often misplaced in spiritually enervating objects. They diagnose American cultural malaise as a spiritual deficiency requiring a spiritual remedy. DeLillo, Pynchon, Castillo, and Robinson view contemporary American selfhood as a truncated thing and impute the poverty of this selfhood to two paradoxically related causes: the first is a lack of recognition of genuine transcendence, and the second is a pervasive and comprehensive American ideology that serves as an ersatz spiritual discipline, offering “America” itself as transcendent and dictating the individual’s vision of the good life. The purpose of this study is not to offer a normative account of the form and function of American political ideology, but rather to demonstrate how these four writers depict and respond to it. Each of the respective chapters on DeLillo, Pynchon, Castillo, and Robinson proceeds through two movements: first, establishing the author’s depiction of American political ideology as a false religion, then identifying the spiritual alternatives presented by the author. Excepting Robinson, the authors discussed have been accused of lacking moral vision and even of nihilism; this study aims to combat this reputation and to show that these writers unequivocally hold human flourishing to be contingent upon a flourishing spiritual life.