14 February 2009

Why I Cannot Read Non-Fiction

I am exaggerating a little in the title. I can and do read non-fiction; more now than ever. I regularly read bits and pieces of literary criticism, history, biography, apologetics, and so on, but I rarely read a work of non-fiction straight through for fun. I generally treat it as reference materials. Recently I've been trying to be more intentional about reading non-fiction works cover-to-cover. Too many years of my life have gone by for me to remain ignorant in many categories! But one of the main motivating factors has been reading Louisa's book. And this leads me to the first way that I "can't read non-fiction":

1. My brain has atrophied
So, I'm trying to read Louisa's brillant, challenging book, and I find that too much novel-reading has weakened my brain cells. When I was in graduate school, I was more used to applying mental power to understand, classify, and apply difficult writing. But now I'm used to reading only what high schoolers read, plus pleasure reading! So I need to get my brain back in shape.

But that's not the serious problem. That's my own fault, and [more or less] easily remedied by some good brain-application. The more serious difficulty is:

2. Works of non-fiction convince me of the opposite of what they are attempting to prove.
Yes. You see, I am such an in-grained skeptic that I naturally argue with writers. I search for the holes in the arguments, look for alternative interpretations, and consider what might be written to prove the exact opposite. I recently read Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft; a delightful little Socratic dialogue with C. S. Lewis trouncing the weak atheistic and humanistic arguments of [caricatures of] Aldous Huxley and J. F. Kennedy. It's a cute book, but it has some problems. First of all, Lewis made the arguments better in the first place. Second, JFK and Huxley are really just straw men, not themselves nor even well-rounded 3-D characters at all. Third, the "inescapable logic" that Lewis used to "prove" incontrovertibly that Jesus is God really didn't feel incontrovertible. I'm not a good enough logician to really say what's wrong with the logic, but here's how it felt to me. It felt as if each syllogism, each step of the argument, was correct, but that the sudden conclusions had somehow skipped a point. To me, the point is the "leap of faith" -- Kierkegaard's subjectivity as truth -- but Kreeft never mentioned that. So his wonderful work of great apologetics left me feeling funny and doubtful inside. I'd rather read a great work of spiritual fantasy and sense God's presence in nature, imagination, and art than read a work that "proves" His existence yet leaves me feeling far away from Him.

And it's not just spiritual "non-fiction" that has this effect. I'm also reading The Language of God by Francis Collins. OK, I guess that's spiritual, but the main points are scientific. It's supposed to be proving that evolution is completely consistent with Biblical Christianity. I approached the book ready and willing to be convinced. But the more I read his impassioned descriptions of how Darwinian evolution is proven fact, and beautiful fact, and Biblical fact, the more I feel the whole thing is complete nonsense!

I wonder why this is? Am I just an inveterate skeptic, or is there actually some truth to the idea that FACT CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE IMAGINATION? Let me know what you think.