Sweet Heaven When I Die by Jeff Sharlet
W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2011
Borrowed from my library.
I first heard of Jeff Sharlet when he published a fine article in Harper’s titled Jesus plus nothing. Five years later that article morphed into a book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. I have been a fan ever since.
With the subtitle Faith, Faithlessness and the Country in Between Sharlet’s newest book is a collection essays that shines a blinding light on how we, as Americans, find, lose and regain faith. How we sometimes blindly accept faith with nothing more than a song and a bottle of whiskey to guide us. There is always a song.
Often compared to writers focusing on life in America, from Mark Twain to Joan Didion, Sharlet searches along the borders where our culture and our religion meet, he is willing to look deep into the mix of religion and politics. Often driven to the edge he finds himself looking over, into the depths of the American heart.
…We hope when the odds, no matter how good, are still that: odds, chance, a gamble in which the rules may change at any time, for any reason, with or without our acquiescence. We hope when we understand that circumstances are beyond our control, when will is not equal to effect, when we are not the subjects of the story but its objects. Hope isn’t optimistic; it’s the face of despair. My grandmother taught me that, not long before she died. “Despair,” she said, was her favorite word. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s a gift. A recognition.” It is the opposite of dread. Perception, not speculation. You accept the facts of your fate rather than reading them as evidence of a judgement or a moral. Some people might call that quitting. From page 249.