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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
James Joyce

Portrait of the Artist
As often happens, while reading “Portrait of the Artist…” a friend asked me what the book was about. And, as often happens, I didn’t really know how to answer. I said something along the lines of “it’s a coming of age story about art, apostasy, beauty, and finding one’s voice in the world.” Which of course can’t be a satisfactory answer to the question, where a satisfactory answer would be something like “a super-virus is unleashed upon Las Vegas, and it’s up to one man to stop it.” A good book is about different things to different people — that’s part of what makes it a good book. For me, “Portrait of the Artist” is a coming of age story about art, apostasy, beauty, and finding one’s voice in the world. For someone else, it might be a story about the revolution in Ireland. To someone else, it may be about Joyce embarking upon a literary experiment. There’s a lot between its thin covers.
But the story of a budding apostate is probably the most resonant to me. I had a good talk with my grandfather last night. He’s 85 years old, I’m 29 years old, and while he’s a devoted Christian and I’m a contented backslider, we agree on nearly everything — particularly where religion and politics are concerned. It’s incredibly interesting to me. Almost nobody would dare question my grandfather’s faith. He’s been a church-going man all his life, prays out loud before every meal, and gives liberally to Christian causes. I of course do none of these things. And yet I can’t sit down with my grandfather for five minutes before he launches into some diatribe against “the evangelicals”. This means something very specific to him. To me, *he’s* an evangelical. But the evangelicals that he’s referring to are the neo-conservative Republican evangelicals. And that’s where things get interesting. My grandfather is an old-school Roosevelt democrat, and has been his entire adult life. He and I completely share a deep distain and confusion for what passes as Christian living in the 20th-century United States. How is it that the political party of military spending, reduced social programs, and “free market” corporate economics is the party of Christ, while the party of providing aid, employment, and education to the needy are the godless liberals? When and where did Christianity get hijacked? What happened to “give away all that you have to the poor and follow me,” or “that which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me”, or “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven”? When did Jesus pick up a gun and give up his mission to assist the poor in favor of protecting corporate profits? And why aren’t Christians other than my grandfather completely outraged at what’s being done in His name?
And so we sit on the porch at night and talk about these things. I have a tremendous respect for my grandfather’s faith. He’s a Christian — a *real* Christian. Not the kind of Christian that would rather cherry-pick verses from the book of Leviticus in order to promote their own culture of fear than pay attention to those pesky red-lettered words of Jesus. I know a handful — a very small handful — of other Christians whom I similarly respect for being willing to deal with the whole of the Bible, instead of just those parts that endorse what they already believe. And while I respect them, I don’t believe that I’ll ever again count myself among them. Like Stephen Daedelus in Joyce’s novel, I feel like the time of questioning has passed me by, and left me with a faith far more secure than any that I found in the confines of a church. To my family, I shall forever be an Apostate, but I’m willing to live with that. In place of a sequence of stand-up-sit-down rituals, I have a genuine love for other people that I almost never saw in twelve years of “Christian” education. And that — if I’m reading the same New Testament as the millionaires currently carpet-bombing the Middle East — is the most Christian thing of all.