What Are We Doing Here?: Essays

In What Are We Doing Here?, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson (Lila) argues that misinterpretations of faith and history have negatively influenced modern politics and attitudes. In these essays, Robinson applies rigorous scholarship--in faith, science and the humanities--to difficult questions and arrives at answers that are discomfiting as they reveal humankind's most egregious flaws. She rails against the perversion of history in fake news and the twisting and contorting of scriptural fact for self-interest.

"Conscience" addresses how modern views of morality have shaped societal beliefs and served as justification for acts of suppression and violence, with little regard for historical fact. Robinson discerns the true intent of Puritanism in "Our Public Conversation: How America Talks about Itself"--it's not about the "priggishness, acquisitiveness, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, and fanaticism" associated with the word, but rather a spirit of reform and a "passion for education, genius for institution-building." In "Integrity and the Modern Intellectual Tradition," Robinson elegantly explains why faith must coexist with scientific empiricism: scientific empiricism could not have occurred without the humanizing effects of faith.

What is remarkable is the wealth of humanities and science that Robinson draws upon to develop her arguments, melding seemingly divergent viewpoints to create a holistic picture that explains the breakdown of morality in modern society. "We can see now that intemperate speech can spiral off into fear and rage, that we are as vulnerable to incendiary language as any society ever has been, that we become loyal to our hostilities and reduce our words to weapons, a phenomenon not unrelated to the recent tendency of some to amass weapons." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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