Richard Rodriguez thinks the great religious traditions of the world shouldn’t be afraid of the dark.
This is just one of the ideas Rodriguez, a journalist, author and public intellectual, tackles in his 2013 book Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography.
Rodriguez will join radio host Krista Tippett today at 2 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy for a conversation on the American consciousness, which is Week Seven’s Interfaith Lecture theme.
Darling explores the desert religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — in a post-9/11 world, as well as the modern fear of place and body and the future of women. The book “suggested the condition of my soul after Sept. 11, how complicated religion is in the modern age, how dark it is, how many people now find religious assertion … to be laced with a kind of arrogance and capable of a kind of violence,” Rodriguez said. “This violence in the name of God has given many Americans pause about what a powerful thing religion is [and], at the same time, how it is capable of grandeur.”
Rodriguez lives within the church with a certain kind of irony, he said.
As a gay man, he was never completely accepted within it, but on another level, he is completely at home.
He dedicated Darling to the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, an Irish order of nuns founded in the 19th century who established schools, orphanages and facilities for taking care of the elderly. Because they experienced a freedom uncommon for women of the time, they were often regarded as “whores,” Rodriguez said.
“I salute them,” he said. “The great liberation of my life as a homosexual man came with the beginning of the movement in the 19th century of European women to have the vote.”
The movement away from women being defined by a sexual, domestic identity was also crucial for Rodriguez’s emancipation as a gay boy, he said. He compared the metaphor of the feminist movement — women getting out of the kitchen — with “coming out of the closet.”
“There was that same yearning to see oneself in ways that were not domestic,” he said.
Darling, however, is not about gay men, but rather women and the future of religion, Rodriguez said.
“My only hope right now is that women come forth and identify the necessity of religion and its value in a way that men have not been able to do,” he said.
Rodriguez also examines what it is about the desert that makes it the revelatory ecology of these religions, and the current struggle with confronting place and self — an anxiety that some believe is relieved by connecting to others through a screen.
“I believe that the catastrophe of the modern age is that we cannot confront the place that we are,” he said. “I believe that one of the attractions of this technology is that we are trying to escape our bodies.”
Rodriguez wrote Darling in an attempt to present the struggles of religion without ignoring the realities of modern life and without frightening people — “I watch television. I go to the movies,” he said — which is one of the reasons it is laced with familiar figures such as Liberace and Lance Armstrong.
“I’m not a religious extremist. Religion is part of my life, but it’s also part of your life. It’s part of the world,” he said. “The book is filled with people that the reader knows. But I’m trying to make it a book that moves people toward mystery.”