JACKSONVILLE, FL. July 19, 2012 — I had an opportunity this week to sit down with novelist Luke Montgomery and talk about his life, his writing and his philosophy. Mr. Montgomery’s debut thriller, A Deceit to Die For is available now.
Bryana Johnson: Towards the beginning of the book, Ian O’Brien soliloquizes, “How had history gotten into this rut of ruin and rubble, allowing religion to be an instrument of havoc and horror?” This dismay over the politicization of religion seems to be a central theme in your characters’ experiences, and yet your book hints at a heartfelt respect for faith.
Luke Montgomery: Faith IS the human experience for the simple reason that our ability to know is infinitely limited. Every ontological question is a matter of faith regardless of one’s metaphysical views. Our finite mind makes faith fact whether we like it or not.
Religious faith is one of those amazing conundrums. One the one hand, it has inspired countless acts of love and sacrifice. It has fed the poor, clothed the naked, built schools and hospitals. One the other hand, it has, in the name of various gods, committed crimes of unspeakable horror.
However, the crimes of “religion” are without exception crimes of “politicized” or “institutional” religion, not personal faith. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. Its sole purpose was to achieve political unity through religious homogeneity.
Theistic religion is not the only system used as a political instrument of terror. Atheistic “faith” paradigms like communism are guilty of crimes far more horrific than the Spanish Inquisition.
Johnson: Are you saying that human nature is evil?
Montgomery: It is an unpopular view, I know, but the empirical evidence is overwhelming.
Johnson: The existence of evil is often presented as a problem for faith in a good and loving God.
Montgomery: The existence of moral evil is as much or more of a problem for the atheist as it is for the believer. There could be no evil without a moral standard. How can anything be truly right or wrong if everything is a product of time and chance? I have never met an atheist who believed that things like child abuse were not “evil.”
Johnson: In the novel, you talk about the intolerance of both Christian and Muslim regimes. Most of the allusions to Christian misdeeds are in the past, but is religion being utilized for political purposes in America today?
Montgomery: Remember the prayer rally led by Texas Governor Perry just weeks before he launched his bid for the White House? That’s your answer. There is still a very direct connection between faith and politics in this country. Republicans are far more likely to attend religious services on a regular basis, and the Republican Party clearly seeks to garner support from religious conservatives because religion is what provides the “values” the party claims to champion.
Whether the party actually cares about the moral issues that drive religious politics, such as abortion and gay marriage, is another question. Personally, I sense that it is just a way to manipulate the base.
Fortunately, the culture war in America is still being waged somewhat civilly, but as the gap between the values held by America’s various “cultures” widens into a chasm, it will become harder and harder to maintain that civility.
Johnson: So, in your opinion, what practical steps can be taken to eliminate this exploitation of faith without creating a secular and irreligious government that seeks to tear down creeds as creeds tear down one another?
Montgomery: The working title for my novel was actually ‘Till Kingdom Come for this very reason. The cultural war, religiously-tainted political maneuvering, and the Continental Divide of Values will be with us to the end. I think the dilemma politically active Christians face was eloquently stated by the one they claim to imitate. He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Reconciling a spiritual focus with worldly politics is, to be sure, a difficult matter. Very few of the politically-active Christians I’ve met seem to have spent sufficient time wrestling with this problem.
I believe in the marketplace of ideas, but like all markets, the outcome is determined more by the marketing than it is by the product. The rhetoricians seem destined to win in this world of lies and half-truths.
Johnson: Let’s change gears… Where do you find your inspiration for writing?
Montgomery: Inspiration is all around us if we will take the time to carefully observe. It is the difference between looking and seeing. One of my favorite poems says it better than I ever could. “Earth is crammed with heaven / And every common bush afire with God / But only he who sees takes off his shoes / The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Humanity is my starting point. Obviously, religion and the Middle East is something I know well, and enjoy immensely so I expect these themes will continue to play an important role in my work.
Johnson: I found this novel a bit more complex and nuanced than some modern fiction. Did you worry that this would put people off?
Montgomery: My favorite books were the ones I didn’t want to end, the books that created a world for me to enjoy. Creating a world is not as easy as Genesis 1 makes it sound. It needs a bit of ink and paper.
I like a novel with substance and wanted to give my readers that same experience. I think good writing should be like a symphony, orchestrating different movements with dozens of instruments and multiple themes, all climaxing in a final crescendo.
Johnson: Speaking of which… The end left me begging for a sequel. Will we be seeing more of the O’Brien’s?
Montgomery: Most definitely. In many ways, their journey is just beginning. I’m anxious to see where it takes them.
Johnson: Do you have any plans to publish the book in Turkey?
Montgomery: We are talking with translators now, so I expect some significant developments in the next couple of months. There have been requests for a Dutch translation as well. It’s all quite exciting actually. I love languages and the idea that this work will be available in languages other than English thrills me.
Johnson: My final question… What is your assessment of fiction writing today?
Montgomery: It’s hard not to be pessimistic. Yesterday, I was looking at the top 100 books on Amazon. The Shades of Gray trilogy was ranked one, two and three. Porn has become the American dream.
The present is scary enough, but the future looks terrifying. Ideas have consequences and as a society we seem to have abandoned reason. The desire to better oneself through ideas and hard work has been largely replaced but a reckless determination to gratify our desires.
Fiction ought to do more than just entertain. It should inspire and challenge as well. Every generation needs a narrative that addresses its most pressing problems. After WWII, this narrative was shaped by Animal Farm and 1984. I wonder who it will be today.
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