Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Lamott has devised a new kind of religious writing comprising reverence and wisecracks. A word that means both “wit” and “seriousness” is needed to describe Lamott’s religious views. She might be called a literal Protestant, although in college she wanted to be a Jew, and to that end her clever, funny Jewish friends bat-mitzvahed her at her request. Her Christianity did not appear in her novels, however, until All New People, her fourth. It is much more evident in her nonfiction and in the columns she contributed to starting in 1999. In them, she puts herself on the line as unequivocally as Flannery O’Connor (though 180 degrees removed from that writer except for her acceptance of the reality of God and Jesus, whom she says she encountered as a real presence in an airplane lavatory thirty-five thousand feet up). She is a single mother, uninhibited and outspoken, an ex-hellraising drug user and alcoholic and a fierce and angry leftist activist who hates George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, including what she recognizes as the injustice, poverty, sybaritic affluence, blindness, insularity, and indifference it fosters.

Lamott believes that American conservatives are deeply wrong and fears that an American theocracy is a real and terrifying possibility. Her version of Christianity would cause mass apoplexy among American fundamentalists, who, she believes, consider heaven to be a great fortress created just for them and barring outsiders from entry. By contrast, Lamott holds that those who have created God in their own image are likely to be off track if it turns out that that God hates the same people they do. Profane and sarcastic and funny, Lamott nevertheless takes absolutely seriously her Christian faith. She believes fervently that the center of Christianity is to try to do well by as many people as one can manage, no matter how antipathetic. She finds sublimity in the daily, materially aided in this by her black church in “non-Yuppie” Marin City (“No MBA. No condo. No BMW”), of which she is a regular communicant and which plays an important part, perhaps a central part, in her life and works. This church, she has noted, taught her to have hope, because if there is hope for someone like her—who did not leap but rather staggered into faith—there is hope for everyone.