Updike couldn’t make the ‘leap of unfaith’

I’ve been reading a lot about John Updike since his death yesterday — just as I read so many of Updike’s words through the years.

It seems that one of his most quoted statements since yesterday is this:

I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe. I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, ‘This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.’

It would be easy to imagine one of his characters saying something similar — in more poetic prose, of course.

Religion infused so much of his writing. It was kind of a theme within all his other themes.

During a talk he gave in 2004 at St. Bartholomew’s Church in NYC, Updike described his journey through American Protestant churches — Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational, Unitarian, Episcopal, Methodist.

He said then: “When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there. It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.”

James Yerkes, who wrote a book called “John Updike and Religion,” nailed it in this excerpt:

For Updike, human self-consciousness, synchronized with its parallel world-consciousness, finds itself confronted willy-nilly with an awareness of the Sacred, with God. If you tell the truth about us, as Updike sees it, you have to record the religious dimension of human existence. That is the truth, and truth is holy, is sacred. Writers, he says, are “servants of reality.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.