It took longer, I suppose, but the transit of Saul of Tarsus, persecutor turned theologian, can be seen in the life of Norman Mailer, atheist turned, well, Mailerian. What this means, more or less:
In a new book, On God, a dialogue with one of his literary executors, Michael Lennon, he lays out his highly personal vision of what the universe’s higher truths might look like, if we were in a position to know them. But his theology is not theoretical to him. After eight decades, it is what he believes to be true. He expects no adherents, and does not profess to be a prophet, but he has worked to forge his beliefs into a coherent catechism.
Mailer’s deity is much like Mailer. He or she is an artist with the stipulation that God is the greatest artist concerned most particularly with the human soul, but with much else besides. God takes great pleasure in his creations. God is constantly experimenting, and highly fallible. God is far from all-powerful, but is learning along with us. God is in constant struggle with his own fallibility, and also with evil with the devil and is not certain whether good will triumph in the end. We are God’s creations, but we are not at all times part of his plan God may not even be cognizant of all that we do. And if God needs our love, the question Mailer insists has to be answered is, Why?
Like Emerson, Mailer borrows from countless other traditions, discarding their husks, or rewrites them. (Mailer allows that Jesus may very well have been the son of God, but thinks that his crucifixion and resurrection must have been a mistake and the mistake’s crude fix.) In place of heaven (his hell seems like a celestial DMV), Mailer posits a system of reincarnation retooled from the Indian religions. Karmic factors certainly play a role, but God’s creative interests, as well as his needs in his struggle with the devil, are more important. Not only bodies, but souls, too, can be eliminated for various reasons sometimes they’re tired, sometimes simply because they’re no longer interesting to God. Evolution is God’s studio. Some of his creations work, and some need improvement Mailer believes in a highly modified version of Intelligent Design.
And one month after On God was published, Mr. Mailer was invited to or disinvited from the heaven whose existence he questions. Maybe. It is not for you or me to know his final destination.
But I’d like to think that he gets credit, his rejection of orthodoxy (or his concept thereof) notwithstanding, for coming up with a perspective that actually admits to the existence of evil, a notion highly unpopular with some and routinely mislocated by others.