Philip Roth’s Ghost Stories

Philip Roth.

Just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean you can’t believe in ghosts. Philip Roth is a stone-cold atheist and is perhaps the most sternly materialist of all the great writers. Not only does Roth not believe in God, his novels are so steadfastly focused on the physical, bodily dimensions of human life (sex and disease) as to be completely free of the sort of residual religiosity that writers like John Updike or Cynthia Ozick possess, with their muted echoes of liturgical music and flickering spiritual hopes. Roth’s whole attitude towards religion is curtly summed up by this description of the anonymous hero of the 2006 novel Everyman: “Religion was a lie that he had recognized early in life, and he found all religions offensive, considered their superstitious folderol meaningless, childish, couldn’t stand the complete unadultness – the baby talk and the righteousness and the sheep, the avid believers. No hocus-pocus about death and God or obsolete fantasies of heaven for him. There was only our bodies, born to live and die on terms decided by the bodies that had lived and died before us.”

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