Interesting article by James Wood in today's Guardian about the way fiction can be used to examine questions of religion and God. It makes the point that Dawkins et al are so strident in their atheism there is no place for nuanced discussion. Fiction, meanwhile, allows more complex debate on some of the issues. I don't think Woods says anything particularly new or striking, to be honest, but it raises some decent questions.
I'm amazed that a run-through of writers who use fiction to air religious debates does not include either Flannery O'Connor or Walker Percy, both of whose work is shot through with a Catholic analysis of modernity and the difficulties of redemption and grace therein.
For me, the article really gets interesting when discussing Rowan Williams' suggestion that religious metaphors (the Virgin birth etc) allow an "event" or "space" in history in which man can pause to understand the hidden truths. I'm not a believer, but I think this is a powerful argument and there is much to commend it. Frustratingly, the article ends here and doesn't go into more detail. Whether you believe in God or not, or any other deity, or any other supernatural explanation of our existence, it is still true that there is a "beyond", about which we cannot ever know anything. In narrow terms, that would encompass the time before your birth and after your death: you will never be able to understand what happens beyond those poles. And, in broader human terms, the same poles exist, for the time before time and the time after time, whether that is the Christian eschaton or something different. The metaphors, or myths, that Williams alludes to are the only possible way we can ever explore these questions. The sterility and dogmatism of the new atheists' stance allows for no such contemplation, which is unfortunately blinkered.