Our Authority Over The Bible

My Russian grandmother has always encouraged my mom and me to become more devout Orthodox Christians. Growing up in the Soviet Union, my grandmother often had her faith tested, as religion was seen as a competing institution to the communist regime. It was the late 20th century, when the Soviet government fought to gain total autonomy, advocating atheism in schools (producing people like my atheistic father) and harassing churches as well as other religious institutions— even going as far as to ridicule religion with propaganda. Having kept her faith stable throughout her life and into the new millennium, my Grandma’s trust in religion became a source of great dependence and power. This dependence always struck me as so interesting; what was it about her faith that was powerful enough to outlast the Soviet Union? My grandmother used to say something about the structure religion provided in her life: it gave her the foundation upon which she built what she saw as a righteous lifestyle.


A prime example of Soviet anti-religion propaganda. The text reads “There is no god!”

I remember, on multiple occasions, my mom quickly shooting down any attempts of my grandmother to convert me to Orthodox Christianity. I remember my mom was not trying to discount its validity, but instead she saw herself as letting me choose what I wanted to believe in. But my grandma could never understand my mother’s apprehension when approaching religion, an apprehension that I now carry.
My mother’s and my caution toward religion was not a result of pure coincidence; it was conditioning and style of thinking. I was raised to ask questions and be critical of assumptions. My grandma, on the other hand, could not afford to look at all the options offered growing up- she had to latch on to a belief and stick to it, or she might have ended up faithless and hopeless as the rest of the people in Soviet Russia did (or so she claims). My biggest issue with accepting a faith was, and still is, that any particular religious doctrine, Christianity in this case, came with so many different branches and so many different principles within each branch. My grandmother depended on the authoritarian nature of her religion to lead her in a time where the legal authority was not satisfying. This authority, mostly encompassed in the leading religious book, the Bible, never struck me as something that would provide direction in my life. Books like the Bible have been accepted as structurally sound. This is intuitive: if societies are going to develop according to a book, it needs to have some ability to hold a consistent fundamental framework. Yet, to this day, I still see the Bible as so vague that it could hardly produce any more structure in my life than I would have without it. The number of directions I could take my life while still remaining within the constraints of one book makes it seem like it would be easier for me to find my own way through life with no directional assistance provided. In fact, when I recall all the attempts to use the Bible and get a more clear sense of what direction I should be taking my life in, I end up unsure of how to read the Bible, and the concern I had over what I should be doing with myself transformed into a chasm of uncertainty revolving around the interpretation of the book I try to design my life around.
We knew, of course, about the power of the Bible to unite groups of people of across various races, socioeconomic background, and cultures. But our general sense of the universal power of the Bible comes with the assumption that everyone who reads the Bible has the same standards by which they live a righteous life. The debate over the acceptance of homosexuality was, and still is, a long-lasting fight that had the powerful effect of making it clear that the Bible was susceptible to providing support and evidence for opposing sides of even the most polar of issues. The authoritative power belonged not with the text, but to this who read it and chose to live by it.
Our initial false understanding of the Bible as authoritarian was neither a hunch we lived off of, nor a commonly questioned assumption we accepted. This view of the Bible was the result of years of preachers leading sermons trying to reconcile people with each other by not providing them the chance to argue over interpretation of the verses within a church. In the mind of the conservative church preachers, that attempt at unification has been epitomized in the attempt to demoralize homosexuality. These conservatives take the Bible and use its words to convince others that homosexuality is prohibited. By taking pieces of the Bible and ranking them by how much they reflect the view being argued, they prioritize the teaching of verses that are easier to interpret as anti homosexual. One such verse is Leviticus 18:22. The verse, in the King James version of the Bible, goes like, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” While different Bible translations can come up with slightly differing versions, the translation does not effect the interpretation in a way that would be crucially detrimental to the interpretation presented by conservatives. This in itself is a point that conservatives like to emphasize when asserting the power of the verse condemning homosexuality. This verse is taken very literally when used as an argument against homosexuality. “Man shall not lie with man” means to say that a man and a man may not be together. “Lie” is a key word here, as this verse is directly expressing the wrongness of two men being in bed together. This is clarified by “with woman kind”, where it is understood that man is to lie with woman in a certain way (a way that would result in procreation, the justification for any laying at all), but to lie with man in the same way would be an “abomination.” For this conservative biblical view said “abomination” would be something that is exceedingly sinful and wicked.
The idea is further elaborated upon in Leviticus 20:13, where it is written “If a man also lie with mankind, as he leith with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Here we not only see the mentioning of homosexual affairs, but the degree to which such affairs can be punished and which parties are to be punished. Again we see the use of the word “abomination”, which is in turn suggested to be punished by being “put to death.” To heighten the anti-homosexual argument of this verse, there is emphasis put on the last clause, “their blood shall be upon them.” This implies that the people committing the act brought their punishment upon themselves, that they are both at fault. This can be taken even as far as to be asserting that homosexuality is a choice and thus it is a crime where only those who partook in the homosexual behaviors are to be punished: they were both consenting and therefore should take their punishments upon themselves. This conservative approach to the topic of homosexuality in the bible may vary on which aspects of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 they focus on, but these two verses are two verses that naturally, and seemingly unavoidably, undermine homosexual affairs as virtues (or at least neutral). For this more homosexual rejecting interpretation, as for so much of generally accepted interpretations, preachers have conducted careful literary analysis to tease their target points out of the text.
Anti- homosexuality advocates are not the only literary critics of the Bible. On June 26, 2015, same sex marriage was finally legalized by the Supreme Court Case decision of Obergefell v. Hodges (Diamond). This decision, while a victory in many hearts, faced the Christians of the United States with a discomfiting reality: The Bible that had for so long been used as a reason for why homosexuals could not get married (because homosexuality is an abomination) was in a position where it was being undermined by a policy. The sudden nationwide strike back against a holy text shocked the masses. At the battle for the equal recognition of homosexual marriage, right from the beginning, many non-Christians that tried discrediting the Bible were actively voicing their opinions on the validity of the Bible. Often, they would point out clauses that contradict each other, and interpret verses to intensify the contradictions. Murder, for example, is one such famous contradiction. Exodus 20:13 captures one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God, “Thou shalt not kill”. Exodus 32:27 then later states “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor”, which, as most non-Christian people claim, is an obvious contradiction as it commands people to “slay” others. Leviticus 20:13, mentioned earlier, is yet another clause that is pointed to when identifying contradictions in the Bible. It too opposes the commandment of “Thou shalt not kill” when it encourages homosexuals to be “put to death.” In such an analysis of the Bible, contradictions and plot holes in the picture the Bible paints are things that non-Christians try to emphasize, like discounting the bible. Validity is lost if one verse is interpretable in several ways; much more so from multiple verses regarding the same topic, and especially across multiple topics.
Pro-homosexuality Christians grasped this literary challenge, to bring back validity to the Bible, and even before the legalization of gay marriage, began forming claims surrounding the misinterpretation— that is to say, they argued that there was gross misuse—of the Bible. Homosexual Christians renounced the notion that the Bible advocated homophobic values, claiming that it is “…utter nonsense. I read the Old Testament. I read Leviticus and Genesis. I find it quite incredible really that people can extract those texts and use them as excuses for saying that therefore God hates homosexuals. I think it is intellectually very unsound.” (Yip 117) Homosexual Christians who battled with their sexual orientation and turned to the Bible to find answers, soon realized that it was not the Bible that condemned homosexuality, but the individuals and church groups that interpreted it. “In their relationships with the Church, gay Christians are subjected to the Church’s vocabulary of motives that labels their lifestyle as unacceptable. In response, gay Christians have to develop an alternative vocabulary of moral motives that label their sexuality and lifestyle as compatible with Christianity.” (Yip 116)

In such claims, removing the Bible as the source of Homophobia lay the roots of the nature of the Bible being widely interpretable—the understanding that verses can be reinterpreted and that emphasis of underrepresented verses can change the virtues advocated. Book writer and Bible critic Mark Powell for example, pushes back against the idea that the Bible is homophobic by starting at one of the commonly identified reason behind why the Bible would prohibit homosexual relations, procreation. He draws attention to the verses Ruth 1:1-5, regarding the fact that some couples will naturally be unable to bear children, Matt 19:12, pertaining to the fact that it is acceptable to remain alone and celibate, and Genesis 2:18, which claims that people should not spend life alone. Powell’s understanding of the Bible as not condemning homosexual behavior is not simply an extrapolation of the verses, but analysis focusing on the relationships between the verses. His analysis of the Bible, a view that is not uniquely his but shared with many other “students of the bible”, results in a view that, while homosexuality might be seen as “non-normative”, it is an exception to the rule that relationships must be rooted in the goal to procreate, just as celibacy and childless relationships are. (Powell) Homosexual relationships still manage to abide by claim in Genesis 2:18 that “…It is not good that the man should be alone…”, more so than remaining celibate, a practice allowed by the church, does. All this analysis is from yet another “literary critic” whose specialty is the Bible.
Such interpretations of the Bible provide a firm foothold to the difficulty I find in trusting the Bible with the way I am to live my life— that one conservative priest could turn to Levictus and claim homosexuals are to be punished by death; while a homosexual Christian can look at the same Bible and claim it encourages homosexuality over being alone. The common assumption that the Bible is an authoritarian presence in society and works to provide structure to people’s lives haunts all that accept it as a guidebook even when it gives virtually no clear instruction. True, some have asserted this authoritative nature arises from fundamentalism, as Bible critic Dennis E. Owen points out, “Such characterizations are not entirely without some basis in fact. Fundamentalism will almost always appear authoritarian, and so too will forms of Pentecostalism which, like Fundamentalism, place a heavy emphasis on correct thinking and combine a belief in the infallibility of scripture with a commitment to literal readings.” (Owen 73) Yet, although it seems there is an aspect of fundamentalism and emphasis of the “infallibility” of scripture, it is immediately disproved by the fact that there are multiple widely believed interpretations of the same book, allowing the reader to decide what “correct thinking” is.
For understanding the Bible, there is— only an image of authority. In reality it has no power. Religion is based off the stability of the Bible, a stability that is undermined by the very people who read the Bible. Confronted with the realization that the writing of the Bible is incapable of bossing us around, the readers, the priests, preachers, any Bible reader, is permitted to superimpose their own interpretations. As their job becomes to interpret the bible for the masses—they have become literary critics themselves. We pick what it means, often according to what we already do, and then just use our interpretation of the Bible as justification for what we have decided to do. The Bible is only spuriously static.
This is not the case with only Christianity and the Bible, but the case with any religion, philosophy, and principle, based off a written text. It is no novel occurrence that a book as seemingly authoritarian as the Bible is quite the opposite. The church claims its understanding of the Bible to be the one of most plausibility. But we have evidence for the plausibility of our understanding too, ones that are just as supported by the verses. It is the nature of written text. Anyone can pick up a book at any time and say what they want about the text, making a literary critic of themselves, dismissing context and purpose. The interpretability of text confers on us, the critics, the most unsettled of challenges—the burden of molding the text of the Bible, the burden of deciding what God’s word is to be. If we were to really abide by “God’s” word, the only way to do this with minimal influence from the critic would be to hear it from God himself.

Works Cited:

Diamond, Jeremy, and Ariane de Vogue. “Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide” CNN Politics. CNN. June 27, 2015. Online.

Yip, Andrew K. T. “Attacking the Attacker: Gay Christians Talk Back.” The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 48, no. 1, 1997, pp. 113–127

Powell, Mark Allen. Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality. Fortress Press, 2003.

Owen, Dennis E. et al. “Authoritarian or Authority-Minded? The Cognitive Commitments of Fundamentalists and the Christian Right.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, vol. 1, no. 1, 1991, pp. 73–100

Writing in the style of Ta-Nehisi Coates (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/02/why-do-so-few-blacks-study-the-civil-war/308831/)

The Fictional Author

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I have never met Tim O’Brien, yet if you asked me to describe him in a few words, I could. This is no result of extensive research of the man. If I wanted to know factual information about Tim O’Brien, I could pick out a biography on any of the plethora of biographical websites online and read what they have to say about him . Or I could even pick up a book by the man himself, as has written a few wrote many non-fiction accounts of defining events in his life. But I did not do either of those things. All I did was read a couple of his fictional stories, yet I feel as if I can give as good a description of him as any a biography. Does this mean my description of him should be discounted, simply because I have not read his actual biography? Should we discount what an author’s fictional work says when searching for understanding of who a person was or is?
Generally, when I read a novel, I do not approach it with extensive knowledge of who the author is and rarely do I ever put in an effort to research the background of the book. If I do have any pre made assumptions, they often are not conscious, perhaps the result of some deep subconscious associations with the cover picture or the authors name. Yet, I seem to end every novel, fiction and non fiction, with some new aspect of understanding of the author. This is not always easy to grasp, but once discovered it is not hard to believe that all literary texts reflect an author’s character to some extent.
I am not one to encourage the use of the cliche “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. However, when it comes to literary analysis, from reading for the purpose of critiquing to just reading for entertainment, it is almost always inevitable that the reader will form some idea about the character of the author, true or not. Maybe I do not judge a book by its cover, but can I judge an author by the cover of the book, or the title of the book, or the content of the book?
This was certainly the case with one of my personal favorite literary works, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. To start things off, it is very important, crucial really, that the book is understood to be a work of fiction. That is, the publisher themselves made it very clear to categorize the book into the genre of fiction. Upon first reading the book, however, this is not completely apparent. The reality is, the book is not as clearly a work of fiction as those who have not read it would believe it is. The fact that O’Brien uses his own name for the main character and that he elaborates on the horrors of war in such vivid first person detail, makes it hard to believe that they are all fabrications of his mind. It is paradoxical, really, that some prior knowledge of O’Brien can actually lead the reader to make the wrong assumptions, thus interfering with the reading of the book as a whole. For example, knowing that O’Brien actually did fight in the Vietnam war, but not knowing when or where he was, leads readers such as myself to fall under the impression that the novel is actually a memoir.
Of course, the complexities between a book being deemed fiction or non fiction are a bit more complicated than just reading a genre label on the back of a book. As Tim O’Brien put it in an interview with Port City Daily, “The line between fiction and non-fiction is not as absolute as we think in our common-sensical world.” (Snow) It turns out that many works of fiction have some truth, or non-fiction, ingrained in them. One such thing is often the beliefs of the author. Ultimately, it is hard to figure that the book is, in our understanding of the word, fiction, without doing some extensive outside research, or reading the fine print on the back of the book (which few do.)
Viewing O’Brien’s book as a true memoir inherently leads the reader to make assumptions that the text reflects significant aspects of his person. That, after all, is one of the most central purposes of a biography or memoir: to expose some characteristics of a person. Every scene of the book seems to define him to a different degree and reveal the varying traits of his character. Upon early inspection The Things They Carried can be easily misinterpreted as O’Brien’s description of his past experiences during the Vietnam War; such as his experience with the draft and his witnessing of death during battles as well as his time spent in makeshift recreational room and finally his adaptation to life upon returning home. We learn exactly when the narrator tells us. That is, we learn about his fear of being shamed for running from the draft, his deep love for a sick girl, and his emotional damage cause by witnessing a close friend of his die.
Not only does this method of reading as a memoir produce some vividly different understandings of the novel than reading it as a work of non-fiction would, the lack of a divide between the author and the narrator also serves as a comfort when analyzing the author. The fact that O’Brien narrates his own seemingly true biography, makes it easy for the reader to make assumptions about his personality in real life. As Norman Friedman excellent articulated in his “Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept”, ”We cannot be the worse for the wisdom of these big men, these large souls [the Victorian novelists]. But, for better or worse, the fashion has changed; we like fiction unadulterated; we like the sense of taking part in an actual, a present experience, without the interference of an authorial guide.(Fried man 28)” When the author and the narrator become the same person, we become more comfortable making conclusions about the author based on the text. We do not need a guide, as we are not learning through hearsay, but from an original source.
Though our initial impressions, based off the idea that The Things They Carried might have been a non-fiction work, of O’Brien’s character may have been misperceived, we still made an attempt to understand the author through his written work. In fact, some of the assumptions that we made purely off what the text said, like O’Briens uneasiness with the draft, is not far off from what the reader comes to understand about O’Brien when he is revealed to not be the narrator of the book. This is because as an author, O’Brien is revealed in the text regardless of the fictional nature of the book. Helene Cixous put it eloquently in her piece “The Book as One of Its Own Characters”, “ Between authors and books, not everything can bet taken for granted. At the point where the author (“I”) thinks s’he can close the door on a chapter, the book puts its foot in the door.” (Cixous 403) Although the author is often a separate entity from the characters in there own novel, the novel still manages to capture some image of the author within it.

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If only understanding the role of Tim O’Brien in his own book was achievable by reading under the assumption that he is recalling events.The reality of things, of course, is contrary to this all. While reading the book as an autobiography would be more satisfying, at least to those, myself included, who support Norman Friedman’s belief that readers prefer a connection between author and narrator, abolishing the need for a guide, reading the book as a fictional work still gives us a very good view to O’Brien’s character.
Upon understanding that the narrator is not the author, The Things They Carried becomes a conglomeration of various stories written from the perspective of a man who happens to share the same name as the author, Tim O’Brien. It is a peculiar idea, but O’Brien quite literally uses himself as a fictional character in his own novel. That is, he creates a fictional version of himself to be the narrator. It is important to keep in mind, that while both, the author and narrator, share the same name, they are not the same person. The author did not genuinely have the experiences that the narrator claims to have. Even though the novel is a fiction, O’Brien does manage to reveal certain aspects of himself within the context of the story.
Even though the novel is a fictional work, O’Brien does manage to provide grounds by which the reader can make assumptions about certain aspects of him within the context of the story. As Steven Kaplan has written in his “The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried”, “Tim O’Brien takes the act of trying to reveal and understand the uncertainties of war one step further, by looking at it through the imagination.” (Kaplan 44) That is, O’Brien’s imagination and opinions on war is exposed throughout the novel, although he is not necessarily narrating the book. Most obvious is while we know that a lot of the specific events mentioned in the book did not actually happen to O’Brien himself there is a certain understanding that the events are inspired by true moments in author O’Brien’s life. The intention of writing the book can be interpreted as mutual between the fictional narrator O’Brien and the author O’Brien. As both the character and the author were in Vietnam and shared similar experiences, it is only natural to wonder how the events portrayed in the book experienced by the narrator reflect what O’Brien the author really went through.
In addition to the shared general war time experiences, like being around death and having significant moral conflicts, a characteristic of O’Brien the author is exposed when the topic of truth comes up in the novel. The distinction that the narrator offers between story truth and happening truth is characterized as the former being a more valuable representation of what reality is like. Story truth offers true possibilities, even if what the story refers to did not actually happen. It does not have to be true, it just has to have potential to be true. Happening truth, on the other hand, is overly limited to one reality, while story truth describes a universal truth. This opinionated distinction, while offered by the fiction narrator O’Brien, is unanimous with the beliefs of the writer O’Brien. This is proven when analyzing the draft scene in The Things They Carried. There is a moment where the narrator almost avoids the draft by running away to Canada. The “story truth” of the narrator’s experience reflects O’Brien the author’s internal uncertainty about how to respond to the draft, which was later revealed by an interview With Larry McCaffery. The fear of exile experienced by the fictional O’Brien is directly parallel with that of the author, who also battled with the question of “living exile”, that is, to live isolated from society out of shame for letting down his country. “I couldn’t face that”, O’Brien the author admitted, “To live in Canada or Sweden for the rest of my life was a frightening prospect”. (McCaffery 133)
The two very different ways of interpreting the book, as a fiction and as a non fiction, can naturally lead to the formation of different interpretations of the text. It is intuitive that the predisposition of readers will affect the outcome of how the text is to be interpreted. With that in mind, we begin to realize that the author is thus fair game for interpretation as well. While the reading and interpretation of The Things They Carried can, and often does, change upon finding out the book is a work of fiction, we are still able to tease out some information about the author, as exemplified by the analysis above.

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So is this simply a matter of a shared name between a character and the author inspires assumptions about the author? Or doe it perhaps transfer the power of the text to reveal something of the author? Not quite. Such hidden”biographies” are not unique to O’Brien’s novels, nor are they limited simply by a name change of the protagonist. Kaplan, in his “The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried” brings up an example of The Heart Of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad as a similar example. He writes, “similar to the pattern used by Joseph Conrad’s narrator, Marlow, in Heart of Darkness, so incisively characterized by J. Hillis Miller as a lifting of veils to reveal a truth that is quickly obscured again by the dropping of a new veil (Kaplan 47) This “truth” is the truth of what the author often ends up sharing about themselves, intentionally or not.
What does this say about literature? Well, for one thing, the author cannot escape being a part of the fiction. Whether the author means to write a piece of fiction or to truly write an autobiography, we find ways to interpret the text as a reflection of the author. What is important to note from this, and may certainly present itself as an atypical approach to understanding the author within the context of their text, is that it is inevitable that we come to understand the author through his writing. Even if the reader has not read a biography of the author, the writer is still reflected in the book. Readers are this able to make interpretations of the texts and come to conclusions, accurate or not, about the author, as they are up for grabs in the text. Thus, the author, turns into something like a character. They might try to hide behind a veil of text written from the perspective of a fictional character, but ultimately the author is exposed by the reader.


Snow, Hillary. “Interview: The Big Read author Tim O’Brien on ‘The Things They Carried’ and finding truth in fiction”. Port City Daily. January 13, 2014.

Friedman, Norman. “Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept.” PMLA. Vol. 70, No. 5. Modern Language Association, 1995.

McCaffery, Larry, and Tim O’Brien. “Interview with Tim O’Brien.” Chicago Review, vol. 33, no. 2, 1982

Kaplan, Steven. “The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried. Vol.35, No.1. Critique. 1993.

Cixous, Hélène. “The Book as One of Its Own Characters.” New Literary History, vol. 33, no. 3, 2002,

Philosophy: It is everyone’s buisness

In the 7th grade I became a philosopher. It is not that I had never read anything philosophical before, because by the 7th grade most Americans have, but the day my english teacher asked us to pull out our books to discuss a reading we had been doing the week before is one of my earliest memories of a truly intellectually engaging moment. Of course, it would be easy to dismiss reading The Kite Runner as reading just another somber novel that everyone’s uninspired english teacher loves to analyze the figurative language in. In part, that is what The Kite Runner and the hundreds of literary works required to be read in middle school, high school, and college, are rightfully used for. But those compositions are the very same compositions that have turned the American student body of English, yes, including you, into philosophers.
It is probably in my best interest to clarify what I mean by philosophy, as I am sure the above statement is going to make some heads turn. The idea of philosophy in the respect that I mean to use it is certainly not the exact same respect that comes to mind when someone says “Hey, how about the philosophy of that guy Aristotle”, nor is it the debatably useless major that so many colleges still love to offer (I can say this because I am a philosophy major myself.) The best way to characterize it would be to keep it to its less modern, and therefor less refined, primal components. Put in simplest terms, it is powerful writing conveying some serious thought or ideology, or “scholarly writing”, as some may call it. This writing is generally associated with only proportions of people that specialize in philosophy, the philosophy “scholars” if you will. Granting all this, it becomes a loose term as we realize that philosophical writing lays in a lot more than just a theory of ethics text book.

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To understand the claim that Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel, The Kite Runner, is just as philosophical as, let’s say Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (a philosophical work that discusses guilt and punishment, amongst other aspects of morality), it would help to provide some context of where the novel is coming from. Hosseini, who was born and lived many of his formative years in Afghanistan, wrote the novel with his homeland, which at the time of writing had been devastated by changes made by the Taliban, reflecting heavily on some characteristics of his early life, but also basing much of the book purely of imaginative fiction. The Kite Runner is like most melodramas of the 21st century. The common themes, striving for a seemingly distant father’s affection, reminiscing of a time in a place that is no longer present as it used to be, and regret, are all present throughout the book.
The plot line is a a simple one really, with a man, Amir, recalling his childhood in Afghanistan, and his relationship with one of his best friends, Hassan. As he recalls his childhood, he battles with understanding his relationship with his father, and his innocent juvenile selfishness that ultimately results in years of uncertainty, regret, and most important for the purposes of this paper, guilt.
There is a reoccurring, as English teachers love to call it, “theme”, regarding guilt and the emotional revelations experienced upon growing up throughout the novel. From the very beginning of the book, literally the first words “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975…” (Hosseini 1), there is a suggestions of some traumatic event that haunted the protagonist for the rest of the novel. In the following paragraph, the ball is further dropped and a guilty conscious is confirmed with the line “It was my past of unatoned sins” (Hosseini 1).
But what does that mean to us, the reader, if there is a reoccurring theme of guilt? How does that have anything to do with revelations or philosophy. Well, those expository moments are the book’s way of leveling off with the reader and establishing a platform off which an argument is built. It would be strange to jump straight into whatever the book is trying to say of guilt and redemption without putting those two things in some context.
With a foundation set, Hosseini can, and does, spend the rest of the novel making some point of this marginally familiar feeling of guilt and desire of redemption. One of the most substantial points the book puts out, is the idea that guilt can make us act irrationally (no surprise there) and, in fact, lead us to undertake some business that we would not normally do. Hosseini demonstrates this theory using events that occurred in Amir’s youthful years leading up to his departure from Afghanistan. Amir, driven by biting feelings of guilt that are rooted in how he acted as a passive bystander to [spoiler alert!] Hassan’s rape, can not fathom how Hassan has no resentment towards him. Out of hopes to feel some release through punishment, Amir aims to drive Hassan into being angry at him by doing various despicable things. At one point, Amir pelts Hassan with pomegranates, later he frames Hassan for stealing a watch and some other birthday goods. Ultimately, Amir does not receive the release he is looking for, and his guilt manifests itself as anger toward Hassan for being so mild and not seeking revenge.
In addition to these irrational, and quite frankly ironic, actions that Amir takes in coping with his guilt, we also see into the primitive human mind. Amir is angry because he feels guilty and wants Hassan to punish him. By this, Amir is looking for his guilt to be relieved, and while it may seem that Amir is a morally conscious person who wants to be punished for his wrong doings, he really only wants to be punished so that he can move on with his life. Punishment would be a good thing for Amir, as he would be released from any “debts” he owes to Hassan.
The use of the word “debt” was not of pure chance. It is the gateway to the philosophy of all of what was discussed above. We can now turn to concept of the primitive human’s mind and the selfish desire to be relieved of any emotional debt owned, aka guilt. In Friedrich Nietzsche Genealogy of Morals, a fairly well-known work in the philosophy world, Nietzsche talks of the roots of guilt, and how it is strongly associated with the German word “Schuld” which means debt (Nietzsche 39). The very theme described by Nietzsche is paralleled Hosseini’s work, but put in a more personal setting.
Just as in The Kite Runner, In Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche also alludes to the idea of how being guilty limits the freedom people have in decision making. So like how Hosseini writes of Amir’s inability to make rational decisions when he is under the influence of guilt, Nietzsche argues that having an undisturbed conscience leads every individual to have the great responsibility of being liable for all their own actions. (Nietzsche 23)


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Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner on and off for a little over three years, balancing out his morning writing sessions and his regular job practicing medicine, as we would expect of an entertainment writer. While many other popular novels had been published that same year, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and The Sisterhood Of the Traveling Pants, to name a few, The Kite Runner experienced some rather impressive successes. Its success as a novel is a great external factor as to why it can be seen as not just a plausible piece of philosophy, but a strong sample of philosophy for that matter. The parallels between the philosophy of Nietzsche and The Kite Runner should appear more than obvious at this point. What may not be as obvious, or at least not as much of a priority to think about when considering The Kite Runner as philosophy, is the idea that a work of literature just served an equally important lesson in the philosophy of ethics and guilt as Nietzsche, but in a more accessible and (a claim that I have only personal evidence to support but nonetheless is plausible) more entertaining fashion. When will you ever read the Genealogy of Morality on your own terms? How about The Kite Runner? It is safe to say that most of the young adults in America’s middle school, high school, and college systems now, would probably prefer to read a books like The Kite Runner as opposed to Nietzsche.
What does this say about literature as philosophy? For one thing, it certainly appears to be more accessible. That is a big claim to make considering that many have yet to see literature is philosophical (but if you read this paper and understood anything of it, I am sure you would at least reconsider taking a second look at the evidence supporting such a claim). Literature has undoubtedly historically been more accessible to general populations, as opposed to Philosophy, which requires a specific type of education and mindset. Literature makes philosophy more accessible, and because it is framed more attractively, it can spread ideas more conveniently. So, as we see that literature is more accessible than traditional forms of philosophy, we also begin to see that it is more effective at the job of spreading knowledge. It can be said that literature is like philosophy but more accessible and more effective. The effectiveness of literature to spread complex ideas comes partially from its natural accessibility, but also from its framing. The ideas are hidden in literature and cloaked in such a way that the reader almost has no chance to argue agains the philosophy. In order to enjoy and enjoy a novel in its rawest sense, there are philosophical ideas that are accepted as a baseline for understanding.
So what is the role of philosophy? In order to unpack the deep philosophical meanings within literary texts, experience in classical philosophy certainly will not hurt.
Any job that can be done by philosophy can most certainly be accomplished on a wider scale by literature. Literary philosophy, however, can be a two sided dagger. As suggested above, it will often require the acceptance of various philosophical ideas. Within literature, the acceptance of the ideas comes subconsciously. In other words, in books like The Kite Runner, philosophy gets served under the veil of entertainment. We can accept ideas without fully understanding them. The concern for lack of a deeper more holistic understanding, as opposed to a special case understanding, is likely to be the reason that regular philosophy is still around today. In other words, while philosophy in literature can be just as powerful and more accessible that traditional philosophy, we carry on with the study of regular philosophy because the philosophy scholars are afraid of losing their imagined “edge” over the rest of us philosophizing school kids.