In The Hungering Dark, Buechner (1) Intentionally reads and reflects on the words of the Bible, (2) enters into a discussion of love that may catalyze some important philosophical questions (3) uses curious wording that may be referencing atheism and the theory of evolution, and (4) openly questions aspects of the Christian zeitgeist.
(1) It’s apparent from his detailed reflections on various verses that the man has spent a great deal of time reading the Bible.
- The Gospels and select other passages may be most read among Christians today, but Buechner pulls verses from the books of Psalms, Daniel, Isaiah, Job, Genesis, and Songs of Solomon as well as the Gospels. He finds such depth in these verses that, when combined with other literature and his own experience, he is able to write down pages of thoughts inspired by a few sentences of scripture. He also differentiates Greek words for love without estranging his less studied readers.
(2) Buechner’s comparison and contrast of “eros” and “agape” love is enlightening for relational understanding, but it is also a good springboard for a conversation about the philosophy of morals.
- In Chapter 9, “The Two Loves”, Buechner writes about love of in the context of human and divine relationship. He mentions that in relationships people are likely to get hurt and they are unlikely to predict when or where that hurt will occur. Whether romanticism or the illusion of foresight, individuals mostly fail to predict the inevitable pains of human relationships. As he goes on to talk of sacrificial love he intentionally or unintentionally may be pointing to what seems like a philosophical difference between many believers and unbelievers. Whatever religion one adheres to, there seem to be more faith-based statements among believers than among unbelievers. Believers usually profess to some beliefs that are hard to justify through a solely Consequentialist or Utilitarian thought process, but unbelievers may more easily justify their beliefs through a Utilitarian thought-process. When Buechner emphasizes the difficulties of predicting the onset of pain in romantic relationships his words parallel a problem of consequential ethics. Humanity has yet to discover a way to consistently and accurately predict the future. Buechner’s words help him to make his point that eros and agape are more similar than they are different, but in the process his words present a hard question to the idea that morality is solely a matter of consequence, especially for our finite species.
(3) Buechner seems to have given some serious reflection to the beliefs of atheism and perhaps, the theory of evolution.
- In Chapter 7, “The Sign by the Highway”, Buechner writes poetically, not scientifically, about humanity’s ape-likeness. It’s unclear if he’s agreeing that humans are the distant cousins of apes, and that’s not the focus of his statement. Still, his choice of words may shift some readers towards thoughts of evolutionary biology.
- In the first chapter, “The Face in the Sky”, Buechner aptly points out the lack of significance of the birth of Jesus to nonbelievers. However, most nonbelievers will sharply disagree with Buechner’s later generalization that the manger scene must only be a source of sorrow for those who do not believe in the gospel. A sharp disagreement from nonbelievers could be that life is sweeter and time more savory without the promise of an afterlife. Nonbelievers might also enjoy traditional aspects of religion (e.g. the nativity scene, hymns, or the teachings of Jesus) similarly to the way society enjoys Santa or the tooth fairy.
- At the end of “The Sign by the Highway” Buechner echoes Pascal’s Wager. He also writes that it’s a good kind of amazing that people still believe in God. Ultimately, Buechner’s argument in “The Hungering Dark” is for belief in God, but Buechner seems to express some understanding of those who elect for the alternative.
(4) Though he argues for belief, Buechner openly questions many Christian attitudes.
- In chapter 4, “A Sprig of Hope”, Buechner asserts that there is a tendency to treat more difficult parts of the Bible as fairy tales in order to cover for a judgment in those passages. Buechner is making the point that the stories of the Bible are often treated with a selective bias among believers, who may often pick and choose what stories to ignore, focus on, or tell with a certain sort of glaze or adornment. Interestingly, Buechner illustrates his point with mention of the Vietnam War which was still raging when the book was published. He goes on to illuminate the increased significance of some regularly sugar-coated Bible stories when these stories are read for what they are. Why would Christians try to sugar-coat scripture or God? In the end it may hurt more than help.
If this book was a river it would flow towards a cleft in a waterfall, on one side of the cleft would be intentional faith, hope for eternity, and pursuit of unconditional love and on the other side of the cleft would be strictly objective human reason, self-determination of meaning/purpose, and conditional love. There are other great themes in this book like connectedness in “Confusion of Face” & “Pontifex”, vocation & mission in “The Calling of Voices” & “The Killing of Time”, love in “The Two Loves” & “The Wedding at Cana”, joy in “The Monkey-God”, and hope in “The Rider”, but this book is mostly about questioning faith and keeping it. Regardless of one’s choice for or against faith and for people who have experienced or are experiencing this struggle, The Hungering Dark is still relevant and worth a read.