Why Be An English Major
A Christian Perspective
When I first decided to become an English major, I thought it was because I wanted to be a professor. I also happened to like reading and writing, and happened to be good (I was told) at both. Now, looking back at my four years as an English major, I can see just how small these reasons were, especially compared to the reasons I hold for being an English scholar now. Over the past four years, I have asked myself almost every day why I have chosen to be an English major — not because I have ever regretted this decision, but because I have always wanted to do everything for the best possible reasons. My goal was to know the good of being an English major to the fullest extent imaginable.
In this essay—which I originally wrote as a part of my 80-page English Capstone Project—I have attempted to lay out some of the core reasons that I now believe English is so worth studying. It will be no shock to anyone to note that English studies has increasingly fallen under our culture’s glare with disrepute. It is, in the eyes of many, silly, subjective, a waste of time, and a waste of money. But just because its practitioners may not (often) be millionaires does not mean that English studies is a waste. Here, I hope to prove that. At least, to a Christian audience. The ideas expressed in this essay are the culmination of all my reading, writing, and thinking over the past four years. It is an introduction — and only an introduction — to the better reasons I now hold for doing what I do.
Any study or discipline, rightly conceived and rightly practiced, will aim solely and wholeheartedly at the double-end of helping its practitioners love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbor as themselves. These are the great commandments in which the entire Christian life consists — anything that aims to do less, more, or other than this would be idolatrous.
We must start here because any discipline that makes us less like Jesus is a waste of time — both injudicious and iniquitous.
It is often asked of the English major what they intend to do with their degree. More often, it is assumed: “So you want to be a teacher?” As if the only value of learning to read and write is to be able to teach it to others, a fact which would make teaching it to others quite useless, unless they too were going to teach it to others for some inexplicable reason, given that English has no value apart from that it is something to teach. Or as if the only value of English studies — and any other study — is its potential for monetary gain, a fact which would make the lifestyle of Jesus and his disciples the model for failure rather than success. We must not forget the rich young ruler who Jesus commanded to give up everything and follow him. Money, rightly used, has the same end as everything else: to help those who use and possess it love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbor as themselves. Though English studies can be a means to money — (although anyone who sets out to be an English major for the purpose of making money must surely have lost their mind) — to reduce it to that goal would strip it of everything that makes it worth desiring.
Every study has a particular means of making its practitioners understand and look more like Jesus. Political science majors will, if they have done their job rightly, be better than anyone at understanding Jesus as King, biologists of understanding YHWH as creator, theologians of understanding Jesus as God. The particular glory of the English major is not that it makes money, but that it helps its practitioners understand YHWH as storyteller — and in doing so makes them the best readers of the story he’s writing, and some of the best interpreters of our role within that story. It has a particular way of helping us understand Jesus and, as I hope to demonstrate in what follows, a particular way of making us more like him.
English studies is as big a part of the whole that is Truth as anything else. To dispense with it because its lack of monetary value in the present day is to dispense with one of Truth’s most essential elements and one of Love’s most vibrant ambassadors. We call it a part of the humanities because without it we would not be human.
As a place to start, I suggest that one of the chief ways that English studies — rightly understood and rightly practiced — makes its practitioners more like Jesus is by empowering them to “speak the truth in love.” To speak the truth in love should be the mantra of every English department, not because love is especially great on its own — (love too can be idolatry) — but because love is the greatest commandment, because speaking the truth in love, as Paul says, helps us “grow up in every way into into him who is the head, into Christ.” To study English and to study it rightly is to seek to obey, with the most excellent fulfillment, the calling of every Christian to speak the truth in love.
The English major, in their obsession with words, will notice that there are two parts to this: truth and love. They will realize, as anyone who thinks about it long enough will realize, that these two are inseparable: there can be no love without truth and there can be no truth without love. The former of these is perhaps more obvious than the latter. It is easy to conceive how falsehood and deception obliterate love, a tad harder to see how hate and apathy obliterate truth. For this, I refer you to Wordsworth:
Vain is the glory of the sky,
The beauty vain of field and grove
Unless, while with admiring eye
We gaze, we also learn to love.
As Wordsworth, throughout all his poetry, makes apparent, there is perhaps no more false a statement than “love is blind.” Love is not blind. Love sees. Hate is blind, and so are its servants. Love is the lens through which we are called to look because love is the only lens which is neither foggy nor cracked. If you hate anyone, for instance, it is not because they are hateable. God declared them infinitely lovable, even in their sinfulness, when he declared them worthy, in his eyes, of his own death. If we hate anyone, it is not because they are hateable, but because we do not see them truly. Hate clouds our ability to see reality. Love enables us to see the truth clearly, and hence, there can be no truth without love just as much as there can be no love without truth. Thus can Tolstoy rightly say, “Every single thing I understand, I understand only because I love.”
In order to understand the peculiar benefit of English studies, therefore, we must understand how English studies helps its practitioners perceive the truth and live out love in a way that is unique to it and no other discipline. This will be task one of seeing its value and worth. Let’s begin.
English studies at its most basic level is a discipline of reading and writing. We read books and write about them; we write books and read about them. Yet books are certainly not the only things we read and write about. On the contrary, the English major recognizes that there is no text that is unworthy of their attention. Though we can spend hours delighting in Shakespeare, we can also spend hours delighting in road signs: STOP, PED XING, RAILROAD CROSSING. We can contemplate the concision, the font, the coloration, the formal qualities like its shape and size, and quite probably spend hours of worthwhile discussion on the role of signage in the modern world and how that relates to the semiotics which undergird all language and all reality. This is because language itself is our wheelhouse. Or perhaps more broadly, signs and the things they signify, because of course a word is a sign just like a stop sign is a sign. Thus, the English major is uniquely equipped to understand the world through its complex systems of signage. We start by asking, what do the words on the page signify? Then we ask, what does my outfit signify? Perhaps my choice of shirt — its fabric, brand, and color — reveals something of my class, my sex, my culture. Or what does the L.A. skyline signify? Is it, for instance, an accident that all the church steeples are overshadowed by industry: by thousands of feet of steel and glass with business logos at their tops? Or perhaps more profoundly, if God is the Word, then what does the Word signify? What, for instance, happens if we give a Saussurean translation to John 1? “In the beginning was the Sign, and the Sign was with the Signified, and the Sign was the Signified.” How can a sign simultaneously be the thing it signifies? So we understand the mystery of Jesus a little better. Why? Because we read. Because we read “promiscuously,” as Milton puts it, which is to say, we read everything. Though we prioritize, and rightly so, that which is great, by reading that which is great we equip ourselves to read all of reality with excellence and discipline. Afterall, if God spoke the world into existence, then he must have used some language to do it. We and all that we see are the spoken words of God — the poetry of the omnipotent. If this is true of all reality, who better to read reality than poets — than those who know how to read and write?
English studies, as its practitioners know and love, is the most liberal of all the arts. In order to do it well, one need not only be an exceptional reader and writer but a good psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, linguist, — even ecologist! — historian, theologian, philosopher, and the list goes on. We read and interpret not only the words on the page, but the characters the words describe and the plots their authors devise. We psychoanalyze, we explore the complexities of human relationships, we place things in their historical context, attempt to understand the relationship between the physical book and our surrounding economy and ecology, and strive to see what that same book might say about both! We dwell charitably on the surface, but also dig beneath that surface to see what philosophies and theologies dwell beneath. We seek to understand gender and Jesus, plants and politics, art and angst. We are experts in a few things — reading, writing, literature, language — and amateurs in everything else. We have as many interests as there are books, and access to as much truth as there is in the world’s library. By making reading and writing our subject, we have made everything our subject. We thus have a uniquely broad and uniquely liberal access to truth.
English studies helps us see the truth clearly because it is, in a very real sense, the study of all reality. As John Henry Newman puts it in The Idea of a University,
Literature stands related to Man as Science stands to Nature; it is his history. Man is composed of body and soul; he thinks and he acts; he has appetites, passions, affections, motives, designs; he has within him the lifelong struggle of duty with inclination; he has an intellect fertile and capacious; he is formed for society, and society multiplies and diversifies in endless combinations his personal characteristics, moral and intellectual. All this constitutes his life; of all this Literature is the expression; so that Literature is to man in some sort what autobiography is to the individual; it is his Life and Remains.
Literature, as the autobiography of humanity across time and culture, affords those who study it a broader, more inclusive, more diverse, more intimate, more loving, and more true understanding of humanity. It grants its readers the ability to see beyond their own time and place — to step into the reality of those who inhabit different cultures, different skin, different classes, different worldviews, different hairstyles, different sexual orientations, different whatever-it-may-be — and enables us to see them as equals, as beautiful, as lovable, as likable, and as worthy in God’s eyes of his own death. In other words, the reading of literature makes our world bigger by enabling us to see truths that go beyond our own experience, and in doing so, it enhances our capacity to love those who are different from us.
English studies, rightly understood and rightly practiced, helps us see reality and love all those who live there. I can honestly say that I did not know forgiveness until I read War And Peace, that I did not know the generational power of abuse until I read Wuthering Heights, that I did not begin to understand marriage until I read Pride And Prejudice, or how to have a happy family until I read Anna Karenina, or the complete degradation of slavery until I read Frederick Douglass, or the immeasurable importance of gratitude until I read Robinson Crusoe. Books have been to me a way to see more than I, on my own, can see. They have been the training ground wherein I have learned the truth and learned to love. If I have any capacity for knowledge, any capacity for charity, it is due in large part to what I have read and who I have read it with. English studies is not about money or teaching, but about interpreting reality accurately and loving those who are in it. Why? Because our big older brother, who loved us enough to die for us (and who we wouldn’t know that about without books), told us that that’s what we were made to do. We read, we write because Christ. We read, we write because God, through Paul, told us to know the truth and speak it in love.
If there is anyone who is equipped to speak the truth in love, it is the English major. We have a uniquely broad access to truth, a special ability to crawl inside of other people and see what they see and live what they live. We have the wisdom to understand that there are many more “and’s” that need to be said and perhaps a few less “neither’s” and “nor’s” — that whenever we confront two seemingly disparate truths, our inclination should not be to pick and choose but to determine if and where an “and” is possible. We know how to write. We know how to speak. We know better than most that “death and life are in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof,” that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” and we have dedicated our lives to finding those fitly spoken words, to resurrecting the dead with the power of our tongues, and offering those apples of gold to every stranger we meet. We have made it our mission to know the truth — all of it! even the parts that make us uncomfortable! — and use that truth to love everyone — all of them! even the ones that make us uncomfortable! — and we have, in short, made it our discipline to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves — to speak the truth in love.
I said near the beginning that every discipline grants its practitioners a unique lens through which they can see God. The education major has a unique ability to see God as teacher, the engineer to see God as designer, the nurse to see God as healer. The English major, therefore, also has its unique lens for seeing God — a lens that would be well worth the cost even were it the only good that English studies has to offer. The English scholar, that is, has the unique ability to see God as storyteller and author.
We have already said that all of creation — including ourselves — is composed of the spoken words of God, but let us now step further and say that these words are not arbitrarily strewn about as if creation were some sort of crossword puzzle or alphabet soup. The words of God, which constitute our existence, are, on the contrary, ordered and strung together into lines and sentences, paragraphs or perhaps even stanzas. God did not simply write creation; he wrote the words and set them in motion; he wrote the words and never stopped writing; he wrote the words and wrote them into a story that he is writing just as much today as any other day in the past. Creation is not merely the utterance of God, it is the narrative of God. History is his story, his epic poem, his great Russian novel, and though we are not strictly speaking historians (although we are amateur historians), we are story-readers and story-writers, and as such, we are uniquely equipped to understand both the Storyteller and the story he is writing.
As English scholars, we understand how stories are structured, how plots are designed, how characters are created, how the writing process happens. How does this help us know and understand God? This will be task two of our experiment. Let me offer some examples.
Human history, just like any story, has a plot, and this plot can be divided into acts, which can be further divided into scenes and moments. Plots have structures, and though there are as many plot structures as there are books, it is equally true, as Joseph Campbell famously pointed out, that there are enough trends within these different plot structures to suggest that there may only really be one plot with many faces. Regardless of if this is true, let us see if this single plot structure can be mapped onto history. History would therefore have three acts. Act one will present an ordinary world which gets disrupted by an inciting incident that forces the characters in a new direction and into a new world. The ordinary world, in our case, is Eden. The inciting incident is the Fall, which forced the characters in a new direction — away from God — and into a new world — a world filled with sin. Act two then presents new characters, new sub-plots, and slowly rising tensions. The order (or rather disorder) of the new world is established in Cain and Abel, some of our new characters. The drama is continued in the form of other characters: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. (An aside: Each of these character’s lives follow a similar three-act story structure — and thus, history as a whole is filled with little images of itself, which repeat and multiply in subtle variations with every new character, every new life, and every new day.) These new characters, new subplots, new tensions, all build to a momentous midpoint, in which Jesus — the savior, the hope, the middle-of-the-story plot twist — enters the stage. We are filled with hope until the bad guys close in. We arrive at the great all-is-lost moment of history: the crucifixion. This is followed by a three-day long “dark night of the soul,” which is resolved in the final plot point before Act Three: the resurrection — the plot twist which transforms the great all-is-lost into the great all-is-gained. Now, having finally reached Act Three, it is in Act Three that we live today, awaiting the third and final plot point, the climax, and resolution. But who could see history in this way except for those who know and understand stories? Who could understand the Storyteller and his methods this clearly except those who are storytellers themselves?
Let us go further and consider what kind of a storyteller God might be. I’ll tell you: a good one. What makes a storyteller good? Not one thing, but many. Every great storyteller has their own great methods, and as the greatest storyteller, let us assume that God uses all of them. He is then the kind of storyteller who meticulously plans and outlines, as well as the storyteller who does neither and just sees what happens when he simply tells the truth. He creates his characters both before he writes and as he writes, has an idea of the plot before he writes but also allows the plot to emerge naturally from whatever happens as he writes. He is not the kind of author who forces everything to happen exactly the way he wants it to happen — no great author has ever done that. Instead, his writing is collaborative — as all great writing is. He collaborates with the Muse, who in his case (as not in ours) is also himself, as well as with the characters he makes. He allows his characters to influence the course of his writing, and rather than diminishing his sovereignty, the writer understands that this only makes him all the more sovereign. Good authors do not rape their stories into submission — they love their stories into consent, into beauty, into grace, and they are not the less powerful for it, but rather are all the more. Thus, we understand, as Calvin could not, that God proves his omnipotence through our freedom, and that our freedom only makes him all the more great and powerful as Author.
Need I go on? I will. As Aristotle writes, “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius.” The writer understands this (as, for that matter, does the reader). God, as the greatest writer, understands this better than anyone. And what has he done to prove his immeasurable genius? He has written all of reality as metaphor for other higher realities. The English major knows, as Jonathan Edwards (and the author of Hebrews) knew, “that the things of the world are ordered [and] designed to shadow forth spiritual things” — that the waves are metaphors for God’s wrath and fluidity, the ocean his sublimity, the trees the order and emergence of life, human beings for God’s own self, and the tabernacle for all reality. As readers and writers, we see the metaphors of all God’s writing around us, swirling together with themes and motifs, symbols and synecdoches. We see the ink stains of the Author in all that we see. We bow in worship at the one we imitate. We go about our humble vocation reading, interpreting, and writing all that we see, all that he has written in ink our eyes can behold and our spirits perceive. We rejoice that we have been given such an excellent task. We do not moan and groan that the world has decided — in its blatant stupidity! — to make such a task rewardless (though it is not, as I will show, rewardless). We do not ask for money (though we make it). We will be satisfied with nothing less than God.
If only there were other English majors writing this with me! Then the glory of our discipline — its infinite worth — would be all the more apparent. I only write what I myself have seen and see and think, but God has given different eyes to all who see, and different minds to all who think, and different hearts to all who love. I, as an English major, recognize my own limitations, my own need for the diversity of all humanity, and the inadequacy even then of our ability to grasp the fullness of God. What inconceivable richness there is to the one on whom we gaze! We each only see a part, a part enough for eternity but a part nonetheless. I need others. I need the tongues of others to sing this discipline’s praise.
We have only just begun, but having begun well what I intend to be nothing more (or less) than an excellent beginning, we can commence upon some sort of task three. Task one was to see how English studies lends itself, with a caliber unique to it and no other discipline, to the fulfillment of Paul’s command to “speak the truth in love.” Task two was to see how English studies grants its practitioners eyes to see and ears to hear God in a way that no other discipline does. Where do we go from here? It may perhaps be worthwhile to limit ourselves no longer, to tie ourselves to no particular line of reasoning, but go wherever the wind blows and the spirit takes — to see what beginnings we might have begun had we chosen to begin elsewhere, and light the sparks for future fires to burn with their own words into their own documents. If our goal is to spread the blaze that flares up within the breast of every English scholar, to light the world aflame with a love of the particular goodness that we have chosen to love so well, then it cannot possibly hurt to run mad a bit and throw some sparks in every direction. We are each of us a Phaethon; now is our time to ride. Task three will be to write a list — to write a list promiscuously.
Who better can read the Bible — that Book of all books! — than those who know how to read! It is neither strict theology nor nothing more than doctrine (though it is also those), but is filled with stories, poetry, characters, and all those things that the English major knows so well. We read the Bible and we read it uniquely as a book that is simultaneously greater than all other books and just like all other books. We are excellent Bible-readers because we are excellent book-readers. We bring essential ideas to the table of interpretation because of our unique ability to see motifs and themes, understand rhetorical devices, compare genres, analyze character, think carefully, read with empathy, and embrace a multiplicity of interpretations simultaneously. The writers amongst us are even better off because they can read the Bible not only as reader, but as writer. They can see the depth of intentionality and understand through intuition and craft why the biblical authors make the choices they make. We are not expert theologians (though we are amateur theologians) and need those who are, but they need us equally and perhaps — in our historical moment — even a little more desperately. Not many can read the Bible as literature. The English major can.
We are equipped to see things both broadly and narrowly. We are trained to see both the big picture as well as the minutiae. We wade in the shallows; we dive in the depths.
By learning to express our thoughts with clarity and precision, we learn to think with clarity and precision. We are able to follow the line of reasoning as far as it goes and take our thoughts farther than even we thought possible. Reading and writing are exercises of the mind. By learning to read we learn to absorb information thoroughly and efficiently. By learning to write we learn to analyze, organize, and present this information in new and eye-opening ways. It is (for most of us) impossible to think without sentences — even images have syntax. Insofar as we know how to read and write sentences, we thereby expand our capacity to think critically, with concision, precision, clarity, and charity.
By dedicating so much of our time to understanding others — their lives, cultures, perspectives, ideas — we hone the art of empathy and come to better understand ourselves. “Know thyself!” is a command we take seriously. Not only do we speak the truth in love, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We have made it our lives’ business to grow in both of these respects.
By reading as much as we can, we develop a rich chronology of thought. We can tell you what the big ideas were in England over a thousand years ago, and we can tell you how those ideas developed into those we hold in America today.
As for money, you may think I’ve forgotten it. I haven’t. It is simply the lamest reason to become an English major (or any major for that matter, though it is still legitimate). With regard to money, in what job is communication not essential? In what job is clarity and precision not an advantage? Is writing not a profitable skill? What employer does not want someone who can think critically about a single thing in twelve different ways without exhausting their mental resources? What employee wouldn’t benefit from a little more empathy? A well-written email? An articulate phone call? A more-delightful-than-usual conversation at lunch? The reality is, though English studies does not offer all of the essential skills for jobs like software development or engineering, it offers skills that are essential for all jobs — skills which other majors only develop in passing if they develop them at all. Employers will never hire someone — even someone who possesses every requisite skill to the highest degree — if that individual is intolerable. The ability to write a sentence goes a long way. The ability to write an essay goes even further. The ability to write a story goes furthest of all. As for practicality, there may be no discipline better.
As English majors, we expand our capacity for joy every time we read or write. Reading Shakespeare and Milton is no easy task for the vast majority of humanity. Writing a good essay or story is even harder. Yet both of these, through craft and discipline, have become joys for us — even though they remain hard. We delight in the difficulties of Faulkner and T. S. Eliot because we have tasted the fruit of such labor and know the taste is worth the task. We find joy in what most of the world finds exasperating, and these joys are as endless as there are books in existence or ideas still waiting to be written.
If you want more reasons, you know where to find us. You can bet we’ll all have different reasons, not to mention an eagerness to share.
Finally, to conclude this audacious line of inquiry, it will perhaps be worthwhile to illuminate a phrase I have used quite frequently: “English studies — rightly understood and rightly practiced.”
What is English studies, rightly understood and rightly practiced?
Although I have already answered this question indirectly through everything I have said in the preceding sections, it is worth lingering on more explicitly. This is because English studies is not often rightly understood and is not often rightly practiced. To become an English major in the hopes of finding something like what I’ve described above, one must tread carefully. My reasons for being an English major would infuriate most English professors. Crushing and destroying my reasons is often their reason for doing what they do. Jesus has become quite massively out of fashion.
Let me offer you some “and’s” that need to be said, and some temptations to be aware of.
First, avoid the temptation of critique. For the past 150 years, the default mode of literary interpretation has been criticism. (This is where the phrase “critical thinking” comes from; I try to avoid this phrase.) You read a book, and, without even considering what good the author might be trying to offer, you tear it to pieces and accuse it of evil. You deconstruct it, point to all the ways it’s racist, sexist, classist, and whatever else you can convict it of. While these are good skills to have, they should not be our default setting. Yet for many English scholars, and many English departments, this is what English studies is all about. For them, it is a discipline of hate. It is a discipline of showing why every book (except for a select few published in the past century) is hateable and worthy of the match. People who only know how to read books by destroying them do not love books; they do not love humanity. Avoid them. Avoid their practices. Embrace both critique and charity. Don’t do away with critique. Be aware that most of the books you confront will be filled with evil, but know that they will also be filled with good. Do your best to see both. Such is the discipline of love.
Second, avoid the temptation of demon-cracy. That is, avoid the temptation to only read books published in the last century by marginalized writers. We think this is democratic and inclusive. We think that by rejecting tradition, we are somehow being less bigoted. We are not. As Chesterton would say, democracy and tradition go hand in hand. He writes:
I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. […] Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.
In other words, your first clue that Nietzsche is wrong should be that he thinks he is the only person in all of history to have ever been right. Read the books that everyone throughout history (except for those few modern Nietzscheans) has agreed are great. Be democratic. Not demon-cratic. Read Homer and Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton. Read also all those new books and all those old that should have made it into the canon but did not because of racism, sexism, classism, or what-have-you. Read both. Do not succumb to the idolatry of the new and marginalized; do not succumb to the idolatry of the old and dominant. Be committed to saying “and.” Be committed to democracy and inclusion — not the appearance of both.
Third, avoid the temptation of specialization. Some day, if you become an English major, you will take a class called “Critical Theory,” and you will fall in love with one particular way of reading. For me, it was reading through the lens of sex and gender. I love reading with my mind attuned to representations of women and men, constructions of masculinity and femininity, and all those great and exciting things. Yet, if this was the only lens through which I ever chose to read, I would not be a lover of reading. Find your specializations and love them well; do not worship them. Those who can only see one thing cannot see very much. Be first a generalist, second a specialist. The pressure will be to specialize. Again, be staunchly biased toward that lovely conjunction “and.”
Fourth, avoid the temptation of subject- or object-worship. In our culture, it is hip to either believe that everything is subjective or that everything is objective. Reality is not so simple. Subjectivity exists and is worth attending to; so does and so is objectivity. Don’t be a rationalist. Don’t be a relativist. Don’t be both. (That’s absurd; “and” only goes so far.) Instead, be the kind of person who recognizes that to do away with subjectivity is to do away with love (and thus truth), and that to do away with objectivity is to do away with truth (and thus love). Be the kind of person who strives to see how subjectivity and objectivity work together — how they cohere into a truth that is as big as reality really is. Be the kind of person who recognizes that all of reality passes through the lens of our own interpretations of it, yet who also recognizes that reality really exists nonetheless — that it exists the way it wants to, not the way we want it to, and that, yes, it is discoverable (though not often without work).
Fifth and finally, avoid the temptation of irreligion. There is a horrid little myth that has been perpetuated by those pesky Nietzscheans I mentioned early that God and Christianity are somehow unintelligent or even anti-intelligent. Anyone who has read anything from the Christian tradition knows that this is far from the truth. The Old Testament has been around longer than any other books we know of; the New Testament for almost 2,000 years. The Christian tradition goes back to the beginning of humanity. Postmodernism and secularism, as they are currently construed, go back about 150 years. As an intellectual system Christianity is the most developed, nuanced, and complex in existence — not the least. All the best books have been written by Christians. Though this seems like it is becoming less and less true, we still have our history — and it is rife with better thinkers than Freud and Darwin. The burden of proof is not on the side of the Christian; it is on the side of the anti-Christian. Those who think Christianity is a passing fad are themselves a passing fad. (Again, many of our modern anti-Christian beliefs are a blink in the scope of history, whereas Christianity fills human history in its entirety.) Do not be afraid to put Jesus in your essay on Hemingway. He is already there, waiting to be found.
There is nothing more silly than to think it is unintellectual to talk about Jesus. If you really believe that he is who he says he is, then you believe that all of everything — at least, those things that exist (because evil is non-existence) — bears the likeness of the one who made it. Jesus holds all things together. He is in all and through all. To see him in everything is not ignorance — it is the height of intellectual achievement.