Philip Maughan at The New Statesman:
There is also a sense that, in recent years, novelists have formed part of a rearguard action in response to the New Atheist consensus that emerged after Richard Dawkins’s God Delusion was published in 2006. The aggressive incuriosity and self-righteousness exhibited by the more militant end of the movement seemed to devalue the freedom of thought required to write a novel. “I never quite understood why you would read fiction to understand the human condition,” Dawkins surprised nobody by saying in 2013. One other thing that unites writers with believers is a sense that the truth can be story-shaped.
“It’s extremely hard to convince a New Atheist polemicist that the standard way of understanding scripture is one that allows for it to be metaphorical,” Spufford said. “It’s the fundamentalists who claim the Bible is a handbook or a scientific treatise who are the marginal ones.”
Deterministic ideas, whether theological, political or scientific, produce novels in which destinies are sewn up and moral questions tidily resolved. When Nick Hornby read Gilead, the second novel by the American writer Marilynne Robinson, he wrote in the Believer magazine: “For the first time I understood the point of Christianity – or at least, I understood how it might be used to assist thought.” He is not the only one for whom that book has had the effect of a conversion (James Wood in the New Yorker was reduced to “a fond mumbling”) – not a conversion to Christianity, of course, but to a new understanding of religion’s place in human culture and intellectual activity.