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Interview by Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa
Novelist, biographer (of Tolstoy and C. S. Lewis, among others), reviewer (one of the sharpest), literary editor, polemicist, A. N. Wilson has been a lively presence on the British literary scene since the 1970s, when he was still in his early twenties. In addition to producing a steady stream of fiction, he has written most recently Jesus (1992) and Paul: The Mind of the Apostle (1997). His new book, just published by Norton, is God's Funeral, a narrative of the loss of Christian faith particularly among intellectuals in nineteenth-century Britain. Wilson's own faith pilgrimage has taken him from the church (he was one of the few Christians among the British literati) to a highly publicized deconversion (the Saul-Paul story in reverse) to his current status as a "Christian fellow traveler." Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa met with Wilson in Boston near the end of the June heat wave.
DONALD YERXA: In God's Funeral you write with great empathy about the loss of faith. Did you yourself receive a religious upbringing?
My father was an agnostic; my mother is a practicing Anglican, not of a very enthusiastic kind, but she is a believing Anglican, and so she goes to church each week. For reasons which are quite strange, but trivial, I went to a Roman Catholic primary school. I was taught by the Dominican nuns until I was 7. Then from the age of 7 to 18, I went to boarding schools, which were, broadly speaking, Church of England. I would say I was a more than usually religious child and certainly had aspirations to become a priest, which did not entirely leave me until my mid- to late twenties. So that was my background: Episcopalian, but with a strong element of agnosticism on my father's side. In deed, he was positively antireligious.
YERXA: So you had both influences.
Yes, and I daresay that they both exist in my own psyche. I am naturally pious and naturally skeptical—and probably I've learned both at my father and my mother's knee. It was the only area between them where ...