Forty-five years ago in a college English class, the professor was talking about literary genius. To illustrate a point, he told us about the poet John Keats's notion of "negative capability," which Keats had described in a letter to his brothers George and Tom: "at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason …"
A student asked the professor for an example of the opposite of negative capability. The professor answered without hesitation: "Religious beliefs." He smiled. It was 1967, and we all knew that religion was fading away.
A lot has changed in the years since that classroom discussion. English professors don't talk so much about genius nowadays, let alone Men of Achievement. Religion, it turns out, hasn't faded away. But misconceptions about faith persist—especially the notion that religious belief functions primarily as a refuge for people who are desperately trying to escape from reality, from the dazzling and sometimes unsettling multiplicity of human existence, from uncertainty and change.
In The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt (Thomas Nelson), Joseph Loconte gives a very different account of Christian faith—not at all contemptuous of "fact and reason" but grounded in mystery, holding opposing truths in tension, alert to the limits of our knowledge but unhesitatingly affirming the hope that we share. This is a good book to give to someone who is looking at faith ...