Faith, Doubt, and the Big Machine

Yesterday in class when discussing in groups some of the ways Big Machine connected to large course themes, Andrew Weber brought up an interesting point about the concept of doubt. For me, doubt and faith have always been at odds with each other; however he said the opposite. He viewed doubt as an essential part of faith, stating that without doubt, faith is superficial. Just because we question religion does not mean we lack faith, merely that our faith is deep enough that we can ask ourselves about it without wavering.

Religion and doubt were two central themes in Big Machine. The Voice is treated similarly to a religion by the characters that have heard it. The founder of this religion, Judah Washburn, heard the Voice in a time of struggle, and it helped give him the motivation and endurance to find freedom. However, after that, he never heard the Voice again although he spent his entire life searching, yet still managed to keep his faith that it was real and true, and had his daughter continue his work, starting the Washburn Library that would look for evidence of the Voice all over the world.

I find it particularly interesting that the Voice is never really a tangible thing in Big Machine. It appears in different ways to different people with seemingly no connection, yet the Washburn Library takes all this information and is able to connect it. This remind me of the Bible, which really is just a collection of stories that have been collected, shifted shape and been added and subtracted over hundreds of years, much like the work done at the Library. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a book for the Voice.

Ricky Rice also struggle with faith and doubt throughout the book. While he has heard the voice, and believes in it, he doubts the other incredulous things he hears as well as the motivations of other characters. He never fully trusts the Unlikely Scholars nor the Dean nor the Gray Lady at first. He is not the only character like this. Adele also doubts the Dean as well as the Voice, exemplified when she defies it and kills Snooky Washburn. However, in the end, both she and Ricky maintain their faith and go on to spread their own sort of catch-all anyone can be saved institution.

I thought this played well with the recurring motif of rewriting religion throughout the novel. Solomon Clay creates the Church of Clay in his own anarchical image. The Washerwomen create their own religion and bible. And as previously mentioned, the Washburn Library as an institution has allegories to religion, the Dean being the prophet. In all three cases however, the prophets of each religion prove to be unreliable as in the end they all betray Ricky.

I have a lot of respect for people with strong faith such as Ricky, who is able to keep moving past adversity. I thought faith was about overcoming doubt, but Big Machine suggests its about accepting it as inevitable in this world. Human beings will doubt. Unwavering faith in the face of doubt is something that is beyond me (I don’t quite know what I believe but currently not any religions).

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