This post is part of a reflection series on the new book Seven Glorious Days, by Karl W. Giberson, at the Patheos Book Club.
In a famous essay entitled “The Effectiveness of Symbols,” the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss quietly made a claim that ought to be central to every thinking person’s understanding of religion. The claim was this: religious experience – in this case, an encounter with a South American shaman – fundamentally forces the experiencer into a confrontation with the parts of life that don’t work. Suffering, absurdity, a bloody breach birth: without the help of the spirits, we turn our heads away from these little catastrophes, and the result is that they proliferate around us like weeds. It takes the gods to jerk our heads back towards the troubles at hand, to confront them directly.