Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Maureen Palmershein responds to Kelly Barth’s 'My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus'

As college students, most of us are required to examine, at some point, ideas that are drastically different from our own. At times it seems these ideas are unsettling, disturbing even, and have the rude intention of shaking up who we believe ourselves to be. Though, as Kelly Barth, brings to light in her memoir, My Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus, sometimes the ideas that are hardest to shape are what we need most in order to grow as individuals.

In her memoir, Barth describes her own challenge balancing the new ideas she learned in college with the ideas she adopted from her Christian upbringing. She explains how she enjoyed learning about the new, seemingly radical ideas of philosophers, such as Descartes and Camus, who challenged the Christian fundamentals that defined her childhood with their “visions of demystified hell.”  She states, “I liked knowing their ideas, even though on most days they threatened the religious security I thought I needed to survive.”

From the contradiction of these ideas, Barth becomes uncertain whether she can remain true to a religion that alienates her and makes her ashamed of her sexual orientation. She is led to question her identity, to hide from the qualities that make her different, and to finally—after much struggle—accept and embrace those qualities that make her unique. At the heart of her story is uncertainty, an uncertainty that is easy to relate to because it is so human and so necessary in our development.

After reading, Barth’s story—knowing her struggles and her triumphs—I believe it is easier for college students like me, to gain perspective on the challenges that arise from keeping an open mind, while at the same time trying to secure the parts of our identity that provide stability in unpredictable environments. It’s a hard balance. And it’s scary to open up to the fact that ideas may change who we believe ourselves to be. To read philosophers, such as Descartes and Camus, Freud and Nietzsche. To scrutinize views of heaven and hell. Or learn that we are all filled with a lack at the core of our being (that no amount of double-stuffed Oreos can fill) and then double over with the point that there may not be any point to it all. That’s what we are up against. Nevertheless, it is easier after reading material, such as My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus, to understand that we all have uncertainty and that who knows, perhaps we can make a book out of it someday so that others won’t feel so alone.


Maureen Palmershein is a junior at The Univeristy of Montana, Missoula, majoring in creative writing and literature. She enjoys travel and hopes to spend her last semester abroad in the United Kingdom.

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