On March 23, 2008, Kara Neumann, an 11-year-old girl, eventually died. The little girl was sick, but her family told her to pray to be cured because of all suffering she gets away with faith. Her parents prayed next to her until she died. “For me it was something horrifying, because that notion that an 11-year-old girl is sick because she has failed in her religion, because her faith is weak or that of her family, when in reality all that happened was that she had diabetes .. It devastated me. All her parents had to do was give her a serum shot, because the girl died of dehydration. I was in all the news and the more I read, the more I was convinced that it was something worth writing about, ”says Nickolas Butler about the plot of his new novel,“ Something to Believe in ”(Asteroid Books).
Butler, who defines himself as a pure agnostic, was not educated in a particularly religious environment, but in a “quite progressive” Lutheran church. Therefore, he had to carry out some research on the operation of one of those most fanatical communities. “I was determined that I would not go to one of those churches to, I don’t know, infiltrate it as a kind of detective, because it didn’t seem ethical. These people sincerely believe in something and who am I to be taking notes there, in their place of worship? I didn’t feel good about it. But the good thing about living in 2020 is that you have YouTube and these communities hang it all up. In addition, I live in a part of the country where religious radio is quite popular and it is enough to listen to and experience all that material, ”explains the author of the hit“ Love Songs at close range ”, his literary debut. In history, a “shepherd” charlatan believes that a child can heal with the laying on of hands.
Fear and faith
What is still shocking is that events like that take place in the richest and most powerful country in the world. «This is the richest country but the whole story is that tens of millions of people are not doing well in my country. And, on the other hand, the truth is that people believe in absurd cults everywhere in the world. It is a universal issue ». What makes these churches almost a cult are other elements, such as what makes them an acceptable member of someone. «They are based on fear. When something goes wrong in your life, your faith is weak and that way you get more and more trapped to change that. But of course, so it is difficult for you to fix your problems and you are increasingly afraid of living. And that seemed very interesting to me ».
However, this is not a research report, but a story of characters who, although they may be archetypal, do not really represent anyone but themselves. «I thought of religion as a form of magic, because I think fiction is better that way. I am not interested in capturing only the facts, as a scientist. Atheists and agnostics also think about what will be when life ends, ”he explains. For that reason, Butler does not look with condescension or contempt for characters who believe in healing by the laying on of hands or by breath, no matter how abhorrent these beliefs may be to others. “Of course, it is not about judging those characters or perceiving them as idiots, but understanding them,” says the author.
Another misunderstanding that Butler is quick to clear is to take the book as the portrait of the American Midwest. «You cannot present the Midwest with two brush strokes, because it is a huge region of America. I may speak of Wisconsin, but I don’t know, Chicago has six million inhabitants and the landscape, the people, everything is very different from what I am describing. Minneapolis is pure Midwest, it is close to the land of which I speak, and yet there is a giant Muslim population. So talking about the Midwest in a way does not work. It is not necessary ».
Well, in Europe, the press has inflated to publish reports on the “Trump America”, it is already known, with their palettes, their superstitions and their ignorance. «(Something annoying) Look, my wife and I live in the country. I have a pick up truck that makes me feel guilty about the environment, but hey, that’s how it is. My partner is a lawyer and the most intelligent person in any context I know. We travel all over the world and the truth is that we do not fit into that category. It is more complicated than that. And the other issue, picking up what you said, Trump won in some states like Wisconsin by 30,000 votes, and Hillary Clinton did not visit him once. Does that mean that there is a gang of Wisconsin living in Wisconsin or that someone screwed it up in the campaign? Or did it happen because, well, there is a lot of misinformation on Facebook and at that time no one was aware nor were we prepared for these massive intoxication campaigns? I think they are pertinent questions and I think that to understand reality it is not worth saying only: these people do not seem to be very intelligent ».
«It is not a novel of ideas, but of characters»
Butler has not written a thesis novel against beliefs. In the story, faith serves the characters to overcome a serious loss. The problem is when he falls into fanaticism. «In the story there is a spectrum of beliefs, all the characters have them, but in different ways. You can have them, but how do the things you believe in organized religion fit in? And then the idea of the communities is very present. I didn’t write the novel thinking about ideas, but about characters. And then I allowed the ideas to seep, ”explains the author