“When You Stop Pretending That You Know”

Gnosis, Humility, and Christian Charity in Cormac McCarthy’s The Stonemason

In: Religion and the Arts
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  • 1 University of Regina, Canada, Regina, SK
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Increasingly addressing the religious dimension of Cormac McCarthy’s work, critics have frequently rooted it in a Gnosticism which holds, first, that the world is a place of evil and suffering and, second, that salvation is attained through knowledge made available only to the elect. The Stonemason, however, seems intent on refuting just such a thesis. Focusing on Ben and his grandfather Papaw, a centenarian stonemason, the play presents Ben as seeking, through mastery of the mason’s secrets, to become custodian to knowledge that will unlock the mysteries not just of a trade but of the cosmos. Yet this Gnostic quest fosters in him a moral negligence that leads to the deaths of two family members. Indeed, Ben’s tragedy stems precisely from his Gnostic prizing of secret lore and indifference to the Christian lessons Papaw himself most values—lessons not in god-like knowledge but in the practice of faith, humility, and love.

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