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The Search for Reconciliation in E. L. Doctorow's City of God

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E. L. Doctorow's novel City of God is constructed around a crisis of faith experienced by an Episcopalian minister who eventually converts to Judaism. Within and around this personal story unfolds a fascinating array of moral and spiritual dilemmas which raise provocative questions about the role of religion in modern society and its relationship to secular ethical thought. It is argued here that the novel can be understood as an appeal for reconciliation in a number of different but related ways. The 'religious' characters strive to preserve the relevance of religion by emphasizing the pre-eminence of ethical commitments to love and justice and to the open interpretation of scriptural messages rather than to rigorous adherence to doctrine. The novel tests the possibilities of reconciliation to the limit by revisiting the Holocaust and touching on other horrors, but implicitly it conveys a faith in the oneness of humanity which may yet prevail through a renewal of ethical dialog.

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