Kevin Garrett’s “To the Faithless and Unbelieving Bertram Grey” is a
complicated, well-written book that asks the sort of convoluted and
contradictory questions about God that graduate students, philosophers and
academics have long pondered.
The hero of the book is Bertram Grey, who is abandoned by his mother in the care
of his uncle, Jacob. One part Billy Budd, one part Chauncey Gardiner of “Being
There,” with a little bit of Forrest Gump thrown in, Grey is a child seemingly
devoid of sin and ripe with contemplation about the universe and God.
The book follows his life choices as a ward of his uncle, who is a preacher and
well-versed in the thought exercises that question the existence of God.
Bertram, whose sacrifices include taking small portions of food and keeping
himself below the academic marks of the under-achieving biological son of Jacob,
Billy, has many conversations with Jacob throughout the book about God and the
strange contradictions that philosophic arguments can bring.
Author Kevin Garrett talked with us about his book and background.
Q: Why did you write the book?
Garrett: When I was in the second grade of elementary school, I suffered a brain
hemorrhage that put me in a coma for a month and in the hospital for two months.
When I woke from this coma, I found that I had changed. I found that I could not
believe in anything by faith alone (a trait l share with Bertram Grey). Since
belief in God is based on faith, I found that I was uncertain of God’s
existence. I could not see God, so how could I know that He existed? The people
around me had never seen God either, yet they believed. I wondered how this
could be. Were they just hoping that God was real or did they really know?
Even though God’s existence was a big question mark in my mind, one thing was
for certain: Sunday school was school. And I had been taught by my parents to
always do my best in school. For me, Sunday school was no different than
elementary school, so I listened very closely to the teachers at church and I
studied intently all the lessons they tried to teach me.
As I grew older, I began to question the things I was being taught at church.
The thing I questioned most was their belief that a person, who tried honestly
and sincerely to live his life as Jesus, but was uncertain of God’s existence,
was bound for hell. This made no sense to me. If God really wanted a person to
believe in Him why didn’t He just show Himself to prove His existence? Why was
faith necessary when God could prove definitively His own existence? These kinds
of questions stayed with me from childhood to the day I fell into a second coma
at age 48, following a ruptured brain aneurysm. But this time when I woke from
the coma there was a big difference. This time when I woke, I woke with the
knowledge of God’s existence.
Originally, my purpose in writing this book was to speak to those people who
counted themselves among the Believers of the World. I knew that people in the
past had done many terrible things in the name of faith, and I felt that it was
time for these people who believed, to reevaluate what they thought they knew
about their God. I hoped to show them that love was more important than faith. I
hoped to show them that a person without faith, who loved, was just as worthy of
Heaven as any Christian…maybe even more so. I say this, because the person
without faith, who loves, does so, not because he believes that God wants him to
or because he believes that he will receive rewards in Heaven, but because he
knows that it is the right thing to do.
After waking from this second coma I had an additional reason for finishing the
book. I wanted people to know that, for me, believing or disbelieving in God was
never a choice. I did not choose to believe or to disbelieve in God. Prior to
the second coma, I had not known if God existed, but afterwards, I did. It was
just like that, like throwing a switch. I had no choice in the matter. I was
like the blind man whom Jesus made to see. The blind man had no choice in the
matter either. He was born blind. He did not choose to be blind, just as I did
not choose to “not know” if God existed.
Q: Did you model Bertram Grey after anyone?
Garrett: Yes. I think it’s pretty obvious, Bertram Grey is I. But then, so are
all of the other characters as well. They are all pieces of me, even Eliot
Corbel, the atheist. I have been all three, Atheist, Agnostic, and finally,
Catholic Christian. When I wrote the dialogue for Bertram’s Uncle Jacob during
his test with Bertram’s Faith Machine, I was Agnostic. Initially, I had Jacob
failing this test and questioning his own faith, but this didn’t seem true to
his character. After some thought and allowing myself to get deeper into his
character, I rewrote the entire scene, and a new ending emerged. It was nothing
I planned. I just allowed the characters to act own their own without any
interference from me.
Q: Is there going to be a sequel? The book hints at that by leaving us with a
cliffhanger at the end of the narrative.
Garrett: Yes and No. The book is a character study. At the beginning of the
narrative, I offer two people, Bertram Grey, who wants to believe in God, but
cannot without proof. And I offer Jacob Lent, who seeks to guide Bertram on a
path to God. When Bertram finally comes to believe because he can actually hear
the Voice of God speaking to him, the story, for me, has reached its conclusion.
Both Bertram and his uncle have gotten what they wanted, yet Bertram appears to
be much happier about his newfound understanding of God than does his uncle.
This, I hope, leaves the reader wondering if the uncle really wanted Bertram to
believe in God, or rather, to believe exactly what he believes about God. The
answer to that question, I feel is best left to the mind of the individual
reader to ponder.
That being said, I liked the character of Bertram Grey so much, and I had so
much fun crafting the short stories that Bertram writes throughout the book,
that I decided to resurrect the spiral notebook called “God Stories,” the one
that Bertram burns in his uncle’s fireplace. The name of the second book is
called: From the Files of Bertram Grey: GOD STORIES. It gives more insight into
Bertram’s life and has about thirty or so short stories and essays penned by
Bertram Grey, himself. I hope to have it out in about a year.
In writing To The Faithless and The Unbelieving BERTRAM GREY, I was careful to
avoid taking one side over the other. Unlike many books of its kind, it does not
seek to prove one side more correct than the other, but rather to try to
understand how it is that some people come to believe in God while others do
not. Perhaps in gaining an understanding of why this may be so, we might become
less judgmental towards those people who hold beliefs that are different from
Q: How does your medical condition influence your writing?
Garrett: It’s easier now. Whenever I get hung up on a story or get writer’s
block, I simply take a break and pray to God and the answers come. It’s almost
like cheating, but after forty years of living as an Agnostic while trying to
follow the teachings of Jesus, I think I’ve paid my dues. So I don’t feel too
guilty about it.
Q: This is a fairly deep book, focused on the type of questions that have
kept philosophers pondering for centuries. Why did you choose the ones you did?
Are there any left out that you wish you had included?
Garrett: Oh yes, I left out plenty. That’s why I wrote a second book. I actually
deleted an entire chapter of conversations between Bertram and his uncle because
it seemed to bog down the narrative. I was keenly aware of the complexity of the
book and how quickly I could lose the interest of the reader, so I selected only
those topics that would keep a sharp focus on the book’s central theme, that is,
“Why some people can believe, while others cannot.”
I had considered advancing the story further, that is taking Bertram and his
uncle out to Wheeler Peak to do battle with Satan, but to do so would be have
caused me to bias the story, and I did not want to take sides. As the story ends
now, those people who believe in such things as demons and angels may believe
everything that Bertram has told his uncle, while those people who do not
believe, may, perhaps see it another way. They may see Bertram as delusional due
to his exposure to the mercury extract that Eliot Corbel was using to collect
gold from the land.