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Formal Writing Assignment #4: of Sermons and Stones


Of course, as individuals, we have opinions on many issues, and perhaps especially strong opinions when it comes to questions about the meaning of life and our place and purpose in the universe. As writers, we have many voices with which to express our views on such questions. How those voices sound depends on who we are (at the time of writing), and who they are (our readers), as well as on our purpose for writing. What questions should we ask? As readers, we should be able to hear that voice-warm, human, alive, committed-and, because of it, understand the deep involvement of the writer with his subject, especially when it comes to questions of faith , morality, ethics, religious belief, or non-belief. For a reader to successfully identify with the writer, the reader must believe in, trust, and be compelled by the voice of the writer. To engage the reader in this way, a writer must know, not only his own thoughts, but truly the contents of his heart; and it is for this reason, among others, that writing is risky, and often "messy," and sometimes wonderful.

As writers, we understand that essays are meant to be vital personal explorations of ideas. Stephen Gould explains that "the essay, as a literary genre, has been defined as discussion of general ideas in personal contexts ever since Montaigne coined the name in the sixteenth century." Now, if we are attentive readers, if we can hear that voice, we should be able to detect the writer's persona; as writers, then, we must be sure that our work, our words, reflect a mood, depict a style, find a rhythm, that is an expression of belief, of the nature of our relationship with the subject.-We must show we believe in words, in the word as the entrance to thought, with the essay being especially suited to such thoughts as surround questions dealing with possible conflicts between science and faith.

Choose one of the topics from the list below.
Having once chosen a subject, remember to go through some process of invention (whether you use freewriting or diagramming or-see pages 161-63 of Current Issues for further ideas) as a way of limiting the scope of your subject, diminishing the dimensions circumscribed by the choices on the list. (This is especially important this time, for it is the nature of such abstractions as Religion, God, Science, the Universe, Faith, to be slippery--slope included--if you do not at once pin them down, limit them. To quote Gould again, "the best illustration of a generality lies in a well-chosen and adequately documented 'little' example-not in a frontal assault on the abstraction itself. . . ."
Therefore, I want you, this time, especially, to remember the importance of detail; and also to include at least one descriptive paragraph (of the night sky, of the inside of a cathedral, of the Valley Mall, of a stained glass window, of the view from Masanutten Mountain, or of the whirled striations on a sea shell)--where words, like brushstrokes, paint a picture, provide a visual dimension to help the reader to see what it is you mean.

To put it all together: with the help of research, construct an argumentative essay, that is, one that "relies on reason; [which] offers statements as reasons for other statements.. . and, which, "even if one is writing only for oneself, [and] trying to clarify one's thinking by setting forth reasons" (Current Issues 50), has found a voice and takes it personally (whatever it is), makes it human, and does so thoughtfully, penetratingly, and (perhaps) provocatively, and in a way that involves the reader.
(As always, begin from the standpoint of one of the Current Issues essays and include it in your Works Cited list.)

So: Choose Invent Limit Describe Argue (Reasonably) about one of these:

1. Why I am, am not, a Catholic/Christian/Jew/Muslim
2. The conflict between science and religion (evolutionary speaking): Charles Darwin vs. the Fundamentalist Christian Right, or, the ape vs. the angel
3. The false conflict between science and religious faith (philosophically speaking)
4. Cloning and genetic technology: on the presence an ethical "ought" within the context of the scientific "is."
5. "All things bright and beautiful" or, the Argument from Design: Natural Law & Factual Pattern as Designs for Moral Living
6. Carl Sagan and Our Mysterious but Knowable Universe
7. The Scopes Trial/Inherit the Wind/(who is)Susan Epperson(?)
8. Stephen Hawking and The Big Bang
9. Consumerism--the new Religion, or the shopping mall as cathedral/synagogue/mosque
10. 2001?(scientifically) Y2K?(millennially) Apocalypse Now?(religiously) speaking.

Once again the last, but by no means least, page of your paper will be the Works Cited page (see the Sample Works Cited Page on page 329) in The Everyday Writer, and remember to follow the Correct MLA-form of in-text citation. )


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