As its central conflict in The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch, the United States is again divided against itself, with some states controlled by the Federal Army and others controlled by the Army of the Glorious Path. Leader of the Path is President Hill, who has co-opted progressive ideas about economic justice and mixed them with religious fundamentalism. The Path believe that “there is a light inside all of us that comes from God. The Choice is simply committing yourself to following the path that it illuminates” (254). Propaganda occurs through mottoes and prayer, with followers believing “I am the Way and the Path” (240). Those who make the Choice to convert often find comfort in the cadence of the prayers, the flow of kneeling and standing, the ritual of Lighthouse meetings, and guidance from religious leaders called Beacons who essentially subjugate their followers through brainwashing. Dissenters struggle against the carefully defined boundaries and resent the bigotry that resides at the core of the Path principles since their leaders—in their effort to create a social Eden—espouse the key question: Are we supposed to value the weeds above the garden?
At the center of this conflict, revolve the lives of James and Callum Roe, who were forcibly taken from their home in New York and converted to the Path. Although James immerses himself in the cause, Cal resists and searches for freedom, wishing to return home. His dog Bear, a Doberman colored creature but smaller in stature whom he rescues from an abusive trainer, serves as a companion in the search; the two must keep moving or risk capture. On their journey, they cross paths with Natalie Whitacker, a freedom fighter who has an agenda of her own. Readers will find exhilaration in following Nat and Cal on their war-ravaged paths—both of which and test their loyalties and take on different versions of what it means to be our brother’s keeper.
With this survival story that borders on dystopian fiction, Hirsch brings readers frighteningly close to a what if that could be, given the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause. Hirsch’s book reminds readers how integral to American history religion is and how understanding one another may hinge on understanding the elements of people’s religious faiths that permeate society.
Besides examining the metaphors and allusions that define or revolve around religion, this book has potential to stimulate thought on multiple related levels. For example, an entire essay could explore Hirsch’s use of Cormorant, Kestrel, and Shrike as the names of his communities under Path governance and how those may or may not be related to his choice of a surname for James and Cal.
- Posted by Donna