So perhaps it is only fitting that all three elements fit into “In the Absence of God,” Cleary’s recently published novel.
The 66-year-old York Township resident combines football, crime and lengthy philosophical discussions into the novel, which focuses on the ramifications of atheism.
“I think the most important question, the question that really colors everything else we believe, is the question of God,” Cleary said.
Cleary presented four options to that end: To deny there is a god and live consistently with that denial, to deny there is a god but live as if there is, to affirm God exists and live consistently with that affirmation, or to say God exists but live as if he does not.
Characters in “In the Absence of God” follow the first three positions, struggling to come to terms with the consequences of their choices.
“What I try to show is if one is in that first category, if someone denies the existence of God, it leads to a kind of moral subjectivism or nihilism,” Cleary said, describing the belief that no behavior is inherently moral or immoral — there is no absolute right or wrong.
The consequences of moral nihilism play out in the novel as a serial killer and rapist on a college campus threatens the safety of female students. As details of the crimes are unveiled, philosophy professor Joseph Weyland must face the implications of his atheist worldview.
“I wanted to talk about, or put down on paper, how I view life and the world,” Cleary said, a self-described Christian theist. He chose a story over nonfiction, he said, because most people consider it to be more accessible. “I had a number of ideas I wanted to communicate, so I sort of a built a plot around those ideas.”
Much of the book is based on Cleary’s own experiences as a professor and discussions he’s had with students.
“If you’re writing a book, you better write about things that you know something about,” Cleary laughed.
Cleary said he aimed to represent each side fairly as he wrote, the same way he does in teaching, and enjoyed advocating for different points of view.
Published in August 2012, the book has done well so far, Cleary said. Copies are available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and also at Dallastown’s Hearts & Minds, where Cleary held a book signing in December.
“(The novel) works on its own terms as a story,” said Byron Borger, who co-owns Hearts & Minds with his wife, Beth. “I cared about the characters, they were developed. The fact that it raises this profound question is icing on the cake.”
Lives in: York Township
Family: Wife, Barbara; four children; five grandchildren
Occupation: Retired from Dallastown Area High School since 2004; teaches philosophy at York, Messiah and Lancaster Bible colleges
Hobbies: Blogging, bird watching, reading, spending time with grandchildren
To purchase: “In the Absence of God” is available through Amazon; Barnes & Noble; and Hearts & Minds, 234 E. Main St., Dallastown