Friday, July 27, 2007

evangelical illiteracy

With the latest Harry Potter book now out and enjoying tremendous success -- big shock, that -- once again the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy are making an effort to save us from its insidious satanic message.

Wow, two big shocks in the same week.

I must admit I'm weary of the anti-Potter brigade. The illiteracy among American Christians, particularly evangelicals, is appalling. And not just in terms of snap judgments about pop lit like Harry Potter; American evangelicals are woefully underread when it comes to classics of American, British, continental and other world literature, ignorant of the very foundations of our culture, and blissfully unaware of what the Bible says that doesn't fit onto a bumper sticker or a Hallmark card.

And it's not just literature, it's everything: the philosophy is shallow, the music is flat and uninspired, and art is viewed through narrowed eyes, with suspicion. Generally speaking, the most popular stuff is the art and writing that's created with a specific message in mind, rather than the art that explores, asks questions and leaves things unanswered. It's easier to react to the fantastical elements of Harry Potter and deride it all as a satanic subterfuge to lead the innocent astray than it is to approach it with honesty and wonder and discover the truths that it conveys -- even though the Bible is replete with examples great truth contained within extrabiblical and even pagan sources.

My disgust with the contemporary American church on this score is pretty great. The church historically has produced or influenced great works of literature, from "Crime and Punishment" and "Paradise Lost" to "Les Miserables" and "A Christmas Carol"; nowadays, evangelicals typically prefer to bowlderize these into effete and insipid salvation screes or to outright reject the works for imagined heresies or faults of the stories or their creators. (I've seen the work of Dostoevsky, for example, rejected out of hand because he struggled with depression his entire life and therefore couldn't have been a real Christian because he "lacked the peace that passes all understanding.")

Ultimately, though, the essential question is whether to curse the darkness or to light a candle, to borrow a really stupid cliche. I love great literature and art, and I love Harry Potter. I'm teaching my kids to enjoy great literature, and I'm shameless about loving books even when other people hate them. If that means I'm less of a Christian in someone's eyes because of Harry Potter, that's OK. I already get that for being a Democrat.

Sooner or later, I figure the freedom and grace that I'm walking in is going to attract other people. Lord knows, I hope it does, because the alternative seems so bad that it's unthinkable.

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