Friday, October 24, 2008

Leftover Christian Fiction

There was a time, at the height of my religious phase, when I was an eager consumer of anything offered for sale at Christian bookstores. As a regular listener to religious radio, I got plenty of recommendations for authors of both fiction and non-fiction. One of those authors is Frank Peretti -- I've read 3-1/2 of his books. Three were penned by him; another was a collaboration. I remember most of his books only vaguely, though I'll give him a bit of credit for trying. The dyed-in-the-wool Christian reader (who hasn't had much exposure to more mainstream fare) will find him "edgy," I am sure. He follows the standard protocol of limiting the language to about a PG-level -- lots of "hecks" and "darns" and euphemisms for basically everything -- but pulls it off reasonably well without letting it become a distraction. He also has a taste for action and suspense, so you don't necessarily feel like you're being forced to sit through interminable reruns of The Andy Griffith Show or Little House on the Prairie when you pick up one of his novels.

And for the Christian reader, this is sufficient. Mild entertainment, with the payoff being the preachy message woven throughout.

The number of tomes on my shelves left over from those days can now be counted on one hand, with a digit or two to spare. I've got a couple of dusty bibles and a book called The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. I haven't picked that one up in about 7 years; one of these days I'll check it out again and most likely will come to a parting of the ways with it.

Beyond that is a Peretti novel called The Oath. Its description in Wikipedia says that it's Peretti's most acclaimed work. I can believe this, because I hung onto it and have re-read it even after giving up completely on Christianity and all religion within the last 6 years.

The basic elements of the story include a small, isolated mining town in the Pacific Northwest; various people brutally killed or vanished without a trace; corrupt cops; secrecy and distrust of outsiders, and the probable existence of a dragon.

The dragon is merely symbolic, but where Peretti goes so far off into la-la land is in his depiction of the villain at the heart of the legend. The founder of the town was a despot, a tyrant, a man of many vices. So far, so good. Since this is a Christian novel, it's no surprise that the bad guy kills an itinerant preacher and banishes anyone who may have embraced Christianity. This is because the Christians are suddenly campaigning for workers' rights and are putting a damper on the local brothel's once-thriving business.

But hold on -- the bad guy is eventually revealed as (don't be too shocked now!) an atheist, who has the gall to draw up a town charter that includes the following statements:

"...having founded and established the city...through their own resources, wisdom and resolve...
"...confident of their own capacity for good, do wish to pursue happiness, peace and contentment by whatever avenue they may choose...
"We are the masters and makers of our own destiny.
"There is no God but Reason.
"Only by Reason can Truth be established."
and the last line:
"If This Be Sin, Let Sin Be Served."

Other than the last line, these sound like my kinda people!

But of course, Mr. Peretti has other ideas. The present-day bad guy (grandson of the original one) is shown conducting a ritual, whereby he writes the names of his enemies on a slip of paper, burns it on an altar in the dark of night, and sits back with smug satisfaction as the people he named disappear, presumably devoured by an immense fire-breathing reptile.

This does not sound like something Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins would do. Unless you're a fundie who has been steeped in the fallacy that atheists are simply better-educated versions of your average mass-murdering cannibal child rapist!

This most recent read-through convinced me that The Oath will be making a swan dive into the bin on my next trip to the recycling center (which is tomorrow). Rather than impressing me as a better-than-average example of Christian fiction, it does little now other than offend and annoy me.

Trashing a book is a drastic step for me, but this is little more than slander, and I will not pass it on to some naive reader and add to the damage done by such misguided minds as Frank Peretti.


Kay Dennison said...

I read one of those books -- and I agree with you. I think a lot of them are the same mentality as the ones who consider Harlequin Romances great literature. I used to say that reading *anythng* was still reading and that's good but I've changed my mind.

William Cooney said...

A perfectly delicious post! I agree the symbolism of trashing books can have ironic qualities. When we were kids - 7 boys and 2 girls! - my mother conspicuously left out a book entitled, Hippies, Drugs, and Promiscuity. I guess this was my religiously zealous parents' way of having a "heart-to-heart" with their children. So help me, one day my brother could take it no more and he said screw this book and he marched outside all the way to the curb (it was garbage day) with it and stuffed it as far down the barrel as he could! I was cheering him on the whole way!

Hey, if you can just get past the whole Nazi imagery thingy, why don't you just burn those precious few Christian leftovers clinging to your shelves. (I think I'm kidding but ... don't pin me down on that.)

Volly said...

I think I still keep that International Inductive Study Bible (NIV) around, just in case someone says "How can you criticize the Bible if you've never read it?"

Then I can pop it open and show 'em where I scribbled all over the margins and answered all the study questions, as well as underlining and highlighting various references, etc., between 1987 and 2002.

I do want to check out the Yancey book again, just to see if it makes any sort of an impression on me now. I read it back in 2000-2001, when I was already tilting toward liberality -- at the time I was attending a Congregational church, where the pastor described himself as a Postmodernist and very few of us knew WHAT he was talking about! :)

I wasn't quite "there" yet, but do remember how the Yancey book seemed so much more reasoned and down to earth than others. It certainly was not dogmatic.
Thanks to both Kay and Bill for reading & commenting.