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Jul 15, 2005 8:51 am


Things Noted Here and There ...



Refuting a myth is [like] dancing with a skeleton: one finds it hard to disengage from the deceptively lithe embrace once the music has begun, and one soon realizes that one's own steps are what is keeping the old bones in motion.

– Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus 1569-1999, p. 10. Thanks to K. M. Lawson in comments at Frog in a Well for the tip.

"The Very Model of a Modern Labour Minister" Gilbert and Sullivan protest the plan of Tony Blair's government to require an identity card for every British citizen. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.

Scott Jaschik,"Progress and Problems for Female Historians," Inside Higher Education, 14 July, summarizes the findings of a recent report for the AHA. The report,"The Status of Women in the Historical Profession, 2005," was prepared under the direction of Elizabeth Lunbeck of Princeton for the AHA's Committee on Women Historians. Thanks to Dave Merkowitz at Cincinnati Historian for the tip.

There are wonderful conversations generated by The Valve's Book Event at Tim Burke's"Book Notes: Theory's Empire" at Easily Distracted, Scott Eric Kaufman's"Theory's Empire: It's the Erudition, Dumb-Ass" at Acephalous, and Adam Kotsko's"A Respose to 'The Deconstructive Angel' at The Valve.

Miriam Burstein's"Religious Publishing" at Little Professor takes on Ophelia Benson's"Hot Evangelical Fiction," P. Z. Myers'"The Rising Tide of Christian Dreck," and Douglas Kennedy's"Selling Rapture," The Guardian, 9 July. Miriam's point, that Kennedy understates the importance of religious fiction on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th century, strikes me as undoubtedly correct. But I'd go beyond that. When Ophelia and P. Z. attack the drek in contemporary religious fiction -- the Left Behind novels or Christian chick lit -- they're behaving a bit like Ralph Luker does when he mocks a Clayton Cramer on the Right or a Peter Kirstein on the Left. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. The target is so easy, why work up such a sweat over it? In fact, you largely establish the level of your own seriousness by the seriousness of those you criticize. The Ralph Luker who takes on Martin Luther King or Flannery O'Connor or Garry Wills is a lot more serious than the Ralph Luker who takes pot-shots at short stuff. So, beyond that, I'd say that Ophelia's and P. Z.'s criticism of contemporary religious culture is largely insignificant intellectually until they have engaged its intellectually significant representations.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 7/15/2005

Whatever their literary quality, late 20th early 21st century religious novels might be very important. Most of the readers of 19th century Christian novels had read their Bible--or at least significan section of it. The readers also had heard lots of sermons and seen numerous references in both the fiction and non-fiction of their times.

Today its different. A fair number of people still get some sermons as a kid. But outside of the few who go deep in faith, the majority of nominally Christian Americans do not know much about the texts upon which their religion is based.

Because of this, I am pretty positive that many of the readers of the "Left Behind" or other Christian novels of our day are getting their first sustained "look" at Gospel and scripture in their adult lives, and quite possible in their entire life.

Sure this look is not only through a dark glass but a dark glass cocooned in bubble wrap. Yes the prose is weak. But, these novels are more accessible than Biblical prose. The ones I know of--admittedly few--weed out the complications of Biblical interpretation. And they show a glimpse of an ordered world in which any person can choose to play a good part.

For some it will simply be a good story with the trappings of God, like a vampire movie. But for some, this will be their path into a more active Christianity. Good or not, the novels matter.

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