Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Harry Potter and the End Times
I've read a couple of interesting things the last few days. This week's cover story in Newsweek was on Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, the authors of the Left Behind series. The article was somewhat interesting in terms of their influence on pop culture, but there wasn't any meaningful discussion of the theology behind their books. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit (as I have before) that I've read all of the Left Behind books except for the last one. I'll read it when it's in paperback.

A couple of interesting tidbits from the article:

Most establishmentarian Christians agree with Tina Pippin, a professor of religious studies at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., in saying "Left Behind" "encourages people to see the world in terms of black and white, good and evil, with us or against us."

Well, duh. But it also seems that our society is not very interested in nuance. We like black and white - simple answers.

I thought this was interesting:

How does he reconcile that with Jesus' injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor? "I can accomplish far more from my present lifestyle and the giving that I do to Christian work," he says. "If I just sold everything and gave it to the poor, I can't see where that would advance the Gospel as much as I'm doing." But wouldn't it advance the poor? "Well," he says, "you know how much I pay in taxes?"

That is an interesting statement from a biblical literalist. Jesus didn't say, "if you happen to become fabulously wealthy just make sure you pay your taxes and give generously to charity." From someone who criticizes others for picking and choosing the parts of the Bible that they like, LaHaye's justification strikes me as hypocritical.

I'm not saying that LaHaye should give everything to the poor, but it seems like he wants to have it both ways. Apparently he's qualified to tell us what parts of the Bible to take literally and what is just a general suggestion.

Brian McLaren has also posted a fantastic article on his website, "Christian Reflections in a Time of War." He covers a lot of territory, but what struck me was his discussion of American exceptionalism – the idea that we're God's new chosen people.

If I were to go to the heart of my concern and try to express it in one sentence, here’s what I would say: Many Christians in America seem to have confused Caesar and Christ. We seem to have confused a “kingdom of this world” – our nation - with the kingdom of God. The will and interests of our nation have become associated with the will and values of God.

He also offers some very thoughtful criticism of President Bush's (public) theology:

I believe he [President Bush] very sincerely feels that America is in some way God's chosen nation, so our hearts are a redemptive force in the world, like "the blood of the Lamb." I believe he is sincere and well-meaning in these kinds of statements, but I also believe he is dangerously wrong. And if we do not see and name the danger, I fear we will become unwitting conspirators with it.

And this is a great thought:

A friend at my church once told me, "Brian, I think you’re right about 85% of the time. That's what makes you dangerous. People will trust you for the 85% so they won't question you for the 15%. Your leadership depends on you having the humility and second thoughts to be on guard for the 15%." Could our nation and its leaders be in a similar situation?

I think there are a lot of people in our lives we trust about 85% of the time. To bring it back to Oregon, one of these people was former Portland mayor and Oregon Governor, Neil Goldschmidt. People trusted him implicitly until they learned he raped (repeatedly) a 14 year-old girl when he was mayor of Portland. His leadership failed him, his victim, and the state utterly in that 15%.

The obvious thing going on here is that we're blinded by our pride. But we're also blinded by our sense of our own inherent goodness. We couldn't possibly do evil because we're so well intentioned. But our sense of God's presence in our life can blind us to our ability to do evil. I'm not implying that George W. Bush is necessarily doing evil, but rather agreeing with Brian McLaren that Bush's Christian faith is no guarantee that he isn't. For Bush or anyone else to assume that their faith puts them above making a mistake is dangerously arrogant.

On a lighter note, Slate has an interesting article on the similarities between Harry Potter and Left Behind.



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