spectacles, seeing it God’s way, and why books are bad

When you ask an IFB man about the 60s, usually his first response is to shudder. Disgust, revulsion, disdain, condescension, and if you’re lucky, maybe even pity, crosses his face. Here’s what I knew about the 60s growing up:

  • free love — which I vaguely thought of under the same heading as “orgy,” although I didn’t know what that was, either.
  • abstract art — also evil, although they didn’t usually mean Rothko. Think Piss Christ.
  • McCarthyism– completely legitimate. Any means of uncovering Communist sympathizers are justified.
  • draft dodgers — Clinton. ‘Nuff said.
  • Woodstock — I had no idea this was a music festival until two years ago.
  • student activism– although, I never heard it called this, but it was the reason why I was discouraged from going to college. Also, the reason why all secular schools are of the Devil. See: Kent State.
  • the Beatles: if you ask an IFB preacher to name the most evil song ever written, he’ll probably tell you “Imagine.” I remember gasping in horror when a friend of mine admitted that “All you Need is Love” was one of her favorite songs.

And that about sums it up. The 60s were bad, but absolutely nothing was worse than Post-Modern Ideologies. To really understand what I’m talking about, you should go watch How Should we Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer. It’s basically The Rise and Fall of the American Empire in video form, and Schaeffer blames a lot of our social and moral problems on the “decadence” of the 60s.

So how do we counter Post-Modern Ideologies, in which our culture is steeped?

The answer, simply, is our Weltanschauung.

Or, more specifically, a “Christian worldview.”

Heard that before?

Thought so.

Here’s the problem with having a “Christian worldview” in an IFB or conservative evangelical culture: you have no hand in the formation of said worldview. When my Sunday school teachers, and, later, my professors, started talking about a “Christian worldview,” what they were really doing is indoctrinating me. Brainwashing me. Having a Christian worldview meant seeing it their way, with no dissension. Dissension was penalized, sometimes severely. I came pretty close to failing a bunch of classes my junior and senior years because I got stubborn. Only my pretty strong desire to get the hell out of there by graduating kept me from antagonizing my teachers more.

I took a class my junior year that helped clarify things for me: British Novel.

I had to write  a paper defining and personalizing my “Christian worldview.”  And I remember having a passing, idle thought while I was writing it:

Boy, Mrs. E probably has to read a lot of the same thing. That must be hideously boring.

And then it hit me: we’re all writing the same thing.

The only way that’s possible, really, is if either: a) all the students are thinking the same thing, or b) all the students know they’re supposed to be thinking the same thing.

Uh-oh, I thought.

The day Mrs. E had announced our “worldview essay,” she put up a slide. It had a pair of 19th century glasses at the top, and underneath it, in bold italics, were the words “God’s spectacles.” She spent the next fifty minutes explaining how to critique literature using a “Christian worldview.” Essentially, Christians need to Judge whether or not a work is acceptable, and we can do this by asking a specific set of questions.

  • Is immorality praised or rewarded, or is the author amoral?
  • Can you see the Gospel Message?
  • Analyze the author’s personal philosophy. Is he a naturalist? existentialist?
  • Do the characters or plot reinforce Absolute Truth?

And so on, but I imagine you get the picture. Now, none of these are, on their own, bad questions. However, they can lead to some bad places when they are coupled with a rabid, vengeful need to criminalize Post-Modern Ideologies. It can also lead to horrible kitsch taking the place of art (see: nearly any book published by Bethany House). And, most notably, it ends up with many of the people I interact with dismissing entire classes and periods of art. I know people who refuse to read anything published after 1940. I know several people who reject any form of fictional narrative.

Two years ago, I found the BBC’s list of the best 100 novels, and an article saying that most people had only read six of them. In a burst of reader’s pride, I posted it on facebook, and put in boldprint the books I’d already read.

I received some harsh criticisms for reading some of the books I had in the comments and through IM. People who had been my friend for many years,  and knew me fairly well, called my faith and my relationship with God into question. How could I have inundated my mind with such, tripe, garbage, filth, trash, bilge, bunk, and, detritus? (oo0h, burn, “detritus”)

Keep in mind that what they were referring to wasn’t even Harry Potter or something conservative Christians are infamous for fervently hating. They were talking about:

  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Anna Karenina
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Lolita
  • Counte of Monte Christo
  • Moby Dick
  • Vanity Fair
  • Les Misérables

But I had dissented. I had read them. I had learned great, abiding, timeless truths from them. I had even, unspeakably, enjoyed some of them. And, Mrs. E, who also spent another class period dedicated to the Unthinkable Horrors and Agonizing Tortures of Graduate School and Literary Theory, would probably smack me over the head with her metaphysical ruler.

Oh, wait. Metaphysical is also a bad word.

Photo by Alexis
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  • Sarah

    Have you ever read “Wild Swans”? It is about the Cultural Revolution in China. I could really relate with the book.

  • Ooooh… late to the party, but I sense a challenge here… lessee how many of these I actually HAVE read, and not just skimmed over for a Literature class but couldn’t read because reasons…

    1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien (Several times over and I get more from it each time)
    5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
    8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
    9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis (The whole series)
    18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (Also several other of her books)
    21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (In Middle School, no less)
    22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
    23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
    24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
    25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
    30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
    35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
    39. Dune, Frank Herbert
    41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery (whole series, still peppermint flavored in my mind by association)
    46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
    47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
    51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett (To be honest, all three of her books, loved ’em)
    58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
    92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel (Again, all… four or five books… oddly enough because of a male middle school teacher letting me borrow them from him, oh if my mother only knew…)

    Several others I remember *trying* to read… Emma (or was it Jane Eyre that I had to throw across the room and give up for my own sanity?), Watership Downs… I think Of Mice and Men was in a class I took in middle school, but I can’t be certain. I know The Old Man and the Sea was. Others were covered in university classes but I learned early how to cut down on my studying by learning the professor’s preconceptions and spitting them back on the tests. Wuthering Heights, I’m afraid, was one of the books I simply could NOT read. I didn’t understand why at the time. Still don’t think I’d be able to cope with it.

    I do, though, counter that with having read Shakespeare’s plays for entertainment and arguing, in class and on camera, that Romeo and Juliet was NOT, actually, a love story. Or at least, no more of a True Love Story than, say, the Twilight books. My mother said I lacked romanticism in my soul when I told her, but thankfully my stepfather chuckled and said that I had a point with the support I found in the text…

    I see Treasure Island on the list, which I never actually read, (I think I might have tried at some point but gave up fairly quickly) though I counter that with having read Robinson Crusoe when I was still in elementary school. I’m *pretty* sure I also read Gulliver’s Travels… but I’m not sure. I don’t see Wizard of Oz on the list, but I read that and most of the Baum books of the series… like, I read 13 of the 14…

    So… yeah… sorry for the length of the post.