“Faith in Fiction” by Randy Boyagoda

Faith in Fiction

Amen, brother! Amen! Amen! Amen!

Why, why, why have Christians left the English department? I don’t mean the teachers and I don’t mean the students; I mean the writers in the books. Where are they? I don’t mean the writers that have died. They are being studied and discussed, but they are no longer held accountable for their writing, nor are they standing up for their beliefs. Highly figurative: they are laying down for their beliefs. They are martyrs. We need no martyrs. We have plenty of them. We need living saints – future martyrs. We need them in the English department. There is so much talk about the culture wars, but here is a clear battlefield; atheists like David Shields are directly attacking the traditional (and who cares about tradition when tradition is for the dead? Who cares about tradition when it’s used as a cane for the spiritually disheartened, the fearful, the shy applauders? The cynics of the nontraditional and the contemporary?). There are deconstructionists out there – a lot of them. They are zealous for their beliefs, they are courageously nihilistic. They see the force that man can have and they believe in it exclusively. We are seeing the results of a Romans 1 situation; this is what happens when culture-makers worship the created rather than the created. Their pettiness is not the first fruit of their idolatry (although pettiness is always there, at the root, in the trunk, in the fruit, in their mouths). Power is the first fruit. When man worships himself, whatever he makes has the potential to be as powerful as his ambitions take him. If his ambition is to persuade people to embrace courageous atheism, to take the leap of faith, to reject the transcendental, antiquated, dead, acidic (and here’s the irony) recent past, then he will persuade people with his explosive pride. People are persuaded by confidence. And the side without god is far more confident to say that they do not have him. Why have Christians left this fight? Few even have the strength to participate in an in-fight, too fearful, too saccharinely ecumenical. We are left redefining terms we once trusted, shifting our positions when no one but our enemies told us to. We’ve gone into the back of the shop and reorganized the shelves according to some system we made up during lunch break. We are afraid of the word “Christianity” – let’s call it Christendom, because that is more rooted in place and being obsessed with place is definitely not a contemporary secular trend; no only we are thinking about these things – and the word “Christian” – too over-used, I mean, people call themselves that, but do they really mean it? How about “disciple of Christ?” No, too Jewish; “follower of Christ.” – and the words “systematic theology” – it makes room for explicit contradictions, how about something a little less clear, like “applications of the Gospel?” or why not throw out all the terms, shut up, sell everything we have, move to Detroit, and never be heard from again? – and there is nothing left to defend. We have out-deconstructed the deconstructionists. We have nothing left to say, because we are sure that our sterilized terminology is highly resistant to any corrosive cultural understanding of who we are. Big words. Why not let them think bad thoughts about us?

Let them think that a Christian is a superficial noun, one without depth. Doesn’t everyone use it? Let them think that Christianity is big and slow and falling into the ground. Isn’t it? Let them think that systematic theology is boring. Haven’t we made it that? Let them think that we are in a very bad spot. Aren’t we? Let them hate the church. Do they have any other calling? Let us die during the battle (I find the metaphor of us being soldiers – of this being a fight – to be over-used, cliche, and distracting; it’s more like conflicting birthday parties), because the zealots came at us with swords and we used our bodies as walls, not our terms. We sat down, because humility is the first fruit of the Gospel. We got up, because that is a fruit of the Gospel. We stood with our shields, because that is a fruit of the Gospel. We died, because that is a fruit of the Gospel. They joined us, because we did not shift our position.

What we are dealing with is not who has the tighter truth claims. We are dealing, fundamentally, explicitly, thoroughly, heavy words, with the serious gravity of fun. Who has more fun? Young Christians leave the church, not because they are bothered by the hypocrisy (that is a ruse), but because youth groups, worship services, and their god was no fun. We had birthday hats – sure – but where was the triple-chocolate cake? WHERE? My youth group leader kept a basket of vegetable chips on his desk for anyone who could recite their short-term memory verse. No one bothered. He would get real with us, by which I mean he would sit backwards on his chair, ask us about our favorite food (pizza! Pepperoni pizza!), and then segue nicely into a thirty second discussion about lust – and onto questions, yes, Johnny, Catholics are saved, some at least, hey that question about the problem of evil, to be honest Johnny, I don’t know myself, but read your Bible, maybe it has something to say about it, read an Epistle, because the Old Testament is depressing and has nothing to say about those sorts of New Testament matters. That was exhibit A. Here we have Exhibit B: alright, you guys are high school students, you can handle provocation; how many of you have studied the Ancient Near East? The idols? Did you know that transubstantiation is not that crazy and annihilationism, I mean I don’t believe in it, but I’m not going to take a stand, I am only going to present these heresies to you, at a time when everything is interesting for you, sit back, and let you pick which one tickles your brain more (talk to your parents first, of course; high school kids just naturally talk to their parents about what’s on their minds; “Johnny! Where did you get these crazy ideas about Hinduism!” estrangement: now when you wonder who plants the seeds, just ask your son’s role model, brave, brash, reckless, but Johnny insists these crazy and very dead ideas are his own).

Either we bore them to death or we tempt them with intellectual high-stupidity. Think powdered wigs. High class silliness. I always pictured the millstone around a liar’s neck as a ruff.

I’m going to eat an apple now and read this article.


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