Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why I Didn't Like This Book

One of the things I've noticed -- and perhaps struggled with the most -- in my experiences with today's Christian writing communities, is the strong thrust toward supporting one another and one another's works, regardless of the differences in doctrinal beliefs that might exist and the degree to which those differences are manifested in our stories. For some a difference in doctrinal belief is apparently of minor importance, rather like the difference between liking vanilla or chocolate. I've even heard some say that they don't care about theology at all, they just want to love Jesus. And the brethren. For one with that viewpoint, I can see where it would be easy to read and recommend books, movies, etc, regardless of doctrinal content.

I don't think that way, though. Doctrinal differences matter to me. Oh, I'll be the first to say that people have every right to believe what they wish to believe, and even to write stories that reflect those beliefs (indeed, if you're going to write, you should absolutely be writing about what you believe and care about!) What I have trouble with is recommending those books to others when they put forth things I consider to be against the Truth. If my heart cannot rejoice in something my mind rejects as false and wrong, how can I tell others to read it?

A case in point is a book I read recently, which I shall not name because I did not finish it and would not be able to recommend it, for reasons which I shall set forth below. In general I don't like to talk about books I haven't liked, but I thought perhaps this dissertation will shed some light on my approach.

My problems began with the book's premise -- that a man had been cloned from Christ's body using a cell found on the Shroud of Turin. My first thought was that God would never allow that to happen because it would have no meaning in His plan and would, in fact, seriously obfuscate important elements of the work and person of Jesus Christ. The whole reason for the virgin birth was so that Christ would have a human body without a sin nature. Which means his human spirit, imputed by God along with a human soul at birth, would not die on contact with a body contaminated by the sin nature passed down from a human father. He had to be spiritually alive, perfect -- sin free -- and yet, like Adam, have the will that would enable Him to sin if He chose.

If someone were to clone a body from a cell of Christ's humanity, God would still have to impute human life at the point of birth and why would He? There would be no point. God's entire intent was that we come into this world sinners, condemned from birth and in need of a savior. Breathing life into the perfect body of this clone would only be recreating Adam, and we've already been there, done that... Why would I want to read about something that would be completely pointless?

But the book is notable for its success in the field of Christian SF , so I finally decided to give it a try anyway. If story, writing and/or characters are strong enough I might overlook my doctrinal quibbles. Besides, the novel begins with an "Important Note from the Author" that says things in the book are not as they seem and we should keep reading. Okay, I thought. I'll read. The whole cloning thing could turn out to be a hoax...

Given that the main viewpoint character is an unbeliever, and that the character behind the aforementioned cloning project is also an unbeliever -- and one hostile to God -- this viewpoint seemed viable. I had serious trouble, though, when not too far into the book it was declared that the cells which were cloned had come from Christ's resurrected body. There was no way I could believe that, since resurrected bodies are not at all like regular human bodies (able to walk through walls, appear and disappear, fly, travel through space, etc,). The clone, however, did not seem to possess any of these powers, though as the book progressed, he did have some supernatural abilities...

Still working hard to suspend my very intense disbelief and lack of desire to even investigate these concepts, I persevered, holding on to that admonition at the start that things are not what they seem...

Only to run into the author's portrayal of an event which, though never referred to as such in the story itself, was obviously the Rapture. However, instead of vanishing as the Left Behind series presented it (and as I believe the Bible teaches), all the Christians dropped dead all over the world, leaving their bloated, decomposing corpses for those left behind to deal with. That's not only gross and macabre, but I don't believe God would do that with His royal family! The resurrection is a blessed hope, something we are to look forward to with eagerness and delight. Furthermore, we are to lights and blessing to the world, in life and in particularly, I think, in the finale of the Church age. To portray that moment as all of us dying physically in unison, leaving piles of dangerous, pathogenic "trash" behind, doesn't mesh with who we are in Christ nor, even more, with who God is. I thought the whole idea to be an insult to His character.

It also doesn't mesh with what Scripture has to say about the resurrection -- that it is not a physical death, but a bodily resurrection. The mortal shall take on immortality, and our bodies shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, not left behind rotting. Jesus, the first fruits of the resurrection and the prototype for the rest of us, did not leave behind a body to rot, but was transformed, and we will be like him, caught up to meet Him in the air...

At this point I put the book down and did not read it for days. Then, since I was about halfway through, I decided yet again to set aside my objections and go on. It became clear that the clone was, indeed, not a good guy (I'm guessing the Antichrist) but now the story began to drag. There was too much political maneuvering, obvious, New Agey, demon-influenced characters, and an ever increasing list of elements that provoked my 'That's not the way it is/will be!" reflex. Also the story seemed to have become less and less about the characters, and more and more about presenting the author's view of end time events. The gradual revelation that his timeline for those events and the events themselves were not at all according to what I believe the Bible teaches was the straw that broke the camel's back.

There are many things out there to read, and not enough time to read even a small portion of them. At some point you have to make a decision as to whether you will devote any more time to a book you are deriving more moments of annoyance and disagreement from than pleasure. Thus about three quarters of the way through, I gave it up.

People who know me well would not find any of this analysis surprising. I do it with movies, too, though usually they don't have outright Christian principles they are portraying. It's in large degree why I am so picky about what I like. Sometimes that pickiness dismays me. On the other hand, I am what I am by the grace of God, and the same aspect of me that is so picky, is part of what I do when I write my own books. So I guess I'll just have to live with it.