Harry Potter as “sacred text”

Harry-potter-and-the-sorcerers-stone-logo.svgThose who are spiritual but not religious now have a Bible:  the Harry Potter books.

A podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” uses passages from the novels to discuss spiritual issues, much like Christians do with the Bible. The podcast has a big following and the two Harvard Divinity School graduates behind it have taken their act on the road, attracting hundreds of devotees to their presentations and Potter studies, as well as a church-like service they hold every week in Harvard Square.

But, ironically, the pair are skeptical about their own project.  They do not think Harry Potter can hold people accountable the way Scripture can.  And they do not think book-club-like gatherings can provide a spiritual community on a par with the church.

It sounds like the pair sought to use the Harry Potter books as some kind of outreach, but the effort has taken on a life of its own.

Again we see how non-religious enterprises take on religious form.  The Harry Potter books are used like Scripture.  A testimony from one of the Potterites says how he feels “born again,” etc.

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A fun summertime book

Crichton Dragon Feeth

Dragon’s Teeth  is based on the real life adventures and misadventures of two rival paleontologists, Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, as they scoured the wild west collecting fossils and making some of the earliest discoveries about dinosaurs.

But that’s about all the science you get in this novel, unlike most of Crichton’s science-based stories.  This novel is really a Western.  We follow the Yale undergraduate William Johnson as he accompanies Prof. Marsh on his 1876 expedition, only to get caught up in Indian wars, outlaw shootouts, dancehall girls, stampedes, and hair-raising stagecoach rides.

As in the most interesting historical fiction, Crichton blends fictional characters with meticulously researched real-life characters.  In this novel, Wyatt Earp plays a big role, along with his brother Morgan, and we get cameos of General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane.  We also get a lively portrait of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Deadwood, South Dakota.

Beyond that, what makes the novel so enjoyable are the twists and turns and surprises in the plot.  Crichton employs the classic tale-spinner technique, which goes back to Spenser, of ending virtually every chapter with a cliffhanger or a hint of what is about to happen, so that readers are propelled through the book, not wanting to put it down.

The novel does not have a lot of redeeming social value, but it is extremely entertaining, perfect for the beach or a lazy summer day.

After the jump, you can read the back cover description, which is unusually apt, and click to Amazon to buy it.  You will thank me later.

Do any of you have other suggestions for light summertime reading?

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One of the best comments about Bernie Sanders’ opposition to a nominee’s confirmation because he didn’t believe Muslims are saved comes from Michael Gerson:  “It is apparently not enough for some of the liberal-minded to help those on Medicare and Social Security; now people must be guaranteed eligibility for heaven as well.”  See also Lutheran Satire’s Hans Fiene on the subject.

Far from being a fringe position, as Sanders’ assumes, the notion that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation is a tenet of every branch of Christianity, except for liberals and a small number of universalists.  Even Catholics, who hold out the possibility of salvation for some non-Christians, do so because they see their good works as evidence that they have God’s grace, explaining it all so that it is Jesus who saves them even though they don’t know Him.

Most Muslims believe that non-Muslims do not go to paradise, though since salvation is based mostly on good works, there may be exceptions.

Sanders’ interrogation of Russell Vought has brought attention to the issue, with most observers–including liberals–defending the right of a Christian to hold public office, despite that religion’s “exclusionary” beliefs.

After the jump is an article on the number of people who believe in Hell.  It turns out that 58% of Americans believe in eternal punishment.

And yet, Hell isn’t talked about much these days, even in conservative churches.  I suppose it’s a difficult topic to preach about.  One can easily get it wrong, creating false impressions about God, Christ, sin, and salvation.

Dante helped me understand Hell.  His Inferno is an allegory in which the punishments symbolize the sin, as it completely takes over the life of the sinner.  Here the sinners freely embrace their sin and the torment that comes from rejecting God, just as they did on earth.  Another theme of his comes from St. Catherine of Sienna:  “The fire of Hell is the love of God as experienced by those who reject it.”  God continues to love these sinners by preserving their existence and letting them be what they have chosen.

You pastors, how do you teach about Hell?

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Shakespeare is pro-Caesar


Antony's funeral oration

New York’s summertime staple “Shakespeare in the Park” is performing the bard’s great tragedy Julius Caesar.   The production is in modern dress, and someone had the bright idea to portray the Roman strongman in a blonde wig, so that he looks like Donald Trump.   And (spoiler alert, as if anyone didn’t know) Caesar gets assassinated. So it looks as if Donald Trump is getting assassinated.

This has caused a big furor, with corporate sponsors dropping out and the public bitterly divided. Some people apparently like to fantasize about Trump getting killed. Trump supporters, of course, are outraged.

I would like to add a different perspective, though it means my coming out of retirement as a literature professor with a specialty in the age of Shakespeare.

The play Julius Caesar is pro-Caesar! Shakespeare, being a monarchist, creates sympathy for the usurper of the Roman Republic. The assassins are portrayed, though with Shakespeare’s usual empathy, as the bad guys. They all get killed at the end.

So a production of the play depicting Caesar as Donald Trump, unless it is completely rewritten, is going to support Donald Trump! [Read more…]

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture


Bob Dylan finally delivered his lecture for the Nobel Prize for Literature, submitting a 26-minute audio file, which you hear for yourself after the jump.  Or you can read the transcript.

He reflects on the sense in which his songs can be construed as literature.  He discusses the three literary works that have left the biggest impression on him:  Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey.  (Who knew?  Has anyone noticed the  influence of any of these works before?)

His whole speech–required to receive the $923,000 prize–is a literary performance in itself.  An excerpt, bringing together imagery and lines from the folk music tradition:

“You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man, and that Frankie was a good girl, you know that Washington is a bourgeois town and you heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek and you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums, the fifes that played lowly, you’ve seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.”

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The Silver Chair will reboot the Narnia movies

Plans to film the Chronicles of Narnia are back on, as plans have firmed up for a movie version of the Silver Chair.

This time, the studio producing the movies will be Sony–not Disney, which made the first three but then gave up on the project.  And Sony has taken the huge step of hiring a notable director:  Joe Johnston, who has given us Captain America, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,  Jumanji, and Jurassic Park III.

There is reportedly a script, by writer David Magee (Life of Pi), but now that a director has been hired it will probably be re-written.  Then comes casting, pre-production, production, post-production. . . .

So exactly when the Silver Chair will come to the silver screen is not known.  But it’s coming!
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