Propaganda Does Not Make Good Art

Propaganda Does Not Make Good Art June 24, 2021

Me longing to read a really good book.

This is really good, though not what I was mulling over in the night hours when I was trying to sleep. This bit is great:

But the slogan and the very model of church made something else all too clear: the elderly are not welcome. If it’s not your grandparents’ church it’s not likely to welcome your grandparents, is it? If it’s defined in opposition to what’s dear to them, it’s not likely to make a place for them, is it? In fact, it’s going to abandon the hymns they love, crank the music to levels they hate, drop the lights so they cannot see, and scratch ministry to the elderly in favor of ministry to the youth.

The “not your grandparents’ church” churches have proven themselves incredibly weak and fatally flawed. As Christians grapple with the fallout from the empty claims of the attractional model of church, it becomes clear: churches without grandparents are just as sick as churches with only grandparents.

What I was thinking about, though, in the middle of the night, was what exactly is wrong with The Book of Longings. It’s not that it’s a novel with Jesus as one of the characters. It’s not even that Jesus got married. I’m not that theologically prudish that I can’t read the imaginative efforts of others without wringing my hands or fainting. Sure, what if Jesus were married, and what if his wife’s name was Ana? That could have been a good novel, and I think if someone from past ages had written it, it might have been interesting. But this wasn’t. And I’ve been trying to figure out why. In the small hours, the answer was vouchsafed unto me by means of more internet scrolling.

It’s that the Book of Longings is propaganda, not art, and it’s the same genre of propaganda as the Left Behind series. It is just exactly the kind of religious propaganda that Americans peculiarly seem to love. Americans love the cult of youth, the cult of celebrity, and now, as we discover from The Book of Longings, the cult of the self. They love easy, fun stories without too much character development, and certainly no dark nights of the soul. They love the eschaton without the valley of the shadow of death. I’ve read about this somewhere, I can’t remember where. Something about Thomas Kincaid.

It’s not that all religious expression is propaganda, any more than all politics. But some religious expression is–some church services are lots more propaganda than worship, especially ones with no grandparents–and books, and “art,” and movies, oh my goodness the movies. It’s where you are afraid that all the people sitting in the pew or the theater aren’t going to “get it.” You have to package up the bits of truth you want them to have and shovel it down their poor throats. You don’t want them to question what you’re saying. You want them to keep paying their money and keep coming to get your product. You want them to accept your vision of the world because you know best.

The new cult of the self is so easy, so “if you think of life this way you won’t have any real problems.” It’s not only boring, it’s not true. And so it has to be wrapped up in a veneer of manufactured conflict, of struggle that’s not really a struggle because it’s the thing that everyone wants anyway.

What I find so ironic is that the people who love The Book of Longings of course would sneer at and hate The Left Behind books, or Fireproof. They are much more clever than that foolishness. Except that the book–but more, the religious propaganda driving all these kinds of books–is just as bad. It is no more art than a Thomas Kincaid painting.

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