Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: Night of the Living Dead Christian

Night of the Living Dead Christian

This book is a bit of lighthearted - well, for the most part - Christian fiction. I'm reading it because the author's response to Geds' review of it got me interested. And since it is interesting, and since some of my Christian readers might be interested in something outside of the ordinary realm of "Christian Fiction," I thought I'd offer my responses to it.

This is not an especially long book, and it reads fairly quickly. That's not a complaint - by my standards Frankenstein is a short book, but that in no way detracts from the experience of it. Night of the Living Dead Christian is also, for the most part, funny. It's a particularly slapstick sort of humor, but it works. (The author refers to it as a "farce," and I think that's a pretty accurate description.)

Unfortunately, it does have some problems. The book is written entirely in the First Person, which would be fine except that there are two first-person narrators. One of them is Matt Mikalatos, which - if you're paying attention - is also the name of the author. Matt gets the slapstick, humorous bits of the narrative. The other narrator is Luther, a werewolf in search of a cure for his condition, who breaks in when the author wants to make more serious philosophical points. His sections were, at least for me, an unwelcome interruption in a story that was otherwise rather enjoyable. There are some other issues, too, but they'll require a much more detailed look at the narrative to explain, and they're probably things that a casual reader could easily ignore (or just overlook).

It's a Christian book, so of course it has a Christian message, but I have to say it's at least an interesting twist on the usual message. It's sort of Halloween Christianity: instead of just saying that we're all sinners and we need the redeeming love of Christ to be forgiven, the basic message is that we're all monsters, and we need the redeeming love of Christ to become fully human.

As a message, I'm not entirely sure it works - but note, among other things, that I am not a Christian, and therefore very definitely not the target audience for this book. Still... I think that would make an interesting Halloween sermon; I'm not sure the metaphor holds up so well when extended far enough to fill a book. The main issue I have is that "monster" is a rather more extreme term than "sinner" - all sins might be equal in God's eyes, but on a day-to-day basis most people don't consider, say, lying to a police officer about how fast you thought you were going to be morally equivalent to stabbing someone in the neck with an ice pick. So trying to say that we are all of us monsters seems to me to dilute the meaning of the word "monster".

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this to Christians looking for a fun and clever bit of explicitly Christian writing. It's a mildly subversive look at certain sorts of Christianity, and an interesting lense for examining Christian beliefs. I do have some issues with the story, but overall I think that it's a good fit for its intended audience.

Now, that's the short version of the review. I wanted to go ahead get this up in time for Halloween (though at least one of the people who I think would enjoy the book is on the wrong side of the world, and may very well be done with Halloween by now). I have a considerably more detailed look at the book - like, ten pages of review at present, and at least twelve by the time I get done writing it out - which I'll probably put up in sections when it's done. But in the meantime I have at least finished reading it, and hope to have a more thorough examination of it ready soon.


  1. Hey Michael... looking forward to your twelve-page thesis on the book, and I hope you get a doctorate or some other worthy reward as a result.

    I do note with some interest that you and Geds both mentioned this "all sin is equal in God's sight" concept which I hear often enough in Christian circles and also am conflicted about because I'm uncertain that it's a Christian concept. What I mean to say is, I'm not sure that it's inherently Christian and actually present in scripture rather than a more folk-religion add-on by well meaning Christians from days of yore. But I assume we can talk more about that as your gigantic series gears up.

    Also... I accidentally went to instead of this site, which is really, really different.

    Have a safe and happy Halloween!

  2. I hope you don't mind it - it basically walks right through the book, and as a result it has a lot of spoilers. I'd planned to put those "below the cut" with a spoiler warning at the top, and I'd certainly be interested in hearing your input and responses. (I haven't been back to check Geds' initial threads in a few days - did you ever get around to explaining how you happened to end up writing Christian fiction, or what your particular background looked like?)

    As for Yep, that's different! Cub scouts made good, from the look of it. I'm not sure which Michael Mock that is, but it definitely isn't me - my stuff is mostly here. (In theory, this blog is an extension of, but in terms of volume-of-output it's clearly the other way around.)

    "All sin is equal in God's eyes" may not be entirely scriptural - to be honest, I lack the background to be sure, and the patience to do research - but at the least it's very common, and it seems like a sort of prerequisite for the idea of Hell to be just - some "normal" amount of sin cannot be acceptable, if anyone who sins at all deserves eternal torment.

    Now, if you want to argue - or even just opine - that the concept of Hell isn't really all that Biblical, I'm prepared to listen. I've heard some very good arguments in that direction. Admittedly, they're the sort of arguments that got Rob Bell in a lot of trouble recently, but I think you can make a good Bible-based argument for the idea that Hell is not what most people think it is.

    And I'll also freely concede that a lot of the most compelling Christian writings that I've run across deal with the idea that God most manifests His grace through the Lost, the Damaged, and the Broken. (How did Leonard Cohen put it? "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Or see pretty much anything that Anne Lamott or David Roche has written.) But a lot of that - and I can see this in Night of the Living Dead Christian, too - seems to be a direct response to the rather odd idea that being Christian means being perfect all the time - and that, I'm quite sure, is not a Biblical belief in any sense.

  3. No, I don't mind it a bit. And honestly, as an author I find it helpful to get that sort of detailed feedback from a reader, so I'm interested to see what you have to say. Also, I figure if someone reads a book (watches a movie, studies a painting) they have the right to share their thoughts about it. Art without response is pretty lame, and criticism (at least good criticism) should only make art stronger. So spoil away.

    Granted, "all sin is equal in God's eyes" is pervasive, certainly in western Christian thought. It's common but I think in error, or at least poorly defined. I would say there are two ways any sin is "equal" with another. One, there's the sense that any sin prevents "perfection" in a person. That's probably a longer discussion (i.e. what is perfection? Who decides?) but a limited example would be two cars that come off the assembly line, one with a botched paint job and another with a faulty brake system. Both are imperfect, neither are ready to be shipped to the car lot, but no one would say the vehicles are equally defective. A liar and a murderer are both imperfect and "sinners" but their sins are not equal in degree. The fact that the Bible talks about rewards and punishments being handed out for what people have done makes it a necessary conclusion that some version of moral relativism exists in the Christian worldview. I know that the real issue is "what does it matter if liars and murderers end up in hell?" But I think the differences between a Dante-ish cosmology versus a "everyone into the lake of fire" cosmology are significant.

    The second way I'd say "sins are equal" is in the sense that they are all forgivable. This is practically as upsetting and controversial as the hell stuff for some people. I remember there was a lot of anger when Ted Bundy, for instance, said that he had accepted Jesus into his heart. A lot of people unhappy about that.

    Anyway, I don't know if that clarifies or muddies the water. I just thought it was interesting that you and Geds both brought it up in response to the book, since I didn't really see that as part of the story (but can definitely see where the Christian culture of the U.S. makes it a fair assumption that it would be).

    I think "Hell is not what most people think it is" is a safe bet. Side note: I read a short story by a guy named Reginald McKnight called "Roscoe in Hell" and it has really stuck with me for a long time... not typical, but a lot more disturbing than eternal burning.

    Which brings us back to your last comment about the response to Christians acting like they're perfect all the time. Yes... this is a real problem. Even worse, sometimes Christians will admit in private, among Christians, that they aren't perfect but put on the happy face to non-Christians. Why do they do this? Some weird recruiting tactic? I don't know. But it's not healthy, or honest, or godly.

    Anyway, all that to say that I'm looking forward to your thoughts. I enjoy this kind of conversation.

  4. Lovely! I'll put up the first bit tomorrow morning, and we'll be off and running.


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