Friday, December 2, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 15

Luther... I am your father... Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

We're nearing the end of the book, and I'm honestly not sure how to recap everything up to this point. Here's what you need to know if you haven't been following along: Luther is a werewolf. He wants to be free of his curse. After trying various other things, he agrees to consult his father, Reverend Martin, a Lutheran minister. Luther is accompanied by his friend, Matt Mikalatos, who is trying to help him.

This brings us to a new chapter (22), which opens with a description of the church. Narrator-Matt goes in first, to lay the groundwork with Reverend Martin. Reverend Martin, interestingly, has a wolf pelt on the wall over his desk. He agrees to give his son a strictly professional meeting - no family interactions, no personal stuff - and Narrator-Matt goes outside to fetch Luther. Luther asks Matt to accompany him, which seems like a good idea since Luther can’t even approach the church without starting to wolf out.

And, of course, once he’s in his father’s office, Luther immediate violates the agreement and goes straight into listing his personal grievances. Reverend Martin acknowledges the complaints, but steers the conversation back to the central question: what is it that Luther wants from him? Luther tells him that he wants to be released from his curse, and Reverend Martin tells him that he’s always had the means to go home - just click his heels together and he already knows what to do: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

Luther responds that he has never seen a Christianity that actually improves people (a view for which I have considerable sympathy). Reverend Martin tells Luther that he is speaking in meaningless generalities (which seems to me a somewhat odd criticism), and Luther responds by correcting his earlier observation: he says that most Christians “are living lives indistinguishable [from those of unbelievers] except for the insufferable arrogance that comes from thinking they know the answer to spiritual questions that others around them have gotten wrong.” Reverend Martin notes that it sounds like Luther is accusing him of this, and Luther replies that of course he is. Reverend Martin starts to apologize, and Luther loses control completely: he starts pummeling his father and yelling that he doesn’t want apologies, he wants something that is missing from his life.

I have mixed feelings about this last bit. On the one hand, it seems perfectly in character for Luther as an individual. On the other hand, it also plays to the common misconception that non-Christians are missing out, that whether we know it or not, we have a "God-shaped hole in our lives." Let me be perfectly clear: I don't think that's the book's message at all. But I suspect that a lot of the target audience is going to read it that way, and that bothers me. But, well... A) It is in character for Luther, here; and B) offhand, I can't see any way that author-Matt could have addressed it, particularly at this point in the narrative. So this isn't really a complaint about the book, this is just me voicing some related concerns.


  1. This was an interesting chapter to write, because Luther's emotional state made any sane conversation difficult. Anything Rev. Martin could possibly say would be met with fury. (Sidenote: I saw Rev. Martin's comment to Luther about meaningless generalities to have more to do with their history than the conversation at hand... it's the sort of thing that he would always say to Luther... he feels that Luther's argument lacks intellectual rigor and thus refuses to address the point. I thought this was okay, since Luther's main point here is that his father is one of "those people" who has caused considerable harm to the people around him while "following Jesus.")

    And, the basic idea that Christianity doesn't seem to make people live better lives is, in many ways, the impetus for me writing the book. As an "insider" in the Christian community I can certainly say that I've seen plenty of people changed for the better by following Christ's teachings, and that I've seen a distressingly large percentage of people who don't even attempt to follow those teachings, so near as I can tell. I think it's safe to say that in modern Western Christianity this is a serious question: does following Jesus make you a better person? If not, is that an issue with Christianity or Jesus, or an issue with the followers, or something else?

    Regarding the God-shaped hole: Yeah, I could see why this would make you nervous. I've seen Christians use this as a way to stop listening to what "non-Christians" are saying to them. Like this: "Homosexuals don't really want gay marriage, what they want is someone to love them. They need Jesus, not gay marriage." It's a pretty demeaning way to completely ignore what is being said.

  2. "And, the basic idea that Christianity doesn't seem to make people live better lives is, in many ways, the impetus for me writing the book."

    Beautiful Wife thought that was interesting, because she shares your concerns. For me, it's less problematic - I see it less as a failure of Christianity, and more as a failure of people. However, I do see it as problematic in terms of the claims that I hear made by (some) Christians/about Christianity, which very often are rather more grand and sweeping than the evidence would tend to support.


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