On Monday, Chaplain Mike ranted on three topics—which is very good for a Monday. Normally I can’t work up to three until Wednesday or Thursday. But the Chaplain knows his stuff, and he worked right up to three good ones. Unfortunately, most of the comments were centered around Francis Chan wanting the elderly to stop acting their age, and never got to my favorite of the three: the “chokehold” Christian bookstores have on our Western Christian culture.
Chaplain Mike referenced an excellent post by Rachel Held Evans on her blog. Rachel talked of taboos in Christian publishing—mentions of alcohol, pre-marital sex, profanities, and using medical vocabulary such as vagina—and how this creates an artificial, safe world Christian readers like to inhabit. I know this from many sides of the fence, having been an author, an editor, and a bookstore employee. Christian readers want to be kept twenty miles from the nearest sin, and expect the characters in their books to be as close to perfect human beings as possible. Anything less and—gasp!—sin is at the reader’s doorstep.
I won’t repeat what Rachel so clearly and aptly has already enunciated in her essay. Instead, I want to talk about one specific author I think epitomizes Christian publishing today. This author is proficient in his writing, turning out books on a frequent and regular basis. His name is Gilderoy Lockhart.
What? Of course you’ve heard of him. Some of his bestsellers include Break With A Banshee, Holiday With A Hag, Voyages With Vampires and Wanderings With Werewolves. Still unfamiliar to you? Lockhart is featured prominently in a book that most Christian stores wouldn’t stock on a dare: Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets.
Know him now?
Gilderoy Lockhart is the author of these and many other books detailing his adventures dealing with “dark creatures” such as hags, banshees and the like. They made for fascinating reading and earned Lockhart an army of adoring fans, fans who couldn’t wait for his next book. There were just two problems. Lockhart never actually had the experiences he claimed to have had. And his readers still believed him.
Thus Lockhart arrived at Hogwarts to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, a subject he knew nothing about, yet a subject that would be crucial for students entering the real world who had to deal with real evil. While he appeared to be just a vain, arrogant self-boaster, he turned out to be quite dangerous.
Gilderoy Lockhart is a familiar face in Christian publishing. Oh sure, we have the obvious Gilderoys in Mike Warnke, Todd Bentley and others who told tales not even remotely close to the truth. Those are easy to spot. I’m talking about Gilderoy Lockhart who writes books your neighbor in the pew this coming Sunday is reading. Books written by a smiling man—or woman—who seems to have all the answers. Who knows THE way out of your financial mess. Who knows THE way to turn your rebellious kids into angels. The Gilderoy Lockhart who shares seven principles to, well, to anything you want.
Sure, Joel Osteen is an obvious “Gilderoy,” but there are many, many others. Books like this tickle ears and cause no pain. They are sugar-coated and easy to swallow. The picture of the author on the cover shows more teeth than found in a denture convention. The message in this is that all you need to do to have that great life you’ve desired is shell out $22.95 and get to reading. Gilderoy writes books on the secrets of fasting, especially using the Daniel Fast. Secrets of praying, especially using prayers found in Scripture. Secrets of financial freedom, especially using biblical principles.
Do you note how much these books “use” things? Life is simple, says Gilderoy. All you have to do is use the right tools to get what you want.
But when it comes to real life, Gilderoy is of little use. When the electricity is shut off due to non-payment, where is Gilderoy with the funds to get your lights and AC back on? When your spouse leaves you, where is he to help you thru those lonely nights? When your child dies, how much help are those grinning teeth then?
The books that line the shelves of Christian stores, and line the pockets of their publishers, are dangerous books. They feature crayon drawings of a make-believe God who blesses the good people who follow principles, and ignores the cries of those who don’t. Those who read Your Best Life Now, expecting to find God around each corner, giving them up-front parking spaces at the mall, are at a total loss when they’re let go from their job or when diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Gilderoy is no where to be found, and neither is the God they have tethered themselves to.
Whose fault is it that Gilderoy Lockhart occupies such a central place in Christian publishing? Well, there are the publishers, who honestly don’t care about the content of a book. Really. If the author has a strong enough platform, meaning a way to market themselves and the book, it can be as heretical as can be. Many publishing houses now leave the editing up to the author, only needing to know enough of the content to create sales sheets and back-cover copy.
Then there are the bookstores, who know they will sell many more copies of a book dealing with how to be joyful, healthy and wealthy than a book that walks the road of suffering with no guaranteed happy ending. Bookstores, like publishers, are in business to make money. If readers are buying pablum, them pablum will be on the menu in bold letters.
And there are the readers. Honestly, do people actually read this crap? The best thing I can say is that surveys show the vast majority of those who buy a non-fiction book seldom read the whole thing. In the case of books by Gilderoy Lockhart, that’s a good thing.
Finally, there is Lockhart himself. The books he (or she) writes are not meant to be great literature. I’m ok with that. My favorite author, Robert Capon, did not create great literature. I fault all of the Gilderoy Lockharts—and their ghostwriters (oh, didn’t I mention that most of these books are written by ghosts?)—with preying on the simple, the foolish, those whose ears long to be tickled. I fault them for not only using anecdotes proven never to have happened but for encouraging these readers to believe in a dualistic good vs. evil, blessed vs. cursed, world. Of course, writing, “Life sucks most of the time, when it rains it monsoons, and cheaters really do prosper” is not going to get someone a three-book deal and bus to travel in.
My solution? Threefold. First, stop trading in bookstores that sell books by Gilderoy Lockhart. Tell the manager or owner that until they get some grown-up books for you to look at you won’t be back. Second, get rid of the mindset that only “Christian” books contain truth or give glimpses of God. Ghost Rider by Neil Peart and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey are two examples of books written by decidedly non-Christians that have shown me the face of God. And third, as much as you can, stick to dead authors. If their books are still in print, there might just be something in them worth reading.
This afternoon I want to mention a person you will seldom meet in a Christian bookstore. Stay tuned.