Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prologomena to "Harry Potter and the Gift of Death"

Maybe prologue to a prologue is more appropriate. Large and complex ideas crowd my head, but the ability to condense them into a blog post doesn't. Consider this the beginning of a trickle, perhaps; or down payment on a promissory note of more to come. Or something like that.

I'm sure I've said this before, but it's actually kind of a prelude to a bubbling post on Harry Potter (so far, "Harry Potter and the Gift of Death." Coming soon to a D-level blog near you!) I'm still thinking about. Several issues tied together, actually; all having to do with faith, belief, confession, and evangelicalism.

Evangelism and evangelicalism are as good a place to start as any. "Evangel" is a but of a transliteration from the koine Greek of the New Testament, where it is actually "euuangelion," with the "g" hard rather than soft. We get our word "angel" from that word, too; "angel" simply meaning "messenger" (how messengers became warriors like Gabriel and Michael is another subject altogether). The "ev-angel" the, (or "euu-angel," if you want to be originalist about it), is the messenger of the good news. Now here's the rub, and it's an old one: good news to whom?

Christianity has its roots in Judaism, but Judaism is a resolutely non-evangelical religion. All that talk in Isaiah about people flocking to the holy mountain of God is not a description of a mass conversion event where everyone accepts the existence of the "one true God" and realizes they'd best worship that one or burn in hell. That's a gross distortion of certain schools of Christian thought, but it's hardly the meaning Isaiah had in that glorious vision, nor is it the only possible understanding of that vision. The vision of people flowing to God's holy mountain is a promise of the establishment of Israel as God's chosen people, and of the fulfillment of the covenant made with Abram. The people of all nations will come to the mountain because they will see the glory of God, the reign of God, the peace of God which passes all understanding; will, in short, to use the Gospels term, recognize the "kingdom of God," and want to be part of it. No coercion involved, no evangelical outreach based on arguments of doctrine or even appeals to Greek rationalism (yet another topic, one tied up with the question of faith and God's existence); just simple human awareness of the blessings possible when you can buy food without price, and drink without money.

The evangelical bent of Christianity, one established in the gospels of Matthew and Luke (at the very least and in the most obvious ways) could be the announcement of the fulfillment of this vision ("But you, go and proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand!"); or it could be the attempt to make the vision come true by various means of coercion. Too often in history since the first disciples, the latter has been the case. Such, as Lewis Carroll observed on an entirely different point, is human perversity.

This difficulty, this difference, feeds into the "evangelical" fervor being experienced today. But more importantly, it feeds into the distortions of Scripture made by both well-meaning Christians, and by ill-meaning critics of religion. Both groups try to use scripture for their own purposes, and both groups end up mis-using scripture entirely. Which, to say the least, is a little annoying.

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