Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Books that Should Not Have Been Written (at least in the form they are in)

"Of the making of many books there is no end" says the Preacher, and while there are very many good and profitable books in the world, there are also a large number of really bad ones out there. Christians have produced a large number of books, and behold that the good are very good, and the bad are very bad! The thought occurred to me that it might be of help to reflect on five of the worst I have ever read, six books that ought not to have been written, at least in the form that they have. They are presented in no particular order.

1. Alexander Hislop: The Two Babylons.
First published in 1858 as an expansion of a pamphlet published in 1853, the great burden of this book is to attempt to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian at all, but is really just old paganism with a Christian veneer. In order to 'prove' his point, Hislop reduces all pagan worship to the worship of Nimrod, his wife Semiramis, and their son. In the course of this polemic the author denounces the very symbol of the cross itself as pagan. The root fallacy is that Hislop everywhere proceeds on the principle that similarity proves connection, which is by no means proven, and which has been shown to be false time and again. The arguments that he uses have been quite successfully adopted by such authors as those drawn upon by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code to 'prove' that all of Christianity is in fact derived from paganism. The book is utterly useless, moreover, in the Roman Catholic controversy, for it proceeds not on the sound principle of addressing what the Roman Catholic Church now teaches or believes, but on a speculative theory as to the origins of its ceremonies and symbols. The book is calculated to produce a great deal of heat, but very little light. What is more, it is now horrifically outdated in terms of the scholarship that Hislop replies on. This book stands as an example of really bad anti-Roman Catholic polemic that should have gone out of print over a century ago; only foolish fanaticism keeps it in print.

2. Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk
This is another really bad piece of anti-Roman Catholic literature that ought to have been consigned to the dustbin of history long ago, but thanks to certain fanatics with more zeal than sense, it can still be obtained. It purports to have been written by a young woman who was an escaped nun, and in it she talks about terrible things going on in a particular Canadian nunnery. According to 'Maria Monk', the nunnery was nothing less than a seraglio for the Seminary across the street, the offspring of the illicit unions being smothered at birth and buried in the secret tunnel that linked the two establishments. It is perhaps almost needless to say that the story proved to be a fabrication from end to end, and no evidence of its truth has ever been found. 'Maria' had never been a nun, but was almost certainly mentally ill. Even were it true, it would be meaningless; the problem with the Church of Rome is not that its priests and 'Religious' are particularly wicked, but that its doctrine is wrong, and that is what these sensational works almost completely ignored. If every Roman Catholic priest was an exemplary moral person, and every nun a loving and humble person, Rome would still be wrong!

3. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins: Left Behind.
Projected as a trilogy, the Left Behind series began publication in 1995. The success of the first novel led to the saga being spun out to an obscene length. These books are probably some of the worst Christian fiction ever written. I am not a dispensationalist, but I do not refer to the theology that underlies these books; the rapture doctrine could, if handled well, be the basis for a compelling work of fiction, but Left Behind is not that. It is badly written, has cardboard characters, and singularly fails to rise above the level of the mediocre at any point, usually remaining far below that level. Put simply, this is a bad book, and the first in a series of bad books. It evidences an astonishing lack of imagination, while the protagonists are unpleasant, arrogant men who remain unpleasant even after their conversions. Now, this might be fine if we were meant to think of them in such a way, but we are actually meant to identify with them. The storyline is constructed on the basis of a certain understanding of the End Times that its authors regard this timeline as set in stone and unchangeable, which is fair enough; the failure is that they have their characters decide that they can do nothing to stop Antichrist and that they should therefore work for him. The authors' thought-processes at this point are beyond my powers to explain, but suffice to say that they are wrong. The problem is that they locked themselves into a narrative style that meant they only tell us what happens to two main characters, who therefore have to be at the centre of things, and then they decided that both had to be 'good guys'. It would have been far better either to have an omniscient narrator, or to have one of the two main characters end up on the bad side (as happens in the vastly superior end-times novel The Clock Strikes).
I have put Left Behind in the list because it represents everything that is wrong with Christian fiction; cardboard characters, a smug satisfaction with being 'not as other men are', and a pedestrian style that makes events that should be exciting dull as ditchwater. Oh, and it lacks all imagination, for which it should for ever be consigned to the dustbin of bad literature. Christian fiction is all too often synonymous with bad fiction; brethren, these things ought not to be so.

4. H.D. Williams: The Attack on the Canon of Scripture
This book is one of those where you read it with increasing irritation because it could have been a good book! There really is a modern-day attack on the Canon, as witness the arguments of the Jesus Seminar, and the arguments put forward by such men as Bart Ehrman, and there is a call for a good book on the subject; this is not it. No, this is a bad King James Only book by a man who does not understand the issue; it is not really about Canon Criticism at all, but textual criticism, it mixes up the question of the canon with the question of the text. The King James Onlyist is simply not equipped to deal with Ehrman. This is a missed opportunity.

5. Gail Riplinger: New Age Bible Versions
If anyone is surprised that I have included this book, then they ought not to be; my antagonism to Mrs. Riplinger is well-known. The reason for this is that she is a liar, and I have proven it (see previous blog entries). In the course of this book she fabricates quotations to make it appear that men taught things that they abominated, and denied that which they affirmed. This is not a book of scholarship, it is the product of a twisted mind. Mrs. Riplinger has convinced herself, I know not how, that every modern Bible version is a product of a Satanic plot to usher in a one-world New Age religion. Convinced that this is the case, she has set out to find evidence for it, evidence she thinks is hidden in the modern versions and in the writings of those responsible for them. To her mind these versions and their authors are certainly guilty, and so she proceeds on that basis. The result is, of course, entirely unconvincing to all those who are not already disposed to believe her. It is mildly entertaining in an absurd and tragic sort of way, but justifies the verdict of many, even King James Only people, who have pronounced NABV possibly the worst Christian book ever written.

6. Gail Riplinger: Hazardous Materials
A book so bad that one of the men quoted favourably in it wrote a rebuttal, HazMat as I semi-affectionately call it, is huge, rambling, and at times baffling. Though I have not been able to find any repetition of Riplinger's quote-manufacturing technique from NABV in it, it is if anything worse than its predecessor. First of all, HazMat is formless; it has no real progression in it, but is a collection of loosely-linked sections with only one connection, Riplinger's conviction that the study of Greek and Hebrew is bad and dangerous. The book is hysterical in tone, not to mention conspiratorial. On one page we are shown a picture of Archbishop Trench of Dublin wearing a medallion bearing a St. Patrick's Cross, which is labelled 'Masonic' on the grounds that Mrs. Riplinger has decided that the 'X' is evil, apparently not realising that such a cross may be worn for other reasons (such as Trench's Irish bishopric). She accuses Trench of 'putting a serpent on his book', when it is really the logo of his American Publisher (she spends about ten pages on the question without once tumbling to this simple explanation, which ought to have occurred to her in a matter of minutes). Oh, and she cites Hislop's Two Babylons, always a mark against an author. Add a rant against Calvinism, thoroughly pointless discussions of Cecil Rhodes and the Knights Templar, not to mention a discussion of the the Pyramids that literally caused me to laugh out loud, and we have a book that is surely even worse than NABV, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing", as the Bard would say. I list Mrs. Riplinger as illustrative of the very worst tendencies in Fundamentalist literature taken to their extreme.

These are my opinions, and frankly I do not want to hear from Mrs. Riplinger's supporters until they have explained why it is acceptable for her to create bogus quotations to sustain accusations of heresy against men. The Bible says "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour", and unless you really want to argue that that only applies to Christians and therefore one can lie as much as one likes about those one deems to be non-Christians (a wretched sophism that I hope exists only in my imagination and perhaps an old Jesuit work or two), Mrs. Riplinger has flagrantly breached this law over and over. She refuses to listen to those calling her to repent, and therefore must be exposed publicly for the purveyor of falsehoods that she is.


Sean said...

I would be tempted to add The Purpose-Driven Life to the list. Or, Your Best Life Now? If for no other reason, than it has enriched and encouraged the authors, enabling them to further proceed with their agendas.

Highland Host said...

I've never read either, and the list is only of books I've read.