Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Shack: "The latter was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now"

The Shack by William Paul Young was a tough one for me to get through, but I needed only three hours to read it--I got off more lightly than I did with Fifty Shades of Grey and its War and Peace dimensions. As a non-Christian, I knew I would get satisfaction only from an argument that was more sophisticated than the idea that God exists, so if you don't believe in him you will go to hell.

This book has enough new-age infusion to avoid the harshness of that credo, but basically, the book's answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people is that God works in mysterious ways. As the character Papa (God, that is) tells Mack, who wants to know why God let his young daughter be kidnapped and murdered,

First, by not creating at all, these questions would be moot. Or second, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration, and the latter was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now. (page 244 of the paperback edition)
I had to read 275 pages of mediocrity for that? What Mack is supposed to do to is know that God loves both him and his daughter. To acknowledge God is to acknowledge good. Evil, according to The Shack, arises from "[d]eclaring independence" from God. As the Holy Spirit, an Asian woman named Sarayu, says, "I am light and I am good. I am love and there is no darkness in me. Light and Good actually exist. So, removing yourself from me will plunge you into darkness" (144). The idea that evil is the absence of good is a standard answer to the question of how good and evil works, at least when the god that ought to be worshipped is only responsible for the good part of life. Some religions have separate deities of good and evil.

At one point I became quite excited because it seemed like the book was expounding a view of God that was like Spinoza's notion of Nature (as my philosophy-loving husband has explained to me but is also explained here). Young, however, does not want to be as heretical as Spinoza has proven to be for Christianity. For example, The Shack takes literally the creation story of Genesis. It argues that God indeed created man first and woman second and that Adam and Eve betrayed God in Eden. There seems to be a form of heaven, such that Mack gets to see his dead daughter Missy in an alternate world that is full of waterfalls, and there is a hell (a place of eternal torture of a non-specified type). In Chapter 15, angels appear and put on a kind of light show with their auras among some "children of the earth" (spirits of humanity in general as well as the specific dead).

Still, the theology in the book has enough going on to be heretical to most every Christian group, especially those with formal institutions, since the book explicitly states that Jesus is not interested in institutional churches, each of which is "a man-made system" of "buildings and program": "That's not what I came to build," says Jesus (192). The book introduces a fourth being, Sophia, the spirit of wisdom, who tells Mack that he cannot judge God or any of God's children; the book says is not a fourth person of God (too extreme a Christian heresy) but part of the Holy Spirit. That's splitting hairs, though, clearly. Unfortunately, it's easy to be a heretic when the dividing lines of theology between different sects are very thin.

Just about anyone can tip over to the side of heresy with little effort. This books tips over, though it seems to try not to be heretical. A quick Google search will locate Christians who are happy to explain how heretical the book is.

As theology, it is unsophisticated and unconvincing. As a book it was dull and at times offensive to both the writer and thinker in me. God makes his/her/whatevs presence known to Mack by putting a letter in his mailbox--indeed, the first chapter relates the tedious adventure of Mack stumbling over an icy driveway to get his letter. The three persons of God are three ethnic types--a vaguely Asian woman for the Holy Spirit, a vaguely Jewish man for Jesus, and an outrageously African-American woman for the Father, though she turns into an old white guy with a ponytail later to make the sad middle-aged white man more comfortable. The murder mystery aspect was a thrill-less combination of folksiness and aimless running through the countryside in search of a girl that the story reveals early on has already been missing for three years.

The book is well-meaning--it does not want to increase suffering or doubt but rather to boost confidence in believers who want their views reinforced.  It can't boost or assuage anything for me, though. Honestly, it did nothing for me. For me, it is hokey hokum.
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I now have chosen my last book, the number 1 fiction hardback on the Globe and Mail bestseller's list. The book is John Grisham's Sycamore Row. I have not read any John Grisham, so I am kind of excited. I have to get hold of a copy.

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