Friday, August 10, 2007

Yes, this is ostensibly a sports blog, but ...

It's not every day one can be accused of being both "incoherent" and "irresponsible" — criticism that seems tailor-made for Jesse Jackson — but while I take no offense, I do think you quite missed the boat completely here. The bottom line is that Easterbrook did make the "controversy" surrounding Rowling's non-inclusion of religious content out of whole cloth.

First, let's be clear: Easterbrook was making no simple observation here. He clearly accuses Rowling — using the lame "perhaps" qualifier that you and I have both criticized other writers for using in the past when making accusations they can't prove — of avoiding the issue of god and religion because she doesn't want the controversy involved. Had Easterbrook simply noted that, in contrast to the two other series, the Potter books have been free of religious content, I would have no objection.

But he didn't stop there, and your defenses of Easterbrook end up being as "incoherent" as anything I wrote. First, I fail to see how the fact that most other 200-plus page discuss god at some length — a point I'd contend, though this could simply be an issue of different experiences and literary histories — somehow means that there exists an obligation to do so for all authors who write more than short stories. I'm sorry, but that's asinine. It's not only acceptable for any author to bypass all religious/god discussion in his or her work, it's actually welcomed, particularly if he or she doesn't have anything beyond the trite or cliché to offer readers.

When you use the word "skirt," much like Easterbrook suggested that Rowling made a conscious decision to not get into the topic for feat of controversy, you ignore the possibility that her non-discussion is simply her default position on religious matters. Neither of you know what Rowling was thinking while writing (besides "I'm going to buy a baby cash!"), and I think it's irresponsible to present the assumption that she actively avoided the subject with no evidence outside of your (misguided?) assumptions about what children's books should be.

However, what really made no sense to me — honestly — was you additional take on children's books and religion. Are you saying that religion should be addressed in children's books (as Easterbrook suggests)? Or are you simply saying that any religious material should be well-documented so parents are aware of what's being fed to their children (a position I whole-heartedly support)? Part of my confusion here stems from the fact that Rowling made no real mention of religion or god in her books — I'll get to the Bible passages in a second — so there's nothing really here for parents to worry about in that regard (the mystical/supernatural/whatever stuff is another story, but I think(?) everyone's at least anecdotally familiar with that aspect of the series by now, so it's not like parents are flying blind here). The only person who brought up religion visa vis the Potter series is Gregg Easterbrook. It's an invention of his, not Rowling's. Thus, Rowling need not concern herself with disclosing anything about religious content with her books; there is none.

As for the Bible passages bit, I think that Easterbrook himself correctly identified the reason why they don't serve to make his criticism appropriate: No one knew they were Bible quotes. Not the reviewers, more than likely not the children, and as far as we know, no one besides Easterbrook. Beyond complementing him for a sharp eye and an encyclopedic knowledge of biblical verse, is there really anything else here to say? While the Bible is clearly and ecclesiastical work, it's also the most widely read and quoted book in the history of the world. Quoting the bible, in this situation, isn't all that different from quoting Shakespeare, in terms of spiritual content. Rowling quoted two fragments of larger biblical verses, didn't identify them as such, and in the context of a larger work that deals with religion not at all. She may have intended for this to be an "Easter Egg" for astute readers, but she could just have easily thought the quotes sounded good and fit the scenes she was trying to create. Or, maybe she didn't know they were bible verses at all; point is, I don't know, and neither does Easterbrook. But, suffice to say, these two lines alone don't justify harping on the author for the religious content of her works, or lack thereof.

Two notes:
- I refer to anyone who makes any claims of supernatural abilities as a "mystic." This includes TV psychics, palm readers, horse whisperers, or religious figures like priests or rabbis who claim to serve as conduits of some god. Hell, I even call people who believe in the intercessory power of prayer "mystics." I believe, further, that my using the term "mysticism" in this case is semantically correct. I thus fail to see how I am guilty of "pap" in this regard.

- I didn't hit on it in my letter, but you're right to point out that Easterbrook of all people should be the last to do something so stupidly glip as refer to anyone as a "jihadi." I think it further underscores his inability to reconcile his religious views, which appear to have been the cause of both this overstatement and his previous forehead-slapper about Jews that almost cost him his career. Not that I think that kind of reaction is justified here, and I'm less concerned with an apology than perhaps him using this as an opportunity to intelligently explain to everyone why statements like that can not only undermine one's credibility, but serve to further lower the level of discourse in this country, which is already subterranean.

Wasn't it nice writing about something else than the Phillies?

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