Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are Christians Dumbing Down?

Hey gang....I just ran across a blog headline which grabbed my attention and I wanted to share and comment on it...since the site does not accept comments on it's posts.

Click sliceoflaodicea to read the original posting.

Addressing the part that got my attention (being someone who's championed the development of the spiritual based graphic novel), here's a taste...

Fast forward to 2009 and the rotting corpse of Western Christianity. This buffoonery is what now fills churches today—the entire idiotic scene inspired by a children’s cartoon of singing and dancing vegetables (which I assume refers to Veggie Tales). Infantalism rules, literacy is dead, and God-given intellects are dead, suffocated under years of video game playing, movie and television watching. Hard to believe that Christians used to produce books like “Bondage of the Will”, and translations of the Scriptures from the original languages. Today, pastors and church laity are reading “graphic novel” (comic book) versions of the Bible because they struggle to grasp anything beyond a one syllable word. Here are some of evangelicalism’s finest in action. Watch and weep.

Now, if you didn't visit the original posting, this commentary is mainly directed at a posted video showing a Christian congregation dancing, singing and worshiping in a way the author finds distastful and degrading. But for the purposes of my comment, I'm dealing with his/her misguided generalization about literature created for young people and/or the graphic novel.

This author seeks to make a point about the breakdown of sophisticated analitical thought and writing within the Western Christian culture by slamming things obviously not created to answer such demands by believers.

Raise your hand, if you think Veggie Tales was created to foster advance discourse on the tenants of Christianity among religious scholars! A Ridiculous question? Of course it is, but it's to make a point. Products like Veggie Tales and most literature (re: picture books) and video's aimed at children are not meant to teach advanced religious theory or complicated Christian Dogma, rather plant seeds of interest among children using forms and styles of entertainment that is prevelant among "our culture". Likewise with most Graphic Novels or Christian based comic books. DISCLAIMER: Before I go forward I will admit for the record, that in my Eye Witness series, I do attempt to dig a bit deeper and pair the Gospel as presented by the Biblical narrative with historical and cultureal data about the first century we now known, in an attempt to take the reader to the next level of interest...but will grant that is not the case with most product designed in this format of literature.

But I reject this author's base assumption that pastors and church laity are reading Graphic Novel adaptations of the Bible (and Christian based fiction) because they struggle to grasp the intrecacies of the Bible and anything beyond "one-syllable words."

First of all, I have yet to come across a publisher that is creating a graphic novel adaptation of the Bible, that is meant to replace the original prose form...that's not to say someone isn't working on one now and it will be a monumental undertaking...but for most of us following this course, I think it's a fair assumption to say that this form is meant to attract readers to the Bible narrative that wouldn't be reading it otherwise, or in other forms. With Eye Witness, I'm attempting to reach the skeptic or person that's uninterested in attending church or reading the Bible, but loves reading in the format of comic books, graphic novels and manga (which translates to comic books in Japan...but in general terms has come to represent the entire output of far eastern created works of that style). My goal is to attract that person through my use of dramatic graphic design and a fictional intermingling with the Biblical narrative to make the story come alive with a contemporary feel. The endgame is to get the attention of someone who wouldn't think twice about reading these stories otherwise and God Willing, to create a spark of interest that might lead them to their local church, teen ministry or even picking up the source material.

Once again, I'll make the assmumption that many of the titles being published today in this format, share a similar goal. Now is that a bad or good thing for "the Church Body"...especially when you consider the docuemented drop off that occurs among young people when they get to high school age? But could there be their churches out there using graphic novel adaptations in their sermons? If there are, I'd wager a guess they are a seeker church that is catering to a high school to college age attendee...and this is the way to get there attention.

Secondly to generalize that those who read Graphic Novels cannot grasp anything beyond a one-syllable word, is this author basically showing their ignorance about the whole format. As anyone who's actually familiar with what's been produced in graphic novel or comic book form over the last 30 years can attest to, charagorizing the format as being simplicist or for those who struggle to read, is a blatent misnomer. Trust me, if you can grasp the involved prose of a Neil Gaiman (Sandman) or Alan Moore (Watchmen)....much of the Biblical narrative would prove to be a snap! Sure there are comics like those produced by Archie Comics and DC's animated line, that are rather simplistic, but than again they are targeting a 10 and under audience.

So what do we make of this uninformed rant? Not knowing the author, my guess would be they have a serious bone to pick with the western Christian Church and like a magician they seek to "pull things out of the proverbial hat" that will support their generalization that it has basically devolved into a chanting, dancing bunch of fools who have no foundation in advance learning or culture. Take a peek inside any Christian bookstore (or religious section of your local Borders) and you'll see their is an abundance of books being produced by contemporary authors every month, who seek to challenge the intellect as well as rouse the passion of the highly literate Christian reader.

Secondly, it's obvious the author has difficulty with the concept of OUTREACH and how it can be used effectively in our comminities. The Apostle Paul called upon us to discover our spirutal gifts and use them to advance the word among the people of the world. By his very actions, Paul demonstrated how we, as followers of Christ, we must be able to converse with "the world" in styles which they use...To the Jews, he was a jew, to the Greeks he became a Greek!

Using something like Veggie Tales, or Christian rock music, or the graphic novel, are all ways to speak to different segments of our culture (and/or age groups) that communicate in a way that they relate to and are attracted to. It surely doesn't mean that our message is deluted...but that it's just in a different language, metaphorically speaking! It's the same premise behind why we have four different Gospels, each written in a way to commuincate with a different aspect of the first century world.

R.J. Luedke
Award Winning Author/Illustrator

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