Find good in worldly things and ignore the bad
A few years ago I was at Books-A-Million in Decatur talking with a couple of employees about the imminent release of the newest book in the Harry Potter series. In the course of the conversation, someone mentioned that a Christian group was going to protest the release outside the store.
My attitude at the time was to wish both the readers of the series and its detractors well. Although I had no interest in reading the books, I really had no interest in protesting them, either.
Now, I am more perceptive to the ways Christianity interacts with the larger culture around it. This has caused me to think about how Christians respond to books, movies and other creative works that are either at variance, or perceived to be at variance, with their beliefs.
It is a topic that is of great interest to me; for although I still have not read the Harry Potter books, I am a fan of other fantasy books and enjoy reading old pagan myths, which is enough to make some of my fellow believers look at me askance.
The attitude of complete opposition by the Christian group protesting Harry Potter provides an example of one form of reaction. On the surface it seems like a good approach — exposure to non-Christian ideas can either be damaging to an individual's faith or simply wearying.
The problem with this approach is that good things can often be found among bad things in creative works that waver from Christian doctrine, and what can be learned from those good things far outweighs the presence of the bad.
The Iliad is full of pagan gods, but when I read it I found myself thinking more about the destructive effects of the vanity and ego of the Greeks Achilles and Agamemnon and the nobility of the Trojan prince Hector, not about converting to the worship of Zeus and Athena.
However, complete acceptance of creative works that are not explicitly Christian by Christians has its own problems. Certainly the fewer redeeming characteristics a creative work has the less use should be made of it.
Also, prolonged exposure to negative ideas, even in small doses at a time, will eventually exert an influence on an individual as time passes.
Perhaps the best approach for Christians to take is found in the writings of the fourth century bishop Basil the Great.
Pagan literature formed a major component of the educational curriculum in the ancient world — Christian students had to be exposed to it to obtain a good education.
Basil advised Christians studying the works of non-Christians to embrace "whatever of value they have to offer ... yet recognize what it is wise to ignore."
Jamie Wilson of Decatur, a recent graduate of Beeson Divinity School, is one of several local ministers writing religion columns for The Daily. For more information, call Melanie Smith at 340-2468.