Fred Clark’s blog, Slacktivist, is probably best known for his long-running in-depth skewering of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind books, the best-selling evangelical series/franchise about what happens to those left behind to deal with the Antichrist after the Rapture takes every true Christian and every child on Earth to Heaven, body and soul. You may have heard of it recently because Nicolas Cage has signed on to star in the remake of the movie.
Left Behind is a very bad book series in terms of theology; it’s an equally bad book series in terms of writing. (In November, when writing the first draft of my novel, I started to notice that passages of Nicolae: Rise of the Antichrist had certain stylistic similarities to my novel — repeating things to make absolutely sure the audience got the point, spending pages upon pages on minutiae like how my characters were getting from one place to another, etc. The thing is, I will be revising and removing that kind of thing before I publish. Jenkins and LaHaye just went ahead and published the terrible first-draft version.) Reading Fred Clark’s careful, clever critiques of the books’ writing style over many years has done wonderful things for my own writing ability.
(Below the cut I’m going to start talking about Christianity and my relationship to it. Feel free to skip by it — but check out those links above!)
Fred Clark is also the primary reason I continue to think of myself as a Christian. Clark’s a Baptist, and I was raised Catholic: two strains of Christianity that are nearly diametrically opposed in several respects. Baptists do not believe in infant baptism or that baptism is a necessary sacrament for salvation, both of which are fairly central elements of Catholic practice; Baptist churches also don’t recognize any central organizing authority over Baptists as a whole, while Catholics are, you know, all about the Pope. In spite of these differences, Clark and I are in agreement that the most important part of Christianity — perhaps simply of humanity — stripped of the trappings of ceremony and doctrine, is what Christ called the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. And while Clark may put more emphasis on the first commandment for himself, personally, than I do for myself, he will never expect me or any of his readers to agree with him. And more importantly, he seems like he would like me and all his other readers in spite of that. Because we’re his neighbors, no matter what.
What I like about Clark’s particular spin on Christianity, and what I love about his blog, is that he fosters a sense of community that is more welcoming than anything I’ve ever seen. He reads and is read by atheist bloggers, pagan bloggers, Jewish bloggers, feminist bloggers, complementarian bloggers, queer bloggers, conservative bloggers. His politics are unabashedly progressive and liberal — in the last year or so he’s been talking a lot about reproductive freedom, calling out blatant untruths about contraceptions and debunking the myth that
we have always been at war with Eastasia Evangelical Christianity has always been anti-abortion — but more conservative Christians have always been part of his conversations. Recently he took it upon himself to pull together lists of female Christian bloggers, LGBTQ Christian bloggers, and Christian bloggers of color, because he felt that those segments of Christianity weren’t being recognized in the larger (particularly Evangelical) community.
This “big tent” kind of thinking seems not only more pleasant to me: it seems more right, more just, and more vital. The Catholic Church has done a hell of a good job alienating me and people like me in the last few years, with investigations and reprimands aimed at religious women, with politicking over contraception, with explicit prohibitions against gay men joining the priesthood and opposition to the decriminalization of homosexuality, with reprehensible treatment of victims of abuse . . . And America’s evangelical Christian culture has not exactly made it any easier for me to think of myself as a Christian, given the increasingly nutty and vindictive behavior of prominent evangelical Christians on the national stage.
It’s people like Fred Clark — like a few Catholic priests I’ve had the good fortune to know — like the people I met on the Camino — who reassure me that the wingnuts don’t have to speak for me. It’s reading Fred Clark that reminds me, on a daily basis, that though humans and human society may be flawed and imperfect, there’s hope; that today, in some small way, I can love my neighbor.
… Plus he’s just hilarious and has good taste in music.