Some of you are probably familiar with the concept of beer goggles. After a couple or three beers, the idea goes, your environment begins to appear subtly (or not-so-subtly) different. The world takes on a rosy glow, and everything looks more appealing. If you’re a guy, the girls look prettier. If you’re a girl, the guys look handsomer. Reality hasn’t changed, of course, but your perceptions have. You may be in for a rude surprise when the goggles come off.
World of Warcraft has played around with this idea. During holidays, the developers often seed the game with unique little character accessories, including a literal set of beer goggles. They’re usually handed out by a girl gnome. “Guaranteed to make anyone look attractive!” When your character puts them on, everybody else in the game looks like a guy gnome. Everybody.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Hang with me for a moment.
Something often overlooked as we eviscerate or lionize books and their authors is that literature, like any other art form, is inherently interactive. For every author, there is an audience. For every book, there is a reader. For every high, there is a low, for every to, there is a fro…
Where was I? Oh, right…simply put, whatever emerges from a story is at least half the fault of the reader. Every story is perceived and interpreted through the lens of the reader’s life experience–their own personal “beer goggles,” if you will. This affects both the story’s reception (“I loved it!” “I hated it!” “I was overwhelmed by its mediocrity!”) and the lessons we glean from it (“It changed my life!” “No! It’s a guidebook for how not to live!” “Excuse me, I need to stockpile groceries for the Zombie Apocalypse right now!”).
I’m not saying the truth, or un-truth, of any given story is subjective, or relative to the observer. As a Christian, I believe there is objective truth, truth that exists whether or not I or anybody else agrees with it, and that truth is ultimately found in the person of Jesus Christ. God created the universe via that living Word, and His truth permeates creation, even a creation marred by sin. The truth, as Fox Mulder used to say, is Out There. There’s no escaping it. But how much of it are we seeing? To what degree is God’s truth, expressed in creation, and specifically, the truth embedded in human works of art, such as literature, perceptible to us once it passes through our beer goggles?
It can be frustrating for a writer when a reader seems to misinterpret his or her work. Where did they get that idea? That’s nothing like what I was trying to say in my book. Is the idea still true, even if I didn’t intend to weave it into my plot? Somebody saw it there, plain as day. Impossible. It must be the beer goggles talking.
Sometimes you want to just roll with it and put your own goggles into play. Oh, yes indeedy…I designed the entire book to showcase this single, awesome idea. I’m a genius! Meanwhile, not one word of the story has changed. Where’s the truth?
We’re usually unaware of the fact we’re wearing beer goggles because they’re so much a part of us they feel natural. They don’t come off easily, either. One of the most dangerous things about them is our sense that we can just set them aside whenever we wish and see the world in perfect clarity, if we put our mind to it:
“I have exchactly two faulty ashumptions, offishur. They have no effex…affex…impact on my interpolashun of thish passhage of Scrissur…Scripchur…this Bible versh here.”
“Right. Tell it to the judge, buddy.”
Paradoxically, the beer goggles can allow us to see truth we might otherwise miss. That awkward, inconvenient truth, that “girl who looks prettier at closing time,” so to speak, might turn out to be our soul mate, if we’ll just give her a chance. One of the wonderful things about God is that he meets us where we are. He knows the goggles are glued on tight, but does that stop Him? Of course not. He uses our baggage and circumstances as conduits for communicating His truth.
Am I an Oxford professor with a taste for Norse mythology? Am I a computer programmer who reads science fiction stories over lunch and has a DVR at home loaded with Doctor Who episodes? Am I a teenager with a closet full of comic books? No problem. God can work with that. He helps us recognize important things that draw our attention to Him. Having embraced a truth within a context that’s familiar and comfortable, we’re better able to recognize and accept it in unvarnished form when He plunks it down on the table in front of us. “Hey, that’s just like what happened in (insert favorite book/movie/classic myth here), only better! And it’s real!”
This is one reason I’m hesitant to flame on any work of fiction as intrinsically “anti-Christian.” If God can use the myth of Hercules to prepare Greek culture for the story of Jesus, or the myth of Balder to prepare C.S. Lewis in similar fashion, He can surely use resources from our modern popular culture to speak to our hearts. Jered Moore and A.T. Ross wrestled with this issue in recent articles here, and the discussion continues at length in the comments. It’s good reading.
And the beer goggles? Remember you’re wearing them, know your limits, and stay close to your Designated Driver.