A (lengthy) discussion broke out this weekend prompted by Friday’s interview with Spec Faith’s special guest, Kathy Tyers, author of Firebird. Much of the conversation centered on one commenter’s view of Ms. Tyers’ implied hatred of Jews in the Firebird series.
Of course, Jews per se do not appear in the books. Nevertheless, this reader assumes parallels and reaches this conclusion:
I frankly found Firebird one of the most unconsciously anti-Semitic works I’ve ever read.
In contrast, several (myself included) commented on Ms. Tyers’ skillful ability to write from her Christian worldview. In answer to the anti-Semitism charge, I responded:
How can you call this work anti-Semitic (and I’m giving you the idea that Ms. Tyers intended these different people groups to represent believing or unbelieving Jews) if there are “good” ones?
In truly anti-Semitic Germany, there was no such thing as a “good Jew.”
Clearly, in Ms. Tyers’s work, whatever treatment the “bad Jews” received, was a consequence of their badness, not their “Jew-ness.
Notice, to make my point, I acceded to a critical issue, one the discussion depends. Did Ms. Tyers intend to write several of her alien people groups as representative of Jews? If not, the entire discussion is spurious.
Does a piece of writing — any writing — belong as much to the reader as to the writer? In which case, our commenter who found Firebird so offensive is right in his estimation because he personally read the book as slanted against Jews.
Undeniably, past experiences and expectations affect readers. Our own worldviews may serve as filters through which we understand what an author says.
Consequently, some movie-goers embraced the panentheistic movie Avatar as “Christian.” And to this day, believers who are critical of Love Wins believe the equally universalist The Shack was a wonderful work of fiction showing God’s love.
Does the author’s intention no longer matter? Is the key to reading (or viewing movies or TV programs) that which the recipient believes about what he reads (or watches)?
It would seem this view is becoming the popular one in our culture. The problem with this approach, as I see it, is that communication is under attack. No longer does the written word convey the meaning of the author to the reader. Rather the reader communicates his own thoughts to himself.
Interestingly, this is exactly what any number of professing Christians are doing with God’s Word. No longer do we search the Bible (a self-interpreting work) for the meaning of a scripture, but we contemplate what particular passages “mean to me.” The reader, then, supplants the author, and truth becomes “my truth.”
Until fairly recently, most Bible-believing (what some refer to as “literalists”) Christians would have viewed such a way of approaching God’s Word as erroneous. Today, however, any number of people who claim to believe that the Bible is God’s revelation also believe that it is a fluid document, taking meaning from the reader in his varied cultural “situatedness.”
Clearly, the latter view calls into question the idea that Scripture is authoritative.
Which brings me back to fiction. Do books belong to the author or to the reader? And if to the reader, are those who view the Bible as a fluid document right in their assessment?
If, on the other hand, the Bible is authoritative, an unchanging revelation of God’s person and plan, does that mean that books belong to the author, not the reader, and that part of a reader’s job is to suss out what an author is actually saying?
Here’s a third possibility. Since the Bible is the only inspired book, given through a Spirit-breathed process that used human writers, does it alone belong to the Author, and all other books belong to readers?
I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on this one.