If popular culture shapes how 21st-century people understand the afterlife, then some literature and movies are more helpful — and truer to the Bible — than others. Perhaps a guide can help sift the wheat from the chaff.
Greg Garrett, 51, a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church and a professor of English at Baylor University, hopes to provide such guidance in Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Literature and Culture.
The book, scheduled for 2014 by Oxford University Press, explores how popular ideas of heaven, hell, and purgatory are shaped by what we watch, what we read, and what we’ve derived from religious traditions.
“Most Christians hold many of their beliefs about the afterlife as much from art and literature as from Scripture and theology,” Garrett said via email.
Sometimes those ideas stray far afield from any biblical basis, Garrett argues, citing the common refrain offered to someone who’s lost a loved one: “God must have needed another angel.”
“We may remember from what little there is in the biblical record on angels that God created them separately from and prior to humanity,” Garrett said, “but nonetheless find ourselves drawn to that human to angel narrative, or a story like It’s a Wonderful Life, where an apprentice angel finally gets his wings.”
But just as pop culture perpetuates myths with no roots in Scripture, it often reinforces biblical messages. Works by C.S. Lewis, a movie such as The Devil’s Advocate, or even video games that involve fighting forces of darkness, can deepen consumers’ thinking, Garrett said: “For every stereotype that’s perpetuated in artists’ conceptions of a fluffy Heaven or a goat-hooved Satan, we’ve got other artists whose work offers insight that jibes with the biblical and theological accounts and can help us lead a more faithful life.”
G. Jeffrey MacDonald • TLC Correspondent