So here’s the promised follow-up to my previous post. You’ve been waiting with bated breath, haven't you? I know you have.
I myself am waiting with semi-bated breath for Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: a Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia — I’ve pre-ordered it from Amazon. I’m looking forward to it first because Miller has written a lot of interesting stuff in the past — this comparison of Narnia and Oz, for instance, and this profile of Philip Pullman — but also because the topic fascinates me: How are we to account for the love we can have for books whose underlying view of the world differs dramatically from our own? Miller is a religious “skeptic” drawn to Lewis’s Narnia, but religious people can have similar responses to books written by skeptics. I find this fascinating, so, as I say, I’m waiting eagerly for the book.
So I was browsing Miller’s website and discovered an “outtake” from The Magician’s Book in which she describes a visit to Wheaton College, where I teach, and the collection of Lewis manuscripts and documents at the Wade Center. I always expect condescension from visitors to Wheaton, and Miller does not disappoint: indeed, the condescension does not drip but rather freely flows, like the righteousness envisioned by the Hebrew prophets. The campus “badly . . . wants to look like Connecticut,” “a decent cup of coffee was astonishingly hard to come by,” and there are no falafel stands whatsoever. (Yes, Miller really does comment on the absence of falafel stands on campus.)
The chief point of the essay (or “outtake”) is this: “I had expected to walloped by a fervently Christian atmosphere at the Wade Center. Instead, what impressed itself most firmly was the rampant Anglophilia.” But why had Miller expected to be so walloped? Because, she says, she came to Wheaton aware that it is “a neo-evangelist institution” populated by “fanatics who believe that the world is 6000 years old, the Second Coming is imminent and the proper place for women is in the home,” “a lot of [whom] would like to see my unrepentant gay friends tossed into reeducation camps, or worse.”
Well. First, “neo-evangelist” is a word of Miller’s coinage with no discernible meaning. Second, very few people around here — none among the faculty — think the world is 6000 years old. (People in our science classes are taught that it’s about 15 billion years old.) Third, the “Left Behind” eschatology is almost completely unknown on this campus. (People in our Bible and theology classes are taught that such notions are built on very poor exegesis indeed.) Fourth, — oh, forget it. She’s right about the falafel stands, though. Also about the Anglophilia. Not so much about the coffee, although I’d have to find out what she thinks good coffee is to be sure.
So this is where my previous post comes in. I understand why Miller, like millions of other Americans, finds what she knows, or thinks she knows, of evangelicalism unattractive. I understand why she can't be bothered to find out more about it, to figure out what the varieties of evangelicalism are and what various evangelicals believe. As I said earlier, we all decide to remain in ignorance about some things; we all have to.
But about what we don’t know, what we can't be bothered to find out, we shouldn't offer opinions — especially not confident ones, and especially not publicly. That’s all I’m saying.