Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, November 24, 2008

Muggles among us

A few years ago I gave a lecture in which I floated the idea that Bishop Spong and his ardent followers (I wish I could sell as many books as he does) should be identified as Muggles. In case you have been in another galaxy for the last ten years, Muggles can be defined in simple terms as the characters in the Harry Potter series who do not believe in magic or wizardry. Extending the notion a bit, we could say that Muggles are unfortunate people who have no ear for poetry, no appreciation of metaphor, no capacity for imagining another dimension of reality. Maybe they didn’t have fairy tales or poems read to them when they were children. They probably don’t like art, theater, or literature either. There are a lot of people like this; it’s a sort of handicap, really, so let’s dial down the ridicule to a gentle level.

This complaint about Bishop Spong has been around for many years and does not originate with me, but I like the Muggle tag because it helps to make the point stick. Why is this important? Because the Bible asks to be read on more than one level. Spong and company are literalists—fundamentalists, really. If the Scripture says that Jesus went “up” to the Father, to them that means he went “up” like a rocket from Cape Canaveral and obviously that can’t be true, so we throw out the whole Ascension story. Etcetera. The idea that the biblical writers knew they were dealing with the transcendent dimension and were deliberately using figurative language seems beyond possibility for Muggles.

Now we have a new group of people to add to the list of Muggles, which confirms my earlier suspicions. The New York Times reports (October 13) that the best-selling atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, is writing a book for children that would explore children’s relationships with fairy tales and encourage them to think about the world scientifically rather then mythologically. Dr. Dawkins said, “I would like to know whether there is any evidence that bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards and things turning into other things—it is unscientific, I think it is anti-scientific.”

Take that, Lord of the Rings lovers! Dante, begone! Don’t clap for Tinkerbelle, you Neanderthals; Hamlet would probably be alive today if he had only taken Prozac.