An Open Letter

Dear Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other popular booksellers:

Would you please consider rearranging your “Religion” and/or “Christianity” sections so as to reflect the truth of what kinds of books you are stocking?  Why not devote an entire section to “Gnosticism”?  After all, that is what the majority of books in your “Christianity” and/or “Religion” section are devoted to.  Browsing your shelves, I see more books about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, the Nag Hammadi texts, etc. than I do about the Bible.  That’s fine if you want to sell those things, but why not give them their own section instead of lumping them together with the meager assortment of books that you carry that deal with real Christianity?

I know you’re a business, and you make decisions based on what sells.  Maybe I shouldn’t criticize you so much as I should criticize the culture for falling head-over-heels for this postmodern revision of history.  In today’s world, the Gnostic texts are to the church (primarily the Roman Catholic Church) what the shredded documents were to Enron.  They are the dark secret that a vast conspiracy kept hidden for centuries, until some brave souls finally brought them to light.  Now that we have them, we can learn so much about real Christianity from the oppressed Christian sects that produced them. 

I don’t doubt that there is much of historical value in these texts, but the books you stock on your shelves are not aimed at historians.  They are aimed at regular people looking for some excuse to ignore the claims of Christ over their lives.  If Jesus can be turned into a quasi-eastern, pantheistic, proto-feminist, he’s a lot easier to accept in a culture that has now become fascinated with all of these things.  As it turns out, the Gnostic texts give us some echoes of what might be construed as a possibility of maybe hearing something like what may turn out to be vague similarities to something like these themes in his teachings.  If that is the case, then popular culture now has a new Jesus for the postmodern world, much like the liberal Jesus (a great moral teacher) suited the modern world.  Unbelieving culture never ceases to remake Jesus in its own image and then enlist him on its side.

The postmodern revisionist narrative is a sexy one.  We’ve got conspiracy, repression, and the eventual emergence of the silenced and persecuted minority.  Now that the documents that the church wanted suppressed have come to light, the church’s narrow dogmas can be overturned, and we can get back to the religion that Jesus really founded. 

I don’t deny that the church suppressed documents.  But what if there was a good reason to suppress them?  What if the Gnostic teachings they contained were God-belittling, creation-denying, and Christ-distorting?  And have you ever really read the Gospel of Thomas?  Anyone claiming it as an ally for the feminist cause obviously hasn’t.  It is more extreme than a cross between John Piper and Wayne Grudem on steroids (not that I think Piper and Grudem are extreme, but many do).  What if the church’s response to Gnostic Christianity was God’s ordained means of preserving his truth from corruption and maintaining within the church the glorious truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully human, the bridge between God and humanity?  Gnosticism is a cheap religion.  Gnostic religions and philosophies throughout history are a dime a dozen.  But the one true incarnational religion that has ever existed invaded this world in the first century, and the full riches of it are still yet to be known.

But, of course, recognizing that would involve the recognition that one view is superior to another.  It would involve some standard of objective, revealed truth.  Postmodernism cannot accept that.  It would rather throw parties about conspiracy theories and celebrate marginalized voices, not because they speak the truth, but simply because they were marginalized.  Their repression in and of itself makes them worthy of an audience in today’s world.  They are virtuous simply because they are victims, and the degree of their victimization grows by the moment as the postmodern legends accrue, much like a fisherman’s tale grows with the telling.

I don’t see them as victims.  I see them as wolves who victimized others until the Shepherd came and fought them off.  But my viewpoint has been dominant for centuries, and that fact alone makes it oppressive and worthy of deconstruction.  My side is evil for no other reason than that it won, and winners are never right. 

I rarely buy books from you anymore (unless I’m looking for something in fiction, biography, or politics, which is not very often).  I’ve still got Amazon and a number of other internet sources.  Your complete capitulation to the revisionist history of our day has driven me away.  I feel like I have been victimized by a culture that represses everything about my faith.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll write a book about that.  Would you sell it if I did?

Sincerely (though not really, because this is not a sincere letter but rather a blog post),

Aaron O’Kelley 


5 Responses to “An Open Letter”

  1. Craig Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    If the Barnes and Noble you frequent doesn’t have a seperate subsection within “Religion” named “Gnosis” and devoted solely to the books you have named, then they are not following the Shelving Guidelines given to them within the Integreated Store Operations Encyclopedia (ISO.) Whithin the Religion Section, there should be the following separate and distinct sections: 1. Comparative Religion, which holds primarily works on Religion by authors who are not particularly religious, but primarily jornalistic in nature. 2. Gnosis, which contains the texts you have mentioned, and is meant for the conspiracy theorists who believe The Da Vinci code movie was a documentary. 3. Islamic Studies– Koran, etc. 4. Christianity, which carries primarily academic works by professors of theology, as well as your classics, such as your works by the early church parents.* 5. Christian Reference, which is pretty self explanatory– Bible Dictionaries, single-volume commentaries, books about studying the Bible, such as Fee and Stewart’s books. 6. Christian Inspiration– All the Christian books that don’t fit in any of the previous categories. This is the largest subsection within religion in most stores and contains everything from the pop-theology of Max Lucado and John Piper to the more reasoned and intellectually viable works of Brian McLaren and Joel Osteen. (Hey, I’m just kidding, lower your blood pressure.) 7. Judaism. 8. Eastern Religions. 9. Religious Fictions. (Primarily Christian Fiction.) 10. Bibles.

    The market of the particular community will determine the amount of space devoted to each subsection within religion. In our store, where a “bay” is a four foot section containing six shelves, the amount of space dedicated is the following– Christian Inspiration, 8 bays. Christianity, 3 bays. Religious Fiction, 3 bays. Bibles, 3 bays. Comparative Religion, 1 bay. Yada-yada-yada.

    Gnosis, 2 shelves.

  2. fenderpooh Says:

    That was very informative. Thank you.

    I don’t remember seeing any subsection called “Gnosis,” at my most recent visit to a Barnes & Noble, though I could have missed it. Keep in mind as well that I am also drawing from my experiences at Books-A-Million.

    It’s really not surprising to me that the Louisville stores cater to the conspiracy theorist market.

  3. fenderpooh Says:

    …”early church parents”? Was that your phrase or Barnes & Noble’s? If it was yours, then you sound like a conspiracy theorist!

  4. Craig Says:

    It was mine. I put the asterick at the end because i was going to tell you I was only kidding, but I forgot to put the footnote in.

  5. fenderpooh Says:

    I thought you had forgotten something, since you had a dangling asterisk. Well, now that I understand the intent, let me respond the way I would have had I known from the beginning:

    ha! That was pretty funny! And so was the blood pressure thing.

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