So I looked up The Shack on Wikipedia to see how many copies have been sold and saw a helpful link at the top reminding me that this was not the page for the rebranding of RadioShack. Is RadioShack seriously trying to call itself The Shack these days? Like it’s a cool place for people to go hang out? That’s almost as funny as chapter 11 in The Shack—a bestselling Christian novel whose tag line is “Where tragedy meets eternity”—which is titled, I’m not kidding, “Here Come da Judge.”
Now okay, the actual thoughts in The Shack are far more palatable than those in most Christian books. The authors’ intent was to open up people’s ideas of God and faith past those put forth by contemporary evangelical Christianity, and return to the image of God put forth in the New Testament: a huge, unknowable, cryptic, obliquely but explicitly loving figure who doesn’t care so much about rules. Coming from my Texas mega-church background, I think that’s great; I’m generally pretty bothered by the socialized aspects of Christianity and I was personally satisfied to read the parts where Jesus says things like “I don’t create institutions” and “A lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me, and is often, even if unintentional, very contrary to my purposes” and particularly where he says “Those who love me have come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims… I have no desire to make them Christian.” Of course, these are the parts of the book that have apparently made The Shack controversial, but I think these ideas are extremely reasonable.
However, slightly less than reasonable: pretty much everything else about the book. One of the collaborators, defending the controversy, said in an interview, “Art is incredibly subjective as to whether a story and style are appealing.” I actually giggled reading that because… art? The story of this book is that a broken man inundated with what he calls The Great Sadness (which is always capitalized and italicized) receives a note in his mailbox from “Papa” (God) instructing him to go to the shack where his daughter was murdered, which magically turns into a Narnia land of flowers and mountains where God awaits in the form of a big black lady named Elouisa, Jesus in the form of an ugly Middle-Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit as a crazy hippie Nepalese woman named Sarayu. The narrator is the sort of dad-jeans wearing guy who says things like “That’s just too cute” and prays with people he meets on camping trips, and there are many sentences such as “This was not that!” and “Looking at her through blurring tears, he could see that her smile was radiant.”
Art, this is not. I also think the sort of affirmative action at work in this book is more than a little tacky—we are frequently reminded that all the God figures, including God’s Wisdom personified in a Hispanic woman named Sophia, are so shockingly and crazily not white. I mean, it’s pretty undeniable that the historical Jesus would have been ripped apart by TSA airport scans, and are people honestly stupid enough to still think of God as a huge white dude who fixes your shit, like an out-of-costume Santa Claus? But I guess the reason why The Shack has sold about a billion copies and “changed people’s lives” is that people probably do still think like that. Well, we’ll all be smacked with reason eventually. Here Come da Judge.