Monday, February 1, 2010

Legacies of the Printed Word

Controversial novelist J. D. Salinger died last week at age 91. Although quite prolific, his applauded and denounced book "The Catcher in the Rye," which sold some 60 million copies world-wide, is regarded as his prominent life’s work. The imaginary tale of the adventures and fantasies of Holden Caulfield, an alienated youth deeply offended by adult hypocrisy, brought rave reviews.

Many schools were convinced to make Salinger’s work mandatory reading, but this brought harsh denunciations from traditional educators and parents who found Salinger’s work mostly indecent trash. The Christian Science Monitor, quoted in an article by Halle Italie, said, "One fears that a book like this given wide circulation may multiply his kind (Caulfield) – as too easily happens when immorality and perversion are recounted by writers of talent whose work is countenanced in the name of art or good intention."

Their fears were well founded. Salinger was on the early cusp of a torrent of rebellious, salacious literature, trickling out in the ’50s and swamping the culture in the ’60s—all issued in the name of realistic literary freedom.

Published in 1951, "The Catcher in the Rye" fostered a latent youth rebellion and rejection of conventional values, which sent some over the moral edge. One such troubled youth was Mark David Chapman who identified with Caulfield’s anger, mimicked Caulfield’s adventures, retraced his adventurous steps in the Big Apple and finally murdered rock icon John Lennon at the Dakota Hotel on December 8, 1980.

Chapman carried the book with him when he pulled the trigger five times. He stated that the book would explain his actions. He also read from the book at his sentencing. Later, from prison, Chapman wrote to Salinger saying the author was not responsible for his violence toward Lennon, but the book had its effect nonetheless.

Other infamous criminals also influenced by "Catcher" are John Hinckley, Jr. and Robert John Bardo. How many perversions were inspired by J.D. Salinger is anyone’s guess.

At the time of the book’s publication, the first wave of its impact sped through moral discussions, and its exponents were heard to say, "No book has ever degraded anyone," or something similar like, "No book has ever inspired evil." The wise answer to this nonsense is always, "If that’s true, then no one has been exalted by a book either," which caused someone to ask, "Why are school systems spending millions on text books if they do nothing either bad or good?"

Salinger became a recluse, hiding out in his obscure New Hampshire home. In 1998, his paramour Joyce Maynard published a gross and revealing immoral insight into her eight-year liaison with Salinger. In 2000, his daughter, Margaret, wrote a book entitled, "Dreamcatcher," portraying her father in the most unflattering terms. She outlined his weirdness and declared that she "was absolutely determined not to repeat with my son what he done with me."

Salinger drifted through Zen Bhuddism, Hinduism, Scientology, and spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems including Christian Science, homeopathy, acupuncture, macrobiotics, the teachings of Edgar Cayce, fasting, vomiting to remove impurities, megadoses of Vitamin C, urine therapy, speaking in tongues, and sitting in a Reichian "orgone box" to accumulate energy. His marriages and sexual escapades were several. Perhaps it is a strange coincidence that the word "salacious" and "Salinger," have identical first syllables.

Salinger’s legacy is a morbid proof of rejecting the redeeming morality of the Bible. People are, indeed, what they eat, whether it’s regular food intake or printed fare. Feasting on Salinger is like eating garbage, while ingesting God’s Word gives nourishing life and peace and productivity.

Paul put it so in Philippians 4:8-9. "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you."

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 says, "Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company (translated as "communications" in some versions) corrupts good habits.’ Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

Mark David Chapman should know. With the same middle name as Salinger (Jerome David), he identified with Caulfield’s unhappy life. Although making a decision for Christ earlier in his life, Satan’s influence crept in as it did with so many in the wrenching ’60s through rebellion, drugs and sex. In his prison quarters at Attica, Mark is a quiet, joyful, committed believer in God’s forgiving grace, freely admitting his guilt and thankfully knowing God’s gracious forgiveness. Through his wife, who resides in Hawaii, a ministry of distributing his printed testimony reaches prisoners around the world.

Salingers and their "Catchers" may come and go, but God’s Word is still supremely permanent. Romans 5:20-21 shows the surpassing grace of God. "…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

1 Peter 1:23-25 says that believers have been "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.’"

When Larry King asked Chapman whether or not the religion thing was merely a crutch, Chapman said, "Larry, if it’s a crutch, it is in the form of a cross."

With Salinger, it was all about corruption. With Scripture, it’s all about the cross. As H. G. Spafford wrote,

My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Dave Virkler

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