Monday, October 21, 2013

The Christianity Section of Your Local Bookstore

It is always a bit of a shock to my spiritual system to take note of the contents of your average bookstore's "Christianity" section.  Indeed, if all I were to know of Christianity as a religion was based on the works available in bookstores, I would probably have never considered Christianity at all.

The next time you are in your local bookstore, I invite you to take note of what is there.  Multitudes of books proclaiming the "secret sayings/teachings/gospels/life of Jesus" are commonplace, seemingly released on a daily basis; works proclaiming a form of regurgitated Gnosticism are manifold, espousing bizarre teachings on "feminine christs", St. Mary Magdalene, and other such things.  The New Age movement promulgates books using the Christian angelic hierarchy as a Tarot Card system, and writes works on the "spirit" of Jesus as just another spirit among many.

But these are obviously not Christian works - hence, let us turn our eyes to the actually Christian, or least the seemingly Christian.  What do we see?  Aside from the token copy of St. Augustine's Confessions and C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and other works, one is inundated instead with a whole slew of authors such as Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and other Prosperity Gospel teachers.  Watered-down devotionals, feel-good spirituality step-by-step programs fill the shelves.  And this is not to even touch on the multitude of works that form the tail-end of the Jesus Seminar's investigation into the "historical Jesus" (spurred on by the demythologization and liberal theology of such thinkers as Rudolf Bultmann, Edward Schillebeeckx, and others).  Countless books are available on Jesus as a rebel, Jesus as a prophet, Jesus as a myth, Jesus as a preacher, but hardly any on Jesus as the Divine Son of God.  By extension, other works also present themselves as finally having proved that the Scriptures were forged, that St. Paul the Apostle was really just a figment of our imagination or a Gnostic or the inventor of Christianity.

All of this, but hardly anything of substance is available.  I inquired one time as to why this was at a local bookstore near me - the staff member, with a sigh, admitted that the selections were awful, but said that it was what sold, what people wanted to buy.

So it is with a curiousity that I begin to wonder why this is - obviously, not everyone wants to sit down and study the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, but where did books for the serious Christian who actually believes in his or her faith disappear to?  Unless one special orders them or goes to a specifically Christian bookstore, they are nowhere to be found.  And if the works above are the ones that "sell", then I begin to wonder in fright at the state that Christendom must be in.

I would expect in a serious Christianity section that one could find something of remote quality, but this is almost always not the case - even such popular Catholic authors such as Scott Hahn are nowhere to be found, nor are Protestant writers such as J.I. Packer or Francis Schaeffer anywhere on the shelves; the Eastern Orthodox remain virtually unrepresented at all, despite being the second largest communion in Christianity.  Works on the Pope are occasionally found, but are often of an antagonistic nature. Patristic writings are limited to one or two works by St. Augustine, often inexplicably shelved next to copies of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, as if the bookstore owners somehow could not distinguish between the message of Dawkins and St. Augustine, or perhaps wished to push Dawkins' brand of intolerant atheism on Christian customers perusing the Christianity section.  Of this, I have no answer, only speculations.

But I do think that something needs to be done to encourage serious Christian reading in the mainstream world.  Atheists are well-represented in the bookstores, the Eastern Religion section literally overflows with all manner of Buddhist, Taoist, and Hindu writings - there is no reason why the Christianity section of a bookstore should be given the short end of the stick.


  1. A couple years ago I was in happy shock to find copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and several reasonable books I cannot now remember with certainty in the bookstore in the Seattle airport near terminal B. That store has since closed, and has been replaced with the ubiquitous Hudson's, offering, at most, the kind of fare you describe.
    I would venture a guess that a serious student of Buddhism would not find much worthy among the bookstore selections, either. I mean, books that promise "Master Zen Buddhism in 10 minutes a day!"? Really?
    It might not make you feel any better, but I travel a good bit and have found the selections in independent bookstores back east to be not quite as dreadful as here on the left coast.

  2. I, too, have felt the same disgust when visiting bookstores. It makes me sick to see how commercial Christian publishing has become. It is filled with trite, shallow garbage that preaches a crossless Christianity---or counterfeit Christianity, in other words.

    As to why this kind of trash sells, we are witnessing what Chesterton called "the suicide of thought." Society at large cannot think, only feel. Only the sensationalistic, prosperity, warm blanket material sells.

    I order all my books online. It is cheaper, and I can order anything I want. The problem is coming up with the money to order the hundreds of items on my wishlist!

  3. People still go to book stores? I quit going to B&M bookstores more than 20 yrs ago, when then-current big seller B.Dalton's told me their upper management refuses to stock Mad Magazine (sorry, I am a fan of shlock :)

    I've been very happy to shop online, finding infinitely better selection and prices, and delivered to my door to boot, with hassle-free returns when needed.

    Our entire culture is a chaotic mess. It surprises me there are still any substantial books on shelves in LIBRARIES let alone stores (free public libraries are dying off all over this part of Northeast Pennsylvania..The closest one to us is now about 4 miles away.)

    Printed media is going the way of the dinosaurs, the stone & chisel, and cursive handwriting and quills.

    C'mon Jason. Don't lament the lack of selection in the dying stores. Lament the dying culture.

    Or better yet, celebrate that those of us who are truly searching for God's truth, or any truth, are finding it in places such as your blog, which has lead to my amazon wishlist expanding exponentially! LOL

    I can sympathize with SamGuz about not having sufficient funds to purchase all the hundreds of books on my wishlists (currently over 200 just on amazon! Not to mention, I can't forsee having a lifespan long enough to actually read all the books I have so far amassed. :)

    The dead wood will be pruned and burned. This may be painful but it forces the tree to produce good fruit.

    My faith sharing group has mentioned several times, that in the entire Wyoming Valley area (Wilkes Barre/Scranton) there is now only 3 synagogues and they are likely going to consolidate into 1, because they simply do not have the membership anymore to support them. Only 4% of the jewish population is active (reportedly.) This trend is true in the Catholic community as well, although we have a somewhat larger community for NOW (they are all decreasing and contracting.) But, I pointed out, this just means you have a stronger, more active core. Seeds. Or as Pope Francis recently said, yeast. We don't need a lot of yeast to leaven a lot of bread.

  4. Thanks for always offering a calm, sober alternative to the catholic internet.