Monday, April 20, 2015

really, really good at literature.

Literature is religious by virtue of how it is approached by those who, simply put, are really, really good at it. We do not start out understanding the complexities of Oedipus or the subtleties of Hamlet. Nor do we start out understanding the eternities or what the Atonement of Christ truly is. But once we get to the point of being experienced in looking at literature and looking at religion, then we can better understand it and see deeper meanings than we ever could have if we would have stayed reading Go, Dog, Go or just watching bible videos.

To begin this comparison, we can look at how we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begin to be ‘religious’. We start in nursery, being more or less babysat by people in our ward. They teach us lessons of Christ that
go over our heads at that point since we are only really interested in the crackers and juice they give us at snack time and the toys that are pulled out of the seemingly giant closet in the corner. We then graduate to primary, where we become more involved. We start to give our own talks, telling other little kids how much we love Jesus and what we know about the gospel (with the help of mom whispering in our ear). We sing songs of praise, with meanings beyond our comprehension at that point in time. We are taught to sit quietly and reverently, despite the fact if we do so or not.

Eventually we make our way into Young Men’s or Young Women’s and into a bigger, more advanced Sunday school. We are expected to understand more, as we have progressed through the years. We are also expected to do more: give talks without the help of our mothers, lead projects and earn recognition for our hard work, consciously participate in discussions, give our very own insights to things we have been talking about for years, and even socializing on a regular basis as we go through an awkward phase of life. After years of this mostly uncomfortable struggle, we make it to a singles ward, where we are thoroughly on our own. Our testimonies are no longer monitored by adults—we are responsible for figuring things out on our own. But after all the years of preparation, we are surprisingly able. We conduct our own studies and come to our own conclusions which build up our testimonies. We go through processes of deep thought, analyzing scripture, looking for deeper meanings we might have overlooked when we were eating those crackers and juice. If we keep this up, we eventually become really, really good at religion.

Literature is the same way. We start with some Dr. Seuss, move on to Harry Potter and maybe make our way up through some other young adult fiction. We usually stay in the realm of fiction and fantasy for a while, until a certain point in school when we are given historical-fiction. There is more to this than just magic and made up lands—this has a real context in which we could possibly relate. We start to read the classics, the ones that maybe have a similar story line to those first few books we read, but this time we are equipped to find more to it than we did before. We graduate to books that challenge us, make us look beyond the written words and find those deeper meanings we were previously ignorant of. In short, we become really, really good at literature. And this is what is religious about literature—expanding our knowledge and wisdom by seeking truths and deeper meanings beyond just what we are given.

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