Publishers Weekly, or PW to those in the biz, is a great place to get information about, well, publishing. I often spend AAR/SBL telling authors and prospective authors something that I wish I’d been told when teaching: time spent learning about publishing is never wasted. PW every year has a “Religion and Spirituality Update” released in time for this meeting. Despite the relatively small number of sales, religion is a discipline that loves its books. I’ve only been quoted in PW’s special edition once, and it’s not been for a few years, nevertheless I always learn a thing or two from this free—yes, if you’re here in San Diego it’s free!—update. It may seem odd to suggest that religion titles can be hot, but it is indeed possible. Sexuality is hot. I suppose that goes without saying.
A number of titles dealing with religion and sexuality appear every year. What caught my attention, however was an observation from Jennifer Banks, from Yale University Press. Noting the rancor that sexuality often introduces to discussions of religion, she observes that (and this is a quote from PW, not directly from Banks) “some Christians apparently need others to go to hell.” (I can send the full citation, if you want to know.) In an era when academics have been stressing inclusion, the retrenched religious world has been spinning in the opposite direction. Instead of inviting everyone to Heaven, as might, say a Universalist, many conservative Christians consign fellow believes to Hell, and gleefully so. It’s almost as if Christianity and capitalism have merged into a zero-sum game. If some win, all the others have to lose. They haven’t however, studied the history of Hell very well.
It’s kind of an insidious idea. Given that we all want to justify ourselves, some go to the extremes of demonizing those who see things differently. This form of religious thinking was original neither with Christianity nor the Judaism from which it grew. There was no Hell in the Hebrew Bible. The idea, when it did develop, wasn’t a place to torture your enemies, but rather a place demanded by justice. Those who were utterly and unrepentantly wicked couldn’t hobnob in God’s country club with those who tried to be righteous. In the modern evangelical narrative those who make certain medical decisions for basic human situations are among the utterly wicked. Not surprisingly their sins are usually sexual. If you want to see this in a wider context, pick up a PW when you pass by the stand. “Anything free,” to quote another sage, “is worth saving up for.” And who knows, it might keep you from Hell?