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The Devil You Say?
By Scott Nicholson

Here’s what Parker W. Howard, law student, author, and would-be theologian, had to say about the religious elements of "The Red Church":

I would like to make a comment or two about the theological underpinnings. I noticed on Amazon, or maybe that a customer review stated that you got the Reformed Theology incorrect with respect to Southern Baptist doctrine (the largest Protestant sect in the US). Though I agreed with that sentiment initially, by the end I saw that you'd gotten it right (or more exactly, Ronnie did). What I'm referring to is the idea that Ronnie expressed regarding having to be "saved" multiple times, in order to permanently receive Jesus' salvation.

Having grown up Southern Baptist myself (switching later to Presbyterian of choice), and having studied theology in graduate school, I believe the Baptists have the notion that once saved, there's never a fall from grace; i.e., that once one is saved one needn't be saved again. Of course, that begs the question of whether one was really saved in the first place, etc. I'm not sure if you meant to, but it seems to me that Ronnie develops the right attitude regarding Christianity. In other words, I like that he found comfort in Jesus. I myself went through the same gauntlet of early belief - college disbelief - educated belief, like C.S. Lewis I suppose.

Anyway, my favorite character was David Day. I thought you portrayed him well and I think he's the real hero of the story. I'm VERY glad that you didn't delve into prejudice and all that jazz, as it were. Too often Southern writers add to the perpetuation of the myth that there's only prejudice in the South. Ever been to NY? My question to you is this: At the very end, with respect to the point of view of the entity, did you mean to suggest that that same ancient entity took on the form of Jesus? I hope not. But, if you did, you're certainly free to do so.-- Used by permission of P.W. Howard

My response, not directed toward P.W. specifically, but as a general position statement:

I deliberately left the ending open to interpretation. Without giving the ending away to those who have yet to read "The Red Church," (subliminal message-- go out and buy it NOW!) I did not wish to speak as an expert on religion, or to presume that my viewpoint is the "correct" one and that my belief system is the one to which all must adhere. I didn’t seek to convert anyone, and the novel has been called everything from a Christian novel to a Satanic novel. As an author, I was curious about the different faith systems of the characters, and I hope all of those were believable. We all travel different roads in our hearts.

One person said that Baptists can’t have a crisis of faith, only Catholics, which to me is an absurd proposition. I speak firsthand of the doubt that can arise from the Baptist-born heart, and it can actually cause more torment because the hot flames of Hell seem a little more punishing than a drab Purgatory where at least one gets an opportunity to make amends. Nothing offends me more than the notion that all one has to do is utter the words, "Save me, Lord" at the end of a long and cruel life and instantly be forgiven. I think you must do more than merely say it. For it to "work," you have to believe it to the very core of your soul, no matter what your religion of choice.

In the novel, I also didn’t want to set up an obvious struggle of Good vs. Evil, since that is too simplistic for any arena except the most predictable of genre fictions and the most strident of religious sects. If you want a brainless morality play where your side wins and you can feel superior with no personal effort invested, buy into the "Left Behind" series. The rest of us live in reality, where nice guys get gunned down, nuns get raped, and innocent children contract horrible diseases. Good and evil often overlap, and in real life I’ve yet to see the forces of Good sweep from the sky brandishing a shining sword and setting everything right. But I have witnessed Good working in the small kindnesses of strangers, the quiet optimism of people who possess a sincere faith, the dignified strength of those who struggle against oppression of any sort. You can give this Good any name you choose.

And my final explanation will always be that "The Red Church" is just a fable, a story, a concocted conceit built for the purposes of entertainment. As with any story, the moral must arise from the individual audience member or reader. You know what you believe. You certainly don’t need my permission to hold those beliefs. Because your individual faith is always the true one, the only one that matters. May your God be with you, no matter its name.

(Copyright 2003 by Scott Nicholson)

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