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Nov. 18-21
Washington Convention Center

The Industry: religious literature and philosophy

The Attendees: 9,500 devout members of the world’s oldest book clubs

The Issues:

Behind the Pages: During a session on comic books and graphic novels, Steve Ross discussed how he reinterpreted the Gospel of Mark as Marked, an illustrated tale of passion and murder portraying Jesus as a construction worker who gets God’s call from a dumpster-diving John the Baptist. If Jesus had lived and died today, said the author, “everyone would be wearing little gold electric chairs around their neck.”

“Not Just for Purim Anymore!”: J.T. Waldman discussed his eight-year project, Megillat Esther: A Graphic Novel. To ensure a faithful novelization of the Old Testament Book of Esther, Waldman moved to Israel, learned Hebrew, translated scripture with scholars, and researched centuries-old illustrations. You want action? 75,000 people are killed in this epic of exile and redemption.

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Shopa-hellic: Religious-studies scholar Kim Paffenroth compared George Romero’s horror classic Dawn of the Dead to Dante’s Inferno as keen social commentary on materialism. “Horror lies not just in being torn in pieces and eaten by zombies,” he said, “but to become one of them.”

Holy Biblio: Among thousands of books for sale on the expo floor: Reading the Bible With the Damned by Bob Ekblad; Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth by Kim Paffenroth; Mary Magdalene: Bride in Exile by Margaret Starbird; Harlots of the Desert by Benedicta Ward; The Sea Can Wash Away All Evils: Modern Marine Pollution and the Ancient Cathartic Ocean by Kimberley C. Patton; Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration by J. Harold Ellens; and Does God Believe in Human Rights? edited by Nazila Ghanea, Alan Stephens, and Raphael Walden.

Epistemic Violence: Yale professor Shannon Craigo-Snell contrasted old and new feminist theologians in her presentation, “In Praise of Girlfights.” She maintained “we are still playing on a sexist stage, occupying a space controlled by the patriarchy,” and men are chuckling at the fights. Cynthia Hess from St. Mary’s College of Maryland analyzed the Anabaptist tradition of nonresistance, including how an everyday person can be an unintentional agent of violence. “Most banana-eaters,” for example, “do not realize they’re supporting systems of social injustice [and] the web of violent relations.”

You Can Serve Two Masters: Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, untangled ethical implications of genetics. Does science allow people to blame their behavior on biology, i.e., “My genes made me get that sports car”? No, said Collins—genetics doesn’t squash or excuse free-will choices.

Manson of God: Through lyric analysis and interviews, Thomas Fabisiak of Emory University decoded industrial/goth rocker Marilyn Manson’s appropriation of iconic images in the Book of Revelation. Fabisiak concluded that such transformed images as the “Antichrist Superstar” challenge listeners to reimagine Revelation as a non-Christian social critique of late-20th/early-21st-century America.

Soul Search: “Stem Cells: The Scientific Frontier” panelists discussed bioethics issues from pinpointing the moment of ensoulment (the capacity for consciousness) to determining greater good. Is the soul a distinct entity added to the person? “As soon as you go Platonic,” warned one speaker, “you run the risk of substance duality.”

Unblessed Ignorance: During a debate about moral imperatives and medical research, one participant held that no major religion opposed the use of genetic science to combat disease. “We accept the use of orthodonture, hair color, and other [means] to enhance physical appearance…so why not genetic orthodonture?”

Courting Converts: Speaking on “The Role of Scripture in the 2006 Elections,” political consultant Anna Greenberg shared lessons learned: Appeal to the center; don’t impose values or risk losing supporters (case in point: the Terry Schiavo incident); and solicit swing voters. Catholics, “the quintessential swing group,” accounts for 25 percent of voters; substantial cross-party shifts among Catholics and evangelicals helped deliver big wins to Democrats this cycle. But beware religious faux pas! Greenberg cited Howard Dean’s claim that Job was his favorite book in the New Testament.

Beyond Narnia: How has onetime atheist C.S. Lewis, through his enduring classic, Mere Christianity, won more believers than legions of theologians have? Lewis was a master at the rhetorical arts of oration and depiction, was uniquely able to combine the critical and the creative into lasting images—and was a war veteran, family man, late convert, and “bon vivant who enjoyed beer, salacious jokes, and tramping the countryside,” replied one panelist. “A good old boy with a Ph.D.” How to duplicate Lewis’ success with the middlebrow today? “Let’s write blogs and produce podcasts to communicate our Christian subculture.”