Edgar Allen Poe’s Warning to the Modern Church

I’ve been thinking lately, no it didn’t hurt, thank you very much. I did, though, stumble across an old memory, and old story that I had all but forgotten: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” And, on considering the story’s theme, realized that the man was once again proven a genius. (All though, the application I am about to apply may not have crossed his mind… in fact, I am 99% sure it didn’t.)

Here’s a link to the short story before I spoil the ending.

The story, if you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, takes place in a marvelous villa during a spectacular costume ball. Only the wealthiest, most fashionable individuals have been invited, and all seem to be debauching themselves in order to forget something. Tension looms over the party as something dreadful is going on outside the estate’s walls. And, in a dread moment of realization, the guests all discover that the death they were hiding from and partying to forget has found its way into their midst and doomed them all.

The themes rolling around here are that of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, that struck Europe during the Middle Ages, as well as the idea of quarantine and its effectiveness. Perhaps Poe was also taking some pot shots and the rich and famous for running from the poverty and pain outside of their cushioned halls. Poe was no stranger to disease taking loved ones from him, and this story, to me, is one of his most terrifying. In a way, this story is less supernatural, and more realistic as the enemy is disease itself.

So what’s the warning to the church? Ask yourself, on which side of the estate’s walls do you see yourself? Are you one of the poor masses affected by the disease, or one of the rich huddling inside a quarantine zone for safety?

I will say that many Christians, for the past several hundred years, have behaved like the rich hiding from disease. I think this is why Christians have created the term “Culture War” and began treating secular culture like a disease. The problem with disease, though, is it tends to grow and expand without treatment.

Instead of engaging the culture, creating relationships and inroads into the lives of those creating media and directing minds, many Christians are content to build walls and create their own culture. This seemed to have worked for a while, but suddenly many are realizing that the ideas they wished to avoid and hold at bay have begun cropping up inside the walls of the church. The Church is now wrestling with the ideas of homosexuality, gender fluidity, bathrooms, and protecting their beliefs often with the reactive response of those surprised to find their opponent is their own family.

Many of these issues are why I took up a keyboard and began this blog. If we, as followers of Jesus and parents, are unwilling to look culture clearly in the face and deal with it, who will?  Believing that problems will resolve themselves or that we have no responsibility creates the current situation.

What to do, though? Shout and holler? Boycotts? Protests? Picketing? Hate mail? Death threats?

Or do we, as people who love God and see others as His beloved creations and children, begin reaching out and building relationships? Do we speak firmly, gently to those near to us in order to remind them of a higher calling, a higher demand on their lives than money, sexuality, power, anger, etc.? Do we, embracing the life of Jesus, put ourselves on the line by going into territory outside the church to claim that territory for the Kingdom?

Anger and vitriol rarely create lasting, welcome change. Kindness, courage, and forgiveness do. Yes, Christians may have to give things up before things get better. But greater love has no one than this, than a person who lays down his life for his friends.

Let us set down our party attire and fancy dishes, put on our scrubs and get on with the vital work of tending to the wounded, sick, and oppressed in our lives.



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