Several years ago, when The Da Vinci Code first graced bookstore shelves, I remember becoming aware of it not through its publisher’s marketing campaign or by favorable word-of-mouth recommendations from its readers, but through articles written by Christians (including several well-known apologists) denouncing it. The message of those many Christian articles—some angry, others calm, but all concerned—was that The Da Vinci Code was a Serious Threat that Christians ought to pay attention to.
Did all that talking help readers understand the flaws in The Da Vinci Code? Or did it just inadvertently promote the book, providing fodder for endless “Da Vinci Code controversy” news reports and turning a mediocre thriller novel into a subject of discussion in countless Christian households?
That’s the question raised by Christopher Hays in “The Folly of Answering Fools” at at Christianity Today. It argues that Christians, when we jump on offensive or controversial books, films, and games, inadvertently just end up playing into their promoters’ hands. Call it the “Christian Streisand effect“: the louder you object to something, the more you call attention to its existence. Here’s how Hays puts it:
[I do not] aim to silence genuine criticisms of the church or preclude taking seriously how non-Christians perceive the world. But not every insult is serious.
What I am saying is much simpler: Let’s be more circumspect about what we pluck from the roiling waters of culture and bring to the world’s attention.
I think it’s safe to say that when promoters manufacture fake Christian outrage to draw attention to their product, it’s time to re-evaluate the value of “Christian outrage.”
But here’s the challenge: it’s really, really hard to not speak up when you see a book or movie spreading misinformation about Christianity. Is keeping silent when a book or pundit attacks the church prudent, or will it be seen as an admission of defeat? How do you tell when a book or product is serious enough to merit a public Christian response?