What’s up with this? Nine out of 35 of this week’s NYT Mass-market paperback bestsellers have the word “dead” in the title. Several others allude to death as the subject matter.
One reason this caught my eye has to do with what I read yesterday in Philip Yancey’s book, Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church.
In the chapter about G.K. Chesterton, Yancey writes, “Chesterton himself said that the modern age is characterized by a sadness that calls for a new kind of prophet, not like prophets of old who reminded people that they were going to die, but someone who reminded them they are not dead yet.”
Pow! That bullet whizzed past my head, waking me up.
Back in 2005, when I read Soul Survivor for the first time, I had seen the movie The Shawshank Redemption (1994) on television the night before I came upon this enlightening paragraph. In the margin of my book, I noted what the character played by Morgan Freeman had said.
“Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”
I was in seminary at the time. I thought I was gonna die. I decided to act on the truth: I'm not dead yet.
So what’s up with this post-modern preoccupation with death in music, movies and books? Can you feel the sadness? Smell the despair? Feel the pain?
Some funereal tone signifying approaching apocalypse threatens to eclipse the light of the message that Chesterton upheld to his own generation. He was jovial, full of life rather than preoccupied with gloomy forecasts.
Writer, philosopher, humorist and Christian apologist, Chesterton sparred with contemporaries George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Sigmund Freud to defend the faith. Yancey said, "He took on, in person and in print, anyone who dared interpret the world apart from God and Incarnation."
Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy, which Publisher's Weekly classified as one of 10 "indispensable spiritual classics" of the past 1500 years.
Philip Yancey carried that same light-dispersing torch when he highlighted the life of G.K. Chesterton, a man who understood that “a stern prophet will rarely break through to a society full of religion’s cultured despisers.”