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From beach novels (The Da Vinci Code) to photography (Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ") to video games (keep reading), Christian outrage and criticism have helped lift numerous works up from obscurity—and made household names of their creators. It's time to reassess.

I groaned upon reading a friend's recent Facebook update promising a review of the latest scandal-courting pop-fiction rewrite of the life of Jesus, Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. In our pop-cultural world, getting noticed is by far the most difficult feat. Any author who monitors his or her Amazon sales rankings can attest as much. Blogs and tweets and vanity presses—which once were supposed to empower the talented but voiceless—have instead created a cacophony from which scarcely any influential voices emerge.

One easy way for an author to break out is to offend Christians—easier, apparently, than writing something beautiful or profound. Literary merit cannot explain the meteoric rise of mediocrities like Dan Brown. Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) called Brown's novels "the intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese," and each of The Da Vinci Code's predecessors sold fewer than 10,000 copies.

To rise above the billowing waves of culture, the latter-day Voltaire need only to offend a small-but-vocal subset of Christians. But unlike Jonathan Edwards's angry God, the Christian culture rages ineffectually, merely providing sound bites for the familiar stories in the mainstream media. And when it comes to book sales, all press really is good press. The video-game maker Electronic Arts even staged a faux Christian protest at a convention to promote its game based on Dante's Inferno. Apparently if ...

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In the Magazine

February 2011

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