What Did Stephen King Do?

This is a little embarrassing to speak of but the truth will out.  I saw Stephen King’s “Carrie” in November 1976.  This was after having completed the Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools.  The embarrassing thing is that it really scared me at the time. Of course, when you’re young and macho, you don’t admit that – at least not to others.  I have wanted to read the 1974 novel ever since to see if that would unnerve me too.  I just finished reading it, and it scared me even worse than the movie, but not for the reason you might think.

I came away from reading the book thinking, “What did Stephen King do?” because this is what I found on page 215.  Let me set the scene.

Carrie is coming home from prom to confront her abusive, insane, religiously fanatical mother.  The mother hears the door blow open.  She hears steps in the hall.  Then she hears the plaster plaques that line the living room exploding.  You’ll recognize,
“Christ, the Unseen Guest.” You might recognize, “The Hour Draweth Night.”  You will recognize the next one if you were trained in seminary, as I was, in the Kennedy method of evangelism: “If Tonight Became Judgment, Would You Be Ready?” You will most definitely recognize the second one in King’s list of plaster plaques. “What Would Jesus Do?”

What did Stephen King do?  Is he the source of that 1990’s plague?  Wikipedia, the source everyone holds in distain but still uses, tells me that the phrase was originally the subtitle of an 1896 novel In His Steps. In 1993 the great-grandson of the author published a contemporary retelling of the novel leaving out the title and using the subtitle that was by then a household expression. The actual W.W. J. D. craze was begun by a Michigan youth group leader.  Wikipedia doesn’t say where he got it from. Could it have been from Stephen King?  Did he unleash this monster of Pietism on the world?

If nothing else, King places the phrase in the fringe elements of “Christianity,” among people who are a church onto themselves.  I say this not based on the other plaques, but based on his portrayal of Carrie’s upbringing and mother.  So in 1974 the phrase “What would Jesus do?” could be used to show someone was at best on the outskirts of the Christian faith, but by 1994 if you weren’t using it you were outside of mainstream, popular Christianity.

In the 21st century, overt expressions about Jesus or Christianity or God – even wrongheaded ones like W.W. J. D can’t be used.  No, you have to hashtag things, mix words with letters, or anything else that says what the 60s to 70s song said, “Jesus is just alright with me.” (For you gen-Xers, the word “just” in the 60s and 70s didn’t always carry the connation of “only” but was more a cool expression of approval.  “That’s just far out.”)

In order to appeal to the masses the scenario has always been the same.  Break with the past; say the old thing in a jarring way, and exude the attitude that Jesus or Christianity is benefiting from your coolness. In the case of W.W. J. D. they went far enough in the past that what was old was new.  Now it’s old – quaint even – so it’s on to the next thing that will upset the applecart.  The story arc of the emerging church – and oh how they love the story, the narrative that speaks of the journey not the goal – the story arc of the emerging church is Stephen King’s Carrie. Christianity is made fun of, shown as flawed and even damaging to people. The only solution is to trash the old. And what will they put in its place?  In place of her mother’s warped “Christianity,” King put Carries’ vengeance.

She is the archetype of the bullied kid seeking vengeance. And that’s the ‘spirit’ of the emerging church websites I have visited. Those wounded and wronged by traditional Christianity are to gather here, and we’ll show it what church is really meant to be. Maybe their bracelet should bear the initials W.W.C.D. No the ‘C’ isn’t for “Christ” but “Carrie”.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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