Is Stephen King America's Dark Theologian
I hate saying that I have a favorite anything. By signifying any one thing being “my favorite” means that, no matter what, I’ll always prefer A over B. My favorite food is pizza! But what about all those times I’d prefer a steak? This is my favorite shirt! Orange is my favorite color! Except I’d prefer to only wear clothing with muted colors. Everything is our favorite thing until the moment it is isn’t, so why bother attaching such reverence to it. Which is exactly how I think of Stephen King.
More than likely, Stephen King is my favorite author. He’s the only writer I know that has had a consistent, recognizable tone throughout the last 50 years of his writing starting with Carrie in 1974. While he hasn’t knocked it out of the park with every book he’s written, you can instantly (and easily) pick up basically any of his books and fall into his worlds. It’s not just that King’s worlds are so fascinatingly dark, but because his voice is so comforting. His words are like a warm blanket to wrap yourself in surrounded by a world of killer cars and scary clowns. And a theme close to King’s heart that I hadn’t ever thought much about was his connection to religion.
From The Stand to Children of the Corn, Stephen King’s stories have had direct and indirect references to not only his own religious upbringing but his ideological thoughts on theism. In Douglas E. Cowan’s book America's Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King, the author curates a broad selection of King's oeuvre, notably focusing on his bibliography versus his filmography which has been diluted by other artistic voices.
Douglas Cowan takes care to accurately define what he means when he calls Stephen King a theologian. He also carefully defines, and re-defines, the very definition of religion as a way to further look at our world and introspectively within ourselves.
He draws these correlations around a singular definition of religion from William James (page 41-42) that intrinsically avoids the “good, moral, decency fallacy” that states that all religion is for the common good and those that aren’t are deemed sects/cults. He impresses in a quote from scholar J Z Smith that “religion is not nice, it’s been responsible for more death and suffering than any other human activity.”
Cowan dissects almost all of King’s bibliography to give us a firm understanding of Cowan’s own reflections on religion coupled with his analytical work on King’s stories. As someone who is fascinated with religion, but would classify himself as agnostic, I was curious to see how a non-believer would resonate with some of Cowan’s comparisons. While I feared the book to air on the side of preachy, I was pleasantly surprised in Cowans casual and honest take on modern religion that felt accessible to someone who airs closer to the side of atheistic than a true believer.
While the book is dense with material, Cowan has a very frank way of writing which is, perhaps intentionally, similarly accessible to King’s own voice. I foresee myself using Americas Dark Theologian as a reference book on my own analysis of King’s work in the future.