Hello again! So, today I’m finishing up the discussion post I started last week, delving into how we authors can effectively incorporate our faith into our work without seeming irritating, preachy, or off-putting to readers. But today I’d like to take this post in a slightly different direction.
Many of us who write with a certain spiritual or religious message or theme in mind are drawing on the faith we grew up in. For lots of people the world over, religion is as much a part of who we are, in terms of heritage, as our eye color and height.
But the religion we’re born into may not be the one we embrace our entire lives. I’m not here to debate conversion experiences. I’m more interested in addressing covering this topic compassionately and objectively in fiction.
Yes, that’s right, I said objectively. If you’re writing a fiction piece that includes a character or characters that have changed their spiritual beliefs and practices, your focus needs to be so much more on the characters’ tale than your own personal testimony. The reason for this tactic is, again (vitally), not turning off readers who may not agree with your beliefs or worldview, but still want to read your fiction.
As someone who came from a generic Christian background (as far as morals and traditions went), then spent a lot of time researching other religions, I think this is a big problem among Western “Christian market” publishers. As I mentioned before, I don’t like the way Christian novels are geared specifically towards people who are already churchgoers. That turns fiction that should be showing non-believers the beautiful teachings of Jesus of Nazareth into its own little niche culture. A niche that outsiders don’t necessarily feel comfortable jumping into.
And that feeds into the even bigger problem the modern Church already has, of people seeing us as a narrow-minded, unfriendly, keep-to-ourselves, stuck-up sort. That hardly teaches the world that the Savior came to die for everybody.
When I was young and exploring (and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that), I came across a variety of people of a variety of religions. Some of the churchgoers were horrible, hypocritical, and very prejudiced. Others were awesome, warm, caring and tolerant. Some of the people I met from “fringe” or minority religions were very tolerant towards Christians; others thought the Church had committed too many terrible crimes, and weren’t about to forgive that. The biggest takeaway I got from all this was that the world in general has become so caught up in who gets the Earthly power and control and authority, that they no longer are concerned with matters such as a Creator, our purpose here, and can we communicate with that being.
Since that was what I was looking for, I found myself much more drawn to reading from the source (rather than getting stuck in the political plays). I read up on the pantheons from ancient Greece and Rome and Egypt and Britain, on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. I was an equal opportunity researcher. I found some things I thought were really wonderful (like the idea of personal deities or saints that would take care of your specific needs in finances, health, etc. — indicating that the belief in a merciful, benevolent divine being is not sold simply by televangelists). Other stuff I wasn’t too fond of (the practices of animal sacrifice, for example).
Anyway, as I went, I discovered there are a lot of issues with mistranslation, history being written from only one point of view, and traditions shared between a number of cultures, and that all of this has created a hodgepodge of what we today call Christianity. These days, there’s no such thing as “pure Christianity” — unless your only goal is to follow the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.
Not that this is a bad goal. Not at all. However, human beings have certainly distorted what’s “acceptable” (forcing Jews to convert, when they’re stated in your own holy writings as God’s chosen people, is just not cool), and what’s “real” (the ongoing debate on whether miracles still happen is raging somewhere as we speak), and it’s quite unfortunate.
What I’d like to see much more of in fiction penned by Christian authors is a respect for other religions, a tolerance for characters who haven’t been “saved,” and a true love (not condemnation) portrayed for the homeless drug addict your narrator passes on a street corner. Remember, folks, Jesus went to dinner with prostitutes and happily hung out with non-Jews. He treated everyone as worth his time and he listened to them. He appreciated their belief in him more than their social class or status. Too many people who go to church every week, always tithe and never miss a Bible study — in real life and fiction — are never seen at a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, or bringing dinner to the Muslim family down the street.
If we feel that fiction is a great tool for allegories and encourage deeper thinking on spiritual matters, then let’s do that. Let’s include characters from different religious backgrounds, do our research and present non-stereotyped, healthy, loving portrayals. Let’s validate someone’s worth as a person from a non-Christian, non-monotheistic background, while we hope to show that a God they’ve never heard of loves them and wants to help them.