Excellent Read

This came through my blogroll last night. It is well worth reading.

Recently, I’ve been engaged in heavy conversations with multiple people about art’s role in Christianity — or rather, its lack thereof, within Christian circles. Along with it, I’ve noticed, comes a tendency within such stories to go the way of intellectual laziness. Establishing straw men arguments to tear down to vindicate a shallow perspective is the height of intellectual laziness. Watching the original film, I felt ashamed of its narrow focus. None of the atheists in my life are closed-minded, judgmental, or “angry at God,” because how can you be secretly angry at Someone who, in their mind, does not exist?

C. S. Lewis stated in one of his books that God is no fonder of intellectual laziness than any other kind. Christian films (and books, and music, and art) are only deep and profound when deep and profound truths permeate them. When Sunday School answers fade, and Reality takes its place. When hard questions do not always have answers, much less simplistic ones. The most engaging art is not an evangelism tool, it is an exploration of a deep connection to essential truths, with a willingness not to preach, merely to breathe.

There is a reason The Lord of the Rings will carry on for generations. Its messages are in its depths, not in its words. The greatest novels, the ones that stir our heart, the best films, are not propaganda but art containing truth. As artists, aspire to that kind of art — art for its own sake, that glorifies God through reflecting Him, that shines not on the pages but between the lines because you are so full of Him that your worldview bleeds into the spine, rather than inserting Him awkwardly into its texts. He made you in His image… to create.

20 thoughts on “Excellent Read

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  1. Francis Schaeffer wrote a great book relating to this topic called Art and the Bible. It’s a short book but is profound.

  2. It’s a sad thing when you realize that “David Copperfield” has more takeaway spiritual truths and depth, is more solidly grounded in reality, than most Christian fiction.

      1. I guess that’s when you start wondering how we should define Christian fiction–in terms of the author’s religion, or in terms of the actual messages contained therein?

        1. Well, the world (and the library) and publishers define it under a specific genre, often with a little cross sticker on the spine. 😉

          I don’t know that I would classify Dickens, Tolstoy, Hugo, or any other classic novelist as a “Christian” fiction writer — it is more that their moralistic worldviews underscored their stories. Similarly, I do not write “Christian fiction” — I write secular fiction, whose plots are often influenced or underscored by my Christian worldview.

          (I wonder if Stephen King considers himself a horror novelist, or a novelist who writes horror. :P)

          1. Oh, but we woooooove labels so much!

            To be fair, there is a bit of Christian fiction that has some serious depth to it. Camille Eide is amazing, but then again, she’s not really recognized within the genre. Her books are too gritty and unique to be published by a mainstream publishing house.

            I just think faith elements were such an integral part of the identity of classic authors that it wove into their stories whether they intended it to happen or not. Whether they thought of themselves as Christian or not, it didn’t matter, the elements were there, but appealed to everybody.

          2. The Mitford Books, by Jan Karon, are not published as Christian Fiction either, but my parents say they’re profound, deep, and moving (just a bit slow for my taste). So, I think there is potential for Christian authors to get published outside the Christian fiction market.

            Eide has a problem similar to me — I have many great novel ideas, but all of them are too gritty for Christian publishers. I’ll write them anyway and see what happens.

            Faith and Christian belief systems, whether embraced by the individual or not, were indeed so entwined in society for so many generations that writers inherited these beliefs in some form up until the 1900’s. Dickens was a flawed man, but he still understood themes of transcendence, purity, innocence, virtue, repentance, and so on — so much so that his heroines are often “perfect” in ways the hero cannot aspire to (and similar, in that regard). Scrooge is an allegory about the divine.

            Tolstoy often (justifiably) harpoons “religious” societies devoid of morals. Victor Hugo demolishes legalism without love. The Brontes explore the darker elements of life, and individual choices. Austen is the odd woman out, choosing satire instead of serious social commentary, but there are even virtuous themes in her books (her heroes are similar, as are her villains).

            Sorry. Long-winded today.

          3. Long winded isn’t bad. 🙂

            You might actually give Eide a try sometime. She gets published by Ashberry Lane publishing, a very small publishing house, but they do seem to value quality and realism in their fiction. I’m planning to try more of their authors within the next year or so. I’d recommend starting with “Like a Love Song” or “The Memoir of Johnny Devine” if you want to try her work.

            If there’s one thing the classic authors were good at it was giving their readers lots of food for thought. They didn’t present the perfect, ideal society that never, ever exists. They showed realism, but also offered snippets of hope. Unless we’re talking the 1920s authors and then, well, they were either high, drunk or depressed or a combo of the three. *winks*

          4. Maybe Victorian novelists could be objective, because they saw the hypocrisy of society around them. The public face, the church appearance, followed by blatant immorality or unkindness. Modern authors struggle more, because our society is so drenched in secularism and sin that there’s not even a PRETENSE of goodness anymore.

          5. I think, for me personally, if you have a Christian or (Catholic) worldview and it permeates your writing, then your stories do qualify as “Christian fiction.” So, for me, Tolkien and Hugo and Chesterton and even Dickens and Hawthorne all count . . . because I’ve learned a lot from them about Christianity and my faith. But I know the library would never classify those books that way . . . it doesn’t matter though, because I NEVER pay attention to the “genre” stickers on my library books anyway. I read whatever strikes my fancy, basically.

          6. Nicholas Sparks has a Catholic background, but does it influence his writing at all? Should we consider his books “Christian fiction” even if they are full of immorality? Should we CARE about immorality in books? Should we justify it, or leave it, or be offended by it, or reconcile to it?

            If a book has no truth in it, can we love it? Should we love it? How much effort should we put into reading? How much consideration of books?

            Questions… that don’t need answers, just thoughts.

            Books have to contain something for me to invest in them. That something may change depending on the book, but there are a few constants — it either has to be in a period or around a topic of interest to me, it has to have incredible emotional dynamics, or it has to engage my imagination and intellect. If one book can do all of that, wow, jackpot.

          7. Right . . . Obviously, just because an author is Christian or Catholic doesn’t mean they write books which are in accordance with Christian morality. I think for me, the author’s faith and morals have to demonstrably influence his/her writing for me to consider it “Christian.” (So no, Nicholas Sparks doesn’t count. Sorry, Nicholas.)

            The immorality thing is always a knotty question . . . and for different people, there are different answers. Personally, I’m OK with reading fiction in which the characters act immorally, as long as the author makes it clear that such behavior is wrong. Like, if he’s trying to teach me about WHY you shouldn’t act this way. (ie, Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”)

            And I think that’s really the root of how I personally categorize “Christian” or “Catholic” fiction: if the author is able to teach me something about our shared faith. One great example of that would be Paul Horgan’s novel “A Distant Trumpet”–he was a Catholic, and while you wouldn’t call his novel “overtly religious,” it still taught me a TON . . . about life, about sin, about grace and redemption. I really loved it.

          8. I started thinking about Christian fiction, then wound up thinking that often Christians think they have a monopoly on morality — thus, they assume the only truly moral stories can come from Christian writers. This is not the case; often the most profound stories come from secular writers grappling with issues of morality. I’m not sure given their lifestyles that you could say Hugo, or Dickens, or even Tolstoy after a fashion, was a “Christian” — but their books certainly contain themes of morality and goodness. Dickens in particular idealized morality, while failing to live up to that standard himself. His heroines are flawless in their morality, a purity to aspire to, a stark contrast with the harsh realities of the world they lived in, a flower untarnished. He is not a Christian novelist, but he is writing using principles that often align with Christian thinking — both of the positive and negative varieties.

            Making it clear that immorality is wrong often, to me, comes down to showing the consequences of it. ‘Anna Karenina’ is one very good example of that; I rarely watch or read stories of adultery, but how that one plays out by showing the destructive tendencies of those choices makes the immoral actions not a promotion of an immoral lifestyle (unlike other books, where immoral couples live quite happily together, with no consequences) but an exploration of human frailty.

            Yet, that brings me back to a point I discussed with another friend recently — is showing the negative consequences of those choices authentic to reality? They may be true for one couple, but not for another; another couple might go on, free of guilt, living their immoral choices out, with no repercussions, no social isolation, and no guilt. Real people do. Is it a Christian trait to assume guilt accompanies what we consider to be immoral choices?

            For a Christian novelist, the question becomes — how to be realistic, without actively promoting things we cannot condone. Unfortunately, a lot of novelists go the way of idealism — the immoral are punished, the moral find truth, or freedom from guilt, or repent. The villain finds God. The heroine finds the man she has always searched for, her “reward” for virtue.

            Real life doesn’t work like that.

            True art must inspire, but also be REAL.

          9. Yes. That was what I loved about “A Distant Trumpet”–it was sad and tragic in many ways, but it was REAL. The ending, especially was realistic in that (without going off the deep end into pointless tragedy), everything was NOT just “okay” and “happy,” even for the good guys who really deserved a reward. (And even the good guys weren’t good all the time; they made mistakes and they fell from grace and they had to seek forgiveness.)

            You’d probably really love the book, actually; although in fairness I must warn you it’s roughly 600 pages long. But it’s a truly great historical novel.

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