The other kind of Christian fiction.

Hey there, demons, it’s me, ya boy.

(If you haven’t seen Buzzfeed Unsolved, you’re probably gravely doubting my sanity at this point. Ah, well. That’s nothing new. xD)

Be that as it may, I’m fresh off reading one of the greatest Christian classics of all time, Silence by Shusaku Endo, and I’m here to talk about Christian fiction. Buckle up, because this post is going to be a wild ride.

~~~~

I am notorious around Goodreads and the blogosphere for my *gentle cough* Marked Hostility towards the Christian fiction genre. I have gone on record saying I hate reading Christian fiction. I’ve also gone on record saying I will never write it. I still don’t intend to write Christian fiction (CF? can we shorten it to CF? that would be so much easier), and generally speaking, I’m still not interested in reading it. To understand, then, why I gave Silence–a deeply Christian story by a Christian author–five shining stars, we need to take a closer look at the CF genre: what it is, what it isn’t, and what it could be.

I think we’re all aware that the Christian fiction market operates according to some pretty strict rules. But what are they?

First off, here’s what “Christian fiction,” as understood by the publishing industry, isn’t:

  • It is not any book by an author who identifies as a Christian.
  • It is not any book with a main character who identifies as a Christian.
  • It is not any book which explores aspects of the Christian faith.

Instead, “Christian fiction” is any book which checks the following three boxes:

  • It adheres to Protestant Christian content guidelines, AND
  • its main character is already saved according to Protestant Christian standards, OR
  • its main character is unsaved according to Protestant Christian standards, but becomes saved by the end of the story.

*steeples fingers*

*draws deep breath*

Did you notice how many times I used the word “Protestant?” Yeah … we’re gonna talk about that, kids.

I think most of my blogging audience already knows I’m Roman Catholic. But since we’re going in-depth on religion here, let me state that fact one more time. I’m Roman Catholic. As a Roman Catholic, I define “Protestant” as any Christian denomination which arose during or after the Reformation. I’m aware that some Christian denominations (the Baptists, I think? or some Baptists?? #help me) don’t claim that label for themselves. But for the purposes of this post, if you’re a Christian and you’re not Catholic, I will be referring to your religious tradition and religious culture under the umbrella term of “Protestant.” I apologize in advance if this offends anyone. *offers conciliatory cookies*

EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver Break Down Their Extreme Weight  Loss for 'Silence' - YouTube
*Andrew Garfield’s offended face*

So, you can’t escape the the three rules outlined above if you want your book to qualify as Christian fiction. Which begs the question, who made these rules? Many proponents of Christian fiction are unaware how deeply these standards are rooted in a conservative, often evangelical, (again) Protestant culture which is by no means universal among the global and historical Christian community.

In other words, culturally and religiously speaking, “Christian fiction” actually represents a very small slice of Christians. This doesn’t even touch on the CF genre’s well-documented problem with racial diversity, which could be a whole blog post in itself, and one I’m not qualified to write. What I’m talking about here is the arrogance of claiming to speak for all Christians, to pronounce judgment on what Christians should be reading … when you really mean, what my type of Christians prefers to read.

For example, Christian fiction prides itself on a strict standard of cleanliness. But who defines “cleanliness”? What does cleanliness look like in practice? Well, you can’t include swearing. You can’t include graphic violence. You can’t include sex, period. While there are some exceptions for slightly-suggestive-yet-still-not-explicit bedroom scenes between married couples, you’re generally limited to kissing if you want to incorporate romance. Which is probably why Christian fiction kissing scenes drag on for pages and are overly detailed to the point of tastelessness, because when you only have one shot at fulfilling your physical cravings, you gotta make it count, I guess.

“But Katie,” I hear you saying, “aren’t these universal Christian prohibitions? Don’t all Christians believe it’s wrong to put sex or swearing in your stories?”

*finger guns* NOPE. Nope, nope, nope. Love ’em or hate ’em, these are conservative Protestant strictures, born of the Puritan tradition that bases holiness on what you don’t do, and regards the body as an unclean prison for the spirit. And I can prove it to you by taking a little detour into the Catholic literary tradition.

~~~~

Catholic authors, even the most devout, have never been renowned for producing clean or sanitized fiction. The great-granddaddy of Catholic literature, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, is grotesque, earthy, and highly profane at times. Yet Catholics point to it proudly as a monumental work on man’s relationship with God and eternity. (Which it is, btw. The Divine Comedy slaps.) Moving on from the Middle Ages, Catholic authors of more recent times, like Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor, have freely explored violence and squalor of all types. Heck, Graham Greene wrote a novel called The End of the Affair, which a dear friend described to me as “finding God through adultery.” Which, um, yeah. That’s basically what it’s about. ๐Ÿ˜› And as for swearing? Sure, why not? Catholic authors have never held back from putting appropriately strong language in the mouths of characters facing dark or twisted situations. There are few holds barred as a Catholic writer, and how deeply you delve into the grim realities of our world is entirely up to your own conscience.

Andrew Garfield played a Jesuit in Silence, but he didn't expect to fall in  love with Jesus. | America Magazine
(yes, I know this is a production still, but I like it)

In high school, my American literature textbook was written in the 1940s by Catholic nuns. I still remember their glowing praise of Kate Chopin as a great American Catholic author. Kate Chopin was a proto-feminist of the Victorian era who was NOTORIOUS for her frank depictions of female sexuality and female desire. You’d think the nuns who wrote my textbook would paint her as the scarlet woman of Babylon or what-not, wouldn’t you? They didn’t. In their eyes, Kate Chopin was a brilliant Catholic artist, worthy of respect–sex scenes or no sex scenes. More than anything else, that should make clear to you the degree of latitude Catholic writers have historically enjoyed. Our religious tradition doesn’t ask us to hold back from a honest exploration of real life as we see it.

Part of this liberal attitude toward sex in fiction comes from the Catholic belief in sacramentality, which is the direct opposite of the Puritan belief in the depravity of the physical world. Basically, Catholics believe that God works through physical matter, like water, or oil, or a piece of bread, or a glass of wine, or a human body. We believe grace can come to us through these concrete forms. It’s a lot more complicated than that, and I don’t have time to unpack it all here. But basically, sacramentality informs the whole Catholic worldview in ways that make it quite distinct from Protestant Christianity … and that difference shows up in our literature.

~~~~

We’ve talked about the CF standard of cleanliness, which reflects Protestant culture rather than Catholic culture. Now let’s talk about the other requirement for Christian fiction that I mentioned–namely, adherence to a Protestant notion of salvation. That is, your character must be saved in the Protestant sense by the end of the book, if he or she wasn’t already.

A quick recap of the differences between Protestant and Catholic views on salvation:

  • Protestants, no matter their denomination, generally believe there is a single moment in your life which marks you as “saved.” In this moment, you place total faith in Jesus and are guaranteed eternal salvation. Your actions after this point don’t matter, and even a subsequent loss of faith wouldn’t matter: because the single moment of acceptance is enough.
  • Catholics don’t believe any single moment of our lives either saves or damns us. We don’t believe we are ever guaranteed salvation on this side of the grave. Our relationship with Jesus is a work in progress until we die, and we emphasize a mixture of faith and action over the Protestant sola fide, or “faith alone.”

I’m going to treat these divergent beliefs as respectfully as I can. I will freely admit it’s not easy for me, since I’ve had more than my share of Protestants telling me I’m not a real Christian and I’m going to the Bad Place when I die if I don’t accept their exact definition of salvation. ๐Ÿ˜› NEVERTHELESS, it is not my intention to debate the ideas themselves, but rather, to analyze the effect they have on their corresponding Christian literary traditions.

**EDIT**: It Has Come to My Attention (she said, pretentiously) that my summary of Protestant views on salvation is overly simplistic and doesn’t cover everyone’s experiences. I really appreciate the feedback, since I’m an outsider and I’m trying to be respectful!! However, I think it’s still safe to say these three basic ideas, a) salvation comes through faith alone, b) salvation is achieved at a specific moment in your life, and c) salvation can be guaranteed or assured before you die, are common in Protestant circles, and are especially common in Christian fiction. That’s what I really want to talk about today: the ways these broadly Protestant notions have shaped the Christian fiction genre, making it distinctly Protestant rather than Catholic.

Ready? Ready. Let’s get cracking.

Adam Driver Daily โ€” Adam Driver as Father Garupe in Silence (2016)
(Adam Driver is ready)

Because the CF genre centers on Protestant notions of salvation, it has a strongly idealistic tone. It’s all about guiding characters towards these ideal moments of perfect faith. Any main character who hasn’t accepted Jesus is guaranteed to do so by the end of the story. Meanwhile, characters who HAVE accepted Jesus face immense pressure (from both author and audience) to live spotless, blameless lives, in order to prove their salvation experience was an authentic one.

This leads to Christian fiction’s absolute favorite romantic pairing–the Sweet Christian Gal (or, sometimes, Guy) who Does Everything Right and Has All the Answers, vs. the Attractive Hot Mess Guy (or, occasionally, Gal) who Knows Nothing About Jesus and Does Everything Wrong … usually with a side helping of Anger Issues and Past Trauma. Because everybody knows professing Christians are the only people capable of making healthy choices and dealing effectively with their traumatic experiences.

*major eye roll*

In addition, this emphasis on Protestant notions of salvation leads to an array of medieval Christian fiction novels populated by suspiciously Protestant-leaning heroes and heroines. Because CF authors aren’t supposed to write about characters who don’t share their specific beliefs about being saved, they bend over backwards to put those beliefs in the mouths of 13th- or 14th-century Catholics who, um, didn’t actually think that way. ๐Ÿ˜›

By contrast, for Catholic authors, there’s no particular pressure to guide our characters towards a climax of salvation, because we don’t see “getting saved” as something you achieve in any one moment in your life. Rather, we see faith as an ever-shifting work in progress, which means we can accompany our characters at any point on their faith journey. We don’t necessarily need a triumphant ending, either. We can explore a disintegrating faith as well as a growing one.

All of which brings me to Silence by Shusaku Endo.

~~~~

A tragic tale of Jesuit missionaries braving Japanese government persecution, Silence is the single greatest Christian novel I have ever read. By a twist of exquisite irony, however, Silence would never be accepted by a Christian publishing house, nor (if it somehow squeaked past the CF editors) would it be accepted by Christian fiction audiences. Silence may be a Christian classic, but it’s not “Christian fiction” as we understand the term in America today.

Why not?

Because Silence isn’t the triumph of faith over all odds. Instead, it’s the story of a priest who makes the “wrong choice”: to put his compassion above his faith. He publicly denies Jesus in order to save his people from torture.

“When the cock crows, you will deny me thrice …”

Japanese Christians are being tortured in the most excruciating, brutal ways imaginable, and the priest is told the torture will continue until he publicly apostatizes–that is, until he denies Christ before the assembly. You can imagine what an agonizing choice this is for a man who came to Japan willing, nay, eager, to be a martyr for the Church, in a historical period when martyrdom was prized above all else.

But being a martyr yourself is one thing. Making martyrs of other innocent people is something very different. The priest realizes, ultimately, that his faith isn’t the important thing here. His pride and his honor as a priest aren’t as important as these people’s suffering. Jesus is still real, whether the priest professes to believe in Him or not. But if Jesus is real, then he, as a priest, has a responsibility to “be Jesus” to these Japanese Christians, to stand in persona Christi for them … and that means doing what Jesus would do: lifting their burdens. Easing their pain.

Which means, in this context, betraying his faith.

New Movies, Movie Trailers, DVD, TV & Video Game News !!: Interview: Andrew  Garfield on Martin Scorsese's Silence

For me, the book’s most resonant line comes after this sacrifice is complete, after the priest has surrendered to the Japanese government’s demands. The Japanese official who ordered the Christians tortured gloats, “we wore you down, we beat you,” etc. The priest answers, “No. My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart.”

My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart.

In other words–I had to decide for myself who Jesus is. Is Jesus a feudal overlord who demands my allegiance at any cost? Or is Jesus a friend who shows compassion for my weaknesses, and asks that I show compassion to others in return?

Silence asks some of Christianity’s most uncomfortable questions: How do we serve a God who is often silent, and WHY do we serve a God who is often silent? If God is silent in the face of injustices, silent when we reach a terrible, thorny, moral crossroads, how do we know how to respond? Does God expect loyalty to himself first … or compassion to others first? When the two conflict, how do we balance them?

It’s a thoroughly Catholic novel, and it’s one of the most powerful stories I have ever encountered. I love it so much.

~~~~

But, yes. To bring the discussion back around to the Christian fiction genre:

Proponents of Christian fiction often speak of a rigid divide between “Christian fiction” and “secular fiction,” as if the approved, sanitized, heavily Protestant books they themselves prefer are the only stories which could possibly explore the Christian faith. As if other Christian literary traditions don’t matter, or don’t even exist. As if everything outside this narrow bubble were completely godless and devoid of spirituality.

I still don’t intend to publish in the Christian fiction genre, and I don’t intend to follow Christian fiction standards. But that doesn’t mean I have to leave my faith at the door when I settle down to write.

Instead, I’ll follow my own conscience. I’ll find my own way of representing both the ugly and the beautiful things of this world, touched by God’s hand … just as generations of Catholic artists have done before me. Just as Shusaku Endo did with Silence.

Adam Driver โ€” Adam Driver on Silence by Martin Scorsese ...

And them’s my thoughts!

What do you guys think?

Let’s chat!

44 thoughts on “The other kind of Christian fiction.

Add yours

  1. I haven’t read Silence but you’re making me want to! I generally dislike “Christian fiction” as a genre. I’m a Lutheran, so yes, Protestant, but I don’t define salvation as something you get in one moment and cannot lose — it’s a gift from God, given at baptism, and something you can choose to reject. I think a lot of Catholics don’t understand the Lutheran position — but many Lutherans, and Protestants in general, don’t understand or willfully choose too misunderstand the Catholic position.

    (I have very strong feelings about this issue, in case you can’t tell)

    Anyway, thank you for this eloquent and interesting post! And apologies for my long comment without a real point!

    Like

    1. “Silence” is amazing!! It’s a very harrowing read (because, torture), but I’d definitely recommend it with that caveat.

      Okay, that’s really interesting!! Thanks for telling me! I actually had a moment when I was writing that bit about the Protestant position when my brain went “UMMMMM what about the Lutherans though??” and then I thought “no I THINK I got them covered too??” but I wasn’t totally sure xD I appreciate your perspective!

      I would say from my own observation that Lutherans and the Lutheran position are wayyy under-represented in Christian fiction: would you say that’s true from your experience?

      Thank you so much for your comment! I love long comments! โค

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I agree! I’ve read some Lutheran fiction that I enjoyed (House of Living Stones by Katie Schuermann — highly recommended if you like Anne of Green Gables and want a hilarious read), but in mainstream “Christian fiction” there’s not much Lutheran rep.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was very insightful. I do write Christian Fiction, in the sense that I am a Christian and the main characters in my fiction books are also Christian, ergo… I belong to the genre because I say so. HOWEVER, I’m also a Lutheran, which means I’m way closer to Roman Catholic (and, in some ways, Eastern Orthodox) beliefs in many ways. Such as not having any truck with decision-based theology or “once saved, always saved” nonsense. Saved by grace alone, only through faith in Jesus alone, which we learn about in Scripture alone, the end. So, my books don’t have a come-to-faith thread in them because… that’s been done a million times, and I’m bored now. Instead, they have people who are already believers that are trying to live out their Christian vocations while dealing with real world things that get messy and tricky. Because that’s way more interesting to me…

    Like

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I’m really glad you liked the post! โค

      Okay, see, that's really interesting, because I didn't fully understand the Lutheran position on salvation (although I knew it had something to do with faith alone, and therefore was different than the Catholic position.) But what you're describing is definitely NOT the same as the evangelical position which predominates in most Christian fiction! Fascinating … fascinating …

      "People who are already believers that are trying to live out their Christian vocations while dealing with real world things that get messy and tricky" mmmhhmmmmm. That's my favorite type of faith-based story to read, and I want to see more of it! That's what Silence is all about, after all. That’s why I loved it so much.

      Although, I myself don’t always write about Christian characters. In Gold, for example, which I’m doing the third draft for right now, Tammi is Jewish and Dirk just isn’t particularly religious. But I’m still using the story to explore broad themes of faith in God and faith in humanity, even though my characters’ faith isn’t the same as my own. Which is a journey in itself.

      Like

  3. As a Presbytanglican (that’s a nice mix of Presbyterian and Anglican) with an increasingly Catholic imagination, I could only cheer and applaud VERY ENTHUSIASTICALLY through this post. I may have even grinned the entire time. (Especially at the sight of Adam Driver, but not *just* for the sight of Adam Driver, I promise.)

    I intensely dislike most “Christian fiction” because I find it permeated with “Prosperity Gospel”–that is, the idea that if you pray the prayer and walk the walk and surrender everything to God, everything’s gonna fall into place and you’re gonna have the biggest car, the hottest wife, and the most successful ministry. There ARE a few notable exceptions, in my opinion, but they tend to be books that aren’t as popular within the genre…or books that aren’t explicitly Christian, but which I KNOW were written by Christians (Catholic and Protestant alike). And as I’ve studied and fallen in love with the Catholic imagination and sacramentality, I’ve realized that that “honest exploration of life” you mentioned, PLUS a holy joy when it comes to this world’s beauty and all its gifts, is PRECISELY what is missing in most “Christian” literature. It’s missing from most Christian LIVES!!!

    Honestly, I think that if Evangelicals would just…put aside their prejudices for half a second and listen to their Catholic brothers and sisters, they might gain a lot of wisdom in this area, not to mention some JOY in the gifts God has bestowed on us. We may disagree with some things but we can still learn so much from each other. Which kinda goes with what Maya Joelle said about both sides misunderstanding each other. With all kindness and respect, I’d say your definition of Protestantism was a wee bit simplistic–and as Maya Joelle showed in her description of the Lutheran view of salvation, there are considerable nuances within denominations. I do believe in assurance of salvation, but I also believe just as strongly that my actions DO matter: not only will staying close to Christ/striving for holiness produce good fruit, but they will also earn me eternal rewards one day. So yeah…nuances ๐Ÿ™‚ (And Protestants need to read the Epistle of James more often, tbh.)

    This was a really long comment–sorry!–but you had to know from all our past conversations that this post would trigger my interest ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Like

    1. Hi, Maribeth!! *waves wildly* I hope you’re feeling better!!

      Presbytanglican is a delightfully long word and I love it ๐Ÿ˜€ HAAAAAAA YESSSSS. I may or may not have picked many of those Adam Driver pictures specifically for you ๐Ÿ˜‰ I was like “let’s give Maribeth what she came here for” ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Urgh, yes!!! That’s another good point that I wanted to touch on a little bit, but could’ve said way more about–the idea that “if you check these Christian boxes, God will give you a perfect life full of all worldly comforts. It works for the Christian Fiction heroes and heroines, so why not for you???” *shakes le head muchly*

      I’m really glad that sacramentality is something you’ve found so much value in! And not gonna lie, you inspire ME, aka the cradle Catholic, with how much you love it โค ๐Ÿ˜‰

      No, this is a good point and I'm glad you brought it up! I wrestled a lot with the salvation section of this post, because I was debating to myself, "do I try to go for a nuanced definition even though I'm an outsider who doesn't really UNDERSTAND everybody's different nuances, or do I stick with a more simplistic, broad-brush definition?" And ultimately after much wrangling I went for simplistic, because I wanted to talk about the general Vibe of assurance of salvation/"sola fide" and how these broadly, historically Protestant ideas seem to be shaping the Christian fiction genre as a while … BUT YEAH. I'd be the first to admit that my knowledge of different Protestant theologies is limited! So, thank you for mentioning that!

      I did, I did indeed ๐Ÿ˜‰ and I'm so glad to have your comment, friend! โค

      Like

      1. Oh my gosh, โ€œletโ€™s give Maribeth what she came here forโ€–I DIED, KATIE. I’m so glad I have this reputation, haha! And honestly and truthfully, “Silence” is a movie I’ve always wanted to see/a book I’ve always wanted to read. Both were recommended to me years ago. I’m just a little nervous about the harrowing aspects of it. One day I’ll work up the courage to either read or see it, I’m sure.

        I also just wanted to say that you might really enjoy the work of the Anselm Society! They’re a group of Christians (some Protestant, some Catholic, some Orthodox) who are passionate about the very things you’re talking about here: honest Christ-saturated fiction (as opposed to “Christian fiction”), sacramentality, a truly Christian imagination, etc. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my understanding of sacramentality if I hadn’t discovered them and their work three years ago. The magazine I write for, Cultivating, is loosely associated with them, too. I highly recommend checking out their website! I think you’d really enjoy it ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m so glad to hear you’re doing better!! Yes, yes, you are well known for your love of our Disney Prince, Adam Driver, and that is an EXCELLENT thing to be known for. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        I would recommend reading Silence before you decide to watch it–I myself will probably not be watching the movie, even though I would love to see our Disney Prince bringing his incredible acting talent. It’s very harrowing stuff and I handle that better on the page than on the screen.

        Oh, that sounds wonderful, Maribeth! I’ll have to look them up for sure–thanks so much!!

        Like

  4. This was an insightful read for me, and I respect your viewpoint. I’m a Pentecostal Holiness girl, I believe that there is a point where you accept Jesus as Saviour by faith alone, no works can ever make you worthy, (Ephesians 2:8-9) but that you can lose your salvation if you choose to later reject Christ, (not in the way the priest did, I think, I’m not a theology student, but I think it’s when you really and truly reject Him in your heart and want to reject Him?) I am NOT in any way trying to debate with you over theology and beliefs, I just wanted to share my viewpoint. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I wish more Christians would love and accept each other no matter personal beliefs, and if anyone is believing wrongly to let God show them and guide them to Him. We (Christians) get so wrapped up in in-fighting between different denominations that we’re losing sight of the unsaved. …sorry for that bit of rant. eheh.

    I personally don’t like writing under “Christian Fiction” as you described. I claim to be a writer who is a Christian and writes to the glory of God. My stories get messy, my stories get dark, my stories don’t always have the “Protestant guidelines,” but they will always have hope, and I believe hope will lead to God.

    And I really liked the Adam Driver pics. ๐Ÿ˜‰ XD

    Like

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Jen! It’s really interesting, and I appreciate it! I couldn’t agree more about the need for less debate between denominations and more cooperation–like, I want people to UNDERSTAND my own perspective as a Catholic, and to understand what I mean when I say that Christian fiction, being so heavily based on Protestant culture, feels really foreign to me even though I’m still a Christian. But I certainly don’t want to argue anybody over to “my side,” or tell them they’re “wrong” for not being Catholic. #can’t we all just get along #we have work to do

      “They always have hope, and I believe hope will lead to God”–amen! โค

      Yaaaaaaaaas. Adam Driver. I am Giving the People What They Want. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It doesn’t surprise me that he denies his faith in public for the good of actual human beings, since that’s what any good person would do in his shoes. It’s not what we say that matters, it’s what we do.

    “Protestants, no matter their denomination, generally believe there is a single moment in your life which marks you as “saved.” In this moment, you place total faith in Jesus and are guaranteed eternal salvation. Your actions after this point don’t matter, and even a subsequent loss of faith wouldn’t matter: because the single moment of acceptance is enough.” <- some Protestant denominations believe this, yes, but others do not. I was never raised to think this way, but I attended a blend of different denominations so I'm not sure where my awareness that a single moment cannot save you forever came from. Being saved is not cart blanche for your sins and doesn't mean you are forever saved, in my mind — you still need to atone for your sins and you still have a choice. Some people get saved in an instant. Others take a lifetime. It's a choice made every day, IMO.

    Like

    1. Oops, forgot to add that I’m not a fan of Christian fiction in general, mostly because it’s no deeper and in some instances, even more shallow than secular fiction. Not a lot of fiction holds my interest, but if I pick up a Christian novel I want to be challenged in my faith, and a lot of them are just a sanitized excuse to write “I saw him and it was instant love” romances. It’s still all shallow attraction and sex-focused writing, just without the sex (“She saw him, and felt a strange warmth in her stomach” — uh, how about lower down? write what you mean :P).

      I have read some truly horrendous Protestant-ized middle ages books / Tudor books, in which they willfully or perhaps ignorantly misrepresent Catholics. I can almost always predict what the entire book’s plot will be, if it’s based around a Protestant hero/heroine — evil Catholic priests who prey on the women in their congregation. Blech. No thanks.

      I don’t write Christian fiction per se, I just happen to be a Christian who writes fiction. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

    2. Yes. I think that was part of Shusaku Endo’s point, too: this priest made the choice only after being thrust INTO that situation and being faced with those actual, real-life people’s suffering. Whereas the people who judged him for his choice (in the story), who were all like “But your ideals and your religion!!!” weren’t being faced with that actual experience, so they didn’t know how he felt. It’s an extremely Hufflepuff-vs-Ravenclaw story and it’s fascinating. (I thiiiiiiiiiiiink the priest is a Ravenclaw who ultimately decides that humanity is the core and center of his idealism: but it’s not an immediate choice for him. He really wrestles with it. Because he DOES want to be true to his professed belief system, one of the most important tenets of which was his promise that no matter what, he’d never deny Christ. Juicy stuff. Me like.)

      “It’s a choice made every day,” yep. I would very much agree with that. Your faith and your actions are kind of hard to separate, but they’re both a continuous work in progress that’s never finished until you die. At least, that’s the way I look at it.

      I could go on and on literally f o r e v e r about the myriad of problems with Christian fiction romance specifically. You’re right, it IS shallow!!! And it’s simultaneously hypersexualized //and// terrified of talking about sex, and just … nope.

      Same. I want to be known as a Catholic who writes fiction. Good fiction, hopefully. But not “Christian fiction.”

      Like

      1. I imagine it would be hardest for someone who values ‘words’ being the tenant of their faith, more than actions. Taking their vows seriously, rather than believing in the spirit of something. I think I go more by what my own feelings tell me, rather than what the consensus is — I just “know” things that feel off about various religious practices or beliefs and will believe myself in those matters ahead of theology. Which was always rather frustrating to my various super-religious relatives, when I would just shrug and say “that makes no sense to me, so I reject it.” Hahaha.

        I think some people do have a life-transforming salvation experience; my father was one of them, whose actions changed drastically overnight after being saved (including giving up addictions and suffering no ill-effects), but I’ve never had that Big Moment and I don’t think it means I’m not saved, since I know what I believe, and I try to live it every day. For me, it’s a lifelong thing and there’s been no miracles.

        It is very sexualized. I’ve read books where the girl falls in love immediately just because the man is handsome or has big muscles, and then fantasizes about being in his arms and being kissed, and I am like: … this is shallow, what about his CHARACTER? Or developing your own? But I wouldn’t say sex isn’t allowed. I’ve read some “Christian” novels that got pretty steamy — it’s allowed IF they are married.

        Like

      2. “Which was always rather frustrating to my various super-religious relatives, when I would just shrug and say ‘that makes no sense to me, so I reject it.'” HA. You and me both. Frustrating super-religious people since 1994. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        I mean, same here. It’s a lifelong work in progress, and I’m not LOOKING for any sudden sweeping changes, because … I’m okay with the slow and steady approach.

        Yeah. Ugh. Just thinking about Christian fiction romance makes me tired.

        Like

      3. I mean, you can always try and cram something that doesn’t make rational sense into your worldview, but it’s going to leak out around the edges and cause a mess. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Like

      4. I picked the movie up at the library but not gonna lie: part of me is scared to watch it. ๐Ÿ˜› Still, it’s Holy Week, yes? The time to suffer? ๐Ÿ˜›

        Like

      5. I would teasingly call you a wuss, but I’m scared to put the stupid disk in my player, because I know it’s gonna give me FEELS. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Like

  6. Hi, Katie! This post was a pleasure to read. I like how freely you share your thoughts.

    I am a Seventh-Day Adventist. We are Protestant but the SDA denomination is still commonly denounced as heterodox, and was once called a cult. My denomination is very different from other Protestant denominations in a lot of ways. Several being that we believe Saturday is holy, we don’t believe in predestination or eternal hell, and we also don’t believe you go right to heaven or hell when you die. I’ve often had disagreements with other Protestants about those things. Also, you mentioned that a lot of Protestant believe you’re saved at one moment and everything after that doesn’t matter. As an Adventist, I believe that salvation doesn’t mean you’re free to act however you want after. I do believe that once you belong to Christ, you are forever his and you won’t ever be lost again. The Bible says that those who have left the faith were never truly in the faith.

    I write Biblical fiction (my novels are about St. Paul from the perspectives of his sister and nephew). I believe everything I write must honor God and not give other Christians distress. Although I am Adventist, I want my novels to be for both Protestants and Catholics. I believe that in Christ we are all one and that all Christians have their hearts in the right place. My mission in my writing is to portray sin honestly and truthfully, not trying to soften it for readers. The Bible doesn’t just barely touch over things, it is very honest and brutal, and I want to do the same. I’m always very prayerful while I write, the Bible is my guide. I never include anything gratuitous, portraying sin honestly in order to show readers the ugliness of sin and the beauty of Christ. Those are also my guidelines for any books I read. I believe, as St. Paul says in Philippians 4:8, we should fill our minds with the joy of Christ’s overcoming sin, and we should help other Christians fill their minds with that as well.

    Anyway, I’m sorry this comment has gotten so long! One more thing, though – I love the name of your site. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book, as well as Les Miserables!

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Joy! It’s really interesting to hear your perspective!

      Oooh, GOOD point. The Bible itself isn’t particularly “clean” or sanitized. It’s very frank and realistic and sometimes brutal. And I don’t believe all storytelling has to be that way–but if an author wants to explore the darker side of life in such a fashion? Who are we to tell them it’s “un-Christian” or “unbiblical” to do so?

      Your books about St. Paul and his family sound fascinating! I love that idea!

      Never apologize for long comments, I love ’em! ISN’T TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD AMAZING??? It’s one of my favorite books, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t read “Silence” but it looks really good, and now I want to.
    I also usually dislike Christian Fiction mostly because it often feels kind of like the same story over and over again. ESPECIALLY Christian romance.
    Most of my books aren’t explicitly “Christian” but you can definitely see elements of my faith in them.
    Great post, by the way.

    Like

    1. It’s an amazing book! It’s a harrowing read and deals with grim topics (like torture), but with that caveat, I highly recommend it!

      Mmmhhmmmm! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the exact same basic love story template repackaged and served over and over in CFR. Makes me tired.

      Oh, absolutely!! I feel the same way–reading “Silence” made me realize that I really DO crave stories which explore Christian themes, and I want to explore faith in my own writing, even though I don’t want to do it along the lines of the Christian fiction genre itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Very interesting perspective. As a Protestant Christian, I know we will disagree on theological issues but I do appreciate you trying to be respectful. And you do raise a good point about Christian fiction in that it is often idealistic and not grounded in reality.

    I have tried to present a more โ€œdonโ€™t be afraid to get your hands dirtyโ€ approach in my own Christian historical fiction novels which has drawn some criticism as well as praise.
    There are people out there who want real stories with real-world solutions that are sparked by Christian faith.
    My thoughts though are that we canโ€™t help people unless weโ€™re willing to dig into real issues which, in our world include sex, violence and unfortunately abuse etc.

    I have not read this book Silence but Iโ€™m that is indeed a heart-wrenching situation.
    Thank you.
    JP Robinson
    https://jprobinsonbooks.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your respectful comment! I’m really glad to hear your perspective!

      I agree. Christian fiction, in my view, needs to be broader than just “novels that present one, single, approved theological worldview, while shying away from anything that could be branded ‘unclean’ or ‘impure.'” We need a richer variety of Christians exploring a richer variety of real-world situations.

      Sounds like your stories definitely help fill that need!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Loved your thoughts on this and the Buzzfeed quote.
    I really want to read Silence now and watch the movie because Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield.
    I always like to think that God knows your heart. He would understand a sacrifice like that.
    I also think it’s kinda funny that Catholic fiction adheres to more of the style of writing I like. I really don’t like the over sanitized fakeness of most Christian fiction, it’s awful.

    Like

    1. I’m so glad you liked it, Skye!! Thanks!!

      Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield and MARTIN SCORSESE–how could this movie fail to be good??? That’s a powerhouse of talent right there.

      I think so, too. The understanding of God that the priest comes to by the end of the story, that He is here to suffer with us and have compassion, makes a lot of sense to me.

      Yeah!! I was actually thinking of you as I wrote this post, and of our conversations at Realm Makers about our mutual distaste of Christian fiction, and the kind of Christian writers we want to be! โค

      Like

  10. This is a topic that I’ve been thinking of quite a bit. Mostly for fantasy worldbuilding purposes. I am generally Protestant, but given I cannot remember the moment I came to faith, I see faith and following now as the important things. There’s not some magic words to say.
    Anyway, on the world building side, how would my characters see God? How does religion shoes up in their world? Of my characters believe something wrong, what happens when they die?
    I’ve gotten a little tired of the phrases ‘believe in’ and ‘have faith in’. That’s part of it, but it’s not all of it. There’s more to the Christian life to explore than initially coming to faith. I’ve just not figured out how I’m going to represent God in a fantasy world in a way that allows for the stories I want to tell. The son of God dying and being raised again in yet another fantasy world almost seems cliche, but what do we have without it. All the world building almost makes a girl want to research and write alternate history instead.

    Like

    1. “Thereโ€™s more to the Christian life to explore than initially coming to faith.” I absolutely agree! I think it’s awesome that you’re thinking about how to explore God in an otherwordly, fantasy setting–that’s something I’ve never thought about trying! And of course we have the “old standby,” the Chronicles of Narnia, but you’re right, there are soooooo many potential cool ways it could be done.

      Good luck with your writing! โค

      Like

      1. Thanks. I’ve been going through a bit of a dry well period with my enthusiasm and I’ve still not figured out how to do what I want to do. So any wish for good luck is encouraging. (At least until I remember I don’t believe in luck.)

        Like

  11. This Protestant feels compelled to confess: As I read this my soul exclaimed “Damn! This post is so on fucking target!” Mea Culpa. Seriously, I totally agree with you. I have a very dear friend whom I love very much. He is a disenfranchised Roman Catholic who has labeled himself somewhere in the atheist to agnostic spectrum across our relationship (to your point, his personal faith journey is not set but fluid). Interestingly, he read “Silence” and purchased a copy for me (I’d already seen the movie but had not read the book). It is such a great springboard for the conversation of faith simply because it grapples with faith in the most difficult of circumstances rather than profaning faith by making it so simplistic as to be empty of any real substance.

    Anyway, I’m glad I stumbled onto your blog. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I consider your reaction to be a very high endorsement ๐Ÿ˜€ Thank you so much!

      YES. Absolutely, yes. “Silence” grabbed me because it never equates faith with easy answers … or even with nice, happy answers. Instead, it shows faith as the faint, yet stubborn human urge to reach for God even in circumstances which seem to shout that God ISN’T THERE. Which is very much in tune with my own experiences … especially over this past year. And I think that’s why the book speaks even to those who don’t identify as religious. It’s not about a label or a set of rules. It’s about something much deeper within our psyche.

      So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I actually started reading this post, stopped, got the book out of the library, read it, and then finally came back and finished this. So… you introduced at least one person to a new work of literature. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I found this post really interesting. I’d never really thought before about how Catholic and Protestant approaches to Christian Fiction would be different. I guess, partly, I’m not that familiar with CF, period. I mean, I’ve read books by Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and with Christian themes, but, as you suggest, they wouldn’t all be considered part of the CF genre.

    I do have issues with some of the Christian-themed fiction I’ve read, though. I agree with Maribeth’s comment about there often being too much “Prosperity Gospel” stuff. I hate the conceit that if you trust God, everything’s going to work out for you in this life. Jesus never promises his followers an easy life, and we all know that, in reality, life can be really rough. That made me really appreciate Silence, because things don’t work out for the main character, but the story is about how he maintains his faith in spite of that.

    I read another article a while ago that talks about issues the author has with Christian fiction: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2019/05/17/tolkien-beauty/. It mentions some of the same problems you do, but it doesnโ€™t focus specifically on the Protestant/Catholic divide.

    I guess thereโ€™s a lot I still donโ€™t understand about the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. Iโ€™d never heard of the idea of โ€œsacramentalityโ€ before, for example, and Iโ€™m not sure what to make of it. As a Protestant, I don’t completely agree with how you characterise the Protestant view of salvation, particularly the bit where, “even a subsequent loss of faith wouldn’t matter”. But I also don’t claim to be a religious expert, even in Protestant teachings. And the “three basic ideas” you outline in your edit do jive with my understanding.

    Anyway, I appreciate getting your perspective on Christian literature, on what it means to be Catholic, and on Catholic literature. ๐Ÿ™‚

    (I don’t know if you’ve helped me understand Brideshead Revisited any better, though!)

    Like

    1. Oh, that’s wonderful!! I’m so glad I was able to introduce you to “Silence,” and that you enjoyed it and found it enriching! Seriously, I would probably never have read this book if not for one of MY friends from college telling me how amazing it was. Before that, I’d never heard of it! Obscure gems, and all that.

      Yes! That was what I found challenging yet ultimately reassuring about “Silence,” too … it’s about what happens BEYOND the “what if,” beyond our worst-case scenarios. Everything goes wrong, and it never gets fixed the way he wants it to, but in the end, he still doesn’t lose God.

      Sacramentality is … oh gosh, I’m going to muck up this explanation. xD Sacramentality is a Catholic worldview/attitude that stems from the Catholic belief in “sacraments,” ie, our belief that God interacts with us through physical and concrete means. For example, the bread and wine used in Communion. We believe that the physical world and its physical objects (like that bread and wine) can be a channel for God’s grace. This shapes our attitude towards physical reality more generally … tending to create a spirituality that’s grounded in sensory experiences.

      Yeah, I realized I needed to edit that bit, because I was basing my “quick and dirty” explanation of Protestant beliefs on evangelical Protestants in the Bible Belt. Where I live, that’s the overwhelmingly dominant religious culture (“once saved, always saved, and nothing can separate you from God, not even a subsequent loss of your faith.”) And while evangelical Protestants do have enormous influence on the Christian Fiction genre itself–it certainly isn’t fair for me to say that ALL PROTESTANTS share those particular evangelical/born-again beliefs. So I knew I needed to edit my statement there, for the sake of both clarity and accuracy.

      Thank you, friend! I’m very glad my post was helpful! โค

      HA! I haven't even read that one, but I've heard Evelyn Waugh can be a bit … CONFUSING … xD

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: