Subtitle: “Secular” stories can be just as preachy as Christians’ stuff.
Well, that was an interesting discussion, after our interview with Star Wars: The New Jedi Order and Firebird author Kathy Tyers. And though it has temporarily lapsed, it has ended up being (so far) the lengthiest exchange after a column in Speculative Faith 2.0’s history.
And by seeming coincidence it also helped to confirm something I’d suggested in last week’s column: that when some readers critique Christian fiction, there’s more behind their dislike than mere honest appraisal of a novel’s inappropriately preachy content. Rather, we have crucial disagreements over definitions: What is preachiness? What is Christianity?
My definition of poor fiction “preachiness”: inauthentic and hollow (even if true) spiritual content that has little to do with its actual story. (But should we correct bad “preachy” fiction only with even more preaching about how bad that is? The Gospel targets the deeper issues.)
Part 1 dealt with other objections to Christian fiction, which themselves may need clarifying.
Now we come to the end, returning to the “preachiness” subject — yet limited to addressing certain critics, who seem to fault only Christian novels for being “preachy” only because they do uphold and even advocate specific views about Life, the Universe, and Everything.
I wonder if these critics are fair enough to recognize preachiness elsewhere. Or would they, when pressed, admit to buying into this notion: All that Other Stuff is just Neutral, and it’s only some Christians who are preachy and need to stop? And other critics, while professing Christianity, would go so far as to say that Christians must only do Good Deeds and be like Jesus, rarely talk like Jesus, while everyone else gets a free pass to propagandize in public.
As with the other poorly clarified fiction criticisms, these beliefs are based on more wrong assumptions about Christianity itself, and who Christ was and how His people imitate Him. But it may not be necessary to delve into all that to show the inconsistencies. Secular stuff can be just as preachy — and sometimes it’s even worse than creative stuff by Christians.
Exhibit A: Avatar (the James Cameron CGI-and-mocap-blue-people one, not the much-better epic animated series)
I haven’t yet seen Avatar. Yes, reviews praised its great landscapes and three-dimensional realism, but I can get those from a sunset. Other reviews said the story was shallow, and yes, preachy — and that made me lose interest. Secular preachiness often irks me, especially the clichéd stuff about how white wealthy industrialists are always Bad Guys (with very rare exceptions) and poor natives are always toned and sensuous and At One with Nature®.
Becky mentioned this in her column about who first “owns” a novel: its author or its reader: “Some movie-goers embraced the panentheistic movie Avatar as ‘Christian,’” she said.
So could I appreciate Avatar for its other merits? I suppose I could — and those merits could include the latent Christian-esque stuff that seeps into almost every story, including even the Greeks’ altar To The Unknown God, as told in Acts 17. And of course the patron saints of Christian visionary fiction — St. Lewis and St. Tolkien — wrote much about how all truth is God’s truth; ergo some truths, such as the Sacrificial Hero, may leak into pagan mythologies, even while the only sure source of truth is the “true myth” of Scripture and Christ’s coming.
But was that the intent of Avatar’s script author? Nah. Parts of it may have been splashed with a little Christianity-scented cologne — Essence of Vaguely Christlike Sacrificial Hero™. But he’s said he’s into the Be At One with Nature® thing, Resisting Greed, etc., and has oddly enough preached all that only with the help of high technology and big corporations. Ha ha!
Exhibit B: The Simpsons
From what I can tell, this show has dropped off most boycott-minded Christians’ radar.
But it’s still out there, trying hard to be snarky, and often succeeding, and often at Christians’ expense. The popular — and well-liked! — Christian character, Ned Flanders, is still just as goofy-evangelical as ever, even while doing good deeds for the bumbling Homer Simpson.
And lest any of us assume that the program’s writers exaggerate Christians’ fundie fears — well, that’s what I thought too, after Flanders was shown having a mystical fear of any food labeled “devil’s” something. Then I read this (‘ware images), and unless pop star Katy Perry was also embellishing some Christians’ beliefs, I had to recall: yes, they’re still out there.
So Christians might learn from The Simpsons about how non-Christians perceive Christians.
But while Flanders can be funny, I am still wondering: why the devil is Christianity the only religion that gets spoofed in the show? So far, among the worst and least funny Simpsons episodes are those that refuse to have a little fun with other beliefs. I turned off the one about Wiccans, which not so much exalted them as absolutely refused to make any joke about their religion a la Flanders (instead opting for the highly original Salem Witch Trials, Oh Aren’t They Bad clichés). And I didn’t even try to get through the one that was meant to help us all have a little fun while knowing how not all Muslims are crazed radical terrorists.
Look. You Simpsons writers, you’re perfectly fine with spoofing Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy and other silly Christians. So how come spoofing other “spiritualities” never occurred to you?
One answer: Secular preachiness. Everybody does it. And some better than others.
And maybe it’s many Christians who’ve actually learned to put up with secular preachiness — while it’s some non-Christians (or even professing Christians?) who can’t stand hearing real Christianity repeated in a work of fiction, even authentically and with artistic excellence.
So perhaps non-Christians need to grow a thicker skin. Don’t recoil from “preachiness” as if you were a vampire who can’t stand the sight of sunlight (which, by the way, just reinforces that whole Christian idea of darkness hates light anyhow). You guys are adults; you can put up with it, just as easily as many Christians put up with Avatar and The Simpsons, and even great series like Star Trek and Doctor Who, with their frequent anti-Christian themes. Be open to learning at least about the millennia-old faith that has helped build Western culture. Try challenging your mind with the best creative stuff that Christians have put out, instead of stereotyping it all as shallow and poorly “preachy.” Yes, some of “our” stuff can indeed be preachy (and we complain about it). But so is “your” stuff. We can enjoy it anyway. Can you?