Some time ago, a guest wrote a post here at Spec Faith which suggested that readers ought not take into consideration the author’s worldview in evaluating a story, but rather that the story should stand–or fall–on its own merit. I understand the principle and to a large extend, agree.
I mean, I enjoyed listening to works by Mozart and that didn’t change once I learned about his rather hedonistic, godless lifestyle. Should stories be any different? Should I enjoy The Adventures of Tom Sawyer less because Mark Twain pretty much hated Christianity?
This issue, however, took a turn during last year’s Clive Staples Award when some people intimated that the award meant to feature the best of Christian speculative fiction ought, in fact, to honor authors who are Christian, excluding those who demonstrate through social media that they do not adhere to some standard Christian principles. Should a person who writes things construed as racist be honored as a Christian author? Should a person who publicly denigrates a well-known Bible-believing Christian for his adherence to the view of God expressed in the Old Testament, be held up as a standard bearer of Christian speculative fiction?
To be honest, I began to second guess my earlier position.
Some writers believe that a person’s worldview can’t help but “seep into” a story. It is, after all, how the author looks at and understands life. I’ve long disagreed with that position. For example, I didn’t see hatred for Christianity in Tom Sawyer. Some anti-church attitudes, yes. Some scorn of superstition, but not a “terrible religion” theme, overt or otherwise. It simply wasn’t part of his story.
Recently a Christian who writes horror said on Facebook he doesn’t consider himself a Christian horror writer. While he writes from his worldview, he said, his stories are simply good horror and not Christian, per se. My thought, then is this: how does a Christian have a worldview that is not Christian? And if a Christian worldview, than how are the stories not Christian?
In this light, I question the “seep” method. I believe an author can intentionally include or withhold elements of his belief system.
All this brings me to the question: might our reading habits when it comes to contemporary books need a different standard from the one we use in reading books by writers of another era?
As I see it, there are writers who write stories from a broad-base worldview. They say nothing that challenges society’s status quo, one way or another, no matter what their personal beliefs might be. Anyone can read and enjoy those stories.
Another group writes with their worldview in mind. They communicate their worldview through their stories, overtly or in a subtle way. For some of these authors, the Bible informs their worldview; for others, disbelief in God is at the heart of their worldview.
If readers, then, embrace stories written for the purpose of communicating hatred toward God, a la His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, are we not contributing to the elevation of that worldview? Aren’t we sending signals to publishers that we want more books of like kind?
Recently author Mike Duran addressed this same issue, questioning if perhaps readers are responsible for the type of Christian fiction which is most popular. If readers want nothing but sweet romance with a conversion thrown in, why wouldn’t publishers give that to them? Of course, my position is that readers want a lot more, but convincing publishers of this is hard and helping readers find the books they want, perhaps harder.
Nevertheless, the point remains: readers seem to influence what kinds of books publishers print (or produce digitally). So the question: ought readers to support authors whose worldview aligns with ours? Ought Christians support Christian writers by buying their books? Ought Christians support Christian writers who write stories that communicate a worldview with which they agree? Even if the story and/or writing might be inferior to ones produced by writers with a worldview antagonistic to God?
Thankfully, a host of quality Christian speculative writers exist. But I also know, with the many different publishing models available to us today, there are also a lot of people writing stories that are not new or innovative and that have problematic prose, but who have a high purpose to honor God and communicate the truth of His Word to those who don’t know Him. And there are those who want to write artistic stories to the point of ignoring Biblical truth.
What are Christian readers to do with either of those types of books? Do we support those writers with whom we agree? Do we give a theological pass to those who are aiming for innovation and speculation? Do we judge books solely by their merit or is it fair to say, I want to see this writer succeed because he believes what I believe, or, I want to see this writer fade from the scene because I disagree with his beliefs?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, and please feel free to share this post with your reading friends.