For the past few weeks, we’ve had a running discussion about what is wrong with Christian speculative fiction and how we can fix it. It’s a worthwhile debate, but today I’m going to look at the bright side – the brighter side, anyway. Here are some complaints about Christian SF, or just Christian fiction in general, put into perspective.
1) Most Christian fiction is mediocre, or alternatively, Most Christian fiction is not great: This is a sentiment often expressed against Christian fiction; it may even rise to the level of a casually expressed judgment. But when considered as a serious analysis of Christian fiction, it’s vaguely hilarious, like the Irish newspaper headline that proclaimed “The Election Went As Most People Hoped It Would”. See, that’s the way it works.
The majority of Christian books is mediocre; that is, indeed, the definition of mediocre. Few Christian books are great; the definition of greatness is, after all, that it is better than most things. You cannot denounce the majority for being average when the definition of average is that the majority is like it.
We take note of authors like Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling precisely because they’re rare. By their standard, Christian fiction generally falls short. But if it makes you feel any better, secular fiction generally falls short, too.
2) There are more good secular books than good Christian books. Purely as a matter of statistics, this sounds accurate. But is it a matter of statistics and, furthermore, do the people who make this criticism know it might be?
What I mean is this: Far more books are published in the general market than in the Christian market. It stands to reason that there will be more of every kind of book in the secular market, including good and bad. When determining the relative quality of Christian fiction, the real metric is not: Are there numerically more good secular books? It is: Are there proportionally more good secular books? It is the percentage, not the number, that matters.
I don’t know the percentage of really good Christian novels, or the percentage of really good secular novels. But neither do many of the people who condemn Christian fiction, and until we’ve settled the matter of statistics, this criticism is meaningless.
3) “I don’t read Christian fantasy”, and any variant thereof. There are critics who stress two points regarding Christian fiction: (1) It’s bad, and (2) They don’t read it. Somehow, they never worry about the question, “If you don’t read it, how do you know?”
In the worst cases, such critics have barely even tried Christian fiction before issuing their universal condemnations. I will not stop to consider the unfairness of this, or even the more interesting fact that Christians who would be ablaze with indignation if their fellow believers doled out similar denunciations of secular fiction take them solemnly when made against Christian fiction. The salient point is the irrationality of it. Imagine if statisticians had standards like that. Both college students I interviewed disliked jazz, so … ALL COLLEGE STUDENTS HATE JAZZ.
Of course, the criticism may be more valid than that, coming from people who used to read Christian fiction. Even then, “I don’t read Christian fiction” is a caveat to any criticism. Because things change, and people who judge Christian fiction based on what they read five or ten or fifteen years ago may find their judgments out of date.
As we consider the state of Christian fantastical fiction, it’s worth remembering that more important than where we are now is where we’re going. For that we need a long view, to take into account where we’ve been. I think that, for those of us who want to see Christian fantastical fiction flourish, it’s trending our way.
And that, more than anything else, is the bright side.