Tell a story, tell a lie

Recently, a friend mentioned her desire to only read books that are "edifying" to her soul, by which she meant Christian books. I wondered at this. I've done that very same thing before--chosen to read only Christian books, to listen only to Christian music and so on, thinking that it would help strengthen my faith to be surrounded so completely by Christianity, but now I am not so sure that cutting off the rest of the world, forsaking the variety of "non-Christian" experience, is beneficial to faith.

Certainly it only crippled mine.

To imply that the books sold in Christian bookstores are better for one's soul, to argue that rich, white, conservative, American authors can summon God more readily than Kazantzakis, Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky can, or that fiction must be Christian (must use Jesus as a presence in the story? Must say his name a certain number of times per chapter? How does one guage "Christian"?) for it to be "edifying", seems to me to be missing a very beautiful point: good fiction paints God with many different faces, even though it might not call him by a familiar name.

Which is not to say that Christian literature is bad. Plenty of it rocks my little world--think L'Engle, Lewis, Don Miller, Bonheoffer--but why do we need to divide everything into "Christian" and "secular"? Why should all "good" books be safe?

Formulaic Christian literature runs through me like water. To finish a book like Left Behind, or The Prayer of Jabez (a book marketed on its ability to nournish the soul), leaves me hungry for substance, for characters who ring true, who experience God in different ways--whether they call him Christ, Allah, Providence, or do not name him at all.

The Brothers Karamazov edifies my soul; The Purpose-Driven Life does not.

All snobbery aside, I recognize that Karamazov is a big, fat Russian novel, while The Purpose-Driven Life is much more accessible to a wide audience, and I'm not getting all worked up because I think that everybody should read Dostoevsky as a spiritual companion to the Bible. Heavens, no. I just hate to see fiction painted as inferior to nonfiction because it's "not true"--in some ways, I think great fiction can carry more truth per page than any nonfiction book, be it history, self-help or a computer manual.

The difficulty comes in the fact that there is no clear line between wholesome novels and the sort that threaten instant damnation (you know, for even touching the cover), and so it's just easier to write the whole show off as false, and therefore a waste of time.

Fiction is just so damn subjective.

I worry when I see people casting off stories in favor of over-marketed facts, because "easily-digested" is not the same as "edifying."


bugorama said...


although i suppose it all depends on what one was reading in her pre-christian days. trashy romance? then, yes, perhaps 'left behind' might ACTUALLY be more edifying.

no. actually, i take that back. there's nothing worthwhile about 'left behind.'

what disturbs me the most is the ultra commercial aspect of 99% of christian books. they are written to be sold. edification is a secondary goal from what i can see.

Tiffany, the one you love and adore said...

good points. when I first became a christian I had to kinda cut myself off from a lot of things that I was apart of and the christian books and music were enough...they were edifying and better than anything else I was listening to or doing...I guess it was about the renewing of the mind kinda thing..But now that I've been a christian for awhile I'm finding that I can find God and truth in a lot of things. That I can relate to/see Jesus in a non christian song and praise him because of it. I love how God's not in our box. anyways, your blog was a total random find. looks good.

Thea said...

Yeah, I think it is probably good to go through that--stripping down and redefining what one feels is important, and so on--but I just heave a big ole frustrated sigh at the material being promoted as edifying. "10 Steps to ________" makes me itch.

And thank you for commenting, I really love it when people do that...