Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Holy Hand Grenade!

Religion can be a very touchy topic because people hold their beliefs… well, religiously… I am wondering… and perhaps working through my thoughts, on religion in literature here. Before I get into it, I should probably say I respect anyone who holds sincerely to any set of beliefs that does not harm others and is not practiced in judgmental ways (anyone gets holier than thou, though, and all bets are off). I respect it even MORE if people have done some questioning and searching and by that ARRIVED at (or confirmed) their faith. But I am not one. One what? One anything. My spiritual beliefs are very personal and it was my own journey that got me here and organized religion isn’t part of the place I arrived. I am skeptical of group-think and deeply suspicious of any faith that believes they are right and everybody else is wrong. So that is where I am coming from. That said, I LOVE literature that does some questioning of the status quo, whether the conclusion is faith or doubt. Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite examples of this, a missionary family in the Congo… the primary message is of errors in translation. What works for some may not make any sense at all to others. I loved DiVinci Code that looked into secret sects and strange practices and the roles played by those who had an agenda in defining history. Religion and conspiracy theory make brilliant bedfellows. But where is the line? Who does a writer risk alienating. Both of the above books found huge readerships, but I suspect the former and know the latter had protests from devout groups. How large are those groups and does the controversy hurt or help in the long-run. In my journalism program we learned in the end any publicity is good publicity because it makes people remember and want to know. My first memory of Harry Potter was the supposed controversy from religious protesters. It made me want to read them, to be honest (and having read them, made me believe those nuts miss the whole point of literature—I know for a fact there are a lot of religious people who LOVE those books, because they are classic good vs. evil books based in fantasy, so it really WAS only a subset of nuts). I can’t stomach ‘inspirational’ literature, and I think there is a lot of ‘Christian lit’ that has no real plot because the only point is ‘saved by faith’. I very strongly believe a religious experience is not an adequate substitution for a conclusion. That said, literature about real life that ignores the role religion plays for many people can feel hollow. It’s a reality in many people’s lives and so to write multidimensional people, we can’t ignore it. With CONFLUENCE religion is important to the setting because I have a town somewhat split between the scientific and religious factions (demonstrated in stem cell controversy). It was useful to me to create tension and plays a role in where the story goes. It may rub the extremely religious the wrong way, but it was an important element to the mood of the story. So how do we walk the line? Are there differences by genre? Seems to me romance and mystery can ignore the subject. Are there clich├ęs to avoid? Are there risks I’m not seeing? I would really love to hear what people have to think on the subject.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Another tough question, Hart! I posted on it a while back, too, and had some interesting comments.

I'm writing 2 series set in the South...it would be odd not to include religion at all, even in a mainstream book. But someone is killed in a church in "Pretty is as Pretty Dies" and my elderly protag's family disapproves of her poor church attendance.

So, I weave it in, but mostly in a humorous context (I know....murder doesn't SOUND funny, but...) :)

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder