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.”