Thursday, January 31, 2013

Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?

Recently a bible study member asked whether the Old Testament story we were reading was literally true or an "urban myth." I responded, as I often have, that the United Church is not literalist in its approach to scripture. That doesn't mean we dismiss the narrative of scripture as not true, or a collection of urban myths. I suggested that the canon or collective books of The Book were gathered because they speak deep truths to us, despite the truly puzzling and disturbing parts, and our struggles at times to comprehend context. We are to neither dismember scripture as liberals tend to do, or embalm it as the conservatives are inclined. This is the observation of Gilbert Highet, and I agree.

Instead we receive the story of God's steadfast love and deliverance. We wrestle with it and embrace it, as we can. We allow it to be our Christian narrative, rather than a rule book or an architectural outline for "God's wonderful plan for your life" and we enter into the story of transformation. I choose to accept the arch of this story, even if don't read it all literally. Actually I do see the bible as mythological, but not in the sense of a "tall tail" or a false story. In the deeper sense myths are the cultural narratives which shape our perception of the world, and my life would not make sense without the bible.

All this as a preamble to an interesting article in the New York Times called Has Fiction Lost It's Faith? about how faith is or isn't represented in fiction these days. I love fiction as a way to ponder the meaning of my existence, but I do notice that faith is nearly always dismissed, or demeaned in the societal narrative these days. There are some wonderful fiction writers, including Marilynne Robinson, who write of faith in their characters lives in a profound and honest way, but they are fewer and farther between.

Are you a fiction reader? Is your reading simply entertainment, or a window on deeper truths? Do you appreciate the narrative aspect of scripture -- Leviticus and a few other books aside? Can you accept the tension between an non-literal reading of the bible and the life-changing value of its message?


IanD said...

Firstly, I love this:"We are to neither dismember scripture as liberals tend to do, or embalm it as the conservatives are inclined." This really crystallizes something I've been struggling to articulate for some time.

Secondly, I can see where you're going with respect to faith and fiction. I tend to lean more toward history and poly-sci., but these days I see more faith-themed stuff on CMT or in Springsteen tunes than I do in anything fictional I've read lately.

Food for thought, as always!

willowjakmom said...

I am a huge fiction reader and I definitely use it as an escape, but it has to have some 'meat on its bones'.

I almost resent the fact that if there is any reference to someone's Christian faith, then the book finds itself categorized as "Christian literature". I am a part of an online book group and have been connected with a group of women from the U.S. for the past 12 years. The books that come up for discussion often include "Christian Lit" titles, that I can only buy from Christian book stores. Oftentimes, my friends have to mail me up the copies from the States because I can't get them in Canada and the girls are always surprised that Canadian bookstores don't carry them. It makes me wonder if writers and publishers are afraid to include these themes in their books because it might offend someone. By tagging it as Christian, then at least people get the heads-up before cracking the book open, lest they feel duped into being victims of a Christian who is trying to 'save' them. *insert my eye roll here*

Laura said...

I can't seem to read just "fluff" anymore . I guess it as you say , finding understandings of life through the fictional characters and their experiences that makes reading so rich for me.
When I think of Christian Lit I think of a twirly rack in an American grocery store filled with romance novelettes and James Dobson....obviously I haven't pursued this genre very deeply.
I do feel quite a tension at times as a non literalist....but it is in that very struggle that strength and deeper understanding can be found, I believe.