On Lame Christian Fiction

Flannery O’Connor writes in Mystery and Manners, page 163:

“Ever since there have been such things as novels, the world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process as possible. His feeling about this may have been made more definite by one of those Manichean-type theologies which sees the natural world as unworthy of penetration. But the real novelist, the one with an instinct for what he is about, knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly, that he must penetrate the natural human world as it is.”

4 thoughts on “On Lame Christian Fiction

  1. Unfortunately, to write fiction that is compelling it is necessary to populate it with characters who are not particularly pleasant all of the time, and complex enough not to be monochromatic good guys and bad guys.

    If the religious community is the intended audience the author functions under considerable restraints. One must not offend. If the rest of the world is the target audience, and the author moves outside those restraints of propriety, they are no longer “Christian” authors in the eyes of the Christian community.

    Should they be too preachy, they will drive away their target audience. If not, they are again failures as “Christian” authors.

    Professional writing is difficult enough. This is enough more so as to drive all but a few from the fold. Many of those who remain are apparently lame.


  2. Yes but if you bowdlerizer all literary mentions of characters who are drunk, toying with black magic, worshiping idols, committing adultery, and lying you’d have to rip out quite a lot of pages from Scripture. Dostoevsky was aware that sometimes you must plant the seed of grace with an axe.

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