[T]he only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.
C. S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds
In my past two posts, I have laid out the problems of a false dichotomy that seems to dominate much of what Christians write and read. On the one hand we had the idea of “Christian” literature, written for Christians and read only by Christians. On the other, we had (from my perspective) an even less tenable position–the author who just happens to maybe be a Christian, but he/she keeps that part of his/her life partitioned away in the shadows in the hopes that non-Christians will still approve of (and read) his/her books.
Rather than just knock down, I would like to start building up. Today, I would like to provide the starts of an answer to the question of what it means to be both Christian and author together. I don’t expect anyone to take this as the final word on the subject, but I hope it points us in the right direction.
As I mentioned last week, the answer is nothing new–in fact people have know it for years. C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George Macdonald, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton are some of the more recent examples of people who knew how to get it right.
The key is breaking down the artificial walls that the modern intellect has erected onto our collective mindscape. Lewis was spot on when he stated (above) that we must write from the “whole cast” of our minds. For true Christians, that means understanding that since their faith is a foundational aspect of their lives, their writing must flow from it and through it. The key is to develop a faith that is vibrant and mature enough that it becomes an asset to the writer, not a hindrance. With time, writing as a Christian should be as natural as breathing.
This means first and foremost that there can be no artificial separation inside our consciousness, not if we are at all serious about our faith. If we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us, and if we build an entire authorial career on that shame, the end result will amount to nothing. Our Christianity reveals to us themes and Truths that were written into the Great Story from the very foundations of Creation. These are ideas that are so far above mortal minds that we have difficulty even grasping them, let alone creating them ourselves. Better, in some ways, is the fact that they resonate with our audience when used properly. Many have felt them pulsing through the works of the authors listed above and they draw us in time and again. They may not universally appeal to everyone,* but they very often elicit strong responses, one way or the other, in ways that mere human imagination does not.
What this most emphatically does not mean is that as a believer you will be given a list to stereotypes and cliches that you must include in your writing to qualify it as Christian. It also does not mean that you must write only for certain audiences. Christian authors, like Tolkien and Lewis, have not only transcended the Christian bookstore, they have literally created entire genres to which most later contributors–Christian and secular–are but footnotes. In fact, limiting yourself to “safe” ideas and friendly audiences could easily be interpreted as denigrating our larger calling to be salt and light.
(“Salt and light.” “In the world but not of the world.” More on that in a future post.)
Finally, I would like to tie all of this together with an example. I usually belabour the Inklings, and they are good cases in point, but I think a more modern author is just as instructive: J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter. Rowling based the entire series off of her understanding of her Christian faith. Though she waited until the last book was published to explain herself, you can see the blending of both of my previous points in her work. On the one hand, her faith permeates the books and teaches many valuable lessons (i.e. Harry’s rejection of postmodern relativism at the end of book one). On the other hand, she created a new world so engaging that it has drawn in literally millions of people (not to mention billions of dollars).
Is she perfect? No. Is she on the level of Tolkien and Lewis? Time will tell. There are things that I wish she had done differently, but she has accomplished more to introduce some of the basic principles of Christianity to people than all other modern, stereotypical “Christian” authors put together.
Probably the best thing Christians can do to further their craft on the most fundamental of levels is to go back and read all these authors again with a fresh eye. We can learn much from their style, their timing, and their imagination. We can learn even more, perhaps, if we read them on a more basic, more philosophical level.
Next Week: One more false dilemma to knock down: “Christian” literature as opposed to “good” literature.
*In fact, some people will positively hate you out of principle. Of course, since any life, well-lived, will tend to provoke that reaction in people. If you must be hated, at least this way you know you’re doing something right.