1. Thomas Kitchen
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    Christian Theme in a Secular Book

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thomas Kitchen, Dec 4, 2013.

    Hi all,

    I'm currently writing a drama which centres around a mother who discovers that her six year old daughter has a grade 4 malignant brain tumour. It's nasty stuff, but that's not why I'm here. I'm here because in the current story, there's an African American nurse with strong Christian beliefs, and for reasons I won't bore you with, she talks with this little girl frequently in the hospital. She talks about her faith, how it helps her, and how it could help the little girl, too, and eventually the girl dies.

    Now, before this, the girl becomes a Christian through the directions of the nurse (although we do not know about this until pretty much the end of the book). Eventually, the mother reads a letter written by the girl which explains what has happened and that she is with God, in heaven. Also for reasons I won't go into, this grants the mother a certain kind of peace which helps her to not get over the death of her daughter (nothing could), but one that helps her to at least move on, even though she herself is an Atheist.

    Now, what I'm asking is whether people would accept this. Many people have faith in God, or have some sort of religious belief. If I read a book about a character who was an Atheist, I would not be offended, but obviously that's just one opinion. What's the general consensus?

    I know that some very famous works have included a strong Christian theme e.g. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (although it would be nice if people could tell me the titles of a few more, if they exist). Opinions? Thanks. :)
     
  2. A.Tad.of.Conrad
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    Very interesting. I think that an audience would have no problem with Christian content as long as you aren't biased about it or dogmatically condemn or condone it.

    As for famous works with Christian themes, simply look at the history of literature--especially medieval--the history of literature has been deeply affected by the Bible and Christianity.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    As an atheist, I don't mind reading about character's religious beliefs or the impact of religion on their lives as long as the story doesn't include preaching and witnessing. Your idea has plausibility in that the mother might be fine her daughter died with a comforting fantasy.

    Ignore this if it doesn't apply: If you are planning on having the mother believe the child really does live in heaven, it might come off like the 'no atheists in a foxhole' myth. Personally, I find the suggestion annoying that an atheist will adopt a belief in a god or an afterlife when faced with certain circumstances. On the other hand, one need not believe in a god in order to believe people have an existence outside the body. It's not a belief I hold but I know atheists who do.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    When you ask whether people "will accept this," do you mean the Christian theme in the story or the fact that the mother was somehow comforted by the little girl's belief in God? I think that the mother could accept it, particularly if it made the little girl more comfortable or accepting of dying.

    Also, people can willingly suspend disbelief in order to make themselves feel better. I did this when my pets died and were dying. There's the whole story of the Rainbow Bridge and pet heaven and pet psychics, and the idea that pets are always okay with dying and they're always here, and they'll come back to you. I allowed myself to accept it, because it was the only way I could get through my very beloved cat dying. Intellectually, I knew it was ridiculous, and my husband thought I was insane. But it helped me.

    I once heard a relaying of a conversation with a man whose wife had recently died. The man did not believe in God and had never been religious, but he talked about his wife being in heaven. When asked about this contradiction, his response was simply that he had to believe it, because the alternative was simply too unbearable to contemplate.

    So yes, I think people will accept a lot of things in the face of a loved one's death that they otherwise would not.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    As I often ask in threads of this nature, if we say we don't "accept" it, or don't think others will, does that mean you won't write it?

    That said, you obviously have already realized that a child with a terminal illness is a compelling thing, and someone like your nurse character would certainly be prone to responding in such a manner. So, in my mind, you've already got two essential elements for a great story. My only advice would be that you simply present the characters and their stories, and leave the Christianity solely within that context. I don't get the sense from your OP that you intend to preach, but I'll advise that you not just in case.

    As it happens, one of my early novel attempts was about a young Catholic priest who is assigned to a very poor city parish comprising mostly illegal immigrants. He has to deal a lot with street people and their issues. When I sought to have it published, I had some interest, but in the end mainstream publishers didn't want it because of the Catholicism and the Christian press didn't want it because of the street people (and language). I decided that I would wait until I got something else published before trying again.
     
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  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thanks, all - it seems pretty clear that it would be all right for me to do it, as long as I don't preach, and I do not plan on doing so. I meant would people accept the Christian theme (although it's not a main theme), but I hadn't thought about justifying the mother's comfort through her child believing she's gone to heaven. Thanks for letting me think about that.

    In this case, I actually wouldn't write it if people didn't like it. This is my first drama, and I want to really get it as emotional as possible while also retaining reader interest. But yes, I get what you mean, and understand why you tell people that. Thank you. :)
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    In that case, it's the same as with any subject matter. There will be people who will be hesitant to read it or might reject it outright if there is a big Christian theme to it, but there will be also be people who seek it out and embrace it for the exact same reason. It's not so different from people who don't want to read anything that has to do with war, or the occult, or children dying, or any number of other subjects. If it's what you want to write, you should write it.
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    as you have described it, i can see this book being accepted for publication by a christian press, but probably not being of as much interest to publishing houses whose books target the mainstream readership market...

    so, in answer to your question re whether 'people would accept' it, i'd say 'yes' since some people will accept any book about any subject... the question you need to address is how best to reach those who would... and that begins with querying agents who rep books for the christian market and have good connections with publishers specializing in such books...
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    The only thing I would add to @mammamaia's advice above is that if you do submit it to a Christian press, there will be other expectations about what you portray in the story, particularly regarding obscene language, sexuality and the like. These may or may not have relevance to your work. You may want to research Christian fiction to get a better idea of what those expectations are.
     
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  10. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Intelligent people can appreciate the literary and narrative value of things that don't necessarily conform to each of their viewpoints. Also assuming you live in a christian western nation, it's probably safe to assume that most of the people who will read your material are Christians themselves and won't find it inherently offensive. I doubt atheists would be up in arms over it either as they are used to a great deal of their cultural heritage being conditioned by its makers life in Christian society.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    :confused: Christian beliefs are a widespread fact of life. I can't imagine a publisher excluding such a common part of the culture if it makes its way into a book.

    Christian novels are a genre that might be limited to a Christian Press publisher. But the stories are obviously intended to reinforce religious beliefs. Just writing religious aspects of a character or events is not the same thing by a long shot.
     
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  12. EdFromNY
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    True. But in this case, he isn't (at least as I understand it) "just writing religious aspects of a character". One character is projecting her beliefs on to another. In real life, it is a perfectly reasonable and normal reaction, but in fiction it may make publishers hesitate. Me, I'd write it anyway, because it sounds like a compelling story. For that matter, I'd buy it and I'd read it. But that's me.

    I find this divide between what mainstream publishers won't touch and what the Christian press won't touch infuriating, because to me it cuts out a lot of potentially fine fiction (including mine :D). But it is there.
     
  13. Burlbird
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    So, basically, they are all freakin' morons?!?!

    @Thomas Kitchen famous writing with Christian themes? Take any Dostoyevsky. Bulgakov's Master&Margarita. Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. C.S. Lewis books. Ben Hur (I've only seen the film!). The Canterbury Tales. Balzac's Louis Lambert and Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Graham Greene's novels. William Blake's poetry. Tennyson. The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence...
    And yeah, The Divine Comedy. Is western canon possible without Dante?
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2013
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  14. EdFromNY
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    and in the last 10 years...?
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    I think one needs to separate the Christian fiction genre from the rest of the fiction genre that has Christian and the Christian religion in the story. There's a huge difference.
     
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  16. EdFromNY
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    Yes, Ginger, that's true, and I was talking about the latter. Having Christianity in the story in mainstream publishing gets dicey as soon as the doctrine starts to become central to the story. This is, in my opinion, a fairly recent development and probably has something to do with the desire of marketers to draw bright lines dividing genres as well as the rise of so-called Christian fiction. The hair-triggers that editors tend to use in rejecting submissions gets engaged as soon as they see more than marginal involvement of Christianity in a story, figuring it belongs in the Christian genre, even if it violates one or more of the numerous taboos that Christian fiction publishers impose on their product.
     
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  17. Wreybies
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    Not exactly within the aforementioned 10 years, but pretty close, is Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. This is Christian theme of the heavy duty Catholic variety. Science Fiction, first contact, Puerto Rico, all this led me to read this work that I knew was going to push the polemic line. It was actually quite a good read and the author manages to swing away from a precariously close polemic and round things out rather well. I found this book having read an interview with China MiƩville where he gives his thoughts on this book and, more specifically, another book (The Terror), but for reasons rather other than religious themes.

    EDIT ~ Oh, and there's also Robert Sawyer's Calculating God. Arguably more religious themed than specifically Christian themed, but still worth mentioning. ;)
     
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  18. GingerCoffee
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  19. Burlbird
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    @EdFromNY
    Well, the OP did say "famous" and "Christian theme" not "contemporary" or "Christian genre". :)

    Really, I don't understand the obsessive segregation of religion in a country which still calls in for God's support in daily politics... and the fact only 2% of population are declared atheists.
     
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  20. Mckk
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    It'll be very hard to write because it'll be very hard not to preach, in a premise like that. I imagine much of what happens will be in dialogue, which can lend itself to infodump.

    However, it is a believable story. My husband worked 6 months in the terminal cancer ward in a hospital. He was the health care assistant, and he's a Christian. He did indeed talk about God with a number of patients. Everyone was asking. Muslims were asking. Atheists were asking. Jews were asking.

    In his experience, in those 6 short months, he tells me the only people who had peace in death were the Christians.

    Everyone else was afraid, or had given up, everyone else asked questions about the afterlife in one form or another. One Muslim asked him, "What do I do? I'm not good enough for heaven." And atheists asked him, "Do you think this is all there is?"

    I can't really imagine working in such a place. My husband somehow has a knack for dealing with, well, death, I guess. The nurses in his ward were all terrified of washing the bodies afterwards, so they always sent my husband. He tells me he found peace in the room, when he was alone with the body with the door closed. He would pray in the quiet.
     
  21. EdFromNY
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    I wasn't saying I agree with it, only that it is what I see happening.
     
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  22. chicagoliz
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    I'm not so sure the hesitation stems from a fear of an outcry from atheists, but also from Christians themselves. Christians are a very large group with a lot of sub-sets. Some of these subsets believe quite different things, and some are quite suspicious of anything that might seem to either ridicule them, or to allege or imply something that is at all incorrect or inconsistent with what their particular sect of Christianity believes. Because some folks can become quite vocal and don't hesitate to do things like call for boycotts, etc., some publishers might not want to take the chance of offending them at all.
     
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  23. EdFromNY
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    In the case of publishing, I don't think it's fear at all. I think it's more along the lines of "we don't do that, the Christian press does".
     
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  24. chicagoliz
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    I'm sure that plays into it as well, although if they really think there's money to be made, I'm not sure that would absolutely stop them. It may be a matter of whether something needs the imprimatur of the Christian press (or is perceived to.)
     
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  25. Burlbird
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    @EdFromNY yeah I see you don't agree... Passage two was only a generalized outcry from my part. :)

    I'm just wondering about the whole issue, because frankly, it's something I never thought about as a problem.

    It's rather a question of whether editors are illeterate douchebags, or are they just following their house policy. If you see a word easily associated with Christianity you shove the manuscript. I just wonder what they do with classics then? Who publishes Karamazovs these days in the States? Is Dostoyevsky in a better position because Orthodox Christians are a miniscule minority?
     
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