Aug 20, 2011

One reason for looking at Christian fiction

Christian fiction might well rank as the most disrespected of current cultural artifacts.

All sorts of things have been taken out of the cultural trash and studied, in the last decades. Taken seriously. TV's like the pots broken and buried in Thomas Jefferson's backyard. Comic books, not just for juvenile delinquents anymore, are read like Homer.

But not Christian fiction.

Even those one might expect would appreciate the genre are generally pretty dismissive.

A pastor of a megachurch where people most certainly read Christian fiction told me Christian fiction like Left Behind was "probably the worst thing that's happened to Christians in the last 50 years." That's pretty typical -- ministers seem to tend to be distrustful of religious fiction, which is mostly a laypeople affair.

Not that readers aren't also dismissive. Possibly to shield themselves from the scorn it normally incurs, readers, in my experience, often build a dismissal clause into anything they say about Christian fiction. "Of course I don't take it seriously but...." "It's just for fun...." "just a quick, light read...." "it's not the Bible...."

So, why take it seriously at all?

Timothy J. Nelson has one answer:

"How do believers connect the events of their everyday lives to such abstract theological ideas ... how does this cosmology become grounded within the everyday experience of the individual believer?"

"[Beliefs] must be made available to individuals if they are to experience them as sense-making devices ... metaphors provide ready made templates that members can use to make sense of their experiences within a spiritual framework."

"... narratives provide templates that believers may use to identify and label the actions of spiritual agents within the realm of their past, present, and future experience ... folding their personal stories into the larger cosmic drama."
If you want to look at religion descriptively, as it's lived in lives of people, as is in the world for people, looking at the middle term between beliefs and practice, at the thing that activates theology, stages it for people so they can imagine it and imagine themselves as being in this story, in this world, operating according to these rules, looking at what makes abstract theory available to people is not a bad way to go.