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message 1: by Davina (last edited Feb 11, 2010 04:59PM) (new)

Davina D. | 796 comments I know many people who frequent this forum are believers, and let me just make this clear: this question is not meant to be provocative in a way that will spark a bitter debate on religion.

This is a hot-button issue so we're definitely going to disagree, but let's all agree to disagree from now on. I don't want to see any needless bickering.

I'm interested in your thoughts on how far you think religion should be taken in books.

Personally, I'd describe myself as an atheist. As I mentioned in a similar discussion on Amazon, I prefer the characters to be neutral when it comes to religion. To my way of thinking even if the characters are atheists like me we may not see atheism the same way, and that may very well disrupt my total enjoyment of the book so I'd rather its left out than be denied the pleasure of reading an otherwise great story.

There are some notable exceptions. One that immediately comes to mind is Kinsale's Flowers From The Storm. When it comes to the religion issue, the beauty of it in this book is in the author's execution of the subject matter. By the end of it, Maddie is still a Friend (a Quaker) and Christian is still a heathen. One has not "converted" the other per se. However, what we come to see (at least to me) in the characters is a higher level of tolerance, each having realised that they're merits and demerits to every belief system. This worked really well for me.

So ... thoughts anyone?

PS: It might be necessary to state that my question does not include inspirational books that deal specifically with the gospel. I'm talking about more mainstream books within romance (broadly speaking, historical, contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, horror and the like).

message 2: by A.M. (last edited Feb 11, 2010 05:22PM) (new)

A.M. | 349 comments My writing tends to be a contradiction of my personal beliefs. Which are just that mine not the characters whose stories I tell.

At present I'm working on completing a novella entitled The Road to Damascus and no it's not inspirational in the religious since but its the road/journey one woman takes in reclaiming her life while discovering true love in process.

message 3: by Arch , Mod (new)

Arch  | 6563 comments Mod
I don't do religion.

message 4: by Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books), Sees Love in All Colors (last edited Feb 12, 2010 09:59AM) (new)

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) (gatadelafuente) | 7308 comments Mod
I don't have any problem with religion being part of a story, so long as it's not preachy. I think that what a person believes is part of who they are (whatever they believe or don't believe). I don't think a character is fully realized if that's left out. Just my opinion. In my opinion, this adds a deeper layer to see the internal life of that person.

I don't like being sermonized on anything in a story, whether it's safe sex (Suzanne Brockmann, I'm talking to you), politics, or religion. Even in an inspirational book, I still don't want a message to come off as a heavy sermon.

I read The Chronicles of Narnia, and I didn't even realize it was about Jesus (Aslan being Jesus). I only brought this up as an example of what I want to say: I think that there is a good way to write a story without being heavy-handed about it.

Edited to add: A writer should write the story he or she wants to write. If he or she leaves out religion out of fear that they will alienate some possible readers, I don't think they have been true to their vision as an author. Again, that is not the same thing as having a blatant, albeit hidden agenda in a story.

message 5: by Arch , Mod (last edited Feb 12, 2010 10:35AM) (new)

Arch  | 6563 comments Mod
I honestly believe that some people that don't believe in God will not sleep with anyone untiil marriage.

I know what I strongly believe in, in regards to sex. I believe in God.

I will speak for my stories. Yes, I like to write about virgins and I will continue to write about them, even if people don't think that a woman or man should still be a virgin at a certain age.

Not all my characters have been virgins or in future stories will be virgins. I might have the heroine be a virgin, the hero be a virgin or even both be a virgin.

I'm a writer that likes to focus on tension and no, not sexual tension.

I write what I like. I like tension in books. I love romance and not a lot of books have romance. A "happily ever after bka hea" will never ever be romance to me. I mean, the hero saves the heroine from danger and they fall in love and boom they have their hea. Not so, in my writing world. Romance! Romance! Romance!

I feel that if a writer wants to write about their beliefs in a book, they can, but don't go overboard.

I'll never fear what people think about my writing. If my story is not to their liking, they can alway read another story. For after all, my story isn't the only story that has been written.

message 6: by A.M. (new)

A.M. | 349 comments Daniele, I don't like being preach to either, I get that on Sunday.

Sometime an author can convey religious aspect in such a subtle manner that the reader does not even notice as in case with Narnia series. I heard this interview some years ago on public radio where the person being interview thought The Chronicles of Narnia was prejudice in how it portrayed all the heroes as being white/light and the bad guys were black or very dark. This was her opinion mind you. I've never read the books, so I can't speak to this. But I thought at the time I guess if you look hard enough you can find just about anything your mind tells you is there.

message 7: by Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books), Sees Love in All Colors (new)

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) (gatadelafuente) | 7308 comments Mod
I definitely don't agree with that about Narnia. The White Witch, Jadis was the most evil person in the books, and she was definitely pale or White. It's funny what people get out of things. You are right that you can definitely find a personal message in anything.

That's one of the things I love about art and literature, how it can have very different interpretations to different people. I had an English teacher who would ask what we thought the author was trying to say, and then tell us we were wrong. It drove me crazy. To me, it is very subjective. Fortunately my AP English teacher was very open-minded, and encouraged us to derive our own meanings from stories. She contributed to my love of literature of all kinds. For that, I am very grateful to her.

message 8: by Tina (new)

Tina | 1362 comments I agree with Danielle, I don't mind if it is there as long as it is subtle and not preachy and not judgmental. And if it isn't subtle, at least it needs to be part of the problem or conflict in the story.

For instance, Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series has a very strong religious element but it isn't religious religious, if you know what I mean. The Darkyn were Templar Knights who fought in the Crusades. Their arch enemies are The Brethren a radical unsanctioned sect of the Catholic Church who are hell bent on destroying them because they believe they are unGodly. So the idea of God and punishment for sins is very prevalent in these books (some of the Darkyn believe their vampirism is a punishment for some unknown sin). But Viehl doesn't try to preach catholic doctrine or anything. These people are who they are and these are their reasons for what they do. That's it.

message 9: by new_user (last edited Feb 13, 2010 03:27PM) (new)

new_user I don't expect characters in novels to have the same beliefs that I do. Supposing the character is as well-developed as she should be, she will have a complete identity which may or may not be similar to mine (more likely not). It's not necessary, it just has to be believable. I'm not looking for a life manifesto from these books.

On the other hand, I am very aware of biases, prejudices and in some cases, outright insults when an author disrespects one religion in favor of another philosophy. They're obvious to me, whether placed as thin analogues by another name (as in Narnia and a number of fantasy titles) or the author has the audacity to hand down a wholesale judgment explicitly (as in scifi where the author has the gall to point out "what went wrong" with society from the supposed distance and wisdom of years). These are not nearly as subtle as the authors think they are. I dislike reading propaganda, but I find disrespect intolerable, and in most cases, completely unnecessary to plot, character, etc.

Likewise, saying that someone is reading too much into a book is possibly ignoring the history of literature and the fact that literature is a product of human minds and their natural biases and culture. Of course, a person's views will creep into their work, e.g. their views on what a hero should be, etc. If they are not racist or ignorant, then ideally racism or ignorance should not creep into their work, but that is why writers read over their works more than once before going to print.

A book is a writer's argument to his audience. For an hour or two, he has to convince you that Jack is a villain. In order to do that, he has to manipulate values. Jack has to be a puppy killer or some such. Writers always trade in values. I think being aware of that is more proactive than sticking one's head in the sand.

When I write, I'm consciously aware of whom I'm placing in which category. Am I sanctioning this behavior? Am I contributing to x stereotype?

Otherwise, no one would discuss novels anywhere.

People's reading influences them. This culture is not a culture of periodicals and research. People learn nowadays from TV and novels. In the event that you are an author with views you'd like to encourage (perhaps not push), then novels are a good means. It doesn't have to be world-changing.

I'm not championing political correctness, as some will doubtless accuse. I don't give a fig about PC. I don't have constituents. I don't like stereotypes because I don't like stereotypes. They're hurtful.

If we don't believe in the power of novels, then why do we want IR novels so much? Only to see someone one can identify with as the heroine? That's not all. If that was the case, I wouldn't read BWWM. I don't look like either person in that relationship, LOL. Everything's political. You can make a conscious decision to read, buy or watch something that won't have merit to your "politics" (insert personal philosophy, beliefs, whatever you prefer), for example X movie that you know has some racism in it because X is your favorite director, but better to be aware of your politics and those decisions and be at peace with them, then to close one's eyes to it.

message 10: by Davina (last edited Feb 13, 2010 12:18PM) (new)

Davina D. | 796 comments New User said: On the other hand, I am very aware of biases, prejudices and in some cases, outright insults when an author disrespects one religion in favor of another philosophy. They're obvious to me, whether placed as thin analogues by another name (as in Narnia and a number of fantasy titles) or has the audacity to hand down a wholesale judgment explicitly (as in scifi where the author has the gall to point out "what went wrong" with society from the supposed distance and wisdom of years). These are not nearly as subtle as the authors think they are. I dislike reading propaganda, but I find disrespect intolerable, and in most cases, completely unnecessary to plot, character, etc.

Your post is very thought provoking as the discussion is meant to be. I do believe I take a great deal of your point.

On the other hand the quote above is exactly the reason why I think the religion issue is best left up to the reader to determine.

On many major issues, including religion, I don't have a problem with people believing differently than I do. Considering my very strong beliefs about female responsibility and equality I probably wouldn't read romance AT ALL if I was to ascribe my personal beliefs on this issue to novels. On the rare occasion that I do, it's usually in extreme cases where irresponsible behaviour in that context is blatantly promoted as a woman's right. For eg, Catherine Anderson's Blue Skies.

I don't like erotic books which feature menages, either. I really really don't. But have I read a couple of them? Yes I have. Did I rate the book down because it contained a theme I didn't like? No. That wouldn't have been fair because I knew what I was getting into when I made the call to read the book.

However, insomuch as what you say is true, very very few authors are capable of putting into perspective an issue they might feel strongly about, especially when it comes to religion. Also many people are drawn to religion even when they don't believe. So they will read a book for a self-fulfilling prophesy or for an opportunity to thrash the book because it isn't in accordance with their beliefs. Also let's not forget that it's fairly difficult to estimate how far religion is taken in books. The religious convictions of Maddie in FFTS was a huge part of the plot. Was that on the back cover? Was there a warning given? No. So where does that leave authors? Usually in a no-win situation where neither side of their readership is appeased. Just check out some of the reviews on Amazon.

It's not the place of an atheist to tell other people what they believe is nonsense. Nor is it anyone's place to preach to non-believers about the existence of God. But what usually happens? People do just that. And as you mention, they think they're being subtle about it when in actuality their agenda is rather very thinly veiled. That is why I believe in calling a spade a spade. If you want to write a book where religion plays a large role, do so ... and let the chips fall where they may. It makes no sense to try and please everybody in one go.

In my own writing, my characters don't always reflect my personal (non) religious beliefs, politics, philosophies etc. However, when religion is a part of who they are, I prefer not to make it an intricate part of their character. Thus, it is mentioned, not explored. The reader may read whatever they like into his/her actions and that would be their prerogative.

Good responses so far, everyone. Thanks.

message 11: by Arch , Mod (new)

Arch  | 6563 comments Mod
A powerful message can show up, in the least place a person expects it to show up.

message 12: by new_user (new)

new_user I see what you're saying, Davina. I think it goes back to the pros and cons of freedom of expression. There is no FCC or other federal body regulating literature and as a result, a writer can write literally anything she can imagine. She can publish the story of her heart, as they say. I'm glad we don't have a regulatory body enforcing warnings and labels, etc. (I prefer the discretionary labels of publishers or better yet, reviewer advice). It can lead to offensive material, but I think one of the other beauties of literature is the low cost of entry into the industry. If I don't like it, I can publish my response to it tomorrow, theoretically.

At the same time, I think reviews (except at Amazon, LOL) provide a check too. If a lot of readers are offended, then one will see a lot of negative reviews. Now, abstract aside, it doesn't always work out this way. I'm thinking of a particularly popular author who bludgeons her readers with an agenda (and it is very out of place in the context, believe me).

I think that's when these little messages annoy us the most, is when they have no place in the story whatsoever. Then again, as we said, a lot of authors are not subtle and some characters or dialogue may seem preachy/disrespectful. That's a problem as much of style as anything else and something I hope reviewers address, personally.

I haven't read FFTS myself. I'd heard that the heroine is a Quaker. I haven't read it yet though.

message 13: by Chaeya (new)

Chaeya | 454 comments I have my own spirituality and a bit of it comes out in my stories and frankly, people can take from it what they want and leave the rest. I've read books where people are blatantly Christian and the book could have a powerful message, but if I want to read th story, I'm gonna read it. I'm not out to convert people through my writing just like if I read their writings, it isn't going to convert me. I'm there to a read the story and if the religion fits in with the story, then so be it. Narnia wasn't subtle and it was enough to incite an atheist author to challenge C.S. Lewis with his own set of books The Golden Compass which I heard, I didn't read them, were pretty fascinating. The movie proved that to me even if it was too fast-paced. Anne Rice, one of my favorite authors, I've read her books and her struggle with Christianity and her Catholic faith rooted in all of her stories, and I found them enjoyable. I grew up Catholic so I could understand her beliefs and her struggles.

I don't like to limit myself and I understand the hold Christianity has on this world. I honor others' beliefs because I agree with Jiddu Krishnamurti that "truth is a pathless land." It isn't for me to say what is right for the next person. I'll read their stories and if they don't want to read mine oh well. I'm not changing the way I write for anyone. They either like it or they don't.

message 14: by Stacy-Deanne (last edited Feb 16, 2010 12:51PM) (new)

Stacy-Deanne Stacy-Deanne (wwwgoodreadscomstacydeanne) Hi Davina,

(My post is just general about how I feel about religion in books, period. I am not going into specifics, LOL.)

I never mention religion of my characters. So far it hasn't been important to a story I've written so that's the main reason.

But if it's important to a specific story:

I think it's fine to go as far in religion as possible if it's important to the story and character. If the author seems to be preaching a religion instead of telling the story, I don't think I'd enjoy that. You can tell the difference between an author who is actually putting things in for their characters' or plot's sake, between someone who is using their work as a platform to preach. I don't think anyone likes to be preached at if it feels like they're being put down whether they believe in god or don't or what specific religion they are.

The good thing about writing fiction is that you are free to explore all avenues of things. Yes you might offend and you might not but it's fiction and you gotta be true to the characters. It's just like with racism. A lot of white authors say they are uncomfortable writing racist characters because they don't want folks to assume they are racist. I think all authors should give readers more credit. We're not only writers but readers ourselves and we know that you can't take something in fiction and automatically use it to judge an author that you don't even know. That goes for religion as well.

Religion, racism, sexual orientation are all touchy subjects but in fiction they are sometimes necessary. I'd rather read a book that gives me these subjects realistically than an author who is scared and who is pussyfooting around because they don't want to offend. It will effect the impact of the story.

It's just like with movies. You can't worry about offending people all the time. Look at Mel Gibson and The Passion. That movie offended The Pope! But hey, it was still art in Gibson's eyes and came from his heart.

By the way I am NOT a Gibson fan since he said all those things about Jews and women. I think he should go hide under his rock.

Another point, some of the best works of literature were the ones that pushed the envelope. People were offended by the Davinci Code big time, and though I've never read it, I know it's paved the way for similar books being so popular.

So whether you believe in god, or not, or what god you believe in, just be true to yourself and your characters. It's worth it for the story.

Just write from your heart and that's all you can do.

Best Wishes!

message 15: by Alicia (new)

Alicia (gotrr) | 53 comments I don't mind reading about a characters religious beliefs in a novel. However, I would hope that the author's prose doesn't "force" a particular view on the reader. Rather, I would like the religious views to be presented so that it's clear that they guide the character and not proselytize.

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