By The Hilt

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Emerson

Holier Than Thou: Religion and Fiction

This is a third post on the theme of what writing should include: Right Writing (on morals) and A Place For Opinion (on opinions and agendas).

What place does religion have in writing fiction?  (I am referring here to fiction that is not explicitly religious fiction.)  This is a question that probably annoys atheists to death, but let’s face it: religion and morality are closely tied.  So if one has any religious beliefs, how does the writer of fiction reconcile their religion with their fiction?

J.K. Rowling found one way to do it in her Harry Potter series; she quite successfully avoided the whole issue.  She wrote children’s books, granted, not intended for an older audience (although all ages certainly enjoy them!).  However, she claims to be Christian and she kept any morals implicit in the story without ever mentioning religion.

I am not entirely comfortable with that, however, especially with a modern fantasy story.  Entering magic into the equation of the world’s history changes things drastically.  Suddenly the truth of miracles and other aspects of religion can be undermined by this new force.  Magic, for all that it opens up a whole new world of wonder and, well, magic, can also bring its own world of problems.  Then again, I suppose atheists again have it easy here, as well as liberal Christians (and other religions) who believe more in the essence of goodness than any historical or literal truths.  Moral relativism does seem to be at an all time high, after all.  But the rest of us need to give this some thought.

C.S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, chose a different approach.  The Chronicles of Narnia are considered by some to be Christian literature, with his religion written into the stories allegorically in the form of Aslan.  In my opinion, it takes a master storyteller to do that successfully, and even if one is a master storyteller (and I’m not making any claims to that), it doesn’t necessarily follow that this is the road one must choose.

When it comes down to it, of course, each individual must decide how he or she wishes to reconcile religion with fiction.  In some cases, I’m sure it needn’t come up at all.  But in others, like with morality itself, some of us feel an obligation to ensure that the message we’re sending to our readers is a good one.  Writing has power, and so writers have power; it’s our responsibility to use that power to better the world in what little ways we can.

What are your thoughts and opinions on this matter?  What are your personal struggles with this issue?

Write always,

E.S. Hilt


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