This has been bubbling up inside me for a while, so please indulge my rant.
I think it’s evident that I enjoy secular art. I talk about anime and manga here because I truly enjoy them, for themselves. I also read and enjoy secular fiction, and read very widely and eclectically. This being said, there’s something weighing on my mind. It may take some explanation.
I’ve noticed a trend where Christians feel they need to go to the secular market in order to write the way they want. Whether it’s an effort to be more realistic, or a harsh reality where certain genres of fiction won’t get published in the Christian market, the reason’s aren’t invalid given the difficulty of getting anything published or making a living as a writer. I also understand why many readers, who are turned off from the nature of much of the Christian fiction out there, seek better written works from the secular market. They even find latent or crypto-Christianity in books from there.
While I get this, I’m a little worried that it’s gone too far. I’m worried that there might be a subconscious Christian Inferiority Complex going on; where any work that’s explicitly Christian is bad, but we tolerate it for the weaker brother while any secular work is artistically sound and a proper venue for Christians to write. So our best and brightest try to work in the secular world to the exclusion of the Christian one.
I know, the point is to minister to others. But can I be blunt here? I’ve read a LOT of secular-market science fiction and fantasy, and I can count on two hands the number of books where Christianity mattered in any visible form. Yes, not everything needs to be overtly preachy or Christian. I’m not arguing this. But it seems more often than not, the Christianity is latent if it even exists, and only knowing the author believes a certain way is how you classify the work. This is from Christians who read them.
If it’s nonbelievers, do they really notice? Lewis’s Narnia books many do, but a lot of the buzz about Tolkien’s faith is purely driven by Christians who try to claim him as one of their own. I’m also reminded of all the crossover acts. Sixpence None the Richer; did anyone really get that they were Christians from “Kiss me?” Amy Grant’s Heart In Motion also, or Michael W. Smith’s pop airplay. I think Christians put a lot more stock into this than the actual audience they intend to target.
I don’t say this to tell people to stop, but there’s a lot of illusions about how much we can influence others. More likely than not, Christians seem to wind up encoding or making latent their faith to such a degree that there’s little difference from secular works. Yet this is seen as more of an honest ministry than writing for believers.
I also understand the CBA market sucks right now. I really, really do. I don’t like going into a Books-A-Million and seeing four whole shelves of Christian fiction and zero targeted for men. I don’t like even the tiny amount of Christian spec-fic they used to release dry up. It doesn’t help that they chase the money so much that they are comfortable with ignoring entire genres and men themselves to chase after disposable romance/historic/romsuspense dollars. But this has to change, and we really do need explicit Christian works. Just better.
As much as I like anime, there’s something missing. I can always enjoy it for its human virtues, but I’m watching something from a culture where Christianity is so weak as to be non-existent. A whole side of my life is neglected. Even in American secular culture, you don’t see people pray, or go to church, or talk about God much in works of art. Maybe we’ll get a hint, or a taste of it, but it just isn’t enough. Explicitly Christian works are desperately needed, if just for non-marginalization of practices billions of people across the world actually do.
There’s a point about how Christian works can be technically inferior. Yes, on a case-by-case basis they can. People tend to cherry-pick though; you compare Left Behind to the Da Vinci Code or Clive Cussler, not Jonathan Lethem. But the idea of an explicitly Christian work as a concept isn’t, and it’s an inferiority complex to give in to the idea that Christianity should be muted in a work in order to be palatable.
I’ve not seen that work well. Not for reading, and not for writing. Not for evangelism, either. I’m still thinking about what this means and ways it can be done when it seems both Christian and secular publishing resist it (in various genres.) But I worry about this mindset continuing. I’d like to read something that I’d enjoy, and that actually might have a Christian praying in it.