Essay:Why Christian fiction will never go mainstream

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There has been much talk in recent years about Christian fiction and Christian films — fictional media created or propagated specifically for the purpose of evangelism or of preaching. In particular, it would appear that those Professional Fearmongers over at NPR are trying to scare their audience by suddenly deciding that a few axe-grinding whackjobs with a video camera and delusions of grandeur are newsworthy.[1]

Fear not, I say; fear not. This essay presents one Odinist's views on the entire mess. It includes an argument grounded in my religion, as well as a secular parallel for those people who insist that things cannot at once have natural and supernatural causes.


In Odinism, we have the concept of the Mead of Poetry, made from the blood of a God who was born out of a divine spittoon;[2] this mead is handed out to literary people by Odin and drunk to produce inspiration.

Thou shalt have no other Gods before me, says YHVH, and a Christian literary person, being offered the mead by Odin, may refuse to drink it on these grounds. But without the mead their inspiration shall dwindle, and the words they then write shall be devoid of its hallmarks.

"You can't mimic Christ," say the Christians;[1] but neither can you mimic the mead. Originality must come from the mead; memorability must come from the mead. Those who refuse the mead must also refuse what comes from the mead, and are thus destined to be forever mediocre.


Christian fiction has been with us for a particularly long time[3], and was no more "mainstream" in the days when atheists were barred from public office.

Before the Enlightenment, when Christianity was called into serious question for the first time, there was no particular need for the kind of Christian fiction we see today. Indeed, before the Enlightenment, literacy rates were so low that comparing the literature of that time with the literature of today is something of an apples-and-oranges comparison. The Puritans and other groups strove to raise literacy rates so that more people could read the Bible, as well as works like Pilgrim's Progress that owed their large success to being printed en masse by the religious radicals of that time.

But in other media there is a longer history of specifically Christian works maintaining a separation from the rest. In music, for instance, there was always a separation bewteen the secular and the sacred (the distinction between operas and oratorios, the latter made in response to secular opera being banned during Lent, are a prime example of this); in theater, the old forms of the mystery play and morality play — very similar to today's Christian fiction — were soundly slammed out of the way as soon as secular theater started to make an appearance, and this was in the time of the Inquisition.

Two early Christian novelists were Amy le Feuvre[4] and Isabella ("Pansy") Macdonald Alden[5]; an early Christian poet was Emily Bowes Gosse, the wife of the Calvinist naturalist who made the Omphalos hypothesis. These three were notable as Christian writers but not very notable as writers in general.

Similarly, the present "Christian film" phenomenon has a distinctly separatist ring to it; explicitly Christian films have not been able to survive on a level playing field with secular ones, requiring their own particular divisions of companies (e.g., "Fox Faith"), separate film festivals, separate critics, etc., etc.; the same with Christian novels and such, which occupy separate sections in bookstores and even separate bookstores. Neither have demonstrated the willingness or ability to join in the secular establishments, proclaiming their religious viewpoint as an equal factor to their literary or artistic merit.

I think that this is because if one is seized by inspiration, to get its full benefits one must go just exactly where it leads them, without stopping to think or pontificate or wonder if they are going the wrong way. The Christian fiction of today is crippled by the writers' unwillingness to do this.

Mainstream Christian writers[edit]

Now there are several writers who have wrote on Christian themes and still achieved success in the secular literary world. I list three prominent examples here. What these three have in common is that (1) they made their mark in the secular literary world with secular books, (2) although Christian themes worked their way into some of these fellows' fiction, said themes were not the be-all-end-all of the entire work.

G.K. Chesterton[edit]

Mr. Chesterton was a Catholic who in his lifetime came, based on his religious views, to push for a distributist economic system in lieu of capitalism or socialism, and wrote much in the way of apologetics.

However, he was not scared to play with his own ideas of religion in his books. Here is a description of a Christian evangelist from one of his novels:

Next to him would be a man in a top hat with a very big Bible and a very small wife, who stood silently beside him, while he fought with his clenched fist against the heresy of Milnian Sublapsarianism so wide-spread in fashionable watering-places.
The Flying Inn[6]

Mr. Chesterton's apologetics influenced a number of people and played a large part in the conversion of:

C.S. Lewis[edit]

Prof. Lewis was also a prominent apologist, after the Anglican tradition, who definitely let Christian themes into his books; among the more notable examples are the Chronicles of Narnia, which for some reason now have a lot of people scared to the point of an empty intestine, and squawking about it.[7]

Yet the Chronicles of Narnia are also very much accepted within the world of secular literature; The Last Battle, the last book in the series, won the Carnegie Medal, even though Prof. Lewis apparently forgot that he was writing a children's book and not copying out the Book of Revelation.

But Prof. Lewis was not intending to put Christian themes in the books; they just worked their way in by themselves, and blended with even older myths that he had learned from excessively exhaustive studies of medieval literature.[8] Again, he was not unwilling to go where his inspiration took him.

Evelyn Waugh[edit]

Another example is Evelyn Waugh, whose magnum opus, Brideshead Revisited, is told from the perspective of an agnostic who converts to Catholicism over the course of the book; Mr. Waugh caught some flak from other literary figures for this, with some suggesting that some scenes in the book were excellent as parody.

This fits with Mr. Waugh, who was a satirist and became famous by writing biting satiric books with no overt religious content; his later works were not so well accepted by the establishment.

Also, Mr. Waugh's own initial conversion to Catholicism is documented as being distinctly secular in nature, because he said:

Civilization ... has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state.
—"Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me"[9]

(Not unlike the whining about the "ills of materialism" in the Wedge Document, really.)


The more mainstream Christian fiction becomes, the less Christian it is; this has always been true and will always be. There has always been, and will only ever be, just one device by which secular literature is taken away from a population: State censorship.


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