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Old 05-04-2012, 05:31 AM   #1
caleb72
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Christian fiction - what's in a name?

I tend to gloss over anything that has a tag "Christian" fiction or is from a publisher with the word "Christian" in it.

Not because I think Christianity is bad (I hasten to add), just that I'm not one myself and the effort to brand something with the name makes me think it's quite particular in its content and probably not something I would want to read.

It actually helps to filter out alot of free books too.

But just wondering if my take on this is accurate. Have any of you read fiction that is specifically labelled Christian fiction - especially those of you who may not be Christian? Is it an exercise in alienation? Or are the stories the same as other stories except that the author identifies with and wants to be known as a Christian author? Or is it a mix-n-match like everything else out there?

Just curious.
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:25 AM   #2
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I have started a few by mistake and it has been pretty obvious to me after a while that they do have their "agenda". Something I'm not keen on.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:03 AM   #3
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I like that they are branded, so I can avoid them. For a long time I shunned scifi because of the religious overtones. I don't mind the occasional religious theme being explored in a novel, it's a common literary device and you can't get away from it entirely, but I don't want to be preached to.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:33 AM   #4
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I'm an atheist raised as a catholic and I would avoid any book that has been written with the premise "Let's write a christian novel".

That being said, I've read one book where religion is important but not obnoxious. Not in your face. It genuinely adds flavor to the book and makes it richer:

"Canticle for Leibowitz" - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A post-apocalyptic novel, one of the first and among the best ones.

----------------

Generally about religion in Fantasy or SF - it seems to be a taboo topic, which is strange to me. In 95% cases you get either whole nations with no religion, or essentially renamed and thinly disguised Christianity, or some ridiculous "evil god" worship that doesn't even try to sound plausible.
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Old 05-04-2012, 11:03 AM   #5
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I tend to gloss over anything that has a tag "Christian" fiction or is from a publisher with the word "Christian" in it.
Sometimes this just means a book without foul language, excessive violence, graphic sex scenes ... . Many cosy mysteries, for example, could bear such label.

I tend to avoid books with too strong religious overtones. Yet, there *are* books that are SO well written that they are well worth reading. Such as "Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero", commonly known as "Quo Vadis", a historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish.(*)

DISCLAIMER: I have not read English translation, so I do not know how well it is translated, but the original and also the translation I have read is a very remarkable historical book.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:06 PM   #6
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Sometimes this just means a book without foul language, excessive violence, graphic sex scenes ... . Many cosy mysteries, for example, could bear such label.
Surely it makes little sense to label a book "Christian" simply because it lacks potentially offensive content? I'm not saying you're not right, it just seems to me that most publishers/book shops would realise they're turning away potential customers by doing so.

Anyway, I avoid books labelled as such like the plague. Not because I'm an atheist (though I am) and can't bear to read a book with a religious slant, but because those few I have attempted to read have been uniformly crap. Badly written and preaching so strongly and overtly that even a bishop would cringe in embarrassment. No doubt I've just been unlucky, but with thousands of books available which carry no such risks, why should try another one?

Quote:
I tend to avoid books with too strong religious overtones. Yet, there *are* books that are SO well written that they are well worth reading. Such as "Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero", commonly known as "Quo Vadis", a historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish.(*)
Quo Vadis is one of the few, if not the only, exception I can think of. It's a wonderful book, one of the very first I read, and thoroughly deserving of its status as one of the great classics of literature.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:24 PM   #7
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I like that they are branded, so I can avoid them. For a long time I shunned scifi because of the religious overtones. I don't mind the occasional religious theme being explored in a novel, it's a common literary device and you can't get away from it entirely, but I don't want to be preached to.
I'm with you on this. I love that "Christian" books are labels so that I can actively reject them from my reading list. Most things labeled and promoted as "Christian" these days, I find to be completely unrelated, and in fact often antithetical, to the real teachings of Christ. Don't get me started....
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Old 05-04-2012, 01:00 PM   #8
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I have read a few books that could be classified as Christian Fiction, and I have read others that are not classified as such, but certainly have strong Christian Themes (usually written by Christian/Catholic Authors). Of the two, I vastly prefer the latter to the latter. In a Christian Culture, even one where the Christian part seems to be in decline, it is inevitable that some novels will deal with Christian ideas and themes -- you get Brideshead Revisited, the Power and the Glory, The Man who was Thursday or Death Comes for an Archibishop.

Christian fiction on the other hand really is a marketing genre like romance or science fiction but apparently with lower literary standards than either. Yes, there are occasional gems, but you have to look for them.

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Old 05-04-2012, 01:29 PM   #9
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For a long time I shunned scifi because of the religious overtones.
Sci-fi has religious overtones? Some have made-up belief systems which get explored, yes, but otherwise I'm kind of baffled at this remark.

As for the OP question:

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Originally Posted by caleb72 View Post
Have any of you read fiction that is specifically labelled Christian fiction - especially those of you who may not be Christian? Is it an exercise in alienation? Or are the stories the same as other stories except that the author identifies with and wants to be known as a Christian author? Or is it a mix-n-match like everything else out there?
I'm an atheist and I've tried a couple of the freebie specifically "Christian fiction" specialty-publisher-imprint books, mostly because they had plot/setting that sounded kind of interesting and/or kind of cracktastic.

Admittedly, this is a very small, skewed sample because of said selection process. For the record, I read one "inspirational" historical romance on the grounds that apparently people complained about how racy it was (it wasn't unless you have really tame standards for racy), one story about modern Amish values coming into conflict with modern secularized Christian values after a tragedy forces two disparate branches of the same family together (which came with recipes), and one interracial chick-lit romance because I was kind of curious as to how faith depictions and would be handled with Asian characters who were apparently converts interacting with non-Asians.

It's definitely a mix-and-match.

1) The historical was noticeably more preachy than others, with everyone, even the people who were already Christian but kind of casual about it, becoming strong-faith church-going Bible-reading proselytizing totally reformed born-again types (and I will add that I don't think that presumably Protestant evangelicals should try to write Catholic characters unless they really know what they're doing, because there are sect differences which even I know about).

Very annoying, because the "hero" was an idiot wastrel whom the "heroine" lusted after but rejected snobbishly not because he was an idiot wastrel, but because he wasn't a sufficiently church-going idiot wastrel, and he only became good enough for her when he became born again (and not because he'd actually cleaned up his idiot wastrel act in the process). Also, the steamiest it gets is when characters refer to the Song of Solomon and a long-established married couple is hinted at enjoying what happens when they go to bed together offscreen. If this is "not your mother's inspirational romance!", your mother must have read some really boring romances which weren't particularly "inspirational" in that regard, such that it's amazing she became your mother at all.

2) The Amish/secular family drama was actually pretty decent. All the characters were already faithful church-going Christians so no "conversion" happened in the story. The conflict between modern Christian ways and the Amish traditions was done well, and the characters learned to let go of their pride and what clinging to what they thought was the proper expression of their faith when it came to family responsibilities, and do what was best for the family members in question, instead of what they'd pre-decided God was telling them to do based on their social milieu.

I liked this one and would be willing to read others in the series if they were offered as freebie, at least until they got preachy, if they ever did. It seemed the most Christ-like of the books, with an emphasis on tolerance and understanding of other people's ways, albeit they were all Protestant Christians of some sort there and I don't know if the same tolerance and understanding would have been extended to more outlying groups, storywise.

3) The interracial Asian/white chick-lit romance was closest to a secular novel, and if you substitute the character's occasional mentions of how important her faith was to her for say, mentioning shopping, it was on pretty much the same casual, light level of generally non-preachy.

And while some atheist/Buddhist/non-believer characters were portrayed as jerkish at the beginning, some of them turned out to be decent and supportive people, much to the main character's surprise and acknowledgment that she'd misjudged them, without their becoming better people through "seeing the light" of Christianity as a convert, as the character herself was. And some Christians in her church group were depicted as selfish jerks, for balance.

Overall, I found this pretty decent and interesting until after a pretty promising start and middle, it decided to take the cheap cop-out route of having the staunchly-atheist/agnostic potential love interest that the heroine was kind of conflicted about seeing because he didn't seem to understand how much her faith meant to her but was otherwise a very sympathetic and appealing and attractive guy suddenly become totally acceptable because one day he saw this, like, deeply soul-searing and affecting picture of Jesus (and not the kind that magically shows up on toast) when attending her church to please her and BLAMMO, all of a sudden became a light-seeing Christ-curious potential member with a hinted future conversion away from his former firmly-held disbelief.

To paraphrase Morbo from Futurama: ATHEISM/AGNOSTICISM DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY! GOODNIGHT!

Aside from that, I did kind of like it enough that I'd be willing to curiosity-read the others in the series, which is apparently all about converted Asian interracial romances, as long as they were free.

Long story short (too late!): I'd say that some Christian books are almost-but-not-quite close enough to secular with only a few faith mentios in a mostly non-preachy manner (there actually wasn't any preaching in that last one, only sudden left-field probably-conversion, which is why it was so surprising). Some deal with prominent faith issues in a fairly balanced and non-alienating manner that can be interesting to outsiders. And some are just poorly-written Gotta Convert Them All fantasies of making everyone, even those who already belong to the faith, live exactly the way you think they ought to be living because it's the only way you can envision people living if they're "good" people, whether they're suited to it or not and/or the plot makes sense if they do or don't, or even the characters make sense afterwards.
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Old 05-04-2012, 01:43 PM   #10
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I've read a couple of "inspirational" romances (apparently, that's a codeword for "Protestant Christian") that were okay, if a bit on the mild side for my tastes (which I expected). I didn't find them cloying or preachy. Comparing them with the "supernatural" romances from the same publisher, which portrayed witchcraft in a way that made me want to throw the books against the wall (I refrained; e-ink doesn't survive wall smashes nearly as well as paper did), I was left to wonder if the Christianity portrayed was as phony and annoying as the occult activities.

(Probably not. There's a lot more public awareness of how Christianity works.)

After trying a couple of them, I avoid them. I might read one by recommendation from someone I knew, but there is nothing about "this book has Christian values as a major theme" that I find compelling. I'd expect that at best, they're good stories based on a moral system I don't share and find sometimes disturbing. At worst, they're preachy fear-mongering designed to convince some Christians that the world is doomed if everyone doesn't convert tomorrow.

I wouldn't mind reading one--but "this book is designed to appeal to Christians" is a strong negative for me. That puts it rather below westerns and YA sports novels on my "likely to read on a lark" list. It'd have to have something else I found highly appealing for me to consider reading it.
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Old 05-04-2012, 02:29 PM   #11
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Sci-fi has religious overtones? Some have made-up belief systems which get explored, yes, but otherwise I'm kind of baffled at this remark.
It was probably more the contrast with the other genres I was reading as a teen. Mysteries and thrillers had no hint of religion in them, so the scifi/fantasy books that contained religious themes were jarring to me. Exploration of belief systems is ok in small doses, but wrapping everything up with goddidit is not.

To be fair some like Narnia were fantasy rather than scifi (I tend to lump those into the same category which might be misleading). Others were probably just bad scifi that wrapped everything up with a bow using religion. The Ender's Game sequels would be an example of the religious theme eventually overpowering the scifi elements.
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Old 05-04-2012, 02:39 PM   #12
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To be fair some like Narnia were fantasy rather than scifi (I tend to lump those into the same category which might be misleading). Others were probably just bad scifi that wrapped everything up with a bow using religion. The Ender's Game sequels would be an example of the religious theme eventually overpowering the scifi elements.
Well, Orson Scott Card's kind of notorious for a reason. And C.S. Lewis was IIRC a convert* who was deliberately writing faith-based allegory and parables.

I personally find overtly religious stuff in sf/fantasy/other speculative to be the exception, rather than the rule.

* I forget whether it was Tolkien who converted him from agnoticism to Christianity or the other way around.
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Old 05-04-2012, 02:45 PM   #13
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Well, Orson Scott Card's kind of notorious for a reason. And C.S. Lewis was IIRC a convert* who was deliberately writing faith-based allegory and parables.

* I forget whether it was Tolkien who converted him from agnoticism to Christianity or the other way around.
Right, but I didn't know that back when I picked up the books. Just my bad luck, getting a run of scifi with religious themes in a row I suppose. I couldn't get through LOTR either. Anyway, it made me gunshy regarding scifi/fantasy, so I tended to avoid it.
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Old 05-04-2012, 02:51 PM   #14
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Just my bad luck, getting a run of scifi with religious themes in a row I suppose.
I was put off gimmick cozies for a while after reading 5 randomly-selected series books in a row by the same author who used the exact same "crazy person is CRAAAZY!!!!!" no-further-explanation-needed motivation for the whodunnit in all of them.

To this day, I have never read another by that author and kind of wonder if her entire series, which is up to more than a dozen books, are all like that.
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Old 05-04-2012, 03:07 PM   #15
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I was put off gimmick cozies for a while after reading 5 randomly-selected series books in a row by the same author who used the exact same "crazy person is CRAAAZY!!!!!" no-further-explanation-needed motivation for the whodunnit in all of them.
Ugh, that's just as bad as the goddidit plot resolution. I love mysteries, so I've read my share of terrible cozies. Thankfully my first exposure was Miss Marple, if I'd started with some of the junk around now, I'd have been put off those too.

All this branding of subgenres is informative for readers, but perhaps it's not working quite the way publishers want. I'm not going to stop reading all 'novels' because I read one bad novel, but I'm likely to give 'military space operas' a pass forever if I read a horrible doorstop in that subgenre.
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