We Demand Better Books
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We Demand Better Books

A Call for better Christian Literature

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We Demand Better Books
Kayla Chenault

This is written with sincere apologies to my dear Elisha, Karen, and Rachel, who tried very hard to help me love Francine Rivers, but I just couldn't do it.

We used to have O'Connor. We used to have Lewis. We had L'Engle. We have Lamott. We had Chesterton and Augustine. We used to have the best literary minds in the world claim to have the Christian faith. But what we have now are an endless slog of amish romances and period dramas-- bonnet books, as lovingly crafted as that Big Mac you ate and just as processed, I might add.

Now I want to make it very clear: I enjoy cheese, romance, and wholesome fun as much as the next grown woman. My go to Christmas movie is "Little Women." I have seen every film version of "Pride and Prejudice", except the version with zombies. I love the romance between Anne and Gilbert-- if only because it reminds me of my current relationship. I have willingly watched several installments of "the Love's Unending Cash Cow" series (Kudos to my second family for that joke) and I have watched an unsettling amount of When Calls the Heart on Netflix, so now I know a lot about 19th century mining practices and home ownership laws. There is room on every bookshelf for both Fyodor Dostoevsky and Francine Rivers, for JRR Tolkien and Janette Oke. But these wholesome books should not be the only books for Christians to write or to read.

I'm going to pick on Rivers for a second, because to me, the greatest book hype to actual product disappointment came from one of her books, "The Last Sin Eater". For those who don't know a sin eater is someone who eats a ritualistic meal, taking on the sins of a member of a community who has since passed on. You might think "gee, Kayla, that sure sounds like a swell concept for a novel." And as a launching point, obscure pieces of anthropological and mythological history are the best places to glean for inspiration. But, man, does that execution fall flat. There are flaws with understanding the mythology (Sin-Eater is based in the idea that Christ ate our sins like a bitter pill), history (how can these characters both live in Appalachia after the Second Great Awakening and have also never heard of Jesus?), realistic portrayals of faith (one character goes from converted to doubting to martyrdom in twenty-four hours), and other things. But honestly, the book's biggest issue is that it just isn't good. Many years later when I read David James Duncan's Brothers K, which focuses heavily on the problem with fanaticism and social rigidity-- themes in both books-- I found myself over and over again thinking, this is the book I wished "The Last Sin Eater" had been.

Going to a small liberal arts university, you are hopefully familiar with the three standards for excellent art: Is it true, good, and beautiful? Just because art is one thing it doesn't negate the other aspects. Just because art is true does not mean it shouldn't also be good and beautiful. Let me repeat for those of you aspiring Beverly Lewises out there penning your Amish romance tome: JUST BECAUSE ART IS TRUE DOES NOT MEAN IT SHOULD NOT BE GOOD AND BEAUTIFUL. Additionally, there is something about truth that resists simple narratives. Truth can be painful. Sometimes, the truth is profanity. Sometimes the truth is premarital or extramarital sex. Sometimes the truth is criminal. Sometimes the truth means that there is no antagonist who is bent on destroying all things godly. Sometimes the truth is that an atheist can be kinder than people of faith (looking at you, God's Not Dead). In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," an entire family is systematically murdered by a serial killer. Yet, there is still redemption in it. Denzel Washington played a repugnant character in "Training Day" but allowed his faith to still inform his performance, reminding himself in writing that "the wages of sin is death."

So to you aspiring Christian artists of the world. Make good art. It does not have to be wholesome art. It may even do more good if it isn't. Make true art. Remember that truth is sometimes harsh. Make beautiful art. And for goodness sakes, stop writing Amish romance novels.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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