March 27, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Why Are We Copying Outsiders?

Yesterday while driving my daughter to a job interview, she was channel surfing the truck radio. A song popped up on one of the three local Christian stations and in an instant, she flew into a rage.

She exclaimed, “You hear this song? This is exactly why I hate Christian music! She sounds exactly like Secular Singer Z!”

Not having any idea who Secular Singer Z was, I pointed out that when Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, he stole the melody from a popular hofbrauhaus (royal court brewery) song making the rounds in his area.

My daughter looked at me coolly and growled, “You’re not helping my mood any, Dad.”

I conceded that Christian Singer Z should burn in Hell for their act of lyric and music piracy. Of course, she slugged me.

After the interview, which went well, she was channel surfing again on the way home. This time she pointed at the radio abruptly and said, “This is what I mean! This is a song by Secular Band X! All Christian Band X did was take the words and add some more Christian words! It’s the same song! Why can’t Christian radio play songs that are good?”

In this case, I translated ‘good’ to mean ‘original’ and that got me to thinking about an ongoing discussion at one of my favorite thought-provoking websites, deCOMPOSE ( The current post and discussion is relevant to the answer to my question as well. Posts to read that impinge: “One Reason Why ‘Charismatic’ Publishing Is Growing”, a weekend poll “Is the Debate About Christian Fiction ‘Tired’ or ‘Relevant’?” and an excellent series, “Can Horror Fiction Be Redemptive?”

Both of those are good questions, but I don’t think they’re the most important ones. I think the Christian writing community – whether we are writers who are Christians intent on writing for Christians or Christian writers who write secular prose with no intent to convert/redeem/send a message – should be asking itself: “Why are we copying Outsiders?” (According to unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons “‘outsiders’ [are] those looking at the Christian faith from the outside. This group includes atheists, agnostics, those affiliated with a faith other than Christianity (such as Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, and so on), and other unchurched adults who are not born again Christians. (Pg 17))

It was not always that way.

For example, Bram Stoker was a lifelong member of The Church of Ireland (some will argue, “He had to be! That’s like being a Norwegian Lutheran – everyone is Lutheran/Anglican/Hindu by government mandate!” I suggest you GOOGLE “State Religion wiki” before you continue the argument) and he has numerous Christian themes in his best-known work, DRACULA. While it is by no means “Christian horror”, with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN – A MODERN PROMETHEUS, he created the horror genre as we know it today.

JRR Tolkien, while hardly the first person to write high fantasy with THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS, “finally allowed fantasy to truly enter into the mainstream”.

One of the fathers of science fiction, though he mocked Christians for their ignorance and credulity, inadvertently gave the Western world insight into the historical Jesus. During the second century AD, Lucian of Samosata also created one of the first real SF novels, A TRUE STORY in which he anticipated voyages to the Moon and Venus, extraterrestrials and wars between planets. Sir (and Saint) Thomas More, staunch defender of the faith and the Catholic Church against his contemporary, Martin Luther, invented the term UTOPIA when he wrote the book by the same name. This gave rise to a genre of literature explored by HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, Peter Hamilton and others and inspired others to react against it and form today’s wildly popular “dystopian” literature.

Christians have had some sort of place in the speculative fiction genre since its inception. Some were instrumental in the creation of a genre, while some only helped by being “around” during the creative process. But today it seems to me that we are intent on splitting hairs rather than expanding frontiers. We endlessly discuss which genre we “should” or “shouldn’t” be writing in. We debate minutiae such as what is and isn’t to be included in romance novels and what does and does not constitute an acceptable “cuss word”.

Why are we not at the frontier, blazing trails and leaving messages that inexorably draw outsiders IN and define the speculative fiction genre? Why doesn’t anyone take hold of CS Lewis’ clarion call, emblazon it on a banner and charge into battle with it held high: “What we want…are more little books by Christians on other subjects with the Christianity latent.”

OK, I will. I plan on galloping forward with the ultimate goal of storming the stronghold of outsider speculative fiction in the name of Jesus Christ with genre warping fiction. CS Lewis again: “No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring a tuppence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”*

Anyone up to taking on Mordor, Coruscant or Castle Dracula with me?

* If you are considering emailing me to say that this quote disproves my thesis, I’d ask you to read it again and meditate a bit more deeply.



Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Good article, Guy. I like your examples of Christians who established new ground.

There actually have been some authors who have done something similar today, but it seems a good number of Christians manage to look down on them. One is "end time fiction." The other is "bonnet books."

These are not copies of something in secular publishing, but instead of celebrating that fact, so many disparage them, almost for the reason that they are NOT like anything the secular publishing world is producing.


sally apokedak said...

I love that Lewis quote. I was reading along and thinking, "Yeah, great, but how do we write original stuff? I'm not a great thinker. I don't think up fresh stuff." But I have found that the truth does actually feel pretty fresh in the YA market right now even though it's been so many times before.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Michael said...

So you're sayin' I should speak from my heart? So you're sayin' you'd like help to write some Jesusy fan fiction? I'm not a good writer, but I have more ideas than a crazy person talkin' to a wall. You know how I like to challenge things.