Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Religion in Books and Why I Am Not Always Okay With It

Posted by

Religion in books makes me uncomfortable. There, I said it. It’s not because I have anything against religion, it’s just that in a lot of my experiences, books that are based on some sort of religious myth tend to draw heavily from Christian mythology and that’s really where I start feeling uncomfortable. It’s not that these myths cannot be done well but in a lot of my experiences what ends up happening is that all other religions become excluded from this world found on one kind of myth and as a reader who isn’t Christian or really aware of many of these myths, I am excluded from the novel.

I realize this isn’t unintentionally done but this brings us back to the issue of diversity in literature. BECAUSE DIVERSITY. Religious diversity, is surprisingly hard to find. It’s not like everyone is born Christian or that other religions don’t have amazing myths to use.

So what brought on this post? I just read a book that said God was real. And God can be real. I think, especially in fantasy, religion can add so much more to the world building of a novel but by saying God is real, you already exclude other ‘religious realities’ such as the existence of multiple Gods, no Gods at all, etc. So where does it leave all those readers?

I am not really religious and wasn’t brought up in a religious household so I don’t have a problem with religion (it was never shoved down my throat so I never really thought of religion in negative terms), I have a problem with one religious identity being presented as the norm. If there is a book that wants to borrow from Christian Mythology that is fine but how does one do that without alienating other religions? How does one create a world that acknowledges that not everyone is Christian but is also able to create a world based on one mythology?

That is real question, to be honest. I don’t know the answer, I just want to bring forth something that has been making me rage-y. I don’t want this post to be seen as me telling people what they can or cannot believe or saying that their beliefs are right and wrong. I just want people to be aware of the fact that this can be a problem for some readers like me who find it super frustrating when they aren’t represented in literature and when books seem to imply that there is one ‘right’ belief.

How do you feel about religion in books? Do you think we need more representation in terms of religion? How do you think books could be more inclusive? Let’s TALK!

The following two tabs change content below.
Rashika has been tired since 2013. There are very few things that spark joy for her besides a nice cup of tea, warm, baked goods, good books and good TV shows. She is here to pile onto your giant TBRs and to-watch lists. Offer her a cookie and she might be nice to you.

18 Responses to “Religion in Books and Why I Am Not Always Okay With It”

  1. Aaron

    That was a great post and I’m shocked that I’ve never really noticed the lack of religious diversity in Fantasy before.

  2. Bee @ Quite the Novel Idea

    I’m not very fond of religion of books since some can come across as preachy. Since I’m not a religious person myself, this is a major turnoff. However, I recently read The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, which includes religious themes, but it did so really really well. It wasn’t preachy and it was just a part of one of the MC’s life. Just like loving boys is part of a gay person’s life. It didn’t define the MC and I really liked that. It wasn’t shoved down my throat or took up more room than it needed to. 🙂 It’s really hard to do, but Jeff’s book really did it superbly.

  3. Beks

    I did grow up a Christian, and read a LOT of Christian fiction as a kid (a lot of it was terrible, but some of it wasn’t bad). I think it might come down to authors writing what they know. Until the last couple decades, I think Catholicism or Protestantism was how almost everyone was brought up, so when looking to include some kind of religion in a fantasy story, they go to what they know. It also might be an easy-out, since there are still a lot of people familiar with it, but you’re right. It definitely alienates a potential demographic.

  4. Megan

    I’m definitely pretty if-y on books that are heavily religious. I find they can very easily become preach-y and make we frustrated or uncomfortable. And I do find most of those books are Christian. I actually tend to avoid any books that mention God or Christianity in the description. That said, I have read a few books that feature religion in a way that actually worked for me, so I know it can be done.

  5. Christine

    I grew up in a house with very faint Christian undertones, so I don’t have strong feelings either. But as a writer, I’ve really danced around incorporating religion into fiction. It makes me uncomfortable too, mostly because I think it would get preachy quickly and that’s not why I write. I think if religion ever makes an appearance in my fiction (I write speculative these days) it would be a completely new religion in an alternate world or the distant future.

  6. Michelle @ Mishfish13

    I’m definitely with you on that. I dislike religion in books. Brief mention of it is fine, but if it’s one of the main components of the read, I start feeling like I’m taking a class in Christianity or something and it makes me uncomfortable. Coming from someone who has had religion shoved down her throat on occasion, the whole concept turns me off.

    That being said, I’m not sure if you watch Supernatural, but that show has A LOT of religious undertone/overtone/tone in it. Which is slightly strange.

  7. Lilyn G

    I’m not religious…at all. I’ve noticed this too. I don’t mind reading a book with religion featuring heavily if its well done, but … I can count those books on one hand. 🙁

  8. Rosie

    I’m not religious at all, and I grew up going to Christian schools – the last school I went to had a few teachers who tried to ram it down our throats, which wasn’t great – but I do get why people are religious, and that’s ok. Reading about religion in books doesn’t really bother me, unless it’s preachy.

    I’ve not read that many books which heavily feature religion, so maybe that’s why. Authors write about what they know, and I don’t know, it just doesn’t really bother me.

  9. Chelsea @ Books for Thought

    I’m not gonna lie, I have given up on book as soon as I see religion on them. I just can’t do it. Most often I find that it’s not just a little bit of religion either. They shove it down your throat until you’re sick of it. I have nothing against religious people in real life but I find it can be a little too extreme in books.

  10. Adelena @ A Page of Heaven

    From the many fantasy books I’ve read, a majority of them are based off Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, where there is the existence of many gods. It’s actually pretty rare to see fantasy books state that there’s one true God in the world (at least from the ones I’ve read). I don’t really mind religion in fantasy novels but I understand what you mean about feeling slightly excluded. As I’m Christian, it’s also a little hard for me sometimes to relate to a book where there are multiple gods or none at all. However, I feel that if a fictional world have come to the conclusion that there’s one God/multiple gods/no god at all, it’s just a fact in that fictional realm and it doesn’t mean the author’s trying to push his/her beliefs on readers or is trying to exclude anyone. Just like how if a fictional world has gold that grows on trees and we don’t, it’s just stating a fact about that world and it doesn’t mean our world is wrong for not having gold that grows on trees.

    Personally, I find it brave when authors dare to add religion into their world-building. It’s not easy as all religions have so many different teachings, parables, and practices. Of course, the execution might end up pretty bad, but I think all authors courageous enough to venture into religion in their stories deserve a pat on the back.

    But what I cannot stand is if an author is obviously basing a fantasy novel’s religion off of one that exists in real life and uses nasty stereotypes to describe those who believe in it. It’s kind of passive-aggressive and not cool at all.

    However, when it comes to contemporary and historical novels, I tend to stay away from those that has lots of religion involved. A recent one was Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray where she tried to portray diversity but ended up stereotyping all Chinese as superstitious (and believe in one same religion) and assuming anyone who has a religion of any sort is homophobic. It’s pretty sad that in trying to represent diverse races and sexualities, she ended up misrepresenting many others at the same time.

    Also, it’s brave of you to share your thoughts on religion in books! Not many people dare to touch on what others might consider a “sensitive” topic!

  11. titania86 @ Fishmuffins of Doom

    I completely agree. I was raised in a Catholic household and I’m no longer religious. I don’t mind mythologies being used, but when the world assumes that the Christian god is real, it usually bothers me because it ventures into preachy territory. One of the most surprising ones to me was Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland series. It had a really weirdly preachy religious slant to it that I just don’t want with my zombies or my retellings.

  12. Briana @ Pages Unbound

    Honestly, I can’t think of a contemporary book I’ve read that wasn’t specifically a Christian fiction book that had any religion in it at all. (Real religions that is, not made-up ones like in Tamora Pierce’s novels.) Classics sometimes mention versions of Christianity and Chaim Potok was a great Jewish writer, but I find contemporary fiction very atheist, to be honest. I’d love to see more religion included in characters’ lives, including but not limited to Christianity. I think the implications that there is no God/gods at all in fiction can feel equally excluding and even preachy to readers who do have some type of faith.

  13. Annika

    I’m not a religious person at all, and I can feel uncomfortable when I read about characters in more contemporary fiction who are religious. Sometimes, there’s just this feeling of atheists etc. being judged. It might just be me reading into it too much, and I believe everyone should have the right to believe or not believe whatever they want. (Except if someone doesn’t believe in evolution. That’s kind of a deal-breaker for me.)

  14. Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I am not religious either, and wasn’t raised in a religious household. Like you, I’ve always been incredibly open to other people’s religions. I mean, it’s a personal choice, no? Yet I don’t often read books with religious tones, aside from Greek/Roman mythology. I do read those because first of all, I love that culture and mythology, but second, there are almost no people who still believe in it. And somehow, that makes me feel better about it. But you’re right, I’ve barely read books with religious tones other than Christianity. I did read two books about an Amish girl during the apocalypse. That’s all. Another reason it makes me uncomfortable, is because sometimes it feels like religion is being shoved at me. I don’t think I’ve even read a fair amount (or any) books about atheists…

    Great post! We need diversity in this aspect too.

  15. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    I feel exactly the same as you Rashika – I find it uncomfortable especially when a book shares it in a really preachy manner, particularly because I’m not Christian. I don’t mind it featuring it at all, but if it’s going to be all about it, then I prefer not to read it if that makes sense?