August 21, 2014

Christianity in YA

I've been mulling this post over in my mind for a couple months now, and I'm still not certain I have all of my thoughts collected. But this is a post I don't want to procrastinate writing.

I've noticed that, in most YA books (particularly contemporary), the characters are either Jewish, agnostic, or atheist. Rarely are Christians encountered - or at least true Christians. Most "religious" or "churchy" characters are hypocrites, jerks, or are just what the world thinks Christians are. There's the whole mean pastor trope, and the Christian super good girl stereotype (that's often about that girl only being that way because that's what her family wants), and there are sometimes philosophical discussions about whether God and heaven really exist.

I'm fine with a wide variety of religions being represented in fiction. I'd just like to see Christianity represented more accurately in books that aren't strictly religious. I'd like faith to be a large part of a character but not all they discuss, because I believe in God, Jesus, the Bible, heaven, etc., but it's not all I talk about (although a lot of my thoughts and actions do revolve around what I believe is right, and most of that comes from the Bible). Wow, that was a long sentence.

In my own writings, I've had several Christian characters who mention praying, going to church, God, and so forth, but since they're never solely religious stories, it doesn't usually go beyond that. In a current WIP, I've created a fantasy world, and I had to decide if that world and my characters were going to be religious, particularly since magic exists (sort of in a Narnian and Disney way). It was interesting to create a variety of characters whose religions are similar to Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, and atheism (this is a fantasy world after all, so I don't think they'd actually use the same names we do). I think some of my characters are going to be more devout than others. I want them to bring up questions among themselves about why they believe a certain thing and let everyone still get along after these debates, but I don't want this book to be religious. I just want it to be a matter of life, like it is in my own. I also want to challenge "the church is EVIL" trope.  Yes, currently, I'm planning for the church in a few kingdoms to have a bit of an Inquisition, but I think it's important to acknowledge the following fact. There are bad churches and there are good churches. Some are firmly rooted in the Word of God and others just claim to be Christian. What I believe matters most is the condition of the believers' hearts. Are they a true Christian and do their actions exhibit what they believe?

One thing I don't like is when any novel - even religious Christian fiction - gets too preachy. I can go to church and read Christian nonfiction if I want a sermon (or something similar). I don't like when books get too preachy about other religions or issues. And if a book goes against my views too much, I'll stop reading or won't read it. That's the whole point of my "The Ugly" category in reviews. As a Christian, I'm careful about what I put in my mind. I don't tolerate an excessive amount of swearing, sexual content, drug/alcohol content, or mysticism. It's also why I tend to not read horror novels (besides the fact that I have an overactive imagination and won't be able to sleep without having nightmares for weeks if I read those books) or ones with magic that's too reminiscent of witchcraft.

I probably got a little rambly, but I wanted to get my thoughts out there on this topic. If anything I've said in this post offends you, I apologize (not for my beliefs, though, just making that clear). This isn't me starting a debate; this is me starting a discussion that I hope will remain calm and respectful. What do you think about Christianity in YA? Would you be open to more Christian characters who don't fit into one of the tropes? Have anything else you want to discuss relating to this topic? Let's talk! :)

7 comments:

  1. I totally agree with this post! I really wish that Christians were more accurately represented. If the religion is represented, it's very stereotypical and almost always kind of seen as a bad thing. At least that's how I feel. I definitely like having a wide variety of religions in books, but I would like to see more Christians. Thanks so much for writing this!

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  2. It's very rare for me to read something besides fantasy, which usually has a fictional belief system, so I've never really encountered this problem. The thing I did notice was that in fiction, all Christians are Catholic, and I'm a Lutheran with big problems about the Catholic church, so I kind of don't mind it when I do see it? But yeah. What I want is more Protestants in books. On the other hand, I loved how Girl of Fire and Thorns handled it.

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    1. I haven't noticed all Christians being Catholic in fiction, but maybe I just haven't read the right books. I do agree with you that Girl of Fire and Thorns handled the Christian-esque religion very well; that was one of my favorite things about the book.

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  3. I think it's really awesome that you wrote this post! Just a few days ago I wrote a post about 5 things that never happen in novels, and this was one of the things. The post doesn't go live until Monday, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.
    I feel like all religion is kind of put on the back burner in general market contemporary YA. I think that's sad, because religion is one of the biggest decisions we make for ourselves between the ages of 14-20. Anyway, I love this post!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    Inklined

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  4. I mostly read fantasy, and Christian fantasy at that. So, I'm probably not the most qualified person to talk about this. But I do agree: Christians (along with other religions) should be represented accurately in fiction.

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  5. I LOVE this post. I definitely see Christians being represented as bad people. I can't recall any Christians who were represented accurately in non-religious YA books. This is such a great point and I completely agree with you.

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  6. I wish that people talked about this more! Even though I'm personally not religious, I still wish that Christianity was more accurately represented in YA novels. Especially because a LOT of people are Christian. It doesn't make sense to not include it in books! And I think that Sarah made a great point about how religion is such a big decision that most people deal with in their teenage years...more books about that would be a great addition to YA :) But I also think that you're right...too much religion in a book can get preachy and weird. Authors don't want to alienate their readers by making it too God-focused. But to not include it at all in (basically) any YA book? That's wrong, too.

    I can think of a New Adult duology (the first book is Good by S. Walden) that actually does a GREAT job of representing a character who has a strong personal Christian belief system in a way that doesn't take over the plot or come off as a preachy...but it also has a lot of sex in it, so I don't think it'd be your kind of thing haha. But just reading that one example of it done well made me realize how much that kind of thing is missing in YA. There's such a huge gap for it!

    GREAT post! :)

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