Last month the lead article for the New York Times Book Review section was entitled “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?” In it the author Paul Elie asks where the great Christian fiction writers have gone.
He notes that this is a significant shift from earlier times. Whereas Christian themes at one time featured prominently in great American stories, now they sit on the margins:
This, in short, is how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover. Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. Half a century after Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price and John Updike presented themselves as novelists with what O’Connor called “Christian convictions,” their would-be successors are thin on the ground.
Far from celebrating the shift, Elie offers a lament. Most significant to him is that Christians today should be so absent from the world of literary fiction.
It’s a strange development. Strange because the current upheavals in American Christianity — involving sex, politics, money and diversity — cry out for dramatic treatment. Strange because upheavals in Christianity across the Atlantic gave rise to great fiction from “The Brothers Karamazov” to “Brideshead Revisited.” Strange because novelists are depicting the changing lives of American Jews and Muslims with great success.
In response to the dearth of Christian-themed fiction, the author encourages writers to craft stories “in which religion catches the characters, the author and the reader by surprise.” We often respond defensively to a frontal assault, but a well-written, unexpected presentation of our faith can “suggest the ways that instances of belief can seize individual lives.”
Some of you are writers. Maybe God would use an article like this to spur you to think deeply, write creatively, and inspire an increasingly secular society with news that would upend their world.