Piety, by Literature7:30 AM
We all know her. She's rude, insensitive, hypocritical and distasteful. She has morbid interests in death and musty churches and punishment for children. She sticks her nose in other people's business with a "But this is the Word of God!" and a shake of her finger. Everybody hates her and stabs her in the back. It's not as if she's a real human being.
And she isn't. I'm talking about the depictions of Christians in literature.
Somehow, somewhere, someone got the memo that Christians, for all their talk of piety and holiness, can be hypocrites just like the rest of us. To them, the fault lies in having a standard - not in failing to keep that standard. Not for the Real World are rules and regulations - they operate by an internal code which is honorable no matter how marred by immorality or lack of self-control or any other sin. The only true sin (says the honorable person) is saying you adhere to a standard. Breaking that standard is close second.
(Never mind that Muslims or Jews or any number of other religions have rules and a God who ordered them. To parody them would be intolerant, don't you know.)
I collect stock characters and stereotypes, and the collection is rather swollen due to a long reading career. I love the ditsy innocent types - the fools and the peasant people who make you laugh no matter how many times you've seen them pop up in a million different tales. I love the mysterious, dark men and the silent strength of the mothers. I love the doting papas and the fun-loving uncles who toss their nephews in the air and ride their nieces around on their shoulders.
What I don't love? The stereotypical religious person. I would come across this embittered, senseless Bible-thumper - the one and only portrayal of religion (save for tolerance, which came in the form of feminist aunts and other liberated females who had their own views and didn't need anybody to tell them how to live, thank you very much). I would just sit there, angry and hurt and shamefully contemplating whether my Jesus could ever have any part of that religion the author clearly mocked.
Have you ever read Jacob Have I Loved? You'll know what I'm talking about, then. The grandmother alone is enough to poison the joy of any Christian.
Recently I picked up a novel which told the story in letters (a New York Times bestseller - if that didn't tip me off, then...). One of the letters is from the town meddler, a hypocritical woman who felt compelled to tell the protagonist about the secret sins of other people. Yours in Christian consternation she signed off, after spilling the tale of immorality, made-up slights and general impiety. Her letters reappear to gossip about more faults, and the protagonist is very happy to find out someone slapped her - hard - when she made a group of children cry because of her talk about death and heaven and being good children.
So much for religion. It made my blood boil. That's not me. That's not my church. That's not the majority of brothers and sisters in Christ I know. Yet to the author - to many authors - the very word Christianity is dirty. In their worldview it's a far more terrible sin to have standards than a child out of wedlock - it's a strength to slap someone or use foul language when a more rotten person does something despicable - it's to be praised to defend glaring sins to others (unless, of course, it is the sin of conviction).
I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's accurate. It's a cheap shot at Christianity and a triumphant victory over a strawman. And it's poor characterization (which is a sin in my book, but anyway).
You'll notice that no other depiction of Christianity is offered. The hypocrite never changes his ways. He is heartless to the core and in the story for no other reason than for the other characters to throw darts at. He's not even a character.
He's a moral statement.
Why can't authors deal with real conviction, with genuine Christianity? Why can't we have an overly piestic woman who gives generously and offers wise counsel? Why can't we have a stingy old man who, despite his hard ways, ends up being right after all? Why can't we have characters dealing with and being tolerant of Christians, instead of creating a stereotype and steamrolling it right over?
In our world of tolerance and relative morality, we've been brainwashed to think that secular authors profess to have no worldview and merely tell the world as it is.
I don't buy that anymore. Until the piestic parodies fall from the face of literature, I say that being objective is not the authors' motive. Who's the hypocrite now?
(And don't get me started on the hopelessly out-of-date, "the Bible is my only guide" people who are ignorant and naive and harm only themselves in their humdrum state of religion. They are even more frustrating.)
But in the same turn, perhaps we should strive to be the kind of Christians who cannot be spoken ill of - who perhaps get parodied and ridiculed, but only by those desperate to avoid conviction themselves. The kind of Christians with whom the majority of the unsaved will gladly rub shoulders. Not compromising conviction, of course, but actually living the Christian life.
You can't steamroller over a real man without consequences. Let's put life back into Christianity and stuff the strawman back into the attic.