You may have read this week that Amazon has started a Christian book imprint that will publish “faith-based non-fiction and fiction.” I first saw the story on Yahoo News. The article only has a few comments, but I wish to address them because they unfortunately indicate common opinions that I find objectionable. The first comment, by a “Chad Vader,” finds “faith based fiction” problematic:
“will publish “faith-based non-fiction and fiction,”
Faith based non-fiction? Really?
Religion has one intent. To save souls. I could never understand “faith based fiction.”
Isn’t that the definition of a snake oil salesman?
It’s hard enough, and takes “faith”, to follow what you wish to believe is true. Now let’s generate fiction (truly, make believe) to really get the holy spirit rolling?
Religion should NEVER use fantasy to help convince.
Amazon sees how easy it is to make money selling snake oil.
My advice. It’s an area of business that’s only purpose is to take advantage of others. Stay out of it.
It may be easy to dismiss “Chad Vader” and like-minded folks as philistines, but Chad Vader likely appreciates “non-faith based fiction” (though we might ask if there is such a thing), given his pen name and avatar. Though apparently a Christian, Chad may be a victim of creeping secularism that has built a “wall of separation” in Chad’s mind between religion and art. What justification can there be for such a separation? Man is a worshiping animal, and man is a creative animal. Only a bizarre psychic schism would prevent a man’s religion from informing his art. For a man creates from his inner resources—training, talent, experience, knowledge, inner state—and his religion has probably affected a large portion of those resources. Why would one want to enfeeble the life giving springs of art?
Chad’s worry seems to be that Christian fiction would sully the truth value of the gospel, and such reminds him of a snake oil salesman. One obvious difference is that the artist is transparent about his fiction; he does not pass it off as a historical record. He “sells” a story that the muses (or divine light, though I repeat myself) inspired him to create, and the truth value of such rests in its honesty about its subject matter (usually the human condition), though its particularities are made up. The snake oil peddler, by contrast, deceives his customers by claiming that his product is something that it is not.
Moreover, one would think that a Christian would readily see the usefulness of fiction to religion—especially since the author and finisher of our faith was so adept in making up ingenious parables that have taught billions of largely uneducated people many rather profound lessons. “Religion should NEVER use fantasy to help convince.” But what about using fantasy to elucidate? Or what about using fiction as a form of doxology? There are many literary genres that convey truth, and it is meet and right to employ all the treasures of the arts to glorify God. I am reminded of McGuckin’s essay on the Beautiful. Religion informs art, and art informs religion. They are both gifts from God to be rendered back to him in gratitude.
Another commentator—“J”—makes the following cynical point:
“and authors and promoters alike are still trying to understand the perfect formula for turning those books into dollars.”
Religion and money. That’s what it’s all about. Get the rubes to buy your books, What a racket.
I addressed J’s point in “Disney the Corrupter of Youth?”:
I watched a fascinating but revolting documentary a year or so ago about marketing to children, but I cannot remember the name. The program argued that companies manipulate children to determine their parents’ spending behavior. I believe that the documentary even stated that some cartoons were produced with the intention of selling merchandise. Obviously, the coin counters at Disney have mastered that game. Nonetheless, we cannot reduce the artistic product to the merchandising, even if, in one sense, the chief reason for the product’s existence is the merchandise. For there were writers and animators who crafted a piece of art. Their efforts may have been commissioned, facilitated, and perhaps even directed by the coin counters, but their actions as producers of art are not identical to their actions as money-makers for the company.
The abbot’s criticism could be applied to any human undertaking that coexists with paid work. We who find the coin counters merely pallid shades of real manhood hope that artists create art for the love of such creation and that teachers disseminate their learning for the love of knowledge. Yet, for most artists and teachers, their work has some component of wage-earning, as well. Unless one is rich, one has to pay for shelter and victuals. A person has to feed his children. Consider the history of art, and you will quickly see how most of the revered masters worked for commission. I think that it is clear that their work far transcends simply the desire to pay the bills, but practical matters matter in our human life of scarcity.
Perhaps, the abbot has a point about Disney the company—the commodification of culture in the age of mass production is disgusting. However, fine works can come from sordid circumstances. The nineteenth century amply supplies examples. Moreover, we should ponder the difficulties that underlie this issue. What is the end of production? Is it simply money-making, or are there other proper ends for human endeavors that may earn a living?
The head honchos at Amazon likely just want to increase profits and to grow the company. So? Many aristocrats over the centuries just wanted to show off their status when they commissioned sculptures, musical compositions, and paintings. Is there any doubt that their petty desire to invoke jealousy amongst their peers resulted in a marvelous enrichment of Western civilization? May Amazon’s venture bring forth good fruit.
Speaking of Amazon and of Christian fiction, fellow Orthodox Ohioan (and Beltway transplant) Deacon Brian Patrick Mitchell has published a new book set at the beginning of the fourth century—A Crown of Life: A Novel of the Great Persecution. I wish the good deacon much success and many more visits by the muses.