Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Writing and Religion


I’m thinking about eliminating religious themes from my books and stories. Why? A very good question. Religion is a turn off to many readers. A reader may be going along, becoming interested in the plot and characters and then, bam! God pokes his head in and the reader says sayonara. It isn’t every reader, but enough to make a difference. I know it’s true because reviews say so. Sometimes the reviewer is very explicit, writing something like: “I was interested until the author started bringing God (or Christianity, or religion) into the story. Then I became angry and put it down.” At least such reviewers are honest. I believe, however, that their reviews say more about themselves than the story.

Then, there are the reviewers who find another reason to dislike the story, but implicit in their comments is a strong dislike for anything that even suggests that there is a God out there. They are offended that God has any interest in what happens in this world. Such readers may make remarks like: the characters were flat or the plot didn’t interest me, usually coupled with comments that reveal their complete disdain for all things religious, particularly Christian. Comments such as “Too many biblical references or the characters seemed too knowledgeable about God” are common.

My problem is that I find it hard to write about anything apart from God. All I need to do is look out the window and I see his presence. I tried in my most recent book to tone down the religion. “Minotaur Revisited” features the Minotaur of Greek mythology living through thousands of years of history, coming in contact with historical characters, some biblical, some real and some fictional. There is an undercurrent of religious questioning that runs along with the story. The Minotaur experiences God and gods during many of his adventures and is never sure what it all means or if he should believe in any god, be it Zeus or Yahweh. Yet, what to me are subtle references to religion strike other readers as outright proselytizing. This is never my intention. Every religious reference I make is, at least in my opinion, integral to the plot and/or character.

“Future Hope”, Book One in the ITP series, carries the protagonist, Major David Sanders, and the reader to a fictional Eden where there are sharp contrasts between that “mythical” world and the futuristic earth. One world has forgotten God, while the other can’t live a moment without seeing His presence. Major Sanders’ physical and spiritual journey eventually leads to a clash between the two worlds. God and religion are integral to the plot and elimination of either would gut the story.

“Joshua and Aaron: ITP Book Two” brings God and religion down to a more personal level. Joshua Smith is thrust into the middle of a cosmic battle between God and Satan. Once again, religion is central and trying to eliminate God and religion would decimate the story. I suppose the story line could be altered from God vs. Satan to: good vs. bad, or the Force vs. the Dark Side, or Dark vs. Light. Perhaps such alterations would widen the appeal of the ITP series, but it would also trivialize the underlying theme. God vs. Satan is a battle that has been raging since the beginnings of the Bible. Replacing such an important concept with abstract notions of good and evil would weaken the impact of these stories. God vs. Satan, biblical ideas and Jesus ask the reader to make a choice, something “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” never do. After all, “Star Wars” takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and “Lord of the Rings” is set in Middle Earth a land filled with Elves, Wizards, Hobbits and Orcs. Even though “Future Hope” and “Joshua and Aaron” unfold one hundred fifty years from now, it is on earth where the battle is fought; an earth that is a logical extension of the world we inhabit today.

There is no question that god and religion are integral to the ITP series. But what about books I’ve written about surgery? A review of “Behind the Mask” posted on Amazon.com carries the heading “too much God.” The writer states that he enjoyed much of the writing and found the book to be informative, but God popping up at various points was distracting, because he was not a religious person. My problem is that I cannot look at this world, look at humanity, look at the amazing biological apparatus called Homo Sapiens and see it apart from God. We humans are truly “Fearfully and Wonderfully made.” Therefore, “Behind the Mask” and “Under the Drapes” include reference to God within the context and flow of the narrative. I don’t believe that such references are excessive or unnecessary. Rather, my use of religion and God reveals their importance in this world, as well as my life and work. The goal of these books is to bring the reader into this rarely seen world of disease and blood and life and death. I cannot accomplish this goal apart from God, because I see his hand in everything.

“Too much God?” I don’t think this is possible.