7.8.13

IWSG: No God Allowed

Time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group, founded by our fearless leader, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, I have a question for you. First, a bit of background. My first published novel, Three Daves, is a mainstream, college-age, chick-lit/romance. Early on in the story, two of the students have a brief discussion about King David and the Bible. Soon after, the main character tosses the Bible into her bolster, never to be seen again for the rest of the story, but I cap off each chapter with a relevant Psalm, offset from the main text and easy to skip over should a reader choose to do so. If you haven't read the book, you're just going to have to trust me that it's done in an entirely non-preachy manner.

Well, every once in a while a review will pop up in which the reviewer leaves a comment to the effect of "I almost stopped reading when they started talking about the Bible" or "I was afraid when they started talking about the Bible."  I don't understand this. Real people do discuss Biblical figures and scriptures from time to time, and isn't college a time when minds are extra curious and exploring all manner of topics? Would anyone almost stop reading or be "afraid" if the characters instead talked about an historical figure like Abraham Lincoln or if I quoted Shakespeare at the end of each chapter instead of King David?

Actually, that question I can answer---I do quote Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln in the text, and I've not gotten one single comment about those bits. So here's my question for you: why do you suppose that a small, non-preachy reference to Biblical figures and scripture in a mainstream novel scares some people to the point of them almost putting the book down?

And by the way, the reason I chose King David wasn't a religious one at all...anyone care to take a stab at why he, of all historical figures, would've been appealing to me for this particular book?

21 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

Where I come from we were taught at a very early age never to discuss sex, politics, religion, or ethnicity. It was considered impolite to delve into someone's inner life (as it were).

Considering most wars are started over religious reasons, I can understand how it could be considered controversial to some.

Even a small thing like a bible verse in a book can set some people off. They may consider it "preaching" (even though it's not).

I just published a short story dealing with an angel and writing a novella that deals with religious persecution so I'm a little nervous how it's all going to be received. It's not my usual forte.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm not religious, but I can't see why people would freak out about that. It's part of who the character is. That's like freaking out because they mentioned they love eating mango ice cream!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sad, isn't it? I bet you could discuss any other religion and not get much response. Something about Christianity and the Bible just causes a reaction in people, either good or bad.

Linda King said...

I'm not religious myself but I find the Bible stories fascinating and relevant and they're a big part of my early schooling. I don't know why someone would be 'scared' - except that maybe they were afraid the book was going to be preachy in some way. Weird!

Isis Rushdan said...

Overtly opening the door to religion with a discussion about something in the bible is an invitation for major backlash in a mainstream book by an unknown writer, especially in the beginning. I think once a reader is comfortable with the characters and story, then a writer could do that more successfully if it's not preachy. Beginnings are about setting a tone and letting the reader know what's in store, so I can see why some would have a problem with it. Shrug it off and look at it as a learning lesson. Don't be afraid to be true to your voice or to write what's in your heart, even if it could be perceived as a sticky topic.

D.G. Hudson said...

I think that any book quoting scripture and sometimes even mentioning religion is going to get scrutinized by those sensitive to the subject - either for or against. I don't agree that it's only against Christian theology, its spreads over other religions as well.

It's something an author has to be aware of, and learn from. Yes, write honestly and from the heart and be ready to battle the naysayers if needed.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I found your Psalm references and your character's interest in King David an interesting layer of her personality, as spirituality often is in a person. So why can't it be there in a character in a novel? Geesh!

Johanna Garth said...

Three Dave's...King David...I think I got it :)

Strange reaction because whether or not your are religious, the bible is part of our history as humankind.

Steven said...

The subject material I write on often touches on many religions. It's a topic that makes quite a few people uneasy. Some of it is personal insecurity, some comes from those who use religion as a tool of manipulation and some comes from a difference of opinion. I've had people state I am going to hell or who dislike my religious upbringing. Just be respectful like you have been and forget the critics.

Janie Junebug said...

Biblical references are part of common conversations. The Hurricane is no longer a believer (she WILL be back), but she often says how grateful she is for her Christian education because she understand so many allusions and symbols that other people don't get. Being afraid of religion is just plain silly. You don't proselytize.

Love,
Janie

Jennifer Lane said...

It's a good thing you didn't mention King David 'til the end of this post 'cause I would've stopped reading right then! ;-)

I think our culture has become more secular and any mention of the Bible makes some people anxious. They might fear that you will start proselytizing? (Which you didn't do.) I thought the Bible verses were nice though I don't think I entirely understood why they were there.

Great IWSG topic!

Jennifer Lane said...

Doh! I just read Johanna's comment and now get the King David connection!

Cherie Colyer said...

I read and loved Three Daves, and the Psalms didn't bother me. But, a couple of my newer WIP have angels and demons in them and I've unintentionally upset a CP or two. My pages have even sparks a few interesting conversations. I think as authors we walk a thin line when there is any religious reference.

And I totally missed the King David connection until now, too.

Suze said...

'Real people do discuss Biblical figures and scriptures from time to time, and isn't college a time when minds are extra curious and exploring all manner of topics?'

Yup. And in answer to your question, is it because David, ahem, experimented?

Autumn Markus said...

We're such a touchy people (lol). Right or wrong, many people perceive mention of religion as implied judgement. Maybe we all have a deep seated worry that we're not 'good' enough, and so take mention of God by an author as implication that they are (or consider themselves) 'better' than we are? Especially when we're escaping reality by being voyeurs in the love life of someone else (even if that someone is imaginary)?

I don't have issues with religious references (hell, I read and LOVED Jan Karon's MITFORD series, and the protag there is a 60 YO Episcopalian minister--lol), but I have seen the criticisms you mention in the reviews of romance novels, especially.

Julie Flanders said...

As others have said, Biblical references are often part of conversations and I can't imagine anyone having a problem with this. Very strange and also seems like a total over-reaction to me!

Carrie-Anne said...

I recently finished reading Three Daves, and I didn't mind the Psalm quotes at all. I'm religious myself, and really enjoy when a book incorporates a religious element or is about religious people, of any religion or denomination. I think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction from how it was 100 years ago. I find atheist fanatics just as offensive and off-putting as religious fanatics!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think that it's perfectly fine to include references to the Bible and religion in your book, especially if it works. And it's good that you made sure it wasn't preachy. I must confess I stopped reading a book once that had religious references, but it wasn't exactly because of the religious aspects. It was because it felt like all the characters and the author were preaching to me. That is, on every other page it felt like I was reading a sermon, and I remember one scene where the teen protagonist got upset because some other people weren't as moved by what their religious leader was saying as she was. But when it's done right, I think it's okay. And it doesn't sound like you were trying to pressure anyone to adopt your beliefs like that other author was.

michelle said...

I tend to agree with you that there's a certain hypersensitivity amongst people, when it comes to Biblical references. People need to keep an open mind because the inclusion of such references does NOT necessarily mean that it's preachy. I wonder if this extends to other religions as well...
Writer In Transit

Michael Di Gesu said...

IT just boils down to the tension in our world. Look at how we ALL have to watch what we say and do in public.

An innocent statement twenty years ago would be highly insulting and politically incorrect know. People get offended by the most ridiculous things.

Not that I'm saying religion is ridiculous, this is a general statement.

Spiritual beliefs are part of our society. Why shouldn't a character have them? It's ridiculous to put down a book because of a psalm reference.

Again, people tend to over react. It's a sign of our times. We, as writers, need to write what WE believe, and if someone gets offended, Oh, well. That really is THEIR problem.

Dani said...

I don't know why people react the way they do when it comes to novels or books. It for entertainment. My reaction would have been, "I'd rather you stopped reading, then comment about why would wanted to stop reading."
When will people ever learn not to read/watch something that stirs negative emotion in them instead of just embrassing it and excepting it for what it is.
Great post!