[personal profile] rj_anderson
Okay, I have just come across the second book review in as many days which describes how, in the course of the story, a young person involved in an evangelical Christian church is struggling with doubts and goes to their pastor, a parent, or other trusted authority figure for advice. And what they are told, in both these books, is "Don't question, don't think, just pray and believe."

To which I say, what?

Now, to be fair, I'm sure this does actually happen in real life at times. I'm sure there are places where people are that ignorant, or that lacking in confidence about the integrity of their beliefs, that honest questions and doubts frighten them and they try to silence the questioner as soon as possible. So I'm not saying this scenario is implausible, as such.

That being said, I have spent my whole life attending conservative evangelical Christian churches, and I have NEVER heard anyone say anything like this. Not from the pulpit, not in small Bible studies, not in personal conversation. What I've always heard instead is that the Christian faith is reasonable and that there is good evidence for believing it, and that people who are struggling with doubts and questions need more information, not less.

In my experience, the most likely scenario is that the doubting person will be referred to a preacher or elder or other spiritual counselor to discuss the issues that are causing them doubt and confusion. The counselor would then do a Bible study with the doubting person to help them see what the Bible really says about those troublesome issues, and would probably also suggest some books which give historical, philosophical, logical and scientific evidences for the integrity of the Christian faith.

All of which is not to say that the doubting person will necessarily respond to that counseling, or that they won't still turn their back on their faith at the end of it. They may decide that the evidence offered to them is unsatisfying and/or that their feelings of dissatisfaction are too strong to allow them to continue as a practicing Christian (or at least in that particular church). But will they be able to say that they were told, "Reason has nothing to do with faith, so just shut up and believe"? Not in my experience. In fact, I'd say that would be proof that something was very badly wrong with that church and no one of integrity or good conscience should be associated with it anyway.

When John the Baptist was in prison and began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah (and the gospels tell us quite clearly that he did), Jesus didn't say, "Tell John I'm disappointed in him for his lack of faith." He didn't even say, "Tell John to remember what he saw with his own eyes when he baptized Me -- how the Spirit of God came down from heaven like a dove and the Father Himself declared that He was well pleased with Me." Instead, He performed a number of new miracles in the sight of John's disciples, and he said, "Go back and tell John what you have just seen -- how I have healed these people before your eyes. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

And then, instead of launching into a sermon on the evils of doubt using John as an example, Jesus turned to the crowds and began to talk about how great a prophet John was. He did not say one word of reproach against John for struggling with doubt. Instead, He gave John the encouragement -- and evidence -- that he needed to regain his confidence and hope.

That is a Biblical, Christian response to doubt.

Of course, if your whole point is to write a book about how Christianity is weak and unsatisfying and poisonous to the intellect, and how much happier you will be if you abandon it in favor of some other belief (because goodness knows people of other religions and philosophies never ever struggle with doubt or dissatisfaction about those beliefs, and it's not like self-questioning and uncertainty is endemic to mankind or anything) then I guess there's not going to be much room in the book to include things like counseling and apologetics, or any Christian characters who actually possess some degree of intellect, education and integrity.

But if you write a book like that, then I reserve the right to roll my eyes at your bigotry and walk away.

Date: 2010-06-21 02:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gamiila.livejournal.com
Hear, hear!

Date: 2010-06-22 05:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] --kali--.livejournal.com
I second this!

Date: 2010-06-21 03:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] newport2newport.livejournal.com
I, too, bristle at the very idea of being told, "Don't question, don't think, just pray and believe." And I so wish that I could say that my own experiences mirrored the ideals you've described here.

Unfortunately, there *are* those pastors/followers that believe a) the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God; and that b) church doctrine is equally inarguable. It's hard to have a reasoned discussion in those circumstances, no?

And yet, that's what I've observed, many times over--not just in my father's ministry, but in evangelical churches around the country. I don't think I'm alone.

I can't say if those novelists wanted to show Christianity as "weak and unsatisfying and poisonous to the intellect," or whether they were just being true to their own experiences. (Those approaches, of course, aren't mutually exclusive.)

ETA: Wondering also if the "trust and believe" approach might indicate the authors'/publishers' desire to steer clear of "message-driven" novels. But while I'm typing this, I'm realizing there's a clear argument being posited, regardless. And as with Sartorias, I think it's off-putting--to the point that *I* feel like throwing the book across the room. A popular book by a well-established author comes to mind.... But again, other readers may respond differently. I can only speak for myself.

I'm really interested in reading other people's responses to this entry. Because as with you, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

Edited Date: 2010-06-21 04:32 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-06-21 05:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Melodye. Yes, I'm not denying that in certain circles the idea of blind faith and unquestioning obedience to one's church leader(s) and their teachings is very strongly promoted. And I'm not saying books shouldn't be written about this attitude or shouldn't be allowed to include it, not by any means.

I'm just concerned that the books I'm seeing about issues of faith and doubt very often appear to be saying that this is the typical Christian response to doubt and questioning, or even worse, that blind faith and mindless devotion is the essence of Christianity. Whereas I would say that even if the "just shut up and believe" idea has been taught and is being taught and will go on being taught in many places that call themselves Christian churches, it's definitely not universal among Christians (even conservative evangelical Christians) and it's not Biblical either.

Regardless of the progress and outcome of the MC's crisis of faith, if there's just one Christian character in the book who is portrayed as thoughtful and intelligent and informed, and who doesn't play into the stereotypes -- that would go a long way, I think.

Date: 2010-06-22 11:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sreya.livejournal.com
Interesting. My brother was recently going through a tough time, because his roommate was ranting about a bible study group where he pretty much got this response when he asked any questions. (Of course, the silliness of my brother just assuming his roommate's anxiety without trying to answer any of his own questions drove me up the wall, but that's a different story.)

As a Catholic, I've never experienced someone telling me this. However, I've known Catholics who claim this is what they hear, when really, what they're hearing is "This is a doctrine with a long history in the Church, and to explore it, you should read Paul's epistles, and Aquinas, and other Church scholars who can explain it better than I can in five minutes." Which really isn't the same thing... because in that case, it's people who WANT to believe something without thinking about it, without needing reason, instead of something that needs personal effort and a desire to really learn about the truth. Because sometimes the truth is hard, and sometimes exploring Biblical truth means examining your own life and conscience and realizing you need to change something in your life.

Erm... okay, maybe I've wandered off topic. *blushing*

Date: 2010-06-22 11:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sreya.livejournal.com
Oops, sorry, that was supposed to be a direct response to the post - I don't know how it ended up in the middle of a thread!

Date: 2010-06-21 03:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] olmue.livejournal.com

Date: 2010-06-21 03:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shoebox2.livejournal.com

As Paul put it, faith is the 'assured expectation of things hoped for.' He also advised his readers to check out the creation around them as a means of strengthening their faith.

There's also the interesting bit, among many others in the same vein, re: how 'God will do nothing without revealing it to His [prophets],' that is, to his worshipers.

Nowhere in the source material does it advise blind and/or unreasoning faith.

Date: 2010-06-21 04:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] serenasnape.livejournal.com
I've never heard that from a pastor, however in Bible study I've heard the "don't think, just believe (and if you don't, you're not a proper Christian)" line many, many times. It makes me mad, but some people really do think that you can't use your God-given intellect to examine your faith.

Date: 2010-06-21 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Oh, yes. Like I said above, I'm not denying that there are people who really do think that way, and I'm not saying that it's wrong to write books that mention this fact. What I'm arguing against is the common perception that this attitude is universal in evangelical circles, and that to be a conservative Christian you have to buy into this crazy "blind faith is the only kind of faith" idea.

I'd just like to see a few more exceptions to the stereotypes, and some more nuanced handling of this issue, in books for children and teens (and adults, for that matter).

Date: 2010-06-21 09:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] serenasnape.livejournal.com
Yes, that's very true. For example, a good friend of mine is an agnostic or atheist (it seems to vary), but he loves reading and sharing things like this (http://tinyurl.com/2whe9aw), to which I can only say, "Yeah, I don't really like people thinking things like that either." I suppose this is slightly moving off-topic, as it's more about stupidity than a requirement for blind faith, but it's hard sometimes having to remind militant atheists that not everyone religious is stupid - and I agree that more nuanced portrayals in literature would help.

Date: 2010-06-21 04:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com
Excellent. Where on earth do people get these ideas?

Date: 2010-06-21 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com
When I see that response, I usually set aside the book, because too often what comes after shows that 1) the author knows nothing whatsoever about Christianity other than dismissive sound bites about molesting priests and the commerciality of Christmas, plus a heaping helping of political posturing from the extreme right and 2) it's a straw man setup for "believe in yourself because there is nothing else."

Date: 2010-06-21 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Exactly. Beautifully (and concisely) put.

Date: 2010-06-21 04:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lillpluta.livejournal.com
I'm with Melodye on this one ... I've seen some extreme conservatism ... but I think other cultural factors also came into play in those situations. I saw people who would not mingle with Catholics or any one who had different beliefs .. people who fiercely shielded their children from people who might belong to a different Christian denomination. My current neighbor is also an evangelical conservative Christian ... but she is nothing like those people I encountered elsewhere. So, yes, I do find that premise sadly believable. And I understand your being perturbed at this perception, however, if someone's only experiences with conservative evangelical Christians have been negative, then their viewpoint will be negatively skewed.

Date: 2010-06-21 05:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
I think perhaps what I'm reacting to, as well, is a portrayal of a certain brand of American Bible-Belt fundamentalism, which doesn't always translate well to the experience of conservative Christians in other places. I am baffled and somewhat disturbed by the way that "Born-Again" has become a whole cultural lifestyle (complete with T-shirts and other tacky commercial knock-offs) in some parts of the US -- and how kids may grow up in that subculture following its rules and expectations, and attending church and youth group on a regular basis, and yet have little or no personal knowledge of the Bible or the Christian faith. Not to mention some very, very odd ideas about what constitutes Christian doctrine (such as gun ownership, racial discrimination, and unquestioning devotion to one's preacher) that have sprung up in some of those places.

So yes, I do understand that many people have had negative experiences of evangelical Christianity, and that their assumptions are in some ways understandable -- but I think it's also important for people to realize that this experience isn't universal, and that by presenting it as such there's a danger of stereotyping and encouraging the very sort of prejudice and ignorance they would deplore under other circumstances.

Date: 2010-06-21 06:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lillpluta.livejournal.com
Unfortunately, the extremes have colored many people's perceptions of Christianity as a whole. I am a .. I guess you call it .. a mainline Christian protestant. In the past year, I've tried to be more open about my faith online .. to try to dispel the stereotypes ... I think in order to combat the stereotypes more Christians need to show the true face of Christianity. It is sad, that many people have only seen the negatives. I think it's presented as universal ... because people haven't seen anything "different" than that ... so I say it's up to other Christians to dispel those stereotypes, and to show a different face.

I know I was ostracized in another community due to stereotypes about mainline, liturgical churches, probably because all people ever heard about them were "bad" things.

And I think we zero in on "parts" of people ... and not wholes.
If all you knew about me was that I am pro-gay rights, I like to eat tofu, and I don't believe in organized prayer in public schools ... you may paint one picture of me. But if you knew that i were a pro-life Christian who tends to lean politically conservative ... you may paint a different picture. I am all of those things.

If you are a part of a group that you feel is maligned, then I think you have a responsibility to show what you believe to be the true side of that group and differentiate yourself from the prejudices that plague your group.

Date: 2010-06-21 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Very well said. I think you're right about the best way to dispel stereotypes. Thanks for sharing.

Date: 2010-06-21 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] izhilzha.livejournal.com
And may I say, RJ, that you are one of the people I most respect online for being able to dispel those stereotypes just by being open about your faith online.

Date: 2010-06-21 07:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
*toes ground bashfully* ThankyouyouareverykindIappreciatethatyouthinkso.

Date: 2010-06-22 11:56 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: from "The Passion", Christ's head with crown of thorns: "Love" (Christ)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
I think so too. In fact, you're one of the people who inspired me to be more open about my faith online.

Date: 2010-06-22 01:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lydaclunas.livejournal.com
I agree wholeheartedly both with RJ's post and the comments you have to share here. I'd like to add that I think, as a Christian who is miles away from the Bible-Belt, anti-intellectual, gun-toting fundamentalism that is usually portrayed as "Christianity" these days, it can be a challenge to openly talk about your faith and beliefs because of the fear that people might toss a label on you before you get a chance to refute it.

It's something I have confronted several times, and it's always taken me a lot of thought and courage to address it, because I really don't like being lumped with that perception of Christianity. But you're right, I think it is a responsibility to speak openly about it and try to dispel such notions through our own actions and words.

Date: 2010-06-22 06:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] persephone-kore.livejournal.com
If all you knew about me was that I am pro-gay rights, I like to eat tofu, and I don't believe in organized prayer in public schools ... you may paint one picture of me. But if you knew that i were a pro-life Christian who tends to lean politically conservative ... you may paint a different picture. I am all of those things.

I admit, after you said "mainline Christian Protestant," I found pro-life and politically conservative the surprising parts.

Date: 2010-06-21 07:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elvenjaneite.livejournal.com
YES. I feel this perhaps all the more strongly because I'm Eastern Orthodox and while we are on some levels a very conservative church, we are also MILES away from most of the stereotypical assumptions about Christianity. I always like throwing my non-Christian debating friends for a loop when I get to declare that my church doesn't believe in Original Sin, for example (we do in a way, but not in the way the Western churches or culture understand it). Anyway, when I come across an understanding portrayal of Christianity, it always makes me happy. The opposite makes me distressed. I simply don't understand why people feel free to malign a particular religious group in ways which they would never consider applying to ANY OTHER religious group.

Date: 2010-06-21 09:15 pm (UTC)
ext_6531: (DW: Mesh)
From: [identity profile] lizbee.livejournal.com
I presume this is in response to my book review, among others? It's certainly something I alluded to.

Now, to be fair, I'm sure this does actually happen in real life at times. I'm sure there are places where people are that ignorant, or that lacking in confidence about the integrity of their beliefs, that honest questions and doubts frighten them and they try to silence the questioner as soon as possible. So I'm not saying this scenario is implausible, as such.

Part of the reason it felt so plausible when I read it was that it was exactly the response my brother got from his Pentecostal pastor when he began asking the hard theological questions. It seems, in fact, to be a very common aspect of Pentecostal/born-again culture, which Winter of Grace was specifically exploring, and which are the most dominant form of Christian evangelical churches in Australia.

Of course, if your whole point is to write a book about how Christianity is weak and unsatisfying and poisonous to the intellect...

Which was not the point of Winter of Grace at all, otherwise I wouldn't have finished it, let alone reviewed it. In fact, the book's themes were the exact opposite, that God is bigger than one spiritually-crippled church, and believers should look beyond cults of personalities and Christianist culture to find Him.

Sorry if this seems snarky; I'm getting ready for work, so I'm in a rush, but I did want to clarify my points.

Date: 2010-06-21 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
It wasn't actually your book review that did it, although yours did remind me that I'd been wanting to rant about this for a while; it was a review of a book that's just come out for middle-graders called MARY MAE AND THE GOSPEL TRUTH, in which the MC's mother basically tells her that good little girls shouldn't fret their heads about doubts and, y'know, actual thinking. And also a couple of books I'd just read myself in which Christians were portrayed as pitiably naive and out of touch with reality and generally needing to be delivered from their ridiculous faith.

So no worries, the book you reviewed actually sounds quite interesting and thoughtful (and diverse in its portrayal of Christianity) by comparison to the ones that were getting my goat...

Date: 2010-06-21 09:35 pm (UTC)
ext_6531: (DW: Romana (destiny))
From: [identity profile] lizbee.livejournal.com
Oh, good! Because I was just wandering around the house going, "NOOOOOOOOOOO, I'VE OFFENDED RJ!" and feeling sad.

And yeah, those books sound terrible. Like ... oh, I can't remember her name, but there's a sci-fi author who, in every book of hers that I started (and I never finished a single one) featured a Christian misogynist cackling into his crucifix about his hatred for women.

Anyway, I'm glad that's sorted, and very relieved I haven't offended you.

Date: 2010-06-21 09:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
To be fair to MARY MAE, I haven't actually read it, and perhaps it's more even-handed than the quote from her mother made it sound.

But by no means have you offended me! And rest assured I would have approached you privately, if you had. :)

"Cackling into his crucifix" -- hee!

Date: 2010-06-22 12:00 pm (UTC)
kerravonsen: Rose looking at puzzled Ninth Doctor: "Eh?" (Eh?)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
Pentecostal/born-again culture, which Winter of Grace was specifically exploring, and which are the most dominant form of Christian evangelical churches in Australia.
Er, it is? Not from where I'm sitting...

Date: 2010-06-23 06:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] izhilzha.livejournal.com
I really need to get my hands on a copy of Winter of Grace, obviously. It sounds exactly like the sort of book I kept looking for and utterly failing to find anywhere, as a teen. I wonder what shipping is like from your part of the world. *goes to check*

Date: 2010-06-23 06:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Book Depository.com has it (with free shipping worldwide) but notes that it's currently out of stock... still, that might be your best bet.

Date: 2010-06-23 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] izhilzha.livejournal.com
Ooooo, thank you! I didn't know that existed. *bookmarks*

Date: 2010-06-21 10:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bnharrison.livejournal.com
I agree with all you say. Strawmen are a tiresome nuisance wherever they crop up.

To be fair, though, it is quite possible that the author has never met a Christian who was thoughtful and serious and approached their faith intellectually, or even knew what apologetics meant. I was the only person like that that I knew personally until I met you, and my church had 5000 members. If the authors are American, it's particularly possible--there was a definite emphasis on the superiority of gut over cognition where I was that gets tied into the whole anti-intellectualism of the conservative movement in general. There's even an absurd Michael W. Smith lyric about doubts that don't go away until "he stops thinking with his head/ and listening to his heart."

If an author is choosing to make a crisis of faith central to their plot, one would hope they'd expose themselves to a wide enough variety of believers to encounter at least one. And even if they didn't, unvariegated villainy is boring.

I finished Incarceron, btw.

Date: 2010-06-21 10:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] miladygrey.livejournal.com
As a Protestant married to a Catholic, THANK YOU. In neither church have I ever been told to shut up and just believe, and I greatly mistrust those who say things like that. When I mentioned to a coworker that I was a Christian, she was very surprised--because I had never tried to preach to her, or told her that her son's autism was God's judgment on her lack of faith, or told her she was going to Hell. *sighs* It breaks my heart that Pat Robertson and his ilk are what people think of these days when they think of "Christian".

Date: 2010-06-21 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scionofgrace.livejournal.com

I do know of churches that operate on "doubt is sinful", and churches that believe that "faith is not reasonable" (most of the latter tend to be liberal, in my experience), but the way I was raised, the church I attend, and the Bible college I graduated from were a) conservative Evangelical, and b) very strong on faith being reasonable. Doubt isn't the failure to believe; that's apostasy. Doubt is having questions about what you do believe. And I would be an apostate myself if I found that Christianity couldn't stand up to questioning.

Date: 2010-06-22 12:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anne-tosa.livejournal.com
Great post, R.J. You're saying things that have needed an airing for some time now. It's okay to have all these mystical "brotherhoods" and such, but not everyday congregations struggling to stand up against wickedness in all these dystopian novels? And I say this as someone who is a real fan of a lot of dystopians! I was so charmed by Knife's references to The Gardener... just enough to say hey, this is how it would be if faeries were real.

Oh. I mean, if everybody knew how real faeries were (sorry, Tink! Credo!!!)

Date: 2010-06-22 01:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Thank you, Anne! Yes, I am heartily tired of mystical brotherhoods and corrupt churches in dystopias as well. It seems as though there are never any members (let alone whole congregations) of those brotherhoods and churches who are trying to practice their beliefs intelligently and in good conscience -- they're inevitably vicious hypocrites and villains that the noble-hearted, insightful and (of course) non-religious MC must fight against. Sigh.

Date: 2010-06-22 02:12 am (UTC)
ext_54943: (pink rose)
From: [identity profile] shellebelle93.livejournal.com
Hmmm, generally what we were told is "when you are going through a difficult time, it means you are in the right place, because Satan wants you to leave it."

I suppose that amounts to much the same thing.

You and I have had very different evangelical Christian experiences. I'm just thankful that I am in a very good place at the moment, and have found a church I can be comfortable in and am comforted by.

Date: 2010-06-22 11:41 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: from "The Passion", Christ's head with crown of thorns: "Love" (Christ)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
Amen, sister.


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