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“I Don’t Read Mormons!”

That was pretty much the response I got from one Facebook friend when I asked about reading Brandon Sanderson. I’m regularly hearing good things about Elantris_coverSanderson’s novels, but his catalog is so vast I had no idea where to start. So I needed some feedback. I received lots of helpful suggestions. Until one guy wrote in and basically said

“Sanderson is a Mormon, so I wouldn’t recommend reading him.”

Apparently this commenter was a fan of Christian fiction and limited his reading exclusively to Christian authors. The info, however, did not deter me. I bought Elantris and hope to dig in sometime this year.

I was thinking about this man’s advice while reading about the recent passing of Maya Angelou. The interweb was abuzz with quotes and mini eulogies about the poet.

And vitriol.

Apparently some avoided Angelou’s works strictly because of her politics.

It’s quite fascinating how prevalent this mindset is. While not exclusive to believers, many conservative Christians nevertheless actively espouse such an approach. It’s the belief that we should only partake of craft produced by someone of our political or religious persuasion. So the criteria we use to judge

  • what books we read
  • what music we listen to
  • what films we watch
  • what causes we support

is were they produced by a conservative Christian?

Which is why we shouldn’t read Mormons or liberals.

There are many reasons why this type of approach is deeply flawed. For one, it radically minimizes our view of art, turning it into simply a tool for propaganda. It also denies “common grace,” the admission that Truth, beauty, and/ or excellent craft can’t shine through someone of a different religious or political persuasion than yourself. Then there’s the issue of personal discernment, our need to judge what is good and evil, rather than be given a checklist. Finally, there’s the issue of cultural engagement. Reading (or viewing) widely makes one far more capable of engaging wider swaths of discussion.

But there’s another reason why Christians actually damage their cause by limiting their reading exclusively to Christian authors.

Andy Crouch, in his award-winning book Culture Making, expounds upon the thesis that it is not enough for Christians to condemn culture, critique culture, copy culture and consume culture. Christians must create culture. But this comes with a caveat.

“…world-changing power resides much more in cultural goods themselves than in the people who created those goods. For the very nature of cultural goods is to go beyond the reach of their creators. They leave the circle of our influence and are taken up by a wide public, and very often the consequences of their adoption could never have been foreseen. Indeed, many of the most culturally influential goods succeed precisely because they have effects on the horizons of the possible and impossible that their creators only dimly imagined.” (pg. 198, emphasis mine)

And here’s one of the often-overlooked downsides to the “Christian only” mindset: By limiting ourselves only to Christian artists, we limit the reach of those artists and their ideology. The very “horizons” we want to expand are tethered to a set of uncompromising assumptions that keeps us ghetto-ized and prevents our art from being “culturally influential.” For the only culture it is designed to influence, is our own religious “circle.”

It is our narrow view of art and rigid imposition of ideology upon our art that that limits the horizons of Christian culture. Thus, the only “culture” we create is the one that agrees to share our conservative worldview.

Which is why I don’t mind reading Mormons or socialist poets.

Sure. It’s possible that I’m less of a Christian for reading Mormons. I might even become more liberal by reading liberals. However, I happen to believe this also makes me more of a reader — more discerning, more prepared to engage culture, more able to recognize God’s common grace among my fellow man… and ultimately more able to expand the horizons of influence of the One I love.

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • John Van Vliet June 4, 2014, 7:10 AM

    It is sad that there those who feel they can only read that which agrees with their religious or political or whatever beliefs. One misses out on the many blessings God had given like you write, to be “more able to recognize God’s common grace among my fellow man.” I read, or don’t read, Brandon Sanderson because I enjoy, or don’t enjoy, his writing and stories, not because he’s a Mormon or not. I have noticed my own reading pattern of late and observed that I read about seven non-Christian novels to every Christian novel, and I don’t have a problem with that. Great article Mike.

  • Grace Bridges June 4, 2014, 8:01 AM

    Well said!

  • Tim George June 4, 2014, 8:05 AM

    I grew up reading Asimov (athiest), Phlip K. Dick (drug addict), Card (Mormon) and William Faulkner (would write a long enough sentence for that one but don’t have the time). As a boy I also read The Hardy Boys, Danny Orlis Missionary Bush Pilot, and Elizabeth Elliot). My father feared none of that yet he was a most conservative Southern Baptist Pastor who taught us to read God’ Word for ourselves. Would I suggest a young person read nothing but Dick and avoid Bunyan? Not on your life.

  • Tim Akers June 4, 2014, 8:44 AM

    Good article Mike. By the way I enjoyed several of your short stories in Subterrannea.

    I believe there are two dynamics a play here:

    Fear. There is a common thread that comes from US pulpits. “You shouldn’t read or watch things that run contrary to the Word of God.” It’s understandable why that gets said a lot, but I am very secure in what I believe. Reading other viewpoints doesn’t upset my applecart. Faith is a dynamic journey and requires us to always examine ourselves to see if we are in the Faith. Part of that journey requires I listen to some things that i might not usually choose to listen to. One would be surprised how unwilling God is to limit Truth to a single group or person.

    Pride. Everyone assumes that they stand in 100% accuracy in all the things they believe. That simply isn’t true. We “see in the mirror darkly.” I have changed doctrinal stances on somethings over time, because I’ve learned more and have been shown more. While it’s true I don’t want to entertain some things with my attention because it is reprehensible and debases other humans (pornography to name one thing), God can speak to you through the oddest of things sometimes. Remember Balaam’s Donkey?

    Literature is all about the human experience and the stories that endure the longest are often the ones that encompass the most common of shared experiences.

    People crave simplicity, and that’s not a bad thing, but somethings just aren’t always that simple.

  • Kat Heckenbach June 4, 2014, 9:22 AM

    OK, I’m just going to say this because I don’t see it addressed anywhere in your article: The people I know who are against reading books by Mormons tend to be that way because they see the Mormon doctrine played out in the stories. I’ve heard that about Ender’s Game and Twilight. Having read Ender’s Game and, well, only part of Twilight, I can say this: I never would have known that just by reading the books. And frankly, I couldn’t care less. I love Ender’s Game because the writing and story are awesome. I hated Twilight because it was poorly written and vapid. NEITHER of those things have anything at all to do with Mormonism nor my own personal beliefs as a Christian.

    So….to the idea of reading books based on the author’s own religious or political beliefs, I say pffffft. Unless the book is overtly meant to just hate on Christianity (like Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials) I will read books by Christians, Mormons, Atheists, or whoever writes a rockin’ story.

    BTW, this reminds me of the comment someone made on a certain Christian writers loop (I’m sure no one can figure out which one I mean…ahem) by a writer who would only buy used copies of books by authors who are non-Christians. Yep, she wanted to be able to read the content, but did not want the author to get paid for their work. I know that is slightly askew of this topic, but I think it’s in the realm of the same attitude.

    • Deborah June 4, 2014, 11:17 AM

      “a writer who would only buy used copies of books by authors who are non-Christians. Yep, she wanted to be able to read the content, but did not want the author to get paid for their work.”

      wow. really? I…wow. I can’t even….why on earth would you even admit that? Just go to the library if it’s that a big deal. Which….hey…she’s paying taxes so she’s supporting those authors anyways!

  • Mir June 4, 2014, 9:46 AM

    In defiance of said ” I don’t read Mormons” person’s stance, I just went and reread “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory” by OSC, one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read (and some serious divine retribution for evil).

  • John W. Morehead June 4, 2014, 10:02 AM

    Awesome.

  • D.M. Dutcher June 4, 2014, 5:29 PM

    A lot of this though is from the perspective of a content creator, and I think we have to be honest and say that we’ve internalized a lot of bad things in being culturally literate enough to create works or bridge gaps. If you read horror seriously, you’ve subjected yourself to a ton of violent, sexist, pornographic, atheistic, and misanthropic content. I’m not sure trumpeting common grace can really be done without realizing how much worldly stuff can sear our consciences and not be God-honoring.

    Yeah, for content creators and cultural evangelists we may have to do this, but not everyone is one of those. Some people read for edification, consolation, and entertainment, and it becomes hard to use this rationale on them. It can lead to serious spiritual difficulties if they aren’t careful.

    Like I enjoy anime, but I try to not blame people for not liking it nor some of my other tastes, because a lot of anime is anti-christian or use non-christian themes and worldviews. What’s lawful for me may not be for another, and I can’t always say “Oh, you’re missing out!”

    As for Mormons specifically, they are a pseudo-Christian religion trying desperately to pass themselves off as a Christian denomination. Some people do not like to support or follow any aspect of that, and that’s why you get what your commenter said.

  • Leanna June 4, 2014, 9:31 PM

    I actually have a theory that Mormon theology lends itself well to writing good speculative fiction, particularly any sort of story that involves characters gaining a great deal of power or having world-changing decisions to make. It’s fascinating. And part of why it’s so good is because I don’t agree with some of the underpinning assumptions, it challenges me to think deeper, to understand what it is I don’t agree with and why.

    Orsen Scott Card is hit or miss in my opinion. But Brandon Sanderson and Shannon Hale are consistently awesome.

  • Jim Williams June 5, 2014, 10:19 AM

    Interesting to me that no mention of the use of contrasting terms to segregate “Christians” and “Mormons” is disputed at all. The Mormons (who actually call themselves “Latter Day Saints” or LDS) consider themselves righteous Christians.

    D.M. Dutcher says…
    “As for Mormons specifically, they are a pseudo-Christian religion trying desperately to pass themselves off as a Christian denomination.”

    This is of course a textbook case of religious bigotry, complete with assumed desperation and the disparaging use of the the word “pseudo”. But maybe Dutcher is one of those who also separates “Christian” from “Catholic”?

    The actual full name of the “Mormon” church is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”. The Church’s ethical standards are above the standard, their moral guidelines are modeled the world over, their emphasis on family and service and self-sufficiency are legendary.

    And, with around 15,000,000 members worldwide, the LDS Church outnumbers Pentecostals, COGIC, Episcopalians, and many other “Christian” churches.

    There are more “Mormons” than Jews on this planet.

    From someone not bound by petty boundaries between different sects, the whole “they’re not REALLY Christians” thing is just bemusing to me.

  • D.M. Dutcher June 5, 2014, 11:54 AM

    They are pseudo-Christians because their theology differs so much from Christianity that it’s almost a new religion. It’s simlar to Islam more than anything, and despite the use of common terms, there is a lot of difference and not just in superficial ways.

    One way is the fact that God not only isn’t triune, both He and Jesus are physical beings, and only the Holy Spirit is spirit. God also beget rather than created us, and we have the potential to be just like God. You have the fact that they use a third text (and a historically false one at that) as the key authority to judge scripture by, and then you get the weird stuff like Jesus and Satan being brothers, or how Satan got mad at Jesus because He was chosen to be the savior instead of him.

    It’s not bigotry to realize you can’t call them Christians. If anything, they’d wind up superceding Christians like Christians do the jews if you believe their faith is true, and they couldn’t claim that name in the same way a Christian can’t say “oh, I am a Jew by religion.”

    You’re looking at surface things they do and not the creed, which matters. You aren’t a Christian because you are a moral exemplar; you are one because you believe in a certain doctrine and theology about Jesus. Protestants and Catholics believe more or less the same when it comes to Him, while disagreeing on other matters. But Mormons don’t believe the same, and it changes a lot of things. This isn’t bigotry to actually understand their religion and point out that the entire story behind it differs from virtually all forms of historical Christianity even as it uses the same terms.

    • Jim Williams June 5, 2014, 1:35 PM

      “Protestants and Catholics believe more or less the same when it comes to Him, while disagreeing on other matters.”

      Is that glibness? I can’t tell in a short post. I’m not a religious scholar but there are many MAJOR ideological differences between Protestants and Catholics. Celibate priests, male-only priests, the concept of sainthood, the presence of the Holy Father on earth, the concept of confession/penance/rosary…..nunnery, etc etc etc.

      Logically, to use your own reasoning: If the penultimate unifying factor between Protestants and Catholics is reduced to a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and key to personal salvation and everlasting life…then you have to let the Mormons in. They profess that every day…….

    • David James June 13, 2014, 6:46 PM

      Okay, I’m a guy that grew up primarily in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches with Baptist, Presbyterian, and a smattering of others thrown in for good measure. I attend a Seventh Day Adventist church right now, and I personally do not find myself to be denominationally bound. I’m just a guy that has read and studied the Bible my entire life while building a strong relationship with God.

      So I’m reading the comments on this page and I am floored by what I see from you in your criticisms of Mormons.

      So you don’t believe God the Father and Jesus are physical? You don’t think he came to Earth bodily? You don’t believe God walked in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve during the cool of the day? If that’s the case then you are arguing with the Bible and not the Mormon religion.

      You have a problem with being like God? What happened to the following:

      – “Let us make man in our image”
      – “Be ye holy as I am holy”
      – “You are gods”
      – “Joint heirs with Christ”
      – “Family of God”
      – “we will be like Him”

      That and many others I could put up here. Are you disputing these? Again, if that’s the case then you are arguing with the Bible and not the Mormon religion.

      You say, “If anything, they’d wind up superceding Christians like Christians do the jews”

      I wasn’t aware “the Christians” (you capitalize that word) has superceded “the jews” (you lower-cased that word). The Bible is very clear that the prophetic words for the Kingdom of Judah are for them. And that is not to be confused with the prophetic words for the Kingdom of Israel. You should do a Biblical study on the difference between the two kingdoms and the two different gospels (both valid) that were preached after Jesus ascended.

      There are other things I could comment on, but the thing is you are making assumptions about the Mormons based on your own limited view of God and Scriptures. And personally, having experienced a lot of denominations, I have yet to encounter a denomination that didn’t have some sort of “weird” or “strange” belief that seemed to argue with “the rest” of Christianity.

      I can’t say I’ve studied Mormonism extensively, and I don’t remember having attended one of their church buildings, but I have had Mormon friends and we’ve had discussions about God and Jesus and the Bible and have had very similar beliefs on those topics. I’ve also met a former Mormon that goes around preaching against Mormonism. He dispells a lot of the myths about Mormons and gets to what he thinks of as what’s wrong. Even so, he wasn’t able to convince me that they haven’t accepted Jesus as their Saviour.

      I have owned copies of the Book of Mormon and read some of it. Maybe one day I’ll go attend at one of their churches for a while and see what goes on there. Meantime, if they believe that God the Father and Jesus have bodies and we can be like God, then I’ve already shown Biblical evidence of that and they are probably basing their beliefs on that same evidence.

      • D.M. Dutcher June 13, 2014, 8:03 PM

        No, God isn’t physical. He didn’t come to earth bodily; He incarnated. John says The Word became flesh; Paul in Phillipians said that Jesus “emptied himself,” and the book of Hebrews was adamant about Him taking on the flesh of man and being made a little lower than the angels. It’s a fine distinction, but Jesus didn’t exist physically in heaven like Zeus and come down to us. How God does so is a theophany, and in the OT, he has appeared as a burning bush, a still small voice, etc.

        Being made in the image of God is not the same as being proto-Gods and assuming that we evolve to godlike status after we die. It means we share attributes like the creative spirit, self-awareness, and free will. While they use the son metaphor, there’s always a distinct difference; Jesus is the only begotten Son, we are adopted. Generally this is traditional Christian theology.

        Christianity has superseded the Jews in terms of the way we relate to God and seek salvation. Paul was very clear on that in Romans. He also said things that indicate God still has a covenant with them and we are not to glory over our adopted status, but we do not follow the Law to be saved. What Mormonism does is supersede us both; it’s not just an interpretation or sect or denomination.

        There are serious differences, and it’s a little annoying to be told “well, I don’t know much about Mormons, but you’re wrong you know!” I’m not stereotyping or misrepresenting their beliefs.

  • D.M. Dutcher June 5, 2014, 2:53 PM

    Those differences pale in comparison to Mormons and Christians. No Catholic or Protestant believes in progressive revelation; in that the Church can speak with the force of Scripture today. No orthodox one refuses the Trinity, believes God didn’t create out of nothing, or believe God has a physical existence. They don’t believe we preexisted in spiritual form and was begotten as such by God with His spirit wife, nor do they believe we have the potential to be equal to Him. Christians believe in original sin; Mormons don’t, although we suffer the effects of Adam’s choice in the garden, that does not estrange us from God. Mormons are universalist, and don’t really believe in Hell as opposed to a “spirit prison” which some people suffer in, but will exit to receive glory after. We don’t think Adam is Michael the Archangel.

    They really do believe in a lot of unique doctrines that make for almost a new religion based on the same events. Even minor ones; Christ atoned for us not by dying on the cross, but in Gethsemene, when He cried tears of blood there. It’s not like two sects having different interpretations of the same book; Mormons literally believe all of us are apostate and Smith Restored the classic Christian faith. Not the same as debates over celibacy and even priesthood, imo.

  • Jim Williams June 9, 2014, 7:36 AM

    Again, from the “outside” those myriad and extensive “differences” are not so convincing to someone like me. The Mormons read the Bible and came up with a different interpretation. As did the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As did Martin Luther.

    The Bible and Jesus’s true nature seems to be subjective. As does the afterlife and the disposition of one’s soul.

    I mean, all “modern” Christian churches have come after some revelation or another. Unless you practice Eastern Othodox Christianity, which lays claim as the oldest.

    Every few hundred years someone creative, motivated, intelligent and possibly divinely inspired pops up, reveals their own brand of insight, and starts a new “brand”.

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