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 Sanderson’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.
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.