f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Elitist

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Within certain Christian conversations I've noticed a determined suspicion of anything that strikes of academia or elitism. A degree from Harvard for instance, which is much lauded by the "world," becomes more Scarlett Letter than superhero insignia.

A conference like the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing is a fascinating beast because it is at once demonstrably Christian and yet, for lack of a better word, somehow worringly "high brow." Poetry is read and discussed. People give presentations with titles like: "Retelling the Stories: Dramatizing Texts from the Revised Common Lectionary." Short story writers find friends. And half the women wear kicky little "librarian" glasses.

But it has to be more than those things that causes such suspicion. To me, the answer is as obvious as "black-and-white."


We as Christians see ourselves as holders (and defenders) of truth. Truth, like the word of God, is a sharp sword that divides. Lambs here. Goats there. The spectre of relativity among truth has been one of the great aggravators of people of faith and many blame the universities for fostering such wishy-washiness.

Marilynne Robinson, in her interview with Andy Crouch, addressed the counter issue--the one of which CBA is so often accused: Is right/wrong the only space in which we live? Crouch then brought up the marvelous paradoxes in Robinson's work and it rang a bell as something I'd picked up from Gilead. I'll quote myself:

"...the first thing I want to point out is that the ground Marilynne Robinson treads in her novel is the rich soil of paradox. Grace and predestination. Love of this life and the desire for heaven. Causing pain to fight injustice. Beauty that brings pain. And some others.

These things work well for the soil of novels, I guess, because exploring them is like walking on a knife's blade. How two simultaneously contradictory things can exist in the same moment...that's one of the great mysteries of our life and one of the things I think writers and artists and philosophers have been struggling with for decades."

Is this just academic double-talk or is life complex enough to hold multitudes? And if so, where does absolute truth step in and establish itself?

Marilynne Robinson's plenary speech was a call to arms for artists. The world and much of our culture has decided the populace are idiots who need to be spoken down to. They are incapable of deft, elegant thought and so the issues of the day need to be boiled down into sound-bites. Her response is that this is nonsense. We are created for more and better. Her call is for artists to think of their audience as more intelligent than themselves. If anything, it is an anti-elitist message.

What are we saying about the world in our books? And does it match our own esperience of life...or rather life as we'd rather it be. It is easy and comforting to be able to say, "I am right and you are wrong"--but is it true?

On many issues, yes, obviously it's true. There is right; there is wrong. But when we leave those areas touched on by creed, does our attitude change or our willingness to explore life's complexity?