Literary Religious Fiction?


Hey guys,
I was wondering how everyone here felt about the concept of literary religious fiction?
I recently began writing a novel with strong catholic overtones…

I would really not like to give away to much of the plot here but to put it simple it is set in a apocalyptic world where the masses (majority) have lost the concept of God and the become a purely secular society…

It follows the two characters that have the faith their parents left behind( who practiced in secret before their deaths… )

That’s just the simple version…

I guess my real question is simple, is it okay to write religious fiction? I try and stay true to the teachings and never make up things… besides taking a little poetic license with the end of the world and purgatory… (not that we REALLY know how that will play out exactly)

What do you think?


I think it sounds great! Let us know when you’re done, and we can all read it.

I have read Fr. Elijah by Michael O’Brien, and I really liked the book. It sounds like the book you are involved in might be similar to his.


Thanks a lot for the quick reply :stuck_out_tongue:

The main subject is society’s view of death… so I take death away from the world (it not existed for nearly three hundred years) and only allow one of my main characters to suffer from such an event. (though in the end it is a blessing)

I use this plot device as an over view of how society would view death if it no longer existed… and what they would do to someone who shows signs of a coming death.

It follows the dying girl and her lover as they travel the earth searching for lost information on the old society and a man named Father Augustine who is the last known priest and an exiled man.

It is vital for them to find them for he is the only one who truly knows what lies beyond death.

It is a rather bitter tale because the girls love cannot join her until the end of time.


Sounds interesting. Please let us know how your’re doing, and give us a publication date!:slight_smile:


Why should it not be OK ? :slight_smile:

A novel is not a lie, & a novelist is not a liar. The parables were fictions - is it sinful to tell parables :slight_smile: ?

I know some Christians have rejected novel-reading as immoral, precisely because novels are not strictly factual writings - but there is a danger of confusing “what is true” with “what is factual”, & so, calling any deviation from factuality a lie. This would make the Bible a book of lies - because it contains a great deal that is not factual: such as a dragon with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 12).

Lies are evil because they are conscious attempts to deceive - but who is deceived by the parables, or by the book of Revelation ? Authors cannot be blamed if they are read by people who are stupid enough, or ill-educated enough, to confuse fiction, fact, truth, & lies. There is a failing in literary discrimination here - in the reader, not in the writer.

Write your novel - & make it the best that you are capable of. :slight_smile:


Well, I certainly think that it’s ok to write a story with religious undertones and themes. Your story sounds really interesting and I think you should keep working on it and see what you come out with.

There is a whole genre of “Christian” fiction out there. I even believe there is a genre specifically of Catholic fiction as well.

I’m a writer, trained as a journalist, but the only writing I do is fiction-- pretty little bits about properties I’m trying to sell-- and the three novels in various states of completion on my hard drive. The one thing all my fiction has in common is that the main characters are Catholic. They vary in the degrees of practice and faith. In most of my stories religion is not a major influence in the story and then I started my third one (all my characters in my novels are related. I discovered that later) which has turned into a big spiritual journey for my main character, who is a very lapsed Catholic, but has a twin brother who is a very faithful and devout priest. It’s been an interesting venture into their lives. As a writer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Catholicism and religion in general.

I really hope when all is said it’s a very true, very real experience for my readers. I also hope that while there’s a lot about Catholicism in the book, it doesn’t put off non-Catholic and non-religious readers. And… of course I hope it doesn’t offend the Catholic ones either, :wink:

Sorry, I think I may have hijacked the thread.


Of course it’s okay to write religious fiction. If a writer desires to be faithful to his/her Catholic beliefs, he/she must make sure not to compromise them in the writing, however.

But this does not mean the story must be about devout Catholics doing devoutly Catholic things, or even that the story can’t contain non-Christian elements. I’ve seen remarkably Christian ethics pop up in secular fiction, too (Harry Potter, for example). Even if the author didn’t intend it, the result can be a testament to the Truth.

But Tolkien made a name for himself writing fiction with a Christian ethic, as did C.S. Lewis and others, and Bud MacFarlane did a fairly decent job writing overtly Catholic fiction. Their work may not bear an Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat, but they share the truth nonetheless.



it’s okay to write fiction with a religious theme or plot element, but you have to follow the rules: research any factual claims or statements you will be making, for instance. If I am writing a book with characters who are in the Navy, I must research details I include that relate to the Navy. If I am including a plot element that hinges on a particular religious practice or belief, I have to state it accurately, and make the character’s actions consistent with the belief or practice. For instance, I cannot make my female protagonist a member of an all-male religious order (although I can make up a fictious order).


Of course—where would we be without Dante?

For a contemporary view, check out Gene Wolfe’s work. His sci-fi/fantasy series Urth of the New Sun has strong Christian overtones, rather like C.S. Lewis’ fiction.


Why not?

Sidney, Spencer, Jonson, Donne, Herbert, Milton wrote religious fiction. They even wrote in meter and rhyme as they did!

Best of luck.

God bless.


I’m curious–why on earth would you think it wasn’t OK?

If you believe G. K. Chesterton, it’s a very Christian thing not only to write “literary” fiction, but to write un-literary, popular fiction (in fact, I think Chesterton, living at the beginning of the 20th century when “literary” fiction was becoming dreary and self-consciously elitist, would say that it may be more Christian to write the latter than the former):

Again, the same is true of that difficult matter of the danger of the soul, which has unsettled so many just minds. To hope for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable. It is tenable, but it is not specially favourable to activity or progress. . . . Europe ought rather to emphasize possible perdition; and Europe always has emphasized it. Here its highest religion is at one with all its cheapest romances. To the Buddhist or the eastern fatalist existence is a science or a plan, which must end up in a certain way. But to a Christian existence is a story, which may end up in any way. In a thrilling novel (that purely Christian product) the hero is not eaten by cannibals; but it is essential to the existence of the thrill that he might be eaten by cannibals. The hero must (so to speak) be an eatable hero. So Christian morals have always said to the man, not that he would lose his soul, but that he must take care that he didn’t. In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man “damned”: but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call him damnable.
All Christianity concentrates on the man at the cross-roads. The vast and shallow philosophies, the huge syntheses of humbug, all talk about ages and evolution and ultimate developments. The true philosophy is concerned with the instant. Will a man take this road or that? – that is the only thing to think about, if you enjoy thinking. The aeons are easy enough to think about, any one can think about them. The instant is really awful: and it is because our religion has intensely felt the instant, that it has in literature dealt much with battle and in theology dealt much with hell. It is full of danger, like a boy’s book: it is at an immortal crisis. There is a great deal of real similarity between popular fiction and the religion of the western people. If you say that popular fiction is vulgar and tawdry, you only say what the dreary and well-informed say also about the images in the Catholic churches. Life (according to the faith) is very like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with the promise (or menace) “to be continued in our next.” Also, with a noble vulgarity, life imitates the serial and leaves off at the exciting moment. For death is distinctly an exciting moment.
But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free-will. You cannot finish a sum how you like. But you can finish a story how you like. When somebody discovered the Differential Calculus there was only one Differential Calculus he could discover. But when Shakespeare killed Romeo he might have married him to Juliet’s old nurse if he had felt inclined. And Christendom has excelled in the narrative romance exactly because it has insisted on the theological free-will.



I would say any Christian who writes fiction should be writing religious fiction, in the sense that his unique voice, which should come out in whatevre genre he writes, should be informed by his Christian idenity and beliefs. That does not mean he has to introduce overtly religious themes, plot elements, Catholic characters or settings, but that his world view should be Catholic. He may have a character who has an abortion, for instance, but without overtly preaching against it, should honestly portray the moral dilemma involved and the bad results of the action, and the negative effects on the character.


Flannery O’Connor comes immediately to mind. She wrote a wonderful essay on Christian fiction which anyone setting out to do so ought to read.


At least as far as English Lit goes, most works were polysemous and based through many layers on Biblical stories.


I know a few very um, radical, catholics who say that it is sacreligiuos… so I simply checking to see what the offical teaching was.

And to comment on another persons reply—
The characters are far from perfect in their faith, one even ends his own life.


Suicide is sin: Catholics, radical or no, have that one covered, no, by believing in God? So why not portray it in fiction?


As to that last point:

1. Committing suicide - is wrong
2. Intending to commit suicide - is wrong
3. Thinking about the moral, theological, sociological & other aspects of suicide - is not wrong; if it were, it would be impossible for priests, social workers, etc. to counsel people tempted to commit suicide

There is no reason why an author should not think about suicide as an event for his story: this does not imply approval of it, any more than an opera in which characters commit adultery implies approval of adultery.

A story in which a particular sin occurs is not necessarily propaganda for the sin - if the story is about how human beings behave, then that kind of behaviour is, however desirable or not, the sort of thing that might happen. A novel in which a priest murders a nun is not necessarily “anti-Catholic” - human beings are capable, giving the appropriate opportunities, of all sorts of evil; that evil is one possibility of our fallen sinful nature. So “The Monk” may be undesirable reading for a Christian, Catholic or no - but not because the monk is a murdering villain, or not because of that alone.

People murder in novels because
*]1. people do commit murder in actual life, people behave like that, & the novel is (one assumes) drawing on how people behave & are capable of behaving
*]2. Within the novel, the act of murder is appropriate to the story: it arises from the previous events, furthers the action, shows what the characters are like, or capable of.[/LIST]IOW
*]bad acts in a story may arise from the actualities of everyday life & human character[/LIST]- and, from
*]the requirements of the sort of thing the author is inventing.[/LIST]And that means they are not morally the same: because the act of (say) suicide is able to be looked at
*]either as something desirable in everyday life[/LIST]- or
*]as something desirable within the story.[/LIST]It sounds as though the Catholics you mention are seeing the two issues as one. This is like calling for a character in a soap opera to be freed from prison - as happened in the UK a while back:
*]He is also adept at diversionary tactics. When Blair was exposed for lobbying the Italian premier, Romano Prodi, on behalf of Murdoch, Campbell marshalled the PM and a Labour MP behind a bizarre campaign to free Coronation Street’s jailed Deirdre Rashid character. Deirdre was released early.[/LIST]A novel in which a character destroys a train and kills 500 people, is not a political manifesto, or a terrorist plan, or a commendation of mass murder - it’s a story, influenced perhaps by the memory of real evils, but still a story, & not a statement of one’s moral attitudes. It may be a statement of those attitudes - not insofar as it is a story, but because of the author’s intentions. A Catholic author might decide to write a story about a distant planet ruled by a governing class which is strikingly similar to the hierarchy of the CC - he might do so, either
*]because he thinks that sort of fiction would make a good story,[/LIST]or
*]because he is trying to convert his readers.[/LIST](IMHO, the second intention is going to get in the way of the story - unless he is a very talented author) :slight_smile:


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