In May 2016, I asked the question “Why Aren’t We Talking About Religious Diversity?” Some readers suggested that I was brave to open this discussion and shared their experiences with feeling a lack of religious representation in mainstream literature or with instructors who are clearly uncomfortable talking about religion in class. However, though I have met my share of individuals who are antagonistic towards someone even mentioning the existence of such a thing as religion, on the whole I was not afraid to broach this topic–firstly because I know our readers are wonderful, thoughtful individuals who respect different viewpoints. Secondly, because as I point out in the post, a majority of Americans at least (and they comprise the bulk of our readership) identity as religious. I don’t know if it’s particularly brave to tell people you’d like more religious diversity in literature if 80% of your readers could be religious themselves.
Though just about every response to this post and the follow up I did, “There’s No Good Reason Not To Represent Characters of Faith”, was respectful, some of the comments did surprise me. I called for religious diversity. I gave examples that we might see. A Catholic wearing ashes. A Muslim praying in the middle of the day or wearing the hijab. A Jewish character fasting. And yet several responses indicated that they thought I was calling for more Christian fiction. They indicated they would like to see more Christians in fiction, and ignored the possibilities of seeing other faiths represented, as well.
Most strikingly, one commenter even told me that I had said Catholics were not Christians and accused me of an Evangelical agenda. (I’m not Evangelical Christian, in case you were wondering. I also can’t figure out why he thinks I think Catholics aren’t Christian. I read the post several times over, determined to edit anything that might have inadvertently caused offense. I can’t find it.) This is particularly amusing in light of my final words on the post: “But what does religious diversity look like if it’s not the Christian fiction you’re thinking of, the one with the mail order bride who marries a preacher who fills the pages of the book with his sermons? It looks like most of the other literature you read, except that the people have a faith and it affects their lives.” I go on to list a few of the examples of characters of faith I can think of, which, I admit are not many and not as varied as I had hoped, as I could think of only Muslim, Jewish, and Christian protagonists–just another indication of the need for more diversity!
This last commenter counts as the first mean-spirited responder we’ve ever had on the blog, which is perhaps nothing to sneer at if it means our readership is apparently expanding. I always used to worry about rude commenters showing up, but now that one has emerged to accuse me wildly of things I never said and to ignore the entire content of the post he’s allegedly responding to, I find I don’t really care. I can’t be bothered to care about the ramblings of a person who seems to have read no more than the title of my post and decided he already knew what I must have written. I can’t be bothered to expend energy on an individual who is not responding to the points my co-blogger and I bring up to him in the comments and instead resorts to assumptions about and attacks on my personal life. My one condescension was to add a disclaimer to the original post explaining what “diversity” means since it evidently was not as clear as I had supposed.
But what does all this mean? Well, I think it means that my call for religious diversity was not unwarranted. Even in two posts explaining what religious diversity means, explaining why the existence of Christian fiction does not qualify as “religious diversity,” and giving examples of various faiths we might see–several of the responses remained stuck on Christian fiction and Christians in fiction.
And please note that I consider Christian fiction, typically published by Protestant publishing houses, as a genre–the bulk of it seems to be Western, Amish, or historical/Regency romances from what my friends have told me–and not a solution to the religious diversity question as:
- It represents only Protestants and not other religious or even Christian groups
- It largely does not help people who want to read something other than a (historical) romance
- It is mostly adult fiction, but we should also have representation in other age groups
- It’s not mainstream. It’s geared towards members of that religion who are going to seek it out on purpose.
Even in two posts explaining religious diversity and why I think we have a need for it, especially in light of current events when we have politicians calling for bans on certain religious groups, anti-Semitic crimes happening, Holocaust deniers trying to rewrite history, debates about what religious freedom means and looks like, the desire both 1) to dismiss the need to learn about and understand each other and 2) to equate diversity with Christianity seems strong. I hoped to explain why we need more representation, but in this case, the comments made my point for me more strongly than I ever could.