Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Religion as a motivating factor: When is it too much?

With the release of The Nativity of St. Genevieve immanent, and with me hoping that my short story "Witchcraft" will be taken up for the second Machine of Death collection over at Dinosaur Comics, I feel like it's time to talk about something that's been worrying me a bit in both stories.


I knew from the start when I set out to write Genevieve that I was going to catch flak for it. If Rowling gets people upset at how supposedly satanic Harry Potter is, I know I'm in for it. Then again, if I get even a 20th of the attention that Harry Potter did, I'll be ecstatic enough to deal with the trolls. Genevieve is set in a universe that is remarkably like our own medieval Europe (hah, how surprising is that, since I'm a trained medievalist?), except for the fact that magic is real and it's controlled by the Catholic Church, who train all natively-born magic users into monks and nuns so that their powers can be explained away as miracles. This was inspired by stories of miracles that I ran across in my graduate research (such as nuns randomly being surrounded by columns of blue flame whilst singing in Choir one day) that sounded to me a lot like descriptions of typical fantasy magic. The thing is, that what with my insistence that the magic is actually a natural power and not what the Church claims, and with the depiction of the Catholic Church as an institution that's trying to take away free will for these people, I know I'm going to get people thinking I'm anti-Catholic. Especially since as close as I get to a villain in this first book is the village priest.

This is a problem for me, because what I really want to show is nuance, and what faith is capable of inspiring in people. Father David does what he does because so far as he knows, it's the right thing to do. He makes choices that are very difficult for him, but he always errs on the side of his faith. The same thing is true in "Witchcraft". The main character, a traveling revival preacher named Haggerty, continually puts himself into what he knows are dangerous situations because preaching and salvation are what he's taken on as his mission in life.

I'm not afraid of people thinking that I'm anti-religious. That, I can deal with. What I'm more afraid of is people thinking that I'm too religious. I'm not really certain how to get out the message (other than hoping people see this here) that religion and faith are simply serving as handy motivators for me, ways to put the characters in the situations I want them in, to make them do the things that they need to do. While it's interesting to me to see the things that faith can drive a person to do, I'm equally as interested in other motivators like lust, or greed, or True Love. Yes, True Love has capitals. Go watch the Princess Bride. My own personal opinions on faith and religion are my own damn business, and nobody else's, and I don't want what I've written to be taken as standing in for them.

The only reason I'm worried about this is simply because the first two stories that I hope to have any kind of wide impact are fairly similar in that faith is one of the main themes and motivating forces. I don't want people to think that I'm someone who writes about religion all the time. In talking with friends about this dilemma, most have told me that I don't really have anything to worry about. I hope not. But that's part of why I'll be releasing another collection of short stories as soon as I can, one that doesn't feature any stories with religious themes.

I don't object to people who want to write religious or inspirational stories. But those books need to be advertised as such, and they're not what I do. What I do is write about people, and why they do the things they do. Religion is just one of the many things that makes us more than monkeys, and it's fascinating as a motivating force. So are lots and lots of other things, so forgive me for not using it in more moderation, at least at first.