Saturday, January 16, 2010

Has Your Religion Ever Been Attacked In A Novel You've Read? [You're The Expert]

Coexist!One of the books I read recently ran a thread of deliberate misinformation of a denigrating nature about my religion. It upset me and I wanted to quit reading the book as soon as I came across it. I was totally offended. I toughed it out and finished the book, and didn't end up liking the book for other reasons, the ignorance and lack of research about my religion just added to my fury. I reviewed the book, but left out the bit about how the author was a bigot, because I felt too emotional to keep it professional.

So, we want to know...

  • Do you think authors have a responsibility to accurately portray religions and research them to get the facts before they incorporate them into their novels?
  • Do you as a reader feel that you have the responsibility to verify information purported as fact about religions other than your own that you encounter in a novel?
  • Have you ever come across misinformation about your religion while reading a novel?
  • Have you ever contacted the author about the mistake?
  • How did you react to the misinformation?
  • How do you feel about the author who wrote it?
  • Will you ever read another book by that author?
  • Tell us everything you have to say on this subject - whether or not you've had a personal experience with it. We want to know what YOU think! I mean after all, YOU'RE THE EXPERT!


Angela Craft said...

I'm not a religious person, so I've never felt personally attacked (for I've never read a book that went out of its way to denigrate atheism/agnosticism). However, I do think authors have some responsibility to research at least the basics of a religion (culture, ethnicity, etc) if they don't have first hand experience with it. From there, the author must then decide how much a *character* knows and how a character feels about that knowledge. To me this is akin to the idea that you have to understand the rules before you can break them, as I've had writing and art teachers explain to me. Sometimes we have characters that are not nice people, or characters who are just ignorant without malicious intentions who may spread misinformation about a religion purposefully or accidentally.

Rarely would I present something I read about in a novel as a fact unless there were outside assurances that they were as well researched as the author could manage, and that goes double for sensitive subjects like religion.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Kate said...

I have never personally felt attacked; however, I believe that an author should research a religion if they are going to talk about it. I mean if I read a novel discussing a religion that I am fairly knowledgeable in and they are misrepresenting the religion, then I question the author's creditability. I do not know if I would stop reading a novel for this specific reason, but I know that this fact would alter what I think of the author as well as the book.

La Coccinelle said...

I think much of it is a matter of interpretation. If you're going to write characters of a certain religion, then you'd probably want to make sure that what they're talking about is correct. However, getting things wrong in a novel on purpose could be a statement about ignorance, or just a way of showing that not everybody understands every aspect of every religion. As for responsibility, I don't think it should have to fall to the reader... but it's probably not a bad idea to do your own research. If a religion plays a large part in a story, and I'm not familiar with it, I might look it up and see what it's really all about. But I don't think that's necessarily the reader's responsibility; the author has a responsibility to get things right, too. However, it's not the author's responsibility to promote a religion or show it in a purely positive light. That could easily end up being little more than religious propaganda. All religions have their good points and their bad points; a good author will show both.

I don't really have a "religion", but I do have a set of beliefs about the world. You can probably tell what they are from the books that I read (especially the non-fiction). I think fiction writers nearly always get it "wrong"... but who am I to say that I'm the one who's "right"?

I guess I don't identify so strongly with my belief system that reading misinformation about it would make me angry or offended enough to write the author. If that were the case, a certain author would have gotten a lot of angry e-mails about a certain ridiculous series. I won't ever be reading another book by that author, but it's not just because of the way she mangled metaphysics; it's also because she just doesn't write that well.

In a similar vein, I will shy away from reading certain authors' books if I find out their religious beliefs conflict with my values. I found out recently that an author whose books I have enjoyed in the past is homophobic. I might still borrow their books from a library, but I will not buy them and provide financial support to people whose religious beliefs incite hatred of other human beings.

I Heart Monster said...

First, to clarify, the misinformation was not presented about a character's beliefs. It wasn't related to character development or the plot in any way. It was used in a comparative fashion, in an analogy that lost its validity with what the author was trying to achieve because the author had not researched the facts about my religion. Others may not know that it lost its validity. The sad thing is that it only serves to perpetuate the misinformation. Also, I want to clarify that my reaction is focused on the way I interpreted the writing - stress on the "I" - which is why I'm not slamming the author by name here.

@Angela - I'm glad that you're responsible enough to not present matters you've read about in novels as facts without first researching them! You're right - religious matters are super sensitive - just look at me!

@Kate - I'll definitely not read another book by this author - I have no respect left for the author's integrity. And, I'll admit, part of the reason I kept going was to see how much else the author screwed up :op

@La Coccinelle - I agree that a good author will show both sides of a religion, and I would not get upset about that, ever. Nobody wants to read religious propaganda, even about their own religion! (at least I don't think they do) I think your approach of borrowing books you want to read by authors you don't want to support financially is genius.

Thanks to all three of you for stopping by and sharing your expertise with us :o)

Margaret Ann Abrahams said...

I think it is an author's responsibility to represent everything with accuracy - that means research - about religion or anything else that is referenced in a fictional work. However - if a character is being portrayed as a bigot - that's legitimate. It's the character who is ignorant, not the author.
Thanks for this thought-provoking blog post.

Beth said...

I had a slightly different situation. I was reading a science fiction book, set in the future. There was a religion portrayed what was clearly based on the Roman Catholic Church, and it was a bad portrayal. All the priests were idiots and stupid in their faith, and one went on to become a terrorist because he thought a character would undermine the Church. (This was presented as a fairly logical consequence of clinging to this religion). But the name of the religion was slightly different, and the book was set in the future.

I found it annoying and juvenile but perhaps not bigoted. It made me have less faith in the author -- if he took short cuts to create bad guys here, how could I trust his portrayal of groups I didn't know about?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

As a Christian, I won't read a book that portrays my faith in a really negative light or attacks it, whether it's the author's views or the characters. It just makes me feel uncomfortable.

I Heart Monster said...

@Margaret Ann - definitely. if a character is being portrayed as a bigot, then they need to say bigotty things!

@Beth - I would have been annoyed too, and probably irked. Definitely would feel the same way about trusting the author too.

@L. Diane - Uncomfortable is a good adjective for it! And I support your stance of not reading it regardless of whether its the author or the character!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your expertise with us... we totally appreciate it!

Beth (BBRB) said...

I personally find it especially offensive when supposedly "educated" authors (and television writers) deliberate mis-portray Wicca as animal sacrificing wackos and I'm not even a Wiccan! I just find it really, really offensive that some religions (aka Christianity in the US) are considered "better" than others and all other religions and athiests/agnostics are portrayed as evil. It just turns my stomach.

As for your other questions, if the error were blatant and maliciously intended I would certainly contact the author and the publisher. Errors never should have made it through the editing process. It is certainly the author's responsibility to fully investigate all information they present, whether it be a location or a religion or whatever.

celi.a said...

I have definitely come across novels which portray my religion incorrectly - i.e. they get very basic facts wrong or intimate that all believers hold to certain tenets. I have also noticed misinformation about other religions, and that bothers me too (I may be a bit of a scholar on this topic...). It annoys me, and I have once or twice put a book down because of it. BUT. It doesn't annoy me nearly as much as when political beliefs are misrepresented and people of one stance or another are denigrated. I'm not talking about character dialogue or thoughts or something that actually pertains to a story. I'm talking about an assumption running through the world of the novel which says that people who vote a certain way are morally bankrupt. That gets me every time.