Chrissi Chat: Religion in books. Does it affect your opinion?

I’m going to start the post by stating that I am an open-minded person, and I personally don’t mind what religious beliefs a person has. I respect that not everybody thinks the same as I do. The reason why I’m discussing opinions on religious characters in literature, is because I’ve recently read a book where religion really affected my opinion of the book. I want to know if you feel the same way, or how religion affects you in literature.  I don’t mind religious characters, but in the particular book, I felt like the religion was constantly forced upon the reader. Most of the time, I don’t mind if a book has religious characters. It is when it is written in a way in which the given religion is presented as fact or appears to have an agenda that I have an issue with it.

It got me thinking about different ways religion is used in books, and how sometimes it’s not always effective. I think a big bug bear for many readers is hypocritical religious characters. You know the sort, those that are highly religious, but do something completely against their morals and values (by the way,  hypocritical characters as a whole really annoy me, not just those that are religious).  Take the famous The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The townspeople force Hester to wear an “A” for adultery, forgetting that forgiveness is part of their Christian beliefs. Something like this grates on me, but then I think on the other hand, not every Christian practices every value identically.

Some might say, that there is a lack of religion in Young Adult literature. Is this because it turns people off? Is it not marketable? Is it because I don’t read a lot of religious based books that I find it hard to connect with?

Books written before the 20th Century seem to be much more religious. They’re a stereotypical ‘good’ family who attend church regularly. The children in the stories look to their parents for guidance.  It seems to be completely different now. Religion doesn’t seem to have a place as much in YA literature. I think those looking for religion in literature have to look to specific religious publishing companies. I wonder if this affects those looking for some guidance. Does religion seem undervalued in popular YA reads? Replacing God seems to be more fantastical characters like vampires/werewolves. I guess some might say that God is fantastical?

Where do you stand with religion in literature? Does it affect you? Do you think it is undervalued in modern reads, or do you think times and people have just changed? Let me know!

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34 thoughts on “Chrissi Chat: Religion in books. Does it affect your opinion?

  1. Ohh, super interesting discussion topic! I personally am religious, but I DON’T like reading religion in YA books. I hate how preachy it usually gets. Bleh. It makes me angry when books are just there to “preach” (particularly if their message is warped. o.O) But I think it’s nice when religion is presented in books in kind of a neutral way. (lol that kind of doesn’t make sense, but bear with me!) Like they pray/go to church/don’t eat certain food, whatnot, but it doesn’t TAKE OVER the story? IMO anyway.
    Fabulous post!! XD

    • Aw thank you Cait. I always get nervous when I publish discussion posts. I’m always really cautious of offending people with what I say. It’s good to know that you’re religious and I haven’t managed to offend you!

      I often find the religion in the YA I come across are incredibly preachy, which is a shame, as I like it when religion is presented in a neutral way. Like you say, it’s fine when it doesn’t take over the story. I like seeing that people have morals, but I don’t like them shoved down my throat.

      Thank you SO much for your input. It’s much appreciated.

  2. Interesting post Chrissi! I think that religion does not play a big role in YA books and it’s probably because it isn’t very marketable. Or it’s not “cool” or sth like that. Personally I like it that way. I’m not a very religious persona and I don’t like it when these things are forced on me. I don’t mind if a character in a book is religious, but I don’t really enjoy reading too much about it? Btw, what was the book you were talking about in the beginning of your post?

    • Thank you Nadia! 🙂

      I’m beginning to believe that religion isn’t present in YA because it isn’t very marketable. I’m not very religious either. I have beliefs but I don’t particularly call myself religious. I also don’t mind if a character is religious, but there’s a fine line between how much religion I can take!

      The book that set off this discussion post was Dead Girls Don’t Lie. It’s the stereotypical nature that I didn’t agree with. My review is coming out tomorrow I think, I discuss it in more detail there, if you’re interested.

      Thank you for your input Nadia. It really is appreciated! 😀

  3. I’ve read plenty books where a main character believes in God or goes to church and I don’t mind that as long as it doesn’t take over the story and have religious views on every page. I prefer a character who has some kind of morals to the drug addicted drunken thug that is marketed as a hero! But I do not like being preached to and if an author tries using a fiction book to preach their personal views to readers or convert us, I stop reading it. I want to be entertained not lectured.

    • I’m with you. I think that I do prefer to read about a character with good morals than those worshipped for bad choices. It’s that fine line between the author having a religious character and the author trying to push their religious beliefs on their readers. I can’t stand being preached to either, and tend to give up or if I do continue it would seriously make me consider the rating I gave the book.

      Thank you for your input! 🙂

  4. Great post Chrissi! I’m not personally very religious but I hope there’s something out there. I feel that people should be free to believe whatever they want to but religion should never be forced on someone and I feel uncomfortable when it is forced in fiction. Just as I would never tell anyone that is religious that they are wrong because we don’t know for certain? Hope this makes sense?!

    • Thanks Beth! I’d like to think that I’m respectful of individual’s religious beliefs. I always listen to what others believe in. I think the problem is when it feels like it’s forced upon us. I think anyone would put a barrier up when this happens. Your comment totally makes sense!

      Thank you for your input! 🙂

  5. I think that religion is fine in literature. Isn’t it just another aspect of a character’s personality? Some people’s religion play a huge hand in the things they do and the choices they make, so I am all for reading it.
    BUT. I don’t want it to be forced on me, and I don’t want people without religious beliefs to be demeaned in the book. That would definitely irk me, because again: everyone is free to their own beliefs and religious values (as long as they don’t harm anyone else).
    I simply think that times might have changed. I mean, being a teenager until just last year, I did not know any super religious people. I knew those who had a faith, but they weren’t overly covert about it, and they weren’t avid church goers or anything. So perhaps that’s why modern YA books don’t focus so much on it … because it’s not so prominent any more?

    • I completely agree with you Chiara. I think it has a place in literature and an important place. I also agree that times have changed, and not as many people are as super religious as they used to be.

      I think I only take offense to it when it is forced upon me or like I said, it seems like the author has an agenda.

      Thank you so much for your input. 🙂

  6. I too don’t care about other people religions and I don’t want to bash on then but religion does affect my opinion. I just can’t deal with it when it’s the only plot that a book has or it’s shoved in your face. I read The Girl of Fire and Thorns and there religion in it but it written with action and a great plot and characters so it doesn’t bother me as much. A book like The Shack that’s all about religion and nothing else makes it boring for me to read and I get uninterested. I like the fantasy characters because it’s something new and fun and it’s something you can only read about. If I want to experience religion I can go to a church, vampires don’t go the same way. Great discussion topic.

    • Thank you so much. I never intended to bash people with religious beliefs in this post. I wanted to make it clear that I completely respect people’s religious beliefs. Each to their own!

      I’m with you, that when the religious aspect of the book affects the plot too much or its shoved in my face.

      Thank you so much for your input! 🙂

  7. Religion is one of those “touchy” topics for me; I think I take things a little bit more personally when I do see it. I don’t read religious titles, and if there are religious aspects in the book, it really does affect my overall views and ratings. Even in some paranormal books, it overwhelms the story. ie angel/demon, and it never bothered me before..There have been times when it is subtle, and it doesn’t bother me, but that is rare

    anyway,

    I don’t think it’s in literature much because it CAN and DOES offended others, and everyone has such different beliefs. It’s hard to market it, ya know? If you have a YA book that has heavy Christian beliefs in it, those that aren’t religious or of a different religion, won’t read it.

    Great topic!

    • Thanks! I was really worried to publish this post as I was worried that I’d offend somebody.

      I think the only time that religious aspects to a book affect my ratings or opinions is when it is used in completely the wrong way. If it stereotypes, becomes overly preachy or just feels like the author is throwing their beliefs down my throat… then I definitely change my ratings/opinions. It’s really interesting that you brought up angels/demons in paranormal. I never really considered that. Like you, I don’t mind it when religion is subtle, unfortunately that’s not very often.

      Thank you so much for your input! 🙂

      • I never really thought of it that way either, but there have been many that are overly preachy. Odd in paranormal. But also, they contradict themselves often.

        I can’t tell you how many books I didn’t finish because of the preachy monologue. Others though, weren’t as affected as me. So, I do think it all depends on your beliefs and how sensitive you are on the subject.

  8. Great topic:) It really doesn’t bother me as long as it’s done in a way that’s not preachy or trying to make the reader feel bad for not having the same beliefs. I think we’re seeing less of it in literature and television and such both because more people are accepting or believing that you can be religious without doing things like going to church or constantly bringing it up, and because people are getting more private about it. Also because it’s such a fine line between an author having a character with beliefs that people will read and it coming off as that character preaching.
    I think Wendy Higgins did a really good job with religion in her Sweet trilogy. The main character’s beliefs were really important to her but I never felt preached to or like she was forcing her beliefs on anyone else.

    • Thank you 🙂

      I’m of the same opinion as you (and it seems many of us are on this post today!) I don’t mind if it doesn’t seem extreme, become too contradictory or preachy.

      It’s definitely appearing less and less in literature and television and I think it partly is because we are becoming more accepting of others beliefs. I just think there’s a fine line as you say, between having beliefs and preaching those beliefs.

      The Sweet trilogy was on my radar, but now even more so. I think it’s important that we do have characters with good morals, but it needs to be done in a sensitive way that it doesn’t become overly preachy so it doesn’t alienate others.

      Thank you so much for your input!

  9. Really awkward…I was trying to post a response to this question via my mobile phone and I accidentally posted it to my own blog as a post…sorry about that! Anyways, here were my thoughts:

    Such a great topic! I’ve never really analyzed it myself, but it is a missing component in the YA genre. Yet one thing I think is interesting is the angel/fallen angel/demon genre in paranormal fiction/romance YA lit. It obviously is rooted in some sort of religious belief/theology to have the construct of angels/demons/heaven/hell, but the actual religious aspects are completely non existent.

    Id be open to more books with characters from different religious backgrounds because I think it would make their culture backgrounds more interesting to analyze and understand, but I’d like it to be a feature of their personality and not their focus, if that makes sense?

    • Ha, no worries. It’s certainly been interesting to think about it. Before this little Chrissi Chat feature, I didn’t really consider the angel/fallen angel/demon genre. You’re so right. It is rooted in religious belief/theology, yet that doesn’t seem to bother me as much.

      I find book with characters from different religions fascinating and educative. I completely understand what you mean. It’s much better to read their religion as a feature of their personality and not the focus of the book.

      Thank you for your input! 🙂

  10. I am not religious, but it doesn’t bother me to read about religion in books as long as the author doesn’t preach too much about others being right or wrong. I have friends and family that are religious, so it still is part of my life, so I would expect to see it in books too. I just posted a review the other day on the Sky Chasers series by Amy Kathleen Ryan that used religion a lot in the story to show how it can be used to persuade people (sometimes for the bad) and to unite people. I appreciate when an author lets you decide what to think, and doesn’t try to draw conclusions for you. It is healthy to read about other people and cultures, and I am all for it as long it is done in a respectful way.

    • I think it only begins to grate on me when the author does make the character preachy or they shove their morals in my face and tell me that’s the right way to think. I’m quite open minded. I definitely don’t mind it being in literature, and I do think it should have a place in literature, even if to educate others. I agree with you, it is healthy to read about other people’s beliefs. Just, as you say, make sure it’s done in a respectful way, authors!

  11. I don’t mind religion included in books at all, but there’s two things that will turn me off of it:

    1) Overly pushy and/or prominent. I don’t want to be preached to, unless I specifically pick up a religious text and understand what I’m getting in to.

    2) Because religion in YA seems to be solely focused on the hypocritical, homophobic, extremely conservative, Bible thumping Christians. I don’t mean to say that those people don’t exist (which is a huge shame to see so many people being treated like that by people who share the same faith as me), but for once I’d just love to read about a Christian who is accepting, loving, and forgiving, and doesn’t shove their Bible under anyone’s nose. Plus, characters who are religious tend to only be defined by their religion, and have zero development or depth.

    Mainly, it’s the second reason. Just gets my blood boiling so much!

    • I think religion definitely has a place in literature and it’s an important place too. I think we share a lot of the same views. I don’t like the way religion is represented in YA. The religious people I know certainly don’t act the same way. They are accepting, loving and forgiving.

      Thank you so much for your input 🙂

  12. I cannot be labelled as a very religious person but I do believe in God. I believe that every individual has the right to practice their own beliefs. But if an individual or for that matter a book tries to force their opinion(s) as the best or as the supreme thing, that is when I have an issue.
    In books, I find it enriching to read about different religions, cultures, etc and enjoy it till the point its educating me but the moment it gets preachy, yes I do have a problem.
    Great post Chrissi! 🙂

    • Thank you! I always get so nervous with these posts. I believe in something, I’m just not overly convinced about what there is out there. I completely agree with you that it can be really enriching to read about different religions and cultures, but there’s a fine line between it being educative and it being preachy.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂 Nice to read other’s views!

  13. This was really interesting because I definitely share your thoughts. Even though I have nothing against religious characters or even that it might be a part of the novel, I don’t appreciate the fact if the novel is somehow judging people who are non-religious. Of course that’s a very stereotypical thought, thinking that religious people don’t respect people who don’t share the religion, but unfortunately I have seen quite a bit of this in the books I’ve read. I think I could read a religious book if it wasn’t a suffocating theme in the novel. 🙂

    • I have felt the same. I know the books I’ve read have come across preachy. Or that the religious characters don’t respect those that don’t believe in the same morals etc. as them. It’s a shame, because not everyone is like that. Much like those that aren’t religious don’t always judge those that are. I think if it’s not a suffocating theme in the book then I can definitely cope with it and respect/learn from it too. There’s definitely a place in literature for religion, in my eyes. It just needs to be delivered thoughtfully.

      Thank you for your input! 🙂

  14. Personally I don’t mind religion in books, it can be a great way to learn about different ways of life, but there are some books that seem to force their opinion on you or just read like a lecture rather than a real story. I prefer it when we learn about religion through the actions of the main character rather than from long speeches given by the narrator. Interesting topic and a great post!

    • I completely agree with you. I don’t think it’s wrong or annoying to have religion in a book, it’s just the way that it is tackled that I think makes or breaks a book for me.

      Thank you for your comment! 🙂

  15. Great topic for discussion! I personally don’t mind religion in literature, as long as it’s not being forced on you, or it’s not being bashed or mocked. Either one of these things sets my teeth on edge.

    I’m a Christian, and I’ve read so many Christian novels that insist on practically shoving faith down your throat. And honestly, how is that appealing to anyone? Even though I share the same faith as the authors, I got sick of reading that same message over and over again, which is why I’ve stopped reading most books in the “Christian fiction” aisle.

    And on the other hand, there are so many books on my DNF list because they did the exact opposite. In those books, every portrayal of faith or religion is a mockery or an over-the-top stereotype, and the reader is purposefully made to feel stupid if they happen to be religious. Like Kayla said in her comment earlier, it’s not like those stereotypes don’t exist, but not everyone who’s religious or spiritual fits that mold. And sometimes those don’t even fit naturally into the story. They’re just there for the sole purpose of mockery. I was reading a book the other day (a children’s book) that threw in a little dig at Christians. It didn’t play any role in the outcome of the books or in character development. It was just there, and it was upsetting because of how unnecessary it was.

    As long as books don’t push or mock, I’m okay with religion in them. I think it can add depth and interest to a story or a character.

    • Thank you so much Ashling. I think it’s an important topic to discuss, and I’m glad I don’t seem to have offended people with my views. I think we’re all very similar in the way that we don’t mind religion in literature if it’s not being bashed, mocked or forced upon us.

      I think to be appealing to a wider audience, it definitely needs to be handled sensitively, otherwise everyone loses interest or becomes alienated and no one wants that. On the other hand, although I don’t like religion to be forced upon me, if it is there and it is mocked, I really don’t like that either. There’s no need (in my eyes) to dig at Christians or anyone of any faith. We’re all different and that’s what makes life so interesting. I truly believe that if religion/cultures are in literature it can be incredibly educative!

      Thank you for your input! It really is appreciated!

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  17. I try to steer away from books that I feel are bashing me over the head with religion (which I have usually found is Chrisitanity), but I don’t mind if a character in the books I read is a religious person. Like you, I really have a hard time believing books where someone who is deeply religious (and who bashes you over the head with their beliefs) does something so out of character for them. If it a a growing experience (as it has been in a couple of religious themed books I’ve read), I am more likely to accept it.

    I respect all religions but really hate when they are forced upon me in ways that tell me my personal beliefs is wrong. I’ve only seen this in a couple of books, but I think they might be found more in Christian literature (although I couldn’t tell you for certain).

    This is a great post Chrissi. Very thought-provoking.

    • Thank you Amanda!

      I agree most of the time books that bash us around the head are books where the main faith is Christianity. It’s a shame, as it’s not an accurate representation of all Christians. I think religion has to be used so sensitively in order for everyone to enjoy it.

      Thank you for your input! 🙂

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