It’s interesting to me what keeps people in Christianity and what they believe keeps them in it. There were a few things, as I was growing up in the Sovereign Grace Ministries cult, that were “approved” for my media consumption but were directly counterproductive to keeping me in step with the cult’s ideology. I am grateful they slipped under the wire — these are the things that broadened my thinking and kept me from getting stuck in that world.
The Guardian recently ran a piece about young adult (YA) literature and how the author’s exposure to a certain “Christy” book (a perennially popular Christian YA series when I was a kid) was a breath of fresh air when her mom refused to answer hard life questions for her.
It was much more influential to her faith, she says, than the Bible:
It was reading the Bible that killed off my faith. When I was 13, I decided that I was done being a dilettante — I read my own pink, dog-eared Bible cover-to-cover instead of sticking to the sections suggested by children’s guides to the Gospels. Rather than finding the Good Book a useful, affirming guide, it only raised frustrating questions. I was horrified by the violence and jealousy of the God of the Old Testament, but my mother assured me that our God, the God of the New Testament, was generous, loving and forgiving.
All I could think was: “God changes?”
In a world where formulas and rote answers are more the rule than the norm, such an approach to life is pivotal and refreshing. For me, it was reading Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, a YA novel where the main character is bound by a magical spell to obey any direct command given to her. In a world where “first time obedience” (obeying a parent on the first command without question) was a highly valued character trait, such a story was both familiar and terrifying, as Ella breaks her curse and sets herself free from forced obedience. It was a refreshing change, for me, from the world of the Bible, where duty and suffering appear to be valued so much more than healthy independence.
Literature has always had a magical effect on me, broadening my horizons and pushing me to think about the world in fresh ways. Writing that book report on Ella Enchanted was one of those precious turning points that kept me from getting too ensconced in fundamentalism.