Friday, November 16, 2007

Literature and faith

A friend recently asked me my opinion on a particular book and how it relates to the Christian faith. I plan to give it some thought because I wish to respect the concerns some people have concerning the book, while at the same time respecting the concerns the book itself raises.

This has made me think about the activity of reading itself, always a rather dangerous thing, and the relationship between reading and life. For children, this relation can sometimes be obscured so that the two are interchangeable, and in other cases it can heighten the similarities and differences between the two so that the reader's understanding of life is transformed, or challenged. We hope for the latter, but sometimes welcome the former.

I know that reading helped me while I was growing up, not only in the more mundane function of developing a better understanding of language that I could not hear, but in dealing with the frustrations of a life that I felt was rather unfair, and still feel the effects of. We all have thorns in our sides that we wish to escape, and for me, reading was my form of escape. For children, they tend to want to escape the thorn of not being an adult (funny that we adults long for childhood when we spent all of it wishing we could grow up faster) or something like that. Reading is one way of doing that.

I used to be all for letting a kid read whatever they want. Now I hesitate, since there are clearly some books that children simply are not mature enough to process or understand fully. How do we determine what books should be saved for later, and what are fine to read whenever? Do we seek to protect a child from the "bad" things of life, knowing that they will have to come to terms with them sooner or later?

What about issues of religion or morality? Should we try to protect children from different ways of thinking, or allow them to work through it on their own? These are hard questions to consider, especially for parents who want to raise their children in a particular faith. It is tempting to restrict the reading of any kind of literature that opposes their particular faith, but such control tends to lead to children determined to read such "rebellious" literature.

So what is a parent to do? My personal inclination is to allow children to read a broad range of literature they so desire, making sure the literature falls within their reading/maturity level. How else can we understand why we believe what we believe if those beliefs have not been challenged? God has survived much worse attacks than that of some book advocating atheism.

Having worked at Joseph-Beth and seeing the kinds of books available, I know that I would be more reluctant to let my kid read series like "Gossip Girls," which advocate a selfish, consumerist, back-stabbing way of life than some book in which faeries and goblins roam, or where the protoganist has encountered some devastating life event and questions the purpose of life.

I'm going to get off my soapbox here, since I'm sure only one person is reading this to the end. :)


dwain said...

Is the book you're talking about The Golden Compass?

Laura said...

Yes. A lot of christians are in an uproar over the movie because of the "anti-religious" aspects of the books.
I count "His Dark Materials" as one of my favorite books. The books raise a lot of hard questions, but how else can one learn more about one's beliefs unless they are subjected to scrutiny?