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Christianity and Literature

Some personal views by Steve Hayes


  1. Introduction
  2. Other literary pages in this site
  3. Literary discussions
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The twentieth century has been the "ecumenical century" for Western Christianity - a drawing together of Christans from many different backgrounds and traditions. Yet at the end of the century, Western Christianity seems more fragmented than at the beginning, and theological writing reflects this fragmentation. There are many different theologies: process theology, liberation theology, feminist theology, black theology, white theology and many more.

One writer in the middle of the century, C.S. Lewis, tried to write about "mere" Christianity. He wasn't a professional theologian, but rather a literary critic. His "theological" writings were popularizations of what he regarded as the core beliefs of the Christian faith. As popularizations they were moderately successful, but he actually did a far better job of it with his fiction.

I don't know how well his books have sold, but I would guess that ten of his fictional works have probably been read by, and have influenced, more people than all his other works, whether pop theology, literary criticsm or fiction. The ten works are The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven books written for children, and his Cosmic Trilogy, three science fiction works written for adults.

I find it interesting that many people who have read and appreciated Lewis's books have been drawn to the Orthodox Church. Some of these people live in North America, some in Western Europe, some in Africa, and some in Eastern Europe. Though Lewis himself was an Anglican and not an Orthodox Christian, many of his fans have found the worldview that is implicit in Lewis's books has its most explicit expression in the Orthodox Church. That is not to say that that is what Lewis intended, or that every fan or Lewis's books must logically or inevitably become an Orthodox Christian. But it does indicate to me that Lewis's fiction does provide a meeting place, common ground, between Eastern and Western Christians. It also provides a meeting place, and common ground, between different groups of Western Christians - Evangelicals and Catholics, for example. I believe it goes even further, and indicates common ground, and a possible meeting place, for Christians and pagans.

I've started with Lewis because I believe his works, and especially his fiction, can give an idea of the Christian worldview to people who might not otherwise be familiar with it, especially to those in the post-Christian world of much of the northern hemisphere.

There are, of course, numerous other works of fiction that are based on a Christian worldview. In Russia, for example, in the last decades of Bolshevik rule, where knowledge of the Christian faith was suppressed in almost every sphere of public life, the Christian worldview continued to find expression in works of literature, such as the novels of Dostoevsky, and this led many to become Christians in that period, and it could indeed have contributed to the collapse of the Bolsheviks.

There are other works too, not written by Christians, or from an explicitly Chrtistian worldview, that can nevertheless cast light on the Christian approach to the world and its cultures. In these "literary" pages, then, I've put together some essays and thoughts on these subjects, in the hope that someone might be willing to discuss them with me.

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Other literary pages on this site

Here are some brief descriptions of some of out other literary pages.

The Inklings
People of various political views, ranging form the left to the right, have appreciated and found inspiration in fantasy novels like those of the Inklings - C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams & Co. Some of those who dislike these books have criticised them for being too rightist or leftist. On this page I look especially at Lewis's Cosmic Trilogy in relation to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Christianity, paganism and literature
Fantasy literature by authors like the Inklings has been appreciated by both Christians and neopagans, even though the authors were Christians. There have sometimes been heated arguments over whether works like Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings are fundamentally Christian or fundamentally pagan. Such arguments actually indicate that Christians and neopagans often share more common ground than they realise, and this page explores some of the possibilities of finding such common ground.

A literary pilgrimage
This is a much more personal page, describing how some of the books I have read (and the people who introduced me to those books) have influenced me. It's also my personal tribute so some of the people from whom I have learnt things - either through personal contact, or through reading their books.

Pilgrims of the Absolute, by Brother Roger, C.R.
A paper on the Christian significance of several authors and poets, including Jack Kerouac, Léon Bloy, Clellon Homes and Jean Genet. It was read by Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, at conferences of the Anglican Students Federation of Southern Africa (ASF) in 1960 and 1961.
Literary links
Links to literary pages elsewhere on the web - mainly ones dealing with the kind of books I have discussed here. There are links to other Inklings sites, and those dealing with Beat Generation authors such as Jack Kerouac.

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