Bad Christian art

Since I feel that most examples of bad Christian art don’t deserve serious critical attention, I’ve decided to talk in the abstract here, aware of the dangers of that choice. I do think that if you fill in the example of your liking, much of the critique will work much of the time; in my experience, most bad Christian stories are bad in similar ways. 

For now, I want to focus on the fact that bad Christian stories are prescriptive. Though they may contain characters and a plot, they exist not to discover or examine truth but to deliver a message. In that way they’re similar to propaganda used by oppressive regimes in times of war and genocide in attempts to control and manipulate people.. 

As such, bad Christian art is ironically neither Christian nor art. It cannot reflect a multifaceted, mysterious, and paradoxical God or God’s creation. As Ron Hansen has put it:

So called Christian fiction is often in fact pallid allegory, or a form of sermonizing, or is a reduction into formula…sometimes yielding to a Manichean dualism wherein good and evil are plainly at war….We cannot call a fiction Christian just because there is no irreligion in it, no skepticism, nothing to cause offense, for such a fiction, in its evasions, may have evaded, in Karl Rahner’s words, “that blessed peril that consists in encountering God.”

Good stories, on the other hand, are complex, containing layers and shades of meaning that aren’t easily exhausted, even by attentive multiple readings. The best stories, as John Gardner argued, have an inherent moral dimension; immersive engagement with them helps us grow. In their fidelity to the true and diverse nature of things (especially people), good stories tend to oppose “either/or” dichotomies. They develop empathy and compassion in readers by allowing us to imaginatively inhabit the lives of characters who are different from us in essential ways.

In short, good storytelling is honest.

Bad stories are calculated and disingenuous, the opposite of the childlike state of wonder that Jesus held up as a faith ideal and writers like C.S. Lewis helped to flesh out for generations of readers. Instead, bad Christian stories are childish, playing to immature expressions of faith. 

From  “On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity” by Daniel Bowman Jr.