On Religion in Romances

When bitches are bored at work, what else do we do but talk about what we love and hate about romance novels?

Candy: Hey, have you read Uncommon Vows? That’s one of my favoritest books by Mary Jo Putney, ever. I’m not usually into heroes who are religious (me being a Godless heathen and all), but Putney pulls it off real well. And it makes me cry and cry. If you don’t like books that make you sob like a little bitch, though, you might want to skip it.

Sarah: I’m OK with religious heroes but not with books that derive their plots from Christian values. I mean, I am aware a majority of the folks who make up the protagonist pool for these novels are from the Christian majority belonging to the Church of England. But I am also aware that outward discussion of faith was not entirely appropriate social conversation, and certainly wasn’t the driving force behind a couple’s romance. Further, I’m not Christian, so I don’t identify with that value set and the language employed within it as part of my leisure reading. I started one romance that was some fantasy set in 1993 with arranged marriages between two kingdoms and the opening chapter was some diary entry about Your Will and Your Plan and I was like, You are going Back where You Came From because I will not Read You. Yuck.

Candy: You know, you’ve hit the nail on the head re: religious protagonists vs. overtly religious plots. Another one of my favorite books, To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney, has the hottest pastor ever as the hero. And the heroine’s super-snarky and agnostic, woo! Anyway, religion was such a major part of people’s lives that I don’t find historical romances that feature people who are fervent about religion too much of a problem. In fact, if I read a medieval and there’s no religion in it at all, I find that kind of disappointing since priests and the Church played such big roles in people’s lives back then.

You know what I REALLY hate, though? Characters in historical romances who believe in hippie dipshit New Age versions of Christianity. One absolutely terrible Constance O’Day Flannery book I read had characters like that, and I just wanted to kill them all for the sin of anachronism (as well as annoying hippie dipshit pontificating). And I’ll also be honest: I’m not sure how I’d feel about reading a contemporary romance featuring a guy or a girl who’s REALLY into THE LORD. Maybe because every Super-Christian I’ve ever met has been kinda scary.

Sarah: I don’t mind people of faith as protagonists – I even read a few of those Mitford books with the priest as the protagonist, and I kind of liked them. They were the literary equivalent of graham crackers. Nothing too sophisticated, but kinda comfy, like kindergarten snacktime. But the whole “our romance is Your divine Will?” Gageth me. Amen.

Candy: I find the whole “my whole life is guided by Your Will” attitude kinda creepy in general. Perhaps because there’s an aspect of blind surrender to it that I’m not comfortable with, since I’m such a skeptical hobag? Another thing is, the religious protagonists I tend to like are also people who struggle with their faith and what their religion and their God mean to them. As someone who struggled with these questions for a while before finally admitting “Hell if I know what’s really going on, guess that means I’m an agnostic,” I think I have more empathy for characters who undergo a similar process vs. people who are really certain about their faith and are willing to base their mate selection primarily on religion.

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    fresne says:

    And to think I found your site through plagarism…, but anywho, I loved Uncommon Vows. In part because the religion made such sense within context (period, characterization, etc.)

  2. 2
    Jenny Islander says:

    LaVyrle Spencer wrote one about a pre-Vatican II nun who reenters secular life and marries a local widower.  Her religious superiors and spiritual advisors are basically okay with this and still consider her a good Catholic—it’s the local townspeople and her own family who freak out.

    Andrew Greeley also writes romances with God in them (as well as romances with God).  Patience of a Saint is a really good one in which God does what some people have demanded of Her, making a rather boozy and dishonest reporter into the best human being he can possibly be in a heartbeat—and he almost loses his wife and kids as a result.

  3. 3
    Jenny Islander says:

    Holy crow, I didn’t realize I had clicked “last” instead of “next.”  Please to ignore necropost.

    Jenny Islander

  4. 4
    Deb Kinnard says:

    Some of us readers PREFER these types of books. Don’t make generalizations.

  5. 5
    Su Iswood says:

    They’re not generalizing. They’re stating their preferences. Clearly, lots of people like those types of books otherwise they wouldn’t be in print. Don’t be intolerant of people having different preferences to you.

  6. 6
    Liz says:

    While I have never read or even heard of books that were overly religious, I do not think that I would be able to read something like that.  I had Catholicism rammed down my throat from the moment I could speak.  “Say your prayers, Elizabeth.  God is watching, Elizabeth.  Lying hurts God, Elizabeth.”  It was enough to drive anyone crazy.  Thankfully, my mother isn’t as fervent anymore or I would have been out of this house when I was 18.  I was in Catholic school until the moment we couldn’t afford it anymore.  Public school was a revelation.  I had met one non-Christian at that time, so it was interesting to see that there were people who weren’t God-fearing Bible-thumping Christians.  Even before the switch I knew that Catholics weren’t the best people in the world.  My Catholic elementary school was hypocrisy central “do as i say not as i do” was the motto.

    Long tirade almost over.  The other reason that I could not read an overly religious (at least an overly Christian) book is because I believe that it is rather presumptuous to believe that everyone is Christian and if they are not they would want to read about Christians/Christianity/Christocentric novels. 

    Tirade over.

  7. 7
    Leslie H says:

    I think what is boils down to is character. What is the CHARACTER’S faith and how does it apply to the segment of their lives you are telling, maybe a lot, maybe not much at all.

    Fiction is about STORY. Character’s story. Not the AUTHOR’s story. If authors would stop burdening their characters with their own issues and hang ups, they would create better fiction.

    Ultimately, I think religion is like Art, you don’t create it, you just express it from within.

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