Alice Munro’s Christian Periphery

978-0-307-59688-8.JPGI often find it difficult to reflect on literary masters in just a few hundred words. Throw religious faith into the mix and you have a whole lot of idea wrangling (in my case, usually late into the night). Somehow, though, I managed cobble together a few thoughts on Alice Munro’s treatment of Christianity in her latest masterful collection, Dear Life. You can read the result over on ThinkChristian today.

Here’s an excerpt:

For decades, people around the world have been singing Alice Munro’s praises for her deft short stories about characters in small-town Canada caught between social conventions and desires. And you can count me among her choir. I especially admire her coming-of-age stories, which at times echo my own emotions and experiences, despite our varying generations.

When a religious character comes on scene in a Munro story, though, I am reminded of how different our worldviews are. Her latest story collection, Dear Life, contains reminders aplenty.

Margaret Atwood, another renowned Canadian author, observes, “The society Munro writes about is a Christian one. This Christianity is not often overt; it’s merely the general background.” This is the periphery of Dear Life as well. Many characters can be described as “cultural Christians.” They have grown up in religious homes, but the parables, hymns and prayers they may know are only remnants of religious tradition and not part of a personal, transformative faith.

Protagonists bristle at religious devotion, seeing in it only foolishness and hypocrisy. Religion is defined by what it condemns, not what it offers. Zealous believers speak easily of God’s wrath – a father even shrugs off his young daughter’s disappearance, dismissing her as a runaway whose punishment is in God’s hands.

Christian leaders in this literary landscape are either cowardly or condemning.

Continue reading here.

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