Friday, January 24, 2014

An Astonishing Claim

I was recently noodling around the internet searching for material for this blog when I came across this video that aired on PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Nov. 20, 2009.  In it, Ralph Wood makes the rather astonishing claim that Flannery O'Connor is "the only great Christian writer this country has produced."  He goes on to list some of the writers one might plausibly consider to be Christian - Emerson,Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Emily Dickinson, Frost, Stevens - and then asserts that not one of them is Christian, at least not "orthodoxly Christian."  My immediate reaction was, this can't be.  Surely there are others.  However, the more I thought about it I had to concede that Wood was right.  Who else beside Flannery O'Connor can be considered a great Christian writer?  Walker Percy?  John Updike?  Perhaps, but as good as they are they're not in the same league as Flannery.  What about T.S. Eliot?  Now there's a contender, though I would maintain that even though he was born in this country he lived most of his life in England and is more British than some of their own writers.  As provocative as Wood's interview is, it begs the question, what is it that makes an author a "Christian writer"?  For that matter what is is that makes an author a Catholic writer?  Katherine Anne Porter, Andrew Greeley, and Margaret Mitchell were Catholics.  But can their writing be considered Catholic?  In response to a comment on last week's blog asking me to define my terms, I said that a Catholic writer was one who viewed reality sacramentally and that this outlook is reflected in his or her writing regardless of whether that person is formally connected to the institutional church.  My friend Fr. James Behrens at the monastery said that this definition needed more specificity.  So what is it makes a writer a Catholic writer?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.
- Mark


Anonymous said...

I would argue that the Catholic writer is the writer who cannot (or will not) write fiction unless it either explicitly or implicitly advances the theological doctrine of the Catholic church. Now, however, we come to another issue: In the evolution of the Catholic church, different Catholic writers in different eras will say different things differently. Hence, we have Dante in one era. And we have O'Connor in a different era. But who do we have now? Well, how is that for waffling on your question?

Anonymous said...

Mark, please note: