In an interview with io9, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin went out of his way to take a swipe at believers. The interviewer asks about Martin’s writing method, and the process by which he creates characters. Seeing a link between a comment Martin made and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, the interviewer asks Martin if he’s read it. When Martin says no, the interviewer attempts to make the link more clear by explaining one of the themes of Anderson’s book:
Interviewer: It’s the people who like get obsessed with one idea and decide it’s the truth. And it turns them into kind of monsters.
Martin: Well, of course you see that in real life with a lot of religious people.
This sort of casual anti-religious aside has begun to appear with more frequency in equally incongruous contexts. A recent review of a Paul McCartney concert began with the line “The journalist Rob Sheffield recently wrote . . . ‘your Beatles will change all through your life,’ which is so correct and brilliant that I think it could replace all organized religion.” (Sheffield, himself Catholic, would likely demur.)
The question is how to respond to comments like Martin’s when they arise. The easiest option would be to ignore them: people occasionally make gratuitous comments about politics, or other matters on which people disagree. We can separate the life of the artist from his work, and so long as Martin’s novels are enjoyable to read, the man’s views are secondary.
The other natural impulse is to dispute. If we can demonstrate that religious people don’t just get obsessed with one idea, or that the non-religious do, too, then we can prove Martin wrong. But a response likely won’t change anyone’s mind, only perhaps triggering a flame war in which the standard examples are flung back and forth. How many times has the story of Galileo’s persecution been disproven, and how many times does it come up as an example of Christians being unwilling to change their minds?
How then should Christians respond? The first part is simple: note examples of gratuitous and unwarranted shots at religious believers—Christian and otherwise— and single them out for opprobrium as we would any offensive and unmerited remark. The same ethic of love that calls on us to be more than passive when a racist sentiment is expressed applies also to our fellow believers. As in the case of racism, opprobrium does not require converting the one who spoke wrongly or offering a harangue, merely in pointing out the wrong.
The second part is to disprove the claim through doing what it is presumed we cannot do, engaging in consumption and criticism as religious readers of secular work. Christians are readers, who for the effective practice of our faith need to know and recognize narrative structure, thematic complexity, genre, subtle shifts in language and tone, and all of the other elements in the toolkit of the serious critic. The response is not to dismiss Martin’s work, but to take the measure of it seriously, assessing strengths and weaknesses as the work merits them. In this way, we can respond without without falling into a grim and humorless stereotype.