An excerpt from Piers Paul Read’s essay “The Catholic Novelist in a Secular Society”, from his book Hell and Other Destinations:
The Catholic writer has to acknowledge that today’s non-Catholic reader may be put off his fiction by his Catholicism… Of course such an orthodox Catholic author may have his loyal following among his own Catholic community. Should he be content with them? The disadvantage here is two-fold. He is preaching to the converted. He is hiding his light under a bushel. The specific insights afforded by his faith will not reach those who do not share it: his art will be lost to the wider world.
Second, his work might not be appreciated even by the kind of Catholics who share his belief. In Britain and America there is seldom a correlation between piety and literary sophistication. Many Catholics were shocked by the novels of both Waugh and Greene. Greene was severely criticised by the then Archbishop of Westminster for The End of the Affair and his novel The Power and the Glory was placed on the Index in Rome. Waugh, who generously donated his foreign royalties to the local churches, on occasion had them returned by bishops shocked by the sexual candour of his novels…
A society in which there is no agreement on moral principles, or on objective truth in the moral sphere, is a society heading for trouble. ‘In communism,’ wrote the French philosopher Alain Besançon, ‘the contrary of the truth was the lie, and the lie was the very nature of communism. In democracy, the contrary of the truth is the meaningless, and the meaningless is a menace to democratic life. The relativity of truth, its reduction to opinion, the progressive weakening of opinion, create a metaphysical void in which modern man suffers…’
The question for the future is therefore this. Will the Catholic novelist in the next millennium increasingly dissociate his faith from his work? Or will he, as Besançon demands, combine his faith with his talent to ‘help democracy heal itself from the deficit of truth’?