Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Christian Romance Novels - part three

I'm continuing with the problematic features of Christian romances...

2. Christian Romances feature Mr. Perfect.

A feature of romance literature from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, is the superhuman hero. Mr Darcy. Mr Knightly (Man, even his name makes me sweat!), Edward Cullen, Jacob Black, Gilbert Blythe... these guys are pretty near perfect. It’s not just that they are amazingly good looking. They are also remarkably competent, strong and athletic, confident in themselves, and deeply, deeply in love with me the heroine. If the hero has a fault - perhaps shyness or pride - it’s one that can be fixed by love. I The heroine can cure him and make him complete.

Christian romances, being a subset of general romances, follow the formula of the superhuman hero. In addition to being good looking, strong, confident, competent and so very, very in love, the heroes of Christian romances are also wise beyond their years, prayerful, and very, very godly. The exception is when the heroine (or the sister of the heroine) falls in love with a super guy who isn’t a believer. That then, becomes the one ‘flaw’ that she cures him of and he very quickly moves from 0 to 100 on the godliness scale and they get married.

The heroes of romance novels (and especially Christian romance novels) are guys women imagine it would be a dream to be married to. Submitting to them would be a pleasure since they are so alpha and competent and wise and spend all their time thinking dreamy thoughts about you. You know they would step in front of a bus for you or take a bullet for you, because they pretty much have (that was in chapter 15). Sleeping with them would be... idyllic. They have such a knack of making you feel good about yourself. They are so good at telling you how beautiful they find you and how ridiculously obsessedthey are with you. All your insecurities just melt away when they are around. Married to the hero you have no money worries because his supreme competency has been rewarded with wealth - or in Christian romances, his wisdom and hard work has provided him with all you need. If, through some unforeseen and unavoidable event (say, a drought for a farmer in an historical romance), money is tight for a bit, his trust in God’s soverignty keeps your anxiety at bay (in fact, you feel serene!) You pray and in the next chapter God sends rain.

The superhuman hero is one of the things that make romance novels the delight that they are. Women read them to escape. Who would want to read about Joe-Average, his ordinary life, his petty sins and his solid but mostly unpassionate relationship with his wife? 

For the Christian woman reading romance novels, the superhuman hero does pose a problem. The way they work is to tap into our discontent and make us revel in the thought of being married to the hero. When a married woman stops reading her book, she looks at the good, but very human man that she married, and she sighs. She knows that she hasn’t married the hero. When the single woman puts down her book, she too sighs. Then dreams... 

Out there somewhere, is someone... But he doesn't exist. For single women, Christian romances will either make her unable to find any guy good enough, or she will construct a idealised, pretend view of the guy she is currently crushing on. She won't see him as he really is and if they get together, it will all fall down at some point. 

Christian romances preach wifely submission but in a way that makes respecting your husband harder. How it usually works is that the heroine agrees to submission in principle, but then post-marriage has a moment when she doesn’t want to submit to her Jesus-like husband. She wrestles with it for a page or two, then reluctantly submits. In the next chapter she realises that he was right all along and she decides she’ll never doubt him again. He is wise and godly and always thinking of her. She can trust him. 

Of course this is not what wifely respect is really like. Our husbands will be wrong a lot of the time. They will be weak (like us) and prone to sin. Christian romances teach that submission works because the alpha hero is so trustworthy. My husband isn't right 100% of the time so I blame him for my struggles to submit. Reading Christian romances and dreaming about Mr. Whoever makes me think like this. But the main thing stopping me respecting my husband is not his faults at all but my own fallen heart. I want to control things. I want what I want. Even if I was married to Jesus I would find submission hard. The problem isn’t my husband, it is me. 

Christian romances make me discontent with my husband. They stop me from seeing my own faults and make me think that the reason why our marriage isn’t perfect is because he is not a hero.

Now, of course we are not silly. As we read we give ourselves the talk that it’s all make believe. We tell ourselves that Mr Knightly doesn't exist. We laugh about it. But deep down we still want him. The man in front of us becomes less that our ideal.

Now, I do think that this is a real problem, but I don’t necessarily think we should avoid all romances altogether for this reason. More on this in a few posts time.

And more later.


  1. When we were in Europe, I sent some picture blocks to my sister for my niece. The idea was that each block had a part of a different picture and the child learns to turn the blocks and put them together so the picture is formed correctly.

    All well and good except that the pictures were of scenes from assorted fairy-tales that were generally of the vulnerable heroine waiting to be rescued by the knight-in-shining-armour variety (never mind that if his armour is shining, he probably isn't a warrior hero). My sister said that she wasn't teaching those fairy stories to my niece as she wanted her to know that she's not a helpless female - she can do anything; she doesn't have to wait for a knight (or any other man) to rescue her / do things for her.

    At the time I was a bit surprised but when I thought about it later I could see her point. Waiting for the (non-existent) hero sets us up for a fall.

  2. Hi Simone,

    Yes, yes and yes. I've been thinking about this a lot too and I'm really glad you're writing about it. Maybe I'll get to it someday too, but I doubt it.

    You said;

    "When a married woman stops reading her book, she looks at the good, but very human man that she married, and she sighs. She knows that she hasn’t married the hero. When the single woman puts down her book, she too sighs. Then dreams... "

    I would add that the married woman also dreams. And the only narrative she's learnt for love is romance ending either in marriage (christian romance) or an affair (non-christian). And that spells trouble.