Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lucy Maud Montgomery and Theology

One thing that admittedly gets under my skin is when Christian parents decide that they will allow their children to read certain books because they are believed to either be a Christian book or written by a Christian author. A few times I've run into people who think that Anne of Green Gables is a worthy read because Montgomery was a Christian. Sometimes I wonder if I should dispel the myth or allow them to continue on in ignorant bliss and wonder.

Let me make myself very clear in saying that I do not hold to the idea that as a Christian I should only read religious books or fictional works that are written by Christians. To do so is very limiting and, in my opinion, not even scriptural. Yes, we are to take care that we are making wise reading choices, that we are not filling our mind with idle prattle and evil material. We do need to take care that what we are reading is edifying in some way and I do think Anne is edifying. But she was not penned by a Christian. That's ok though. I'll read her anyway.

In reading The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery: Vol. II (linked to my original thoughts) I came across a couple of examples and direct statements by Montgomery that expressed her theology. Whether you will find her statements expected, mortifying or par for the course is anyone's guess. But I do think it's interesting to read, from Montgomery's own pen, what she truly believed.

Here is an excerpt from her journal entry dated Tuesday, February 3, 1920:

"I believe in a God who is good and beautiful and just - but not omnipotent. It is idle to ask me to believe in a God who is both good and omnipotent. Given the conditions of history and life the two things are irreconcilable. To believe that God is omnipotent but not purely good - well, it would solve a good many puzzling mysteries. Nevertheless, it is a belief that the human soul instinctively shrinks from. Well, then, I believe in God who is good but not omnipotent. I also believe in a Principle of Evil, equal to God in power - at least, at present - opposing hideousness to His beauty, evil to His good, tyranny to His justice, darkness to His light. I believe that an infinite ceaseless struggle goes on between them, victory now inclining to the one, now to the other. So far, my creed is the old Persian creed of the eternal conflict between Ahrimanes and Ormuzd. But I did not take it over from the Persian. My own mind has compelled me to it, as the only belief that is in rational agreement with the universe as we know it.

I believe that if we range ourselves on the side of good the result will be of benefit to ourselves in this life and, if our spirit survives bodily death, as in some form I feel sure it will, in all succeeding lives; conversely, if we yield or do evil the results will be disastrous to us. And I admit the possibility of our efforts aiding to bring about sooner the ultimate victory of good.

That victory will come - perhaps not in the time of our universe - perhaps not for the duration of many such universes - but eventually evil, which is destructive, will be conquered by good and remain in subjection for age-long duration. Perhaps forever; and perhaps all eternity devoid of all evil would be tiresome even to God, who, like us, may find in struggle a greater delight than in achievement - a greater delight in contest with his peers that in unquestioned supremacy over vanquished foes. Perhaps alternate light and darkness - the alternate waxing and waning of evil must follow each other through the unnumbered, the unnumberable cons of Eternity, even as night and day follow each other in our little system.

This is my creed, it explains all which would otherwise puzzle me hopelessly; it satisfies me and comforts me.

Orthodox Christianity says reproachfully, "Would you do away with my hope of heaven?" The hope of heaven is too dearly balanced by the fear of hell and the one thing implies the other. I believe in neither: but I believe that life goes on and on endlessly in incarnation after incarnation, co-existent with God, and Anti-god, rejoicing, suffering, as good or evil wins the upper hand. To me, such an anticipation is infinitely more attractive than the dull effortless, savorless existence pictured to us as the heaven of rest and reward. Rest! It is a good thing; but one does not want an eternity of it. All we ask rest for is to gain fresh strength for renewed effort. Reward! Even in this life reward once tasted, soon loses its flavor. Our best reward is in the joy of the struggle."
She makes further claims throughout her journals of a disbelief in hell and frequently found "entertainment" (if it can be called as such) in playing with Ouija boards. She documents several instances of her interactions with others as they consulted Ouiji boards and her scenarios are both disturbing and horrifying from the Christian perspective.

No, I cannot say that Lucy Maud Montgomery was a Christian. For some Christians, I do realize that will give pause for selecting additional Montgomery works to read or pass along. But I do not read Montgomery because of her faith. Even a non-Christian can share truth, whether they realize it or not and I do believe her books hold a great deal of truth, in personality, setting, character and imagination. I am happy and content in all of these things. What I am not content with is in suggesting that she only be read because of a presupposed faith that she clearly does not posses.

At any rate, not (really) meaning to argue a point, but definitely wanted to dispel the myth that Anne can and should be read because of a supposed particular worldview of the author in question. On so many levels I find her lack of faith sad - mostly because she was married to a minister (who also, for the record, did not believe in hell!)

I realize this post may rile some. That's certainly not its intent. Rather, the intent to merely to point out what Montgomery's actual beliefs were so that we can clarify any misconceptions that we, as her readers, might have so that we may better understand and, yes, even enjoy her works. If that is possible. (For me, it is.)


Annette W. said...

It was good to read her own words instead of guessing from her books that her faith and my own do not line up. Thank you for taking the time to copy all of that!!!

Sad, yes.

Though I lean mostly toward Christian fiction, there is great benefit from reading a variety. I struggle when a book has too much language or sexuality...but so enjoy secular authors who don't include too much of either, so that I can enjoy another book.

As you said, we can glean truth from many sources...and sometimes Christian fiction/nonfiction seems to be truth...but isn't.

Barbara H. said...

Thanks, Carrie. I agree, too, that a Christian's reading does not need to be limited only Christian writings. We learn to discern by looking at everything through Christian eyes, whether the source is Christian or not. And, as you said, sometimes even non-Christians convey truth. Someone once said all truth is God's truth.

LMM's works can easily be mistaken for Christian since she was a pastor's wife and there is reference to some spiritual truths in it. I did catch a very short mention -- I think in Windy Poplars -- about "all roads" leading to God, which is, of course, not true. I shudder to think what people in her church were learning.

I know you're not usually online on weekends, but I posted a review Sat. of the book I was reading called Looking For Anne of Green Gables. I'd love to have you look at it and tell me what you think, because the book brought up a few things that were disturbing, and since you've read so much more about her life, I wanted to see if it jived with what you knew. My first impression was that the author was reading sensibilities from our times into what LMM wrote in her journals and letters, but I am not entirely sure. I knew before reading the book that she was not a Christian, had an unhappy marriage, and took her life, but this book brought up a couple of other areas that were disturbing.

The review is here:

Monica said...

Thank you for sharing this. The more we know, the more informed we are to make better decisions and understand the world around us. I won't ditch her books, (I enjoy them!) but I will definitely read them a little more guarded.

Barbara H. said...

I just just doing my daily check through my spam folder on my blog and saw that you DID post a comment on the book that somehow got caught in there! Thanks -- my thought pretty much agreed with yours.

L.A.C.E. said...

interesting. I had no idea people thought she was a Christian author. I don't go searching authors bios. So unless I'm in a Christian bookstore it it's under the religion heading, I don't give much thought to it. thanks for the post. I love learning new things.

Janet said...

Thanks so much for your thoughts. I know how you feel... It bugs me when people attribute Christian beliefs to an author I know doesn't subscribe to them, and I too always wonder whether I should quibble or just hold my tongue. I'm glad you shared LMM's words.

I think there was a period of time in the late 19th-early 20th century when the occult was a fashionable preoccupation. It surprised me that it played a role in Elizabeth Goudge's autobiography, because she was a Christian. It seems like it was touched on in 'The Narnian' too as something Lewis was curious about but didn't get involved with.

Krista said...

Whoa, that's kind of trippy! I am not opposed to reading books by non-Christians, but like another reader said, when they start having gratuitous scenes of one kind or another it's just not something I want to read. Hence why I read a lot of Christian fiction (or, usually do, as yesterday was the first fiction book I've read in probably 6 months, yikes!).

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed it!

I agree with you. Far too many Christians imagine that this author (along with other pre-1900's authors) are Christians without really investigating their beliefs.

That said. I do not read this series because of the author's religious beliefs. I read it because it is an excellent story.

I remember you last post on this topic. Now seeing what LMM believe I wonder how did her husband hand her beliefs.

B said...

Sounds like she might have missed her calling as a Buddhist. (Not to be smarmy, or anything like that :)

I do agree with you on the Christian/non-Christian book thing, by the way.

Heidi said...

Thanks for sharing this. I've read lots of LMM's books but never really looked into much about her personal life. I find this interesting - and sad.

Stephanie Kay said...

One of my major pet peeves is when people believe all the books in a Christian bookstore are "safe" to read. NOT so. Like another reader said, I read LMM because the stories are fun and wholesome. When I come across comments in any book that are contrary to my Christian beliefs I make sure my children understand that it is different from my beliefs. But, while they are so young I am very careful about what I expose them to. I'm also careful about myself. Mainly because I don't want to waste my time on something I'm going to disagree with over and over.

Heather VanTimmeren said...

My book club just met tonight to discuss Emily of New Moon, and the question of L. M. Montgomery's life and faith came up in light of the "second sight"/psychic element in the Emily books. I'm forwarding everyone a link to this post since it explains so much and because your reflections are so accurate, too!

Shonya said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing. I had no knowledge of her spiritual beliefs, so I really appreciate your insight.

Anne Shirley said...

Hi, Carrie. I didn't write you for a long time, but that was because: 1)I leave my blog for a long time, and 2) because sometimes I don't know what to say about your post; but this time I have what to say =).
I love Anne, I believe in God, but this two things together, in the same person are just for chance.
Like you say, and our dearest L. M. Montgomery wrote, Anne is very realistic, so she can say that she is annoyed with God, like we used to be when we were just little girls. The whole story is realistic. Well in the real world there is people who believe in God. These people, who believe that can't read LMM because she was christian, and her writing was christian too, so: don't read greek myth either! I'm not comparing this religions, but to someone who is atheist, all religions are the same thing.

In the other hand... wow! I never believe that she could say such things about religion. I can't say what I really want to say and feel, because my poor english, but I can say that I'm surprised!!!

Hugh kisses, Carrie, be well! ♥

Ronnica said...

What drives me crazy sometimes is when people will take certain classics at face value (without discernment) because they're classics (usually mistaking morality with Christianity), but won't give modern books even an ounce of consideration if you couldn't find them at a Christian bookstore. Sorry, but some of those books actually require *more* discernment than something else!

All that to say, books that aren't "Christian" are still valuable (or at least could be). And all books, regardless of the label, require discernment.

Carrie said...

Ronnica - Couldn't agree with you more!

Anonymous said...

This article is from The Uxbridge Cosmos newspaper.

Last Saturday night, on the weekend closest to
Hallowe’en, 20 members of a spiritualist group
from Toronto came to the Manse and Historic
Leaskdale Church. They were given a tour, and
served tea and scones, after which they sat quietly
for two hours in the Manse and communed
with the spirit of Lucy Maud

We were delighted to welcome this group,
especially given the references to gazing balls,
seances, table rappings and ouija boards we
find in Montgomery’s writings.

At the time Maud was growing up, “spiritualism”
was a popular interest and form of entertainment.

In 1891, aged 17, she wrote:

“I was invited to spend the evening at the
Kennedy’s and of course we had a scrumptious
time. Andrew Agnew, Mr. Sinclair, and Willie
were there and we had such fun making a table
rap. Willie asked me to go with him to the convent
school closing tomorrow night and I agreed, Mrs.
K. got us lunch and we all sat around the table
and told ghost stories until I vow when I got home
I sneaked upstairs in mortal terror and stood with
my back to the wall all the time I was undressing
so I couldn’t fancy there was anything behind me!”

In 1906, when she was 32 years old, she

“This past week has been a gayer one socially
than often falls to my lot. Annie Stewart is home
for a visit and last Saturday evening George R.
and I were invited up for a game of whist. We had
it and it was very enjoyable. Then we had a
“seance” and made a table rap. Of course this was
lots of fun. But it is a curious thing and a little
uncanny, give it what scientific “explanation” you

Monday evening Mrs. J.R. Stewart gave a “goose
supper” to the members of the Literary Programme
Committee. Both the ministers, Messrs. Belyea
and Macdonald [her future husband] were there
and we had another table rapping. We made the
thing do various stunts, such as standing up on
one leg, walking around the room, etc.”

From The Selected Journals of L.M.
Montgomery Volume 1

JoshuaSinquefield said...

Oh I disagree almost entirely with you as for staters she was undeniably Christian, and how did her husband not believe in hell when he frequently went through spells where he believed himself damned to hell the selected journals do know show everything like the complete ones do but she was an undeniable Presbyterian even if her faith wavered at times

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