Writing is the most powerful of the Arts, which is why the Founders listed freedom of speech and freedom of the press among the inalienable Rights that Congress is prohibited from legislating against, in Amendment I of the Constitution of the United States of America.
I’ve encountered a number of blog posts recently that encourage novelists to grapple fearlessly with difficult topics and controversial issues, and above all, to write to please themselves. Sadly, some others of the citizenry do not voluntarily assume the same restraint under which Congress must operate, and those individuals take it upon themselves to urge censorship upon novelists whose Muse leads them to include in their stories situations or behavior which those readers disapprove of. Sometimes the self-appointed censors succeed.
The personality and motives of fictional characters are illustrated by the action and dialogue, but in a psychological novel we also get more of the deep stuff that puts personality and motivation there to begin with. Such intimations can elicit a strong visceral reaction in a reader, but the remedy for that is not censorship. The reader is free to close the cover and simply say of that book, “It’s not for me.”
As a clinician, the psychology of reading and writing fascinate me. Registered Nurses have to be able to handle all manner of unpleasant things, and when I was in practice, I didn’t have any trouble with the grim realities of healthcare. But I’ve never been able to stomach reading Stephen King – although, oddly enough, the text analyzer at I Write Like says that the first four chapters of Irish Firebrands are written in King’s style (equally shared with that of James Joyce, whom I never had the patience to read).
Like other forms of Art, whether or not a piece of Writing makes acceptable reading, is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve blogged elsewhere about the excess of execrable language in modern fiction (see Let’s Get Out of the Gutter and Watch Your Language!). But I was surprised about how much otherwise controversial material ended up in Irish Firebrands (see Not Your Mother’s Mills & Boon and If Only Life Would Imitate Art!).
Although toilet-talk text enjoys popular acceptance, fiction that deals with theology doesn’t seem to qualify – unless the writing is hostile towards the faith that’s under examination. If fiction is sympathetic towards religious beliefs and practices, its author may be accused of proselytizing. At the very least, such writing is dismissed to a niche.
People’s religious beliefs can be seen as a manifestation of how they cope: how they make sense of the world and psychologically integrate the events that affect them. But when someone believes something different, it can feel intimidating to another person. Examples of this include the terror some people felt about the election of a Catholic or a Mormon to the Presidency of the United States, although the Constitution does not deem it necessary to prescribe a religious test for presidential candidates. Like freedom of speech and freedom of the press, freedom from an established religion and freedom to practice religion are also inalienable Rights enumerated in the First Amendment.
I enjoy reading what can be described as religious, inspirational, or visionary fiction in a variety of makes and models. One of my favorites is The Robe, a biblical novel by Lloyd C. Douglas (1877-1951), who was a clergyman whose experience with faith led him to change his religious denomination during his career.
So it was probably natural for the Muse Polyhymnia to step in and direct Irish Firebrands to cross her genre line. I wrote about several characters whose brands of belief (or lack thereof) interest me, and whose struggles to come to terms with the challenges of their internal and external environments, happen to involve the acquisition and/or practice of those beliefs. The characters in Irish Firebrands are flawed, but they’re not evil, no matter if, who, what, where, when, why or how they may choose to worship.
Real people are born innocent, and most of them remain decent, whether or not they become people of faith, to help them stay that way. That may not always be the case in fiction – not even in other novels that I may write. I just follow the Muse on duty, and take what feels like a realistic route to translate Life into Art.
Sometimes what we write is more effective than it is successful. But if what we’ve written is right for the story, we don’t need to haul out the herbicide tank.
 Dr. Douglas didn’t want his writing to be dramatized, but they did it anyway, and of course they hosed it up. So read the book, don’t bother with the movie. All you’ll be missing is Richard Burton with a perm and wearing a skirt.
 He was born approximately a mile from where Irish Firebrands was written. Must be something in the water.