Christianity and Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult UK WebsiteJodi Picoult writes issues-based fiction that’s thought provoking, upsetting, messy, complex, educational, and sometimes extremely difficult to read. She works hard to write about controversial issues from both sides, which is why she’s one of my favorite authors.

During a TV interview in the United Kingdom sometime ago (which I cannot find to share with you here), Picoult said something like: “It’s real easy to pass judgment on others until you’ve put yourself in their shoes. What would you do if it happened to you?” Indeed, the banner on her UK website reads: “What would you do?”

Of all of the issues she’s tackled, I approached Sing You Home: You Can’t Choose Who You Love with serious trepidation, knowing it was about the clash between gay rights and the Christian right.

Sing You Home CoverAs I popped the audio book into my car’s CD player, I turned on my filters and asked God to help me understand.

Infertility issues and a miscarriage tear a marriage apart. Max, the recovering alcoholic ex-husband, finds love and healing in the arms of Jesus. Zoe, the music therapist ex-wife, finds love and healing in the arms of another woman. A custody/property battle ensues over pre-born babies/embryos.

Picoult captures Max’s conversion experience authentically and with great respect. That character in particular is the most even-headed Christian in the book.

That’s where Picoult’s respect for Christianity ends. Her personal beliefs and agenda were rampant throughout the book. She displays blatant derision toward faith and Christianity.

Listening to my faith being trashed was pretty hard to take. Other than Max’s character, Picoult chose an extremely fundamental, stereotypical group of individuals to represent Christianity. And the two gay women fully hate Christians.

The so-called happy ending? Max gives the embryos to Zoe and her partner, Vanessa. He also has an affair with his brother’s wife and they wind up getting married. The epilogue is from the point of view of the embryo-who-is-now-a-child who is just so lucky to have four loving parents—three moms and one dad. There’s just so much love. Who could knock that? When people love each other, it’s okay to do anything you want as long as you call it love. Screw your sister-in-law while your brother sleeps upstairs? Go ahead! Because “You Can’t Choose Who You Love.” Lord have mercy.

The Guardian interviews Jodi PicoultJodi Picoult was interviewed about Sing You Home on The Guardian. She talks about the research she conducted for the book. It included a six-hour interview with Melissa Fryrear, a representative from Focus on the Family, which is under the umbrella of Exodus International. Here is what Picoult has to say about the Bible:

“When I suggested that maybe the Bible had a lot to say, but it wasn’t the best sex manual, for example, it also advocates polygamy, and stoning a bride who’s not a virgin, and marrying 11-year old girls, [Melissa] said, well that doesn’t matter, it’s not always God’s intent for sexual behavior. So only when it suits her purposes was it God’s intent for sexual behavior.”

The Bible advocates polygamy, and stoning a bride who’s not a virgin, and marrying 11-year old girls? Oh please. There’s rape, murder, adultery, and all kinds of nasty stuff in the Bible, too, so I guess that makes it all okay? Sheesh. Picoult found references in the Old Testament to suit her purposes as well—taken totally out of context. For being so into research, she failed to recognize that the Bible is full of stories of sin, its consequences, and redemption. Just because it’s mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s okay. It begs the question: Who’s being narrow minded now?

Takeaways from the book…

The story was extremely smart and well written. I learned a lot about what couples go through when they’re trying to have a baby, which helped me identify with friends who have been through it and a co-worker who’s going through that with her husband right now.

As a pro-lifer, I found it fascinating that the gay couple insisted on calling the embryos “property.” As portrayed in the novel, they were clearly as attached to the embryos as if they were children. It’s convenient to call pre-born babies “property” when you’re trying to get what you want.

I am now ambivalent about Picoult’s work. She doesn’t look at both sides as well as I thought she did. She can’t shut her own filter off. After all, she’s a human being with her own non-religious beliefs. With this book, she was a fiction writer with a real social agenda. As a reader, I don’t trust her anymore.

I conclude this post with chagrin. I’ve totally knocked Picoult and her book, but it’s because Sing You Home was so upsetting that I’m writing and thinking so much about it. Isn’t that the whole point of good writing?

Bravo, Ms. Picoult. You’ve gotten me thinking. But we will never, ever agree on this issue.

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve not read this one. I did read her books for the first time last year (House Rules and My Sister’s Keeper) as I stepped back into reading contemporary fiction. I found I didn’t enjoy her style, and I disliked the foul language, among other things. Her books seem designed to stir up the controversy, so I’m not surprised at what you share about this one. I don’t have plans to read more of her work; she’s not really my type of novelist. But if this is the first time that she’s showed a strong bias in a story, then perhaps it was her intention, and now you know where she stands when it comes to your faith. And that’s a good thing to know, isn’t it?

    Reply
    • Hi Darla! It is a good thing to know Picoult’s bias. Disappointing – I think in the past she at least tried to be somewhat balanced. Not so much anymore… I felt like I was being preached at while reading her book.

      No one likes being preached at while reading fiction – which is a good reminder as I continue to learn how to write Christian fiction in a way that faith is organic to the story… In a way that readers walk away encouraged and full of hope.

      (Sorry for such a belated reply!)

      Reply
  2. Authors don’t necessarily write from the viewpoint of their own beliefs. God help us if they did – Stephen King, Ann Rice, etc. You might want to do some research about Picoult’s religious beliefs – it’s easy to find. And stop judging her, please. Let me help you out: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2009/04/24/april-24-2009-jodi-picoult/2753/

    Reply
  3. I have just finished rereading Sing You Home. I’m a Christian and a lesbian. I’m also unashamedly a big Jodi Picoult fan; I appreciate her enthusiasm to provide points of view in morally complex situations (however fictional). I felt as though her representation of Christianity is solely from the view point of each of the three main characters. Max, the semi-reformed husband and born again Christian describes the church and God through the lens of his own experience; once non-religious alcoholic to suit wearing disciple. As you have said in your own review, it is hard to take when your own faith is being trashed: this is something gay /lesbian Christians often face! I feel your quick response to Jodi’s using the old testament out of context hard to swallow considering the most prominent bible verses against LGBT are often quoted out of historical context. anyway, that’s my two cents.

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