In my upcoming novel, The Constant Tower, a character is suddenly faced with the possibilities of having two husbands. She thinks, “Yes, I can love them both. I am in their clan now. I can marry and love both of them.” Something like that.
Although I’m a Christian, I must admit that there are times when being a Christian is restrictive. I understand the restrictions, mind you. I even assent to them. But, yes, I also acknowledge that there would be a different path to follow if I was not indoctrinated in Christianity.
Some cultures have some societal, spiritual, and cultural stuff one has to put aside. And although I would love to pick and choose what aspect of a culture or a religion I would want, such a buffet spirituality and buffet culture is very much like creating a Frankenstein creature. I think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein often. Although the creature is portrayed as ugly, in the novel he was not ugly. Just hard to bear, hard to look upon, strange, and eerie.
Beautiful bits and parts culled together — beautiful red lips here, pale skin there, raven-like flowing locks there– he ended up strange, “monstrous” in the old sense of the word, weirdly bizarrely larger-than-life. Thus, a religion that picks and chooses what it likes from other religions and from various cultures and societal systems or traits, becomes an inorganic unliving religion.
In my novel, my character can validly marry two husbands from the Wheel Clan because she has now become a part of the Wheel Clan, despite all her efforts against assimilation. Yet, even so…the Wheel Clan husbands she marries are not “typical” of that Clan. They are the best of their clan but they also understand her clan as well.
Moreover, she was not particularly passionately attached to the men of her own clans because they were abusive. Which is all to the good. People generally carry their own culture into the culture they assimilate. Thus, Christians who become converts to Islam will have a “friendlier” idea of God, even if they do not wish to accept God as “father” or as “love.” And Christians who become Hindus also often go with a more westernized idea of reincarnation (they often look forward to reincarnation instead of trying to escape the karmic wheel entirely.) So, in my case, if I were to attempt to mix Christianity with some African cultures, I don’t think I would accept the whole One-husband-Many wives situation. Although the idea of many women sharing communal work, and living together in a compound is attractive, I’m too American/western to accept a system where my husband would have the right to take on a new younger wife any time he wants to.
So in Constant Tower, my female character has the best of both cultures. Her husbands are not going to treat her as the men of her culture generally treat women, but they are not going to treat her the way men in their own culture generally treat women either. My female character is now free to have two lovers instead of the requisite “one husband” her culture deems normal. Her heart readily assents to this because she loves both boys, and perhaps was resisting the love of one. Resistance now is unimportant. In fact, it would be the wrong course to take. Her only problem now is to love them differently. It’s not about quantity, but about type. Her problem now is that she must love both husbands deeply but in different ways. She is, however, spared what other women of her culture have to endure when they enter the new clan. The other women are forced to accept the rules of the new clan without the cushion my main character has. My main character loves both her husbands. She is not being forced to bed two men — or even one man– whom she does not love.
When American women speak converting, they are generally converting to an Americanized form of Islam. For instance, although Sharia law allows Moslem men to rape or beat their wives or to marry additional wives, Moslem men in America live in a Christianized West. The religion is tempered by the culture. In the same way, I suspect Christianity in the Middle East is probably very affected by being surrounded by Islam. And Christianity in Africa is also affected by cultural traditions.
The meeting of culture, emotions, and religion is not only present in matters of love, marriage, and sex. (In this case, polyamory) but it occurs in other matters as well. In my novel, Wind Follower, characters who became Christians had to give up the ancient tradition of speaking to their dead. Now that Christianity had popped into their lives, they had to now discern if the dead person speaking to them was truly a dead relative or a demon bent on deception. Those who are comforted by speaking to their departed relatives through shaman, etc, have to put that aside.
Of course, we Christians who live in the West are also Christians within a culture. We also do not have a “pure” form of Christianity. American Christianity is affected by the culture at large. Jesus Christ warned His followers to beware of the yeast of the king and the yeast of the religious legalists. Those to forms of yeast are very much present in modern Christianity. For some Christians, Christianity is mixed in with patriotism and the desire to rule. For some, the gospel of the kingdom is watered down and legalism abounds. Others have allowed the “progressive” ideas of the world or the desire of their flesh to color/change/taint the Christian Scripture.
The Creator of Odunao (the name of the planet in my novel The Constant Tower) has different rules about marriage than the Creator of the Earth does. When Christians read the novel, I hope they will be able to accept that god as they find him. I hope they will leave their American Christian ideas about marriage behind and live in that world without judging the polyamory laws. (Often Christians seem to be able to understand one man with two wives but seem to balk at the other configuration.) In addition the social laws of the many clans on Odunao are different from American social laws. In many novels, the king is expected to fall in love with the most beautiful woman. That doesn’t happen. The men in Odunao have different ideas of beauty.
Anyway, my novel will come out one of these days. But even before it sees print, I want to remind everyone that in this day, mindfulness is necessary. Just as we are mindful as to what a character allows to become acceptable in her world — because of her culture– so we Christian writers, we Black writers, must be aware of the subtle societal influences that taint our stories.
Carole McDonnell is author of the novel Wind Follower published by Wildside, and Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction. Her novel The Constant Tower comes out next year. Visit her @: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/
Here’s the book trailer to Windspirit: