Previously in this series, I’ve featured the following responses: Mark Nenadov, Michael Plato, Olga Lukmanova, Ian Clary, Vincent Cancilla, Heather Weir, Bob Walton, Sheila Kurian, Clint Humfrey, Amanda Patchin, John and Kara Dekker, Darren Jansen, Anita Helmbold, and Susan Rhodes.
Here are Scott Schuleit’s answers:
1. Can you give a brief summary of where you live, your educational background, what you do for a living, what church you attend, and the religious tradition you stand in?
My wife and I are currently living in Lake Worth, Florida. I acquired a B.A. degree in Communications with a minor in Art from the University of Wisconsin (Parkside). Later, I took five undergraduate classes, four in Literature and one in Creative Writing, at the University of Central Florida. I completed my formal education with the reception of an M.A. in Christianity and Culture from Knox Theological Seminary. With respect to occupation, I’m currently the Youth Ministry Leader (part-time) at Lake Worth Christian Reformed Church and an Adjunct Instructor at South Florida Bible College. With regard to religious tradition, you could say I hold to a generally Reformed, Presbyterian position.
2. How has your early upbringing shaped your view and use of literature now?
My mother, who worked for many years as an interior designer, fostered within me an early appreciation for the arts, particularly art and music. She loved the arts and I inherited something of this passion for them. She also encouraged my childhood interest in scribbling. I really enjoyed drawing cars, creatures, spaceships, battles, and other stuff that boys love, and even had some talent in it, but not much. Being raised in an artistic atmosphere, breathing in its rarefied air, where serious works of art were on the walls and excellent music played on the record player had to have an effect on me. Perhaps one way it shaped me involves my ongoing fascination with literary works that are highly musical, lyrical, descriptive, and atmospheric.
3. Are there any people who, in your adult life, have encouraged you to encounter literature in a deeper or more passionate way. If so, who? (they can people you know personally or not)
There are, of course, authors who I’ve never met and are no longer living who were influential, but as far as those still alive, Dr. Warren Gage, one of my professors at Knox Theological Seminary, was helpful. He taught me to see some of the deeper poetic qualities in not only certain works of literature, but the Bible.
4. What authors/works would you re-read if you had a month-long sabbatical to dedicate to reading?
Perhaps I would re-read the following: The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan); The Divine Comedy (Dante); Paradise Lost (Milton); The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien); Pilgrim’s Regress (Lewis) and a few volumes from The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis).
5. Who are your favorite authors or characters portrayed in literature? (if any of them have substantially changed you, list how briefly)
The following authors could be counted among my favorites: Ray Bradbury; Stephen Crane; James Joyce; William Golding; J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. At a young age, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (and some of his short-stories) influenced me in a few ways, including literary style. One felt immersed while reading it, spellbound, enveloped in a dark, gorgeous dream. This quality of enchantment, this feeling of engulfment, is one of my favorite aspects in literature (or any other art form). As a writer, I strive to emulate it. This book also served to help shape my perspective on society and culture, unveiling before me the negative effects surrounding media saturation as well as some of the reasons lurking behind the desire to be excessively entertained. Another curious effect involved the fact that after reading it, I’m not sure how long after, I found myself walking more frequently at night to quietly observe and ponder the world around me. The night-scenes in the book with their evocative imagery as well as the sensitive, perceptive character of Clarisse McClelland, probably had something to do with that. Other works of art have deeply affected me, but few, if any, as powerfully as Fahrenheit 451. The book still remains an influence.
Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce were both highly influential as well. When I read the latter as a young Christian, it was simply a revelation, a kind of vision. Each revealed to me much about the nature of man. Intellectually, perhaps no author has influenced me as much as Lewis. Also, the sheer eloquence of his prose, its pristine clarity and beauty, its marriage between the effusive and the incisive, spontaneity and precision, elegance and earthy wit, was beneficial in preparing me to become a writer, influencing me stylistically.
Certain other authors, such as Ursula LeGuin and Terry Brooks have influenced me as well. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy, a work of fantasy, and the first three works in Brooks Shannara series, also fantasy, made an impact on me. LeGuin helped to bring more literary qualities into fantasy (and science-fiction) and I felt these poetic elements deeply. Her books were simply beautifully written. The characters cast a shadow in your imagination, they seemed real, you could relate to them. I also loved the dark, mysterious atmosphere in her work. It made the illuminated scenes—when they emerged—more striking. I admired Brooks for these same qualities, but hasten to add a difference found in his books; they were expansive, spacious, involving you in big events and epic battles to overthrow some seemingly insurmountable evil. They were very exciting; he’s great with pacing, plot, and action. On a lighter note, I remember when I was in High School falling hopelessly, pathetically, in love with a feisty, stunning character named Eretria in one of his books (The Elfstones of Shannara). I was positively enamored, absolutely smitten, and she wasn’t even real. That’s part of the power of literature.
6. Should Christians read more literature? What are the benefits to that? What are some cautions you would share?
Christians should definitely read more literature, that is, serious literature (which includes literature for children), particularly the classics. There are many benefits, including the fact that good literature deals with the details of life, sometimes these details involve subjects we never knew existed or inner-provinces rarely visited. These books can alter and sometimes even transfigure our understanding of reality, deepening our understanding of ourselves, others, nature, and God. And even if we disagree with the general perspective of an author and many of the particulars in a book, the reading of it can strengthen us by inciting refutation, dialogue with its ideas. The habit of reading literature in this manner, for all its solitude, trains us to interact with the world around us. I often find myself in dialogue (usually internally) with people and things around me, agreeing here, disagreeing there, acknowledging an insight, disputing a lie, empathizing with someone, criticizing a worldly advertisement, evaluating a movie with its mixture of the good and bad. Reading good literature fosters this.
There are dangers in reading literature of course, some books just simply should not be read; idolatry and morbid introspection can also occur, or the persistent detachment of oneself from healthy relationships because books are, in a sense, safer, more comfortable. The excessive withdrawal from others, a real problem in our society, is a genuine temptation, especially for sensitive, artistic introverts. In general, I think artists need less interaction, finding themselves, in contrast to extroverts, energized, refreshed through reading and withdrawal, but if they are not careful may push this tendency to an extreme by resisting needed interaction. Human beings need community. Not only are we blessed by community, but sometimes we are the means God uses, by His grace, to bless others.
Another caution involves the fact that reading literature should never supplant the reading of Holy Scripture. Abandoning the reading of the Bible leaves one prey to lies, some of which are enshrined in beautiful forms, tempting one to embrace them without critical analysis because of their alluring dress. We need to be careful, to exercise discernment. Ideas hold vast ramifications, encouraging either biblical or perverse actions. Whatever we see, think, read or hear; the worth of it must be tested by the Word.
7. To what degree is reading communal for you? (ie. Are you more solitary? Do you share in any way with your friends? Are you in reading groups?)
Reading, in general, is not communal for me, but probably should be, at least a little more so. I’m definitely more solitary. The main person I share with is my wife and, once in a while, my identical twin brother, a missionary in Peru, who is also a lover of literature. I’m not in a reading group. One reason involves my reluctance to read a book another person picks out. I’m fussy about what I read, preferring the classics. If I’m going to take the time to read something, desire is needed to propel me lest I enter into a tedious endeavor. Some people are fast readers and less finicky, my dad is like this. He has literally read thousands and thousands of books, many of them spy-thrillers. It is wise to read, at times, in community; I’m sure we miss out on a lot when we isolate ourselves from other readers. Perhaps we learn more through interaction with others than solitary reflection, but I think both postures are necessary, bringing balance. Many past cultures fostered more of a communal mindset, but American culture due, in part, to certain philosophies, tends to engender more of an individualistic perspective on not only reading, but the process of thinking through ideas.
8. What are some methods or principles you use to decide what you will and won’t read?
This is, actually, a very difficult question. I think there is, and rightly so, some measure of spontaneity here; we all find ourselves drawn to certain subjects, genres, and styles, but beyond this aspect of developing our tastes in reading, we need to think more deliberately about how we can be wise stewards of what we’ve been given by God, including one’s mind and time. This means we should ask ourselves some questions. During my brief stay on this fallen world, what reading habits can I cultivate to bring the most glory to God? Is this a good use of time? Is this book edifying? Does it look fascinating, enchanting? Why do I want to read it? If one gets the sense that a particular work will tempt him to sin, then it should not be read. While recognizing the pleasure and importance of surrendering, in a sense, to a book, submitting to its world (before critical concerns) to initially enjoy and listen to it, one should stop reading something if it’s enticing him to sin, perhaps even throw it away. Another person might be able to read it without a problem, but that does not mean it’s right for you. Having said that, there are works that I think should not be read by anyone. Some works are pornographic, emotionally exploitive, or mindlessly violent, debasing and cheapening life; others are replete with blasphemies and cursing. Books can influence us in direct and subtle ways and we should be very careful.
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 which deals, in part, with censorship, I frankly wish he had censored the places where he uses the Lord’s name in vain. Also, some of Ursula LeGuin’s and Terry Brook’s fantasies, including all of the ones previously mentioned, contain scenes that promote the practice of sorcery, that is, witchcraft, which is condemned in Scripture. (Perhaps some of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s fantasies do the same, but I’m not sure.) These facts caused me to hesitate before listing them in this interview. Still, I love these books and believe there is much to profit from them, but they’re not for everybody. I do not want to cause someone to stumble and especially not a child. I’m definitely not condoning the sinful aspects in these works (or any other work of art) and would not appreciate being perceived as doing so, but a question remains. In light of certain destructive elements in them among the constructive, should they have been listed? Some would say no, others yes, but where exactly are the boundaries? Some of the authors I mentioned are positively hostile towards Christianity; should they have been included among artists I admire? I think so. Obviously, this admiration is not for anything evil in their work and lives. In relation to this, most, if not every, non-Christian book ever written contains, to some degree, philosophical or religious lies (or both), including some form of a salvation through works mentality, which is a false gospel. Does this mean we should not read any of them? Of course not. How can we expose and refute the false unless we know what it is? For various reasons, whether content or shoddy workmanship, some Christian books are objectionable. Should I avoid them all? No; this too would be an unwise and extreme posture. Like I said before, the question asked in this interview is a very difficult one. It raises other questions. I certainly do not think we should retreat into some Christian cavern away from culture, but seek, by the grace of God, to transform our culture and world. I think we should pray, asking God to guide us to the right books and reveal to us the true and false aspects within the ones we do read.
9. What literary works or authors could be of the greatest value to the church if they were read more? Why?
I’m not sure. Different works sometimes affect different people differently. That last sentence was a bit cryptic! Having said that, I think Fyodor Dostoyevsky should be read more. I love Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, two astounding masterpieces. One of the reasons for this involves his dedicated, rigorous, and unsettling concern to seek out the truth of a matter, even to the extent of allowing free and full reign to both (or multiple) sides of an argument. There have been atheists who have claimed him as one of their own. They are wrong about this, but I can understand why they might think it. He was a Christian, his Christianity does, ultimately, come through, at least in the two works I mentioned, but there are times you wonder about him because of his passionate and intensive explorations and expressions of other views (as well as his own doubts) through some action or character. Dostoyevsky makes you feel uncomfortable. He loved throwing his characters into fierce debates, internally and externally, as a means towards understanding reality. We need this. We need to feel uncomfortable at times. We need to listen more to other people (as well as to what’s going on around us) and discuss ideas, even to the point of engaging in a friendly, but serious debate now and then. This is part of the process of learning. It forces us to know what others believe and what we believe. God often uses this to further the truth. Sometimes as Christians, we just, simply, do not listen, but rather react. It’s sad, a shame, and brings reproach on the church and Christ. We all do this; I’ve done it so many times. Sometimes God speaks through secular culture or a non-Christian; do we have ears to hear that? When we do disagree, we should strive to do so carefully, intelligently, articulately, and forcefully. There are times to judge, rebuke and denounce (and even react); Jesus did this, but He prepared for it, listening, responding, and asking questions for a long, long time before He began to teach openly. When He did teach openly, He was ready, responding perfectly in every situation.
Another book that comes to mind is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It’s truly a great novel, and should be read for many reasons, including the fact that its detailed account of the harrowing effects of adultery just might help steel some Christians and, in particular, ministers, against this sin or any other form of sexual immorality. It powerfully exposes the consequences of adultery.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Only something I wrote some time ago that seems true, not only of good poems, but any work of art rendered with excellence: “As a reader and writer of poetry, I love how truthful, well-crafted poems impart imaginative visions, ushering souls into a deeper awareness regarding the vast architecture of reality while simultaneously unveiling something of the mystery surrounding it.”