The other day I found myself reading one of the many Christian books I occasionally find myself flipping through (I italicize Christian not to imply that the books themselves are Christian, but to emphasize the genre of book that I was reading) when I noticed some language that made me a bit uncomfortable. Nothing theologically heinous or sexist or racist or even political, rather it was an assumption inherent in the text.
The assumption was that whoever was reading this was from an upper-middle class background, probably white. The examples, lingo, and ways of communication were clearly directed at someone who was educated, wealthy, and had time to spare reading. Then I realized that it wasn’t this specific book as much as it was the majority of books I had read about the Christian life or Christian experience (or was it just plain old “books” in general?) I’m not blaming the books or even the authors. I merely find it interesting that there is perhaps a much more specific target audience in mind that I had never thought of because I am, surprise, middle class. More lower middle class, like still-shop-generics-middle class and going-out-to-eat-is-going-to-a-taco-cart-middle class, but still middle class enough that I had never paused to think about it.
Examples: In many books I’ve read it says something along the lines of, “Think about those who are poorer than you,” or a question like, “How much do you trust in your job, education, or the money you make, more than God?”
These are not bad questions or assumptions. The author could be implying that since this book is written in English there’s a good chance you are part of the Western world, specifically America, and therefore really are wealthier than three-quarters of the world. But if not, there seems to be a subtle, although perhaps staggering assumption, that the person reading this is doing so in the comfort of their nice home and not on the “other” side of town where the poor people are. You’re obviously well educated, and make decent money at your job, more decent than most that you fall into the temptation of putting too much emphasis on your career and/or money. The questions, examples, and lingo aren’t exactly targeted towards working class, blue-collar folk, from certain regions of town. Even books that make a plea for social justice, simple living, and as hippie as you can get, are still assuming that you are not some anarchist living in a house with ten people and chickens in the back.
The question I have is if this is the natural, yet targeted conversation of non-fiction books in general, or if it relates specifically to “Christian” books? If it is more specific in a religious sense I find this very disturbing.
Of course “books” are targeted to a more educated crowd of people who also like “books,” and written by people who also presumably read other “books.” Yet, I can’t help but feel rubbed the wrong way when a book tends to explicitly assume your background.
This was brought to my intention while going through such a Christian book when a woman in our house church, who came from a Cambodian/El Salvadorian family, remarked that she couldn’t really understand any of the examples the author of a certain book used to illustrate her/her points. Some example about how the author learned to “trust in God” and “have patience” after spending lots of money on her kids birthday to only have the cake decorations ruined. It was something trivial, obviously a hyperbolic example, but undoubtedly an example of a certain demographic. This woman in our house church wasn’t angry or anything but she said she really just couldn’t relate to any point the author tried to put across.
Am I splitting hairs? Is this a waste of your time? Probably. Still I haven’t seen a book that references poverty without it being the assumption that since you are reading this book you are not poor. All books on poverty are about helping “those” people. Even if the book does remind you that you are no different, you are still the one reading the book. Is this to be expected?
Now, there’s an obvious reason for this and one that puts all unnecessary logic and thinking to shame, which is the simple fact that educated people tend to read more than un-educated people. I’m not trying to be classist, but I think data would back me up. People who have an education and are not a working single mom with two kids tend to have more time and energy to read books about their own self-improvement, spiritual or otherwise. Am I contradicting myself by getting mad at people who assume we’re all rich when I am in fact claiming that only educated people read? Probably.
Perhaps we could say that most non-fiction books of a certain caliber are created for people of an educated demographic. I would just find it troubling if so called “Christian” books made the assumption and marketed accordingly, especially since the Christian faith should supposedly (supposedly) be one of the places in the world where grace and love trump class and race and we are all sisters and brothers. For it seems that we can care about the “poor” through physical needs and yet assume they would not read the same books as us? Because they are poor? Or because we are self-righteous? Or is it another example of the divide of class and race that plagues not only Christians but all of America? I just found it disturbing to be reading a book and have the author assume that because they were from a certain background I was too.