Books with seriously religious characters?

Recently I read Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe. The main character, Ian, experiences a great tragedy and turns to a storefront Christian church called “The Church of the Second Chance”. It took me forever to realize Tyler wasn’t going to portray the church as an evil cult or the character as a dupe for believing. It got me thinking I haven’t come across many seriously religious characters. Usually if they are, they are also very unsympathetic, like the father in The Poisonwood Bible.

So what sympathetically portrayed seriously religious characters do you know? I’m mostly interested in books published since 1980 or so.

Jack Chick Tracts.


Sharon Shinn’s “Wrapt in Crystal” is a SF book that deals very sympathetically with two religious orders. The religion isn’t Christian though–they worship your basic female nature goddess of love. A lot of her books deal with religion, actually, in particular the Angel series, starting with, I think, Archangel. All very positive except for the occasional Evil Patriarchal Religion of Oppression & Repression ™.

The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell. The story is about a human expedition to another intelligent species, and the tragic results of that first contact. But the protagonist is a Roman Catholic priest, and the story unfolds as he recuperates–under the Church’s watchful eye–from the mission’s severe psychological and spiritual trauma.

Most things by Madeline L’Engle, although she’s mostly before 1980. I’ll also put in a plug for two mystery series. Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries feature a Benedictine monk in the 1100’s who is one of the best arguments for Christianity out there. Also, Peter Tremayne does a series set in 600’s which feature Sister Fidelma, an Irish, Celtic Catholic nun, and Brother Eadulf, a Saxon, Roman Catholic monk around the time the two churches merged. I’ve learned a lot about the Celtic Catholic church and how it became part of the Roman Catholic church (Obligatory grumble: the Irish should have stuck to their guns!). Both authors are legitimate historians who specialize in their respective time periods as well as good writers.

If you like science fiction, Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War does a very good job of portraying a sympathetic, devout Muslim character. She is, in fact the captain of the ship on which most of the action takes place.

I’m afraid I don’t read that many conventional novels, so I can’t be of much help to you there.


The characters in James Morrow’s Corpus Dei trilogy (Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abbedon, and The Eternal Footman) all have a very strong belief in God. Of course, they also know he’s dead, since they saw his corpse.

Morrow also dealt with religion in Only Begotten Daughter.

Morgan Llywelyn’s 1916-the characters are mainly Irish Catholic, with a priest thrown in.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. An alcoholic priest running from the law in Mexico, in a state where Catholicism has been banned. He is certainly not protrayed in the bes tlight, but a powerful read nevertheless.

Orson Scott Card writes a lot of religious characters, usually in a positive light.

The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas features Aramis, the priest musketeer. He always struck me as a devout Christian. Sorry, I know he’s pre-1980, but he was the first to come to mind.

Also, Louis’s brother (I can’t remember his name) in Interview With The Vampire was religeous almost to the point of fanaticism, yet portrayed in a sympathetic manner.

Coupla months ago I read A Case of Conscience by James Blish…1958 SF novel about a biologist/Roman Catholic priest who’s thrown up against an alien culture of highly intelligent beings who happen to be completely amoral. Kinda sucked, so I can’t really recommend it.

Best popular tales with a religious protagonist are the Father Brown detective stories by G.K. Chesterton. But those are so old, they may not be of interest to you.

Principia Martindale by Jonathan Swift (not THE JS … a more modern author) portrayed a very devout Baptist being used by others who pretended towards devoutness. The title character is protrayed very sympathetically, though.

My ex-wife recommended “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan to me, and I read it all the way through, to the point of not sleeping and being late for work. Seriously religious characters of various stripes. Great book. Now I want to read it again, and am going to have to buy my own copy. Thanks for reminding me.

One caveat that just occurred to me. If you are a Seriously Religious person, you may be offended by this book’s Serious Sexuality.

-The Man Who

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

If you enjoy mysteries, Dorothy Sayer’s Peter Wimsey novels and short stories, G.K. Chesterson’s Father Brown novels and short stories, and Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael novels all have characters who treat religion with respect and find it gives them insights into solving crimes.

Orson Scott Card is one of the few deeply religious authours that i respect and admire. He writes some beautiful works about religion and spirituality that are also fairly honest about the flaws in Christianity.

There’s a fantasy novel by Lois McMasters Bujold called “The Curse of Chalion” which deals with a sympathetic religious character. It’s not a real religion - it’s unique to her created world. Author Katherine Kurtz has several trilogies set in a medieval fantasy realm. Most of the characters are quite religious, including a young teenaged king who sets out on a religious quest. She takes piety quite seriously. Fr. Andrew Greeley has written a great number of books, and many of the characters are religious. Jane Haddam has written a series of mysteries in which many of the characters are devout Armenian Orthodox.


featuring Orthodox Jewish husband & wife Peter Dekker & Rita Lazarus, usually investigating crimes which touch on some remote fascinating point of Judaic law/ritual

The narrator of John Irving’s A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY

I think Walker Percy’s only 1980s novel was THE THANATOS SYNDROME- with Dr. Thomas More (descendant of the Saint) and his priest-confessor (both seen previously in LOVE IN THE RUINS)

I think Anne Lamott’s latest novel features an autobiographical character who is a rather eccentric Born-Againer

Morrow doesn’t think much of the Catholic Church or religion in general, and it shows in his books, but despite that the characters those books of his that focus on the subject of religion seem to ba a fair mix between sympathetic, extremely unsympathetic, and somewhere in between.

Take for example Martin Candle of Blameless in Abaddon the second book of the Godhead trilogy. Though he is very much a sympathetic character, his obsession with putting God on trial for His crimes against humanity becomes harder to sympathize with as he becomes more and more obsessed.

Especially in the end, when he “pulls the plug” on God’s comatose body after losing the case.