Home/Rod Dreher/Is ‘Little Way’ Theologically Incorrect?

Is ‘Little Way’ Theologically Incorrect?

Despite great reviews and an intensely positive reception from readers, The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming has not been widely covered in the mainstream media — with, of course, some notable exceptions, e.g., reviews in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, and a beautiful feature on NPR’s Morning Edition (if you haven’t heard it, wow, what are you waiting for?). The book has had no interest from television in the story, which is kind of mystifying, at least to me, given the nature of the story and its accessibility to a mainstream audience. But who knows how these things work? Wal-mart declined to stock Little Way, saying it wasn’t geared to their customers. Which is just bizarre to me, given that this is a book about finding true and lasting values in home and community, especially small-town community. But again, who knows how these things work?

I’ve been puzzled too by why Christian media hasn’t picked up on the book. True, Little Way got a rave endorsement from Evangelical superstar Eric Metaxas, and from the hugely popular Evangelical writer Ann Voskamp. Some Evangelicals objected to Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack, but it was a massive hit, and Young endorsed Little Way too. Additionally, Jake Meador gave it a great review in Christianity Todayin it, Jake made a case for why his fellow Evangelicals “need” to read this book — and Russell Moore, the top Southern Baptist leader, has recommended the book. That said, this deeply Christian book about faith, suffering, and redemption, hasn’t generally been taken up by Christian media. I’ve wondered why.

Though my sister wasn’t Catholic, I was for a long time, and therefore there’s a significant amount of Catholic content in the book, including favorable parts about the Blessed Virgin Mary and a possible-saint, the Blessed Francis X. Seelos. Perhaps EWTN and other Catholic media aren’t interested in the book because I am an ex-Catholic, I dunno. It has been suggested to me by several current or former Evangelicals that the Mary and the saints stuff is why Little Way will never be embraced by the Evangelical media. Never having been Evangelical, I asked my friends why this should matter, given that the heroine of the book, Ruthie Leming, was a Methodist who went to her death holding firm to her plain Protestant faith in the salvation given to her by Jesus Christ. Ruthie was sincerely grateful for the prayers her Orthodox brother and sister-in-law (and their Orthodox friends) offered for her, and for all the prayers, rosaries, and Catholic devotions that her Catholic friends offered for her. Ruthie even told me to thank a Muslim reader of my blog for his prayers on her behalf. She told me she could use any prayers she could get.

In that sense, she was aware that she was a beggar, dependent on the spiritual charity of others. I think Ruthie understood that when a Muslim (for example) offered to pray for her, she didn’t have to believe in the Islamic concept of God to accept with true gratitude this gesture as an expression of the highest charity possible from a faithful Muslim (or Catholic, or Orthodox). Moreover, Ruthie would have found it insufferably arrogant to decide for God whose prayers, and in what form, He would condescend to hear.

Anyway, one former Evangelical friend said that individual Evangelicals (Metaxas, Moore, et alia) might love the book, but that it would have a tough sell within the broader Evangelical media, because its author talks about finding Jesus Christ through Roman Catholicism, and later in Orthodoxy. That, and the fact that there’s a scene in which Ruthie and her best friend dance on the bar at a Cajun roadhouse (the place has a Sunday afternoon Cajun dance, which always ends with a ritual of people dancing on the bar for the last song of the night). That’s part of life in south Louisiana, and few people would think that to go Cajun-dancing is incompatible with the Christian life (though getting drunk would be, but that’s not what we’re talking about).

Anyway, that’s the theory I’m hearing. Again, never having been Evangelical and not knowing much about the Evangelical media world, I have no way of knowing. Evangelical readers, what do you think? I’m not looking for people to bash the Evangelical media, just to help me understand what might be going on.

A theological question, too: Are there any people whose prayers you would not want? Under what conditions would you oppose, or at least regret, the prayers of another person on your behalf? 

UPDATE: Judging by the comments, this post comes across to many of you as whining. Please forgive me for that; I don’t mean to whine. It’s just that the book has been out a month, and the window for promotion is closing. It’s time to take stock of what did and did not work in the publicity campaign. I had been explicitly warned by some readers of early drafts, while I was writing it, that the Mary stuff I write about relative to my own religious journey, and the saint stuff I write about when I tell the story of going to a shrine to pray for Ruthie’s healing, would alienate many Evangelical readers. I didn’t think I could tell the story with integrity without mentioning those things, especially because that material highlights the differences between my sister Ruthie’s approach to faith, and my own. I know that elite Evangelical (and elite Catholic) readers, of the sort who write for First Things and Christianity Today, will separate out the things they disagree with theologically and see the deeper message. But that doesn’t mean at the popular level that these things will be overlooked; indeed, the Mary stuff and the saints stuff might prove a stumbling block for rank-and-file Evangelicals, and the fact that I left the Catholic Church (thought don’t get into why in the book) could be a stumbling block for grassroots Catholic readers. I don’t know. It’s just a theory, and I’m interested to know what you all think. I’m too close to the story to be able to judge.

As for the lack of interest by the mainstream broadcast media, I’m at a loss. I would have thought this narrative was tailor-made for The View and morning TV, but they all passed. Again, please don’t read me as whining about this; I’m trying to analyze it from a media marketing point of view.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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