I've appreciated the comments on my "rules" question ("If we can criticize the church, what are the rules?') My next question is: What are the rules from an artist's standpoint.
In an essay, I am not personally confronting any one person or individual. Instead I am confronting trends, values, traditions. If people are thrown into the rant, then they are used as props to make the narrative, and I mean them to be two-dimensional.
Still, I am haunted by one of the comments on the post about rules:
"Don't be divisive. Be careful the manner of criticism doesn't fall into a place of steal/kill/destroy - Doesn't mean it can't hurt or be hard, but it shouldn't destroy."
I wrote an essay titled "Problems with Christians." it was predominantly about the church culture's reaction to women's bodies and breastfeeding, in particular. In ten pages of ranting against varying aspects of the church's response to women, the one paragraph that actually haunts me is the following:
"I don’t have a blanket, dammit, and God forbid anyone should get a little flash of breast around here. It would probably be good for them—those nice thirties-ish, plump assistant pastors or so-called elders—like thirty’s old—with the goatees, khakis, and plaid shirts, looking all man-we-are-so-authentic-we-can-relate-to-you-but-can-you-feed-your-baby-on-the-toilet?"
Here's why I'm haunted: In order to make my point about Christians' attempts to be culturally relevant, I've created a stereotype. And I've applied my judgment to the sterotype.
There are a number of Christian men who sport goatees, khakis, and plaid shirts (I noted these details in the essay as indicators of an attempt to be culturally relevant. As in: the elders aren't wearing suits and ties. The pastor's not in a robe). Clearly, clearly, not all Christian men who fit this description are offended at the sight of a woman breastfeeding. Does this even need to be said? Is it understood by a reader?
That's the main question. Does the reader know enough to allow me the disgrace of a judgment based on a sterotype?
And if readers can't afford the writer this shortcoming, will they resign as audience members?
And if so, will there be any audience left?
And if not, has the writer written?
If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around, does it make a sound?
What is the value of the written word if no one reads it?