A religious writer, any writer really, can’t write with discordant senses. A moral sense that is non-existent, or that sticks out of the text to beat the reader over the head is jarring, as is a moral that builds a sense of wonder in a cynical tale.
I don't, however, think that a disconnect between the moral and dramatic senses is specifically a religious problem—I've seen too much of it from people with political agendas. Also, as I once pointed out,
"almost all of my favorite authors are religious. Mormons Card and Hale are joined by the Catholic G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien, the Anglicans C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen and Robert Jordan, and the Scottish Episcopalian J.K. Rowling."Add to that the Presbyterian L.M. Montgomery and the Christian preacher and mystic George MacDonald. If I have a favorite author who isn't or wasn't religious, I don't recall it, although sometimes they're on the odd side—Louisa May Alcott, for instance, was a Transcendentalist. There are several reasons behind the overwhelming presence of religious authors among my favorites: most people are religious, most Western art for many centuries was sacred in theme if not purpose, and I gravitate toward art with strong themes of hope. I'll even put up with some preachiness if the content isn't too thin.
This blogalectic has already covered the problem of agenda-driven fiction, however, and while the alignment of the moral and dramatic senses is surely a better answer than anything I came up with, it's less new to the conversation than this:
“The Catholic fiction writer has very little high-powered "Catholic" fiction to influence him…But at some point reading them reaches the place of diminishing returns and you get more benefit reading someone like Hemingway, where there is apparently a hunger for Catholic completeness in life, or Joyce who can’t get rid of it no matter what he does. It may be a matter of recognizing the Holy Ghost in fiction by the way he chooses to conceal himself.”This comment, made in a letter to Father J.H. McCown, names the "high-powered 'Catholic' fiction" as works by Bloy, Bernanos, Mauriac, and Greene. Of the four, I'm familiar only with Greene, whose fiction I'm nearly as fearful of picking up as O'Connor's. Life is short, and early encounters with Steinbeck soured me on the idea of dumping hours and emotions into the reading of more tragedy than necessary.
For that matter, I've yet to read Joyce. Many years ago I read one Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and actually enjoyed it overall, though I wound up skimming a lot of Pilar's terrible stories and lifting my innocent young homeschooled eyebrows at all the sex and vulgarity. What O'Connor means by the sort of reverse effect she describes, I cannot quite say, but part of me understands it—though perhaps I've learned it less from Hemingway and more from, say, H.P. Lovecraft.
Of course, of the authors I listed as favorites, only two are Catholic. And while devout Anglicans like Lewis and Austen are close enough to be nearly indistinguishable, there's a fair bit of difference between the Catholic theology and worldview and the Mormon one—or the Transcendentalist. Similarities, certainly, but differences enough to help broaden the reader's understanding.
It's a truism not often contested that an artist cannot make good art unless he's willing to study the best works, regardless of whether he agrees with the philosophies thereof. Less often explained is how an artist reared in a world where every true-seeming thought is an object to be sold to everyone else—by bumper sticker, if nothing else will do—is supposed to align his ideals with his storytelling savvy. Too many people write with moral fervor the stories that seem to argue their perspective, flattening dissenters into villainy. I doubt very much this is what O'Connor meant by the union of moral and dramatic senses.
In pursuit of that union, perhaps nothing—with the possible exception of empathy—is more important than the artist's having both moral and dramatic senses shaped wisely by the great forces. Independent thought is not enough, and is something of a myth, anyway. If you get your morals from pop culture, your art will suffer. If you get them from some random little sect or cult, likewise. If you get your sense of drama from bad novels or movies, the best you'll likely ever be able to write are bad novels and movies.
The greatest enemies to my own moral and dramatic senses are, respectively, a) certain instincts picked up from extreme homeschoolers and legalistic churches (though I credit lifelong immersion in Christianity as a strength overall) and b) having read so many badly written novels as a teenager.
Supposedly, knowing one's enemy is the first step in conquering. I put some hope in that. It's hard to say whether I'll ever write better than the devil or Mademoiselle Sagan, but hopefully I'll do all right if I keep learning from those who have me bested by far.