The novel was the outgrowth of the passing of the age of belief into the age of unbelief. It is the literary form that developed as an expression of the modern subject: the record of individual, particular and progressive experience. In both form and content, the novel embodies the rise of the individual, and with that, the individual’s quest for identity – for with the detachment from the body religious comes the loss of just about everything else that forms an identity.
Thus the novel is the literary form that embodies the modern condition, a condition that can include belief, but is not, broadly speaking, defined by it. So while there may have been novels of belief, the Novel has always been about unbelief – even despite the fact that its earliest authors (Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding) were, interestingly enough, themselves committed believers.
David Griffith ponders the alternatives:
[P]erhaps we should look to literary nonfiction—personal essay and memoir. I am drawn to the genre because it allows for spiritual self-evaluation in a way that fiction performs either at a remove, or in a secret deeply personal way, possibly known only by the author.