Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Should Christian Novels Be Violent?

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I write violent books.

At least nineteen weapons are pictured on the front and back covers of my Men of Grit series. My characters have fought on four continents and against more than twice that many nationalities.

Is that okay? Is it biblical to write violent books? If so, how graphic can the violence be?

Those are questions I’ve often pondered, and today I’m giving you my perspective on this controversial subject.

I Don’t Have All the Answers

I want to be very clear that I make no claim to knowing all the answers. What I’m about to say is based upon my understanding of the Bible, and I neither pretend to have a perfect understanding of the Bible nor do I think I’ve perfectly succeeded in following these principles. But that’s my goal.

The Bible is a Violent Book

I think that it’s absolutely fine for Christian novels to be violent because the Book of books is violent.

Cain killed Abel. David gleaned 200 Philistine foreskins. Christ whipped the moneychangers out of the temple.

The Bible is full of violence, and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, so it is obviously okay for books to contain violence.

How Graphic Can Violence Be?

This is where things get fun. Objective answers (yes or no) are almost always easier to answer than subjective answers (how much or how little).

Note: My comments here are specifically restricted to graphic violence in books. Violence in movies and video games is a different beast and is outside of this article’s scope.

Let’s see how graphically the Bible depicts violence.

And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his [King Eglon’s] belly: and the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out. ~ Judges 3:21-22
And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel. ~ Judges 19:29
Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. Hosea 13:16
I think you’ll agree with me that the Bible describes violence graphically. Therefore, I believe that it’s okay to write about violence graphically — but it’s not always wise. There are many times where the Bible references a violent act without going into details.

What is the Purpose of Violence?

The crux of this article is: Violence should not be included in a novel simply to titillate the reader.

Every element of a novel should be written to the glory of God. Specifying the details of an execution just because they will make the reader react viscerally isn’t appropriate. It may be appropriate to specify details if they’re vital to explaining a character’s motivation in the grand scheme of the story. But most likely, the nitty gritty details aren’t essential, and if they are, it’s possible that you’re writing the wrong story.

I believe there is a line beyond which the description of violence is too graphic, but I think that line is going to be different for each author, and I believe it’s more important that an author decides how graphic his/her violence will be based upon what they think is glorifying to God, rather than some defined series of rules.

I don’t think that my own books are too violent (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written them). I’ve heard from a few readers who think they are too violent, and many others who appreciate how child-friendly they are.

Violence is a controversial subject in which it is impossible to please everyone, so I’m all the more glad that my goal is to please God and then let people think of my books what they wish.

Violence Can De-Glamorize War

That sounds counterintuitive. War is all about violence, so how can detailing the violence in war de-glamorize it?

Have you ever watched the old cowboy movies where the hero pulls the trigger and the bad guy falls down — end of scene? It gets the point across (the bad guy died), but it also gives a skewed perspective of reality. War is a horrid thing. The Bible is full of warfare, so I don’t think it’s a problem to write about war, but painting it with sterilized colors doesn’t reflect its true horror.

Violence Levels Should Vary with Audience

Different levels of violence are appropriate for different ages. I wouldn’t choose storybooks featuring fields of slaughtered Saxons to read with my future three-year-olds, but I would let my future eight-year-olds read my Men of Grit series. Children are hugely different, so parents should be the ones deciding what level of violence is appropriate for their children.

In Summary . . .

I think that the amount and intensity of the violence you put into your books should be dictated by (1) your purpose in writing it and (2) the age range which you’re targeting.

What do you think about violence in Christian novels? Let me know in the comments section.

John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at johnjhornbooks.com.

17 comments:

  1. I totally agree with what you said in relation to violence. I very much like your books, and do not think in any way that they are to violent, I think your books hit the spot.-Robert

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  2. Thanks for writing this!! It's something I've really been thinking on and wondering about lately and this has been eyeopening in some areas!

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  3. I liked your books very much, as you know. Being being a historian, I understood where you were coming from in relation to most of the violence. And I agree about the need to de-glamorize war. I also agree there is a need for some violence.

    I think you worded all of this very well and I would have to agree with you. You go farther with violence than I do in battle scenes, but I always considered that to be because you are a man. It seems more appropriate for a man to share a little more detail in this, because war/fighting/protecting is a man's role. A woman's role is more nurturing, and perhaps violence does not depict itself as well (and it probably shouldn't) from her pen. Does that make sense? Just a thought!

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    1. Good point, Alicia. Yes, the difference in male/female authors definitely makes sense. I probably delve less into the emotional side of things than you do. Everyone to his/her strengths!

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  4. Getting this email this week is amazing! In my Youth Group we had a youth rally and the speaker was talking somewhat in this matter (true is was mostly about video games but books did enter the picture somewhat). We never did really come up with an answer. But I think your books are very good. The only part I did not like ( I think it was in the first part of the Boy Colonel) is where you wrote about blood dripping off the sword. To tell the truth I almost stopped reading it there, so I think that there is a line to graphics to being not christian. But I just want to say that I LOVE your books. I just wanted to add my two cents in :D. I hope there is more to come in the series!! In Christ, Hope (18)

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  5. I definitely agree with you! I think war needs to be painted as what it is: a brutal and bloody battlefield. It's a very real and dangerous thing, and people need to know the truth. Although obviously you may not want your younger children reading more violent scenes. In my writing degrees of violence depends on the situation and perspective, but I agree with you on everything you said.

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  6. I think, as you said, the whole thing is context. Why is the violence in the story? In history and in present day, violence is reality, thus we depict it, each writer to their own style and depth. But each reader has their own tolerance level, too. For that reason, I don't think it is a debate able to be "won" by any argument. In the end, if we read something that makes us uncomfortable--for whatever reason--we need to quit reading it, but we don't need to judge the author's dedication to the Lord by that alone. As in all aspects of our faith journeys, we are each--readers and authors--at different places with different things at different moments in our lives. We need to give one another grace for that.

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  7. @Malachi and Allens - Thanks!

    @AnneMateer - I agree with you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  8. Thank you for this! It was very interesting to read, and yes, I agree with what you said. Being an author myself, I often times wonder how graphic I can get, so this was most helpful. =) I think I try to remember what I'm really trying to get across to the reader.. (which is difficult sometimes!).
    So thank you for this! I really want to check out your books sometime. They are on my forever growing reading list! lol

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    1. Thanks, Lilac. If I were you I would borrow my books from Alicia. Until I get the series republished I'm afraid that most of the prices for used copies online are a little outrageous. :)

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    2. Normally, I recommend that readers support authors by buying their books. But, as it is my understanding that you may not be able to obtain them, you can borrow mine. I have the entire series. :)

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  9. I write Christian fantasy, and the books I have recently been working on have a bit more violence than I've written before. You made some great and valid points that I'll have to keep in mind as I go along. Thanks a lot!

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  10. I write Christian fantasy, and the books I have recently been working on have a bit more violence (just a bit!) than I've written previously. You make some great and valid points that I will keep in mind as I continue. Thanks!

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