Friday, March 21, 2014

Violence In Christian Fiction: Another Perspective

Hello from Alicia A.Willis! As the Word Painters administrator, I would like to share a few thoughts. First, I am grateful to John for covering the first installment of this topic. I also wish to thank Jason for offering to cover the other side of the subject. Both men did an excellent job, and I am grateful we have both sides of the issue.

Secondly, my own opinion is somewhere in between both men's. My most violent book (not yet published) is rated at PG+13 for the persecution of the believers in ancient Rome. My other four titles are for all ages. Gathering from that, I think I agree with John that there is some need for some violence, but agree with Jason that it can be taken too far and portrayed in an unBiblical manner. Personally, in my own experience, I often pray about a scene before I write it and asked God to show me if anything is not needed or is too violent. I would advise that all writers do the same. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, not what the media or readers want. Honoring Him is the key!
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Violence In Christian Fiction: Another Perspective

The following is a guest post by Jason McIntire, author of The Sparrow Found A House and admin for Elisha Press.

Should Christian novels be violent? Like the previous author who addressed this question on Word Painters, I do not claim to have all the answers, nor am I attempting to create arbitrary rules for others. I am simply seeking God’s perspective on the issue, and my search has led me in a rather different direction.

What’s wrong with violence, anyway?

Before discussing the appropriateness of violence in Christian novels, we should first determine why we’re even asking the question. Why should we bother to avoid mentions of sharp things and blood in our writing at all? Why not just tell whatever story we feel like telling, in whatever way we feel like telling it?

The most common, obvious answer is that violence “bothers” some people. Girls faint; kids have nightmares. Yet this, in itself, isn’t the biggest problem with violence. In my view, the real problem is that it doesn’t bother some people.

Man is born with a propensity for wickedness (Jer. 17:9). Our baser instincts are gratified by violent stories, and this can start a cycle in which we get desensitized to violence, then begin to tolerate and even desire more extreme forms of it. Even small spurts of gratuitous gore can become stepping stones on this downward journey.

The Bible says God hates the love of violence (Psalm 11:5), so clearly, this isn’t something we want to facilitate. I believe we should be leading our readers back the other way – to more sensitivity, not less.

But isn’t the Bible a violent book?

Gruesome realities are undeniably depicted in the Old Testament. From Jael and the tent peg to the assassination of Eglon, we find descriptions that would be scandalous in a modern work of Christian fiction. Yet they’re in the Bible, so shouldn’t this sort of thing be acceptable in any context? In my opinion, that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.

2 Samuel 13 goes into rather graphic detail about Amnon and Tamar. Would modern Christian writers do well to feature incestuous assault in their stories? That’s hard to imagine in light of Ephesians 5:12, which says, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.”
The Bible is a true story, not a novel. Those things really happened, and God ordained for us to know about them. Had the writers left them out, they would have been disobeying the Author and short-changing the readers.

When we write fiction, on the other hand, we are neither recounting true events nor operating under biblical-grade inspiration. We can essentially steer the plot however we like, and thus we are completely responsible for the type of content we present to our readers.

In my view, this content should be shaped more by the New Testament than the Old. Jesus made it clear that what was acceptable under the Old Covenant is not always okay under the New (Matt. 5:31-45). We live under the covenant of turn the other cheek, not in the era of smite everything that breathes. Our weapons are no longer carnal (2 Cor. 10:4), and the Old Testament wars are there for instruction, not emulation in the flesh.

What if it’s necessary to the story?

Violence is sometimes unavoidably called for in literature. For example, it’s virtually impossible to write a war novel without any battle scenes. But there’s more than one way to communicate the same essential idea. Stating that a character was stabbed, for example, is one thing. Describing the event in detail, replete with Heinz 57 Varieties, is another.

I believe we should use fictional force in much the same way we’d use physical force in the real world: Only when absolutely necessary, and with as much restraint as possible.

No, there is no thin red line.

If there were a book written by God called The Divine Guide To What Is And Isn’t Acceptable In Christian Entertainment, it would sell out to Christian content creators in the first ten seconds. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. That leaves us walking by faith – which, as it turns out, is the only way to please God anyway (Heb. 11:6, Rom. 14:23).

Scripture does make one thing clear: We’re not under the law, but we are to restrict our own liberty rather than offend a weaker brother (1 Cor. 8:13).

Based on that admonition, here is the general guideline I personally use when writing about violence and other potentially questionable elements. I call it POLO – the Principle Of Least Offense: If what I am writing will likely cause a problem for the youngest, weakest member of my approved audience, out it goes.

As writers, we create more than paintings of words. We create intellectual “food” for others to consume. I believe we owe it to them – and most of all to our Lord – to make that food as pure as possible.

Thank you, John and Jason, for covering this topic!

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting, Jason. I am very grateful for a second opinion on this topic. My own opinion is somewhere in between your's and John's, but I can readily see how one could take either side. I am glad you both have proclaimed what you feel Scripture says in a humble and brotherly manner. Keep it up! We are so glad to have your quest post.

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  2. You're most welcome, Alicia. Thanks for featuring this second "installment." I hope the alternate perspective will prove helpful for your readers.

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  3. I agree with Jason’s point of not wanting to offend readers, but authors do have the duty of not sugar-coating reality. Novels should portray reality, NOT that anything goes, but they can't hide the facts.
    If your future children were to grow up not realizing that war, and the defense of yourself and others, is necessary, not in any way glamorous, then you have failed in that area as a parent.
    It is important what we write, or don’t write, but it is also up to the audience what they and those in their charge will read, and not read. Everyone is unique. What would give one child nightmares, would not bother another.
    Also, there are certain things that should be appalling. In a good book I read recently, it was discussing the horrific practices of the Romans (and of today’s society), such as abortion. The main Characters were unknowingly in a room inside a palace that was used for abortions, and noticed a blood stain on the floor, at which someone enlightened them to the fact that infants were killed there, which both bothered and enraged them. That kind of gore is meant to, and SHOULD bother all of us, it was necessary for the author to include it, but wouldn’t be proper reading material for any one extremely sensitive or young.
    I apologize for how lengthy this was, I hope I didn't make anyone fall asleep! :-D

    Jessie
    P.S. Thank you very much for the blog!!! I really enjoy it!

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    1. Thank you for your viewpoint! I'm know John and Jason appreciate your viewpoint, as does Word Painters. We love having new commenters!

      Was that book "Secret of the Lost Settlement"? :)

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    2. Thanks for your thoughts, Jessie. And I didn't go anywhere near asleep. :-)

      I agree that novels should portray reality as much as possible. But again, there's more than one way to portray reality. I think the example of blood on the floor in the abortion room is very good. That gets across the idea that abortion was - is - a gruesome procedure in which someone gets killed. Had the author taken an aside to describe exactly how the Romans performed abortions, that would probably have been going too far.

      I'll give another example from my own work (one that will probably never be published). An American girl has naive, old-movie-like ideas about war. In disabusing her of these ideas, her friend says, "A bullet shot out of an M-16 can go through an automobile, bumper-to-bumper, including the engine block, and come out the other side. What do you suppose it does to a human?" Like the blood on the floor, I think that gets the point across without going into too much detail.

      If we choose to be clinical rather than sensational, we can portray necessary violence appropriately, without causing offense even to weaker readers.

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  4. @Alicia: Yes, it was, however did you know!? ;-D

    @ Jason: I can sympathize with your 'M-16 bullet' scenario, my father was in the infantry in Afghanistan and Iraq, war is nothing to glorify.

    That sounds like an interesting story, I hope you publish it, I'd like to read it! :-)

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    1. I had the honor of reading the title for review. :) Definitely a 13+ book, but I enjoyed it very much!

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  5. Thanks for your article, Jason. It was well-written and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective.

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    1. Glad we had this opportunity to cover both sides of a topic that is indeed most controversial, and to do so in a mutually respectful and Christian way. As Anne Mateer noted in the comments, this isn't a debate that can be "won" by any argument. I believe each author needs to consider what would please the Lord in their own individual work - even to pray over every paragraph, as Alicia sometimes does. God's Word promises wisdom and guidance for those who seek with an open heart.

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