Sunday, November 8, 2009

Let's fight!

Sometimes I want to argue.  It's stated somewhat in the title of this blog and the verse behind it, but it's been frustrating me lately that no one will help me out by having a good, sensible argument. 

I need friends who will discuss, talk, and argue with me, especially about controversial issues or things I want to hear different opinions about.  I think most of my friends are too nice to do this, even if it's just in writing, even when I'm pretty obvious about it.  So here's hoping a more anonymous forum might result in some good points of view from whoever it is that actually reads this blog.

The books that raised the questions are the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.  These books are really, really dark and deal with a lot of filth, sin, grace, death, and redemption.  There are a lot of 'scenes' that contain content that would be offensive to many Christians.

One of my friends about the book: "I don't think I could bring myself to produce that many swear words and 'scenes' in a book and still claim to be a Christian . . ."

Some questions about art in general and books in particular:

a. Is it okay for Christians to read such books?
b. Should we limit ourselves to only reading what does not offend any of our brothers and sisters? 
c. Should we limit ourselves to only reading what does not offend any of our brothers and sisters in front of them?
d. Is this the same as hiding it from them/lying to them?
e. Is depiction the same as endorsement?

I ask these questions sincerely as a reader, a writer, and a believer.   I am truly interested in your answers, whatever they are.  Please fight among yourselves. :)


  1. Since you're spoiling for a fight, I'm gonna argue for a position here, but I'm not saying to what extent I actually personally endorse the position. Fair?

    Here goes:
    I think Christians have a responsibility to live out their faith in a transparent way. That is, everything we think, do, or say should stand up to the scrutiny of God and our fellow human beings, as if they had x-ray vision, and be thoughts, words, and actions that could be those of Christ himself.

    (I am not, of course, arguing that this is anything we're actually capable of, any more than I believe that humans have super-powers like x-ray vision. I realize that we are still suffering the effects of the fall on our desires and abilities. But this is what we should be attempting to do.)

    That kind of transparency rules out c) and d) as options: if we're going to refrain from reading something in front of a brother or sister, then we should refrain from it entirely, whether it could be called deceit or not.

    Regarding a) and b) we should ask ourselves in each case, what would Jesus do?

  2. I think that what we read or watch or listen to is a personal matter between oneself and God.I could never expect some Christians to understand why I read some of the books I do. It may be a stumbling block to them if they were to know my choice of reading material the past year or so. Some books on social issues are not necessarily edifying, but I cannot ignore realities by burying my head in the sand.

  3. Feel free to articulate more than one position! More fuel. :)

  4. So I linked to this on my facebook, and had friends make the following comments, which I'll share here since they didn't:

    1) So the Bible is out then...

    2) Some stuff is pretty trashy, along the lines of anything by Jackie Collins. But other books, like Love in the Time of Cholera, do have some risque parts to it, but are fascinating works of literature. And there is more than a little truth to 1)'s comment.

    3) I would have to return to Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:27-31. Would my enjoyment of certain literature be a stumbling block to someone? Perhaps a person would use my book containing mildly risque portions to justify their indulgence in sexually explicit novels. After all, both pieces talk about the same things. True their motives are wrong, but they will point fingers, nonetheless. Paul's conclusion was, "whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." So no, the Bible isn't excluded, and quite a few other works -- even the fascinating and truly classic ones -- probably are, if they are intended to plant sinful thoughts in the mind of the reader. unfortunately, not one person can truthfully claim to do ALL for God's glory....and so we fight daily to put off the flesh and put on Christ.

    4) Obscene language, violence, and sex are all parts of human life, and literature that engages, discusses, uses, or depicts them can help us to understand these aspects of the human experience. Refusing to read books that contain them will only serve to limit our exposure to these parts of life, and I see that as far more damaging. As a not-exactly-the-same-but-I-think-relevant example, when I was an RA in college, it was usually the students who had never been exposed to alcohol who got sent to the hospital with alcohol poisoning. They never learned how to deal with it.
    Depicting is not the same as endorsing - indeed, we can depict in order to condemn.
    Offense is a horrible way to gauge what we should or should not read, do, or say. It cuts both ways. If the fact that I took offense at what a person or book said were reason for censure, then most churches in the world would be shut down immediately and, as Eric correctly points out, then every copy of the Bible would be destroyed.
    At least, those are my two cents :)

  5. The person who wrote comment 3) above also shared the following:
    ...two or three cents...clearly, seeking the glory of God and conformity to the image of Christ have nothing to do with that train of thought. those elements are an ufortunate and detremental part of human life in its fallen state. i am the weirdo who was never exposed to alcohol that never ended up with alcohol poisoning. but then...having never been exposed to it.....i never did manage to get too much of it into my system to begin with ;-) i was so sheltered. poor me.
    i actually observed that the students in college who had already learned to deal with such things often returned to them when they were under pressure.

  6. As I said earlier, I was taking a position for the sake of getting some discussion going. I do in fact think transparency is a great way to quickly test our sense of whether something's a good idea or not, but there are plenty of situations where it would give me conflicting results.

    In particular, there are cases where I'm afraid an action would be offensive but I think that offense is not justified. Simply reading certain parts of the Bible aloud in the wrong context can offend where no offense is justified: a youth group I once helped in was studying Samson, who at one point used as his weapon the "jawbone of an ass." The teenager who was supposed to read that portion aloud got really embarrassed/confused, and at the last minute substituted 'butt' for the offending word. Refusing to read about Lot's drunkenness (which led to incest) would be a mistake: there's a valuable lesson there. So I think comment #4 is on the right track in bringing up the morally educative role of literature that acknowledges the mess that a lot of the world is in- depicting evil alone can't make something evil, or the Bible itself would be ruled out (also comment #1).

    The harder question for me is whether/when to read literature which portrays evil but condemns/doesn't endorse it, and I recognize that that's what it's doing. In that case I feel no offense is justified. But I also know people who either 1) wouldn't be able to grasp the difference between depiction and endorsement, or 2) wouldn't be able to get past some personal fascination/problem with the evil in question. Then I hope I would have the courage to live up to my goal of transparency and engage them in discussion about the topic where possible (Jesus engaged in this sort of confrontation)- or have the wisdom to recognize when it's better to leave it be (as in the case of many younger readers).

  7. Thank you for sharing all those comments from yourself and others. Your November 11 8:33 pm comment above, especially 2), really made me think.

  8. The curious thing, I think, is that the draw of "evil" or just somewhat-questionable material isn't always strictly moral or immoral in its nature. Sometimes it's a psychological or aesthetic fascination, as in this example from Plato's Republic, Book IV, a favorite of my adviser who works on the aesthetics of disgust:

    “I once heard something that I trust. Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was going up for the Piraeus under the outside of the North Wall when he noticed corpses lying by the public executioner. He desired to look, but at the same time he was disgusted and made himself turn away; and for a while he struggled and covered his face. But finally, overpowered by the desire, he opened his eyes wide, ran towards the corpses, and said: ‘Look, you damned wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.’”

  9. The 'jawbone of the butt' story is awesome. One of the funniest things ever and will be part of my storytelling set for some time.