Should a line be drawn on what we read? by Maureen Lang

As a Christian who loves to read, I’m often confronted with the choice to read a book that has the potential to offend my faith. I know there are strong opinions about what followers of Christ should let fill our minds: see Philippians 4:8 about dwelling on whatever is good, noble, pure, lovely, etc. But as part of the publishing industry I also feel responsible to read a wide variety of what’s out there. This invariably includes books that at least partially go against the stamp of “good, noble, pure or lovely.”

I’m not writing this post to define another person’s sin, cast blame, stir guilt, excuse or condone what people want to read. But I do think it’s worthy of discussion or at least taking a moment to ponder how we feel about the books we choose to read. For some, staying safely within the boundaries of Christian fiction is a wise choice. Gentle readers know their tastes and I for one am glad there are more choices than ever to meet this particular taste. The faith of a gentle reader is no less real or vital than someone who allows a wider range of reading content.

It’s a bit like drinking wine. There are some households, either by tradition or culture, where wine might be a casual part of a meal. Other households, by different traditions or culture, wouldn’t dream of allowing an alcoholic beverage inside their home. Is one wrong and the other right?

The Bible answers this for us: it’s only wrong to drink or to eat something if we’re in the company of someone who would be offended by such consumption. In other words, it’s all about love. Loving others so much we wouldn’t want to do something that offends them. The Bible doesn’t say drinking wine would offend God so long as we don’t get drunk, but we’d certainly be offending Him if we didn’t have a heart toward those we’re with.

If I’m a Christian I’ve surrendered my mind to a loving God, and my body is a temple. I want to keep myself pure in mind and body, so hasn’t this topic to do with caring for myself properly? That may be why some people neither drink wine nor read books containing “edgy” material. Would reading something that offends God be a sin?

I do think we need to ask God where He wants us to draw the line—I’m not going to draw that line for others. Personally, I don’t read erotica, excessive violence, or anything promoting the occult. While reading such books might provide an education of sorts, it’s not likely to be the kind of education I will want to employ, either in life or in the fictional lives of my characters. But would it be a sin for me to read such things? I suppose that would depend on why I’d be reading them. To understand someone who is interested in such things? Would it honestly be necessary for me to expose myself to something so far outside my comfort zone? If I saw no value in reading such things but read them anyway, it probably would be a sin—for me.

I belong to a secular book club where we often read books that, while magnificently written, include Christian characters that are judgmental, mean-spirited, narrow-minded—so many, in fact, I believe this kind of portrayal is patently cliché in secular fiction. But if I’d excused myself from reading such books I’d not only have missed out on being part of a group of young women I enjoy getting to know, I’d have missed some wonderful books, too. Books that taught me not only how lovely writing can be, but gave me a glimpse into a variety of mindsets I most likely wouldn’t have been otherwise able to explore.

So what about you? Do you have a line as far as what you won’t read? Do you put down a book that wouldn’t likely be something God would read were He to be sitting right next to you? Do you have a limit, and if so would you like to share it with us?

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About Maureen Lang

Author of a dozen novels, Maureen Lang has won the Selah Award, a Holt Medallion, FHL's Reader's Choice Award, and been a finalist in such contests as the Christy, the Rita, the Carol, Book Buyer's Best, and others. Before publication she was the recipient of a Golden Heart and a Genesis (then called the Noble Theme). She resides with her husband and kids in the Chicago area. Titles by Maureen Lang All In Good Time Bees In The Butterfly Garden Springtime Of The Spirit Whisper On The Wind Look To The East My Sister Dilly On Sparrow Hill The Oak Leaves Remember Me Pieces Of Silver
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12 Responses to Should a line be drawn on what we read? by Maureen Lang

  1. I definitely think we need to draw lines….but I believe that’s up to our individual conscience. Just as you used the analogy about drinking wine–yes or no–it’s a matter of our conscience. I really liked listening to Allen Arnold at the ACFW conference this year. He was talking about the term “edgy” and the misnomer that we classify Christian fiction as “safe.” He mentioned that the Bible isn’t “safe.” There are all kinds of stories in there that would definitely be a PG rating, at the very least. However, the Bible is a story of redemption, and like the Bible, our stories should have hope–not that only good things happen, or uplifting circumstances, but that we don’t have 290 pages of ick and darkness with only 10 pages of light. Nobody should want/need to read that…anyway, that was my loose paraphrase. I liked what he said, as a reader and as a writer. It works for me! 🙂

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      So true about the Bible containing material that would definitely be considered “edgy”. Life just isn’t always safe, and I’m glad Christian fiction is reflecting reality these days. But as you say, the light in the darkness is where the real difference can be found between Christian and secular fiction – if it’s written for the thrill, pushing the envelope, the ick – they’re going after a different purpose than bringing someone hope.

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  2. vickihinze says:

    Maureen, you make valid points. I do believe you have to guard your mind. You can’t get roses out of a mind where only thorns go in, so to speak. And yet I’m reminded of Christ’s willingness to expose Himself to that which He opposed. Not to judge, I don’t think, but to understand and create opportunities to share light.

    There are things I don’t read because I don’t like them and I oppose them. But I have read to understand and comprehend and expose. I think this might go even deeper, into the author theme in one’s books. I write healing books (secular and Christian). The broken find constructive solutions and heal. I couldn’t do that without a clear grasp of the problem or thoroughly understanding what’s broken a person, and I have to do that. It’s my mission.

    The other side of this is like when Jesus said the well don’t need doctors. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone totally well. We all have challenges, Christian or not. If we isolate, how are they reached? How do we get constructive solutions to them?

    I don’t have all the answers, to be sure. Don’t even know all the questions. But I believe as human beings we have things placed on our hearts by the hand of God. If we respect them, we respect Him. So that’s my gauge, simplistic as it might seem to some.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      Love your thoughts, Vicki! It’s a heart issue, really, not a rule issue. Didn’t Christ die to set us free from the rules? To follow the most basic commandments out of freedom, to love God and love our neighbor. I absolutely agree we need to understand all sides of an issue, the upsides and the downsides, the clean and the dirty. How can we hope to understand anyone else’s point of view if we don’t even consider it? There are some things that are probably easily clear – issues by themselves that we need to be aware of. But when it comes to people, that’s when we have to look past the rules and love them the way Christ would.

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  3. Wendy Reis says:

    Thank you for this. It is balanced and noncritical. The wine analogy is interesting. I do enjoy a few glasses of wine per year, and I mean one at a time, with a special meal. I am not an alcoholic so I can drink a little and not get drunk. My husband can’t touch it.

    I don’t think a little erotica as opposed to being addicted is the same thing. I won’t read any. People can do what they please – freedom to choose is God-given. It is none of my business. But I am in the business of reading. I am an editor. Chosing quietly not to read some things is not an option. I am in a position of having to refuse, gently, politely, without passing judgment.
    Wendy Reis

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      You’re so right, Wendy! Freedom to choose is God-given, and it’s not our place to go around judging others. It’s a good thing that’s not our job or we probably wouldn’t have many friends.
      A while ago there was a controversial blog posting (can’t recall where, but written by a pastor) who said women shouldn’t read romances because they made women “dissatisfied” with their husbands. I commented that such an attitude couldn’t be more wrong. I not only read romantic novels, I write them – and such story lines remind me of why I fell in love with my husband to begin with, and how much I continue to love him. I think women are smart enough to know characters in novels are for the most part larger than life and few of us can live up to them. For heaven sakes, they don’t even need to use the bathroom in books! It’s not reality. 🙂
      Still, there must be a percentage of people out there who might agree with the take that reading romances might not be good for them. That’s fine, I’m not going to judge anyone for it. I just don’t agree that such subject matter is harmful, at least for me.

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  4. Jay Lowder says:

    Great dialogue, ladies! I really can’t add anything that hasn’t already been addressed or expressed, but I would like to chime in as a man. As you ladies know (and my wife will attest to!) our brains are wired a LOT differently than yours. This isn’t good or bad, it’s simply to note how unique we are. Since we men are visually stimulated, I personally have to avoid any novel that describes a romantic scene in, shall we say, an intimate manner. In fact, as a church leader, I would advise the men in my group to do the same, not so much from a spiritual argument (although there are definitely verses to support this) but from a neurological/psychological argument. Every man I know struggles (at some level) in this area and the men I know that are addicts all point to the “innocent” picture or text that got them hooked. Now as far as the line per violence, profanity, edginess, etc., I think we men can draw our own lines using scripture, upbringing and grace. But in the area of romantic material, we men need to adopt a “reader beware” mindset.

    I LOVED your point about the Bible being edgy and real. Lynette even commented the Bible should be rated PG. I would go so far as to rate it R. I don’t mean that to offend anyone, but have you REALLY read what David did to Goliath AFTER he cut off his head? Remember the siege where Israel resorted to cannibalism? How about God calling Israel a harlot and then describing her actions? Song of Solomon? And the piece de resistance, Jesus’ crucifixion (which is still considered the most heinous form of capital punishment ever devised.)

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      Very true, Jay – didn’t Passion of the Christ earn its R rating?
      I’m sure you’re also right about how men struggle in different ways than women. Many of my secular friends who read romance novels tend to skip or skim over the love scenes of some secular books, mainly because such scenes don’t move the plot forward and they’re reading it for story. That just means nothing’s missing from Inspirational romance novels which don’t include them to begin with. 🙂
      I think this is where Christians need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, Who leads each of us according to our strengths and weaknesses so we know where our personal lines should be. And then honor those lines.

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  5. I do find myself sticking to more Christian fare, though many wouldn’t consider Koontz Christian fare. There are quite a few ABA books written by authors with the ability to bring Christ into the story–or at least compare good and evil–and still sell tons of books, though they take a lot of nasty reviews from those who hate Christianity. I once had to judge a book I would never have picked up that included everything from sex scenes to F-bombs to every other kind of word bomb, but had one lovely Christian character who influenced the rest by his prayers and his Christian witness. I couldn’t help wondering if some reader who would never have picked up one of my Christian novels would have read that one and been touched.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      Great point! Sometimes we have to go where the sinners are, just as Christ did and was commented on above. It’s always amazing to me how many avenues God can use to touch hearts – sometimes in ways we never would dream of doing. I’m not saying I’ll ever write a book as gritty as the one you’ve described, but if someone is awakened to God through such means, then all the praise goes to Him.

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  6. juliearduini says:

    Great post, Maureen! Most of my reading is Christian but I’m not against secular reading. When I pick up a secular book though, it just doesn’t draw me in like Christian fiction does. The profanity I see in so many books gets old.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      I know what you mean, Julie! I remember hearing about a comic years ago who opened his act with a profane word – just repeated it, repeated it and repeated it. He said he wanted to “desensitize” his audience so they wouldn’t be distracted by it during his act. This was, of course many years ago! I think nowadays people expect comics – and secular books – to use profanity. The thing is, though, it’s just so unnecessary most of the time.

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