f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Violence in Christian Fiction

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Violence in Christian Fiction

Jana Riess, religion editor at PW, recently tackled this topic in an editorial piece for her magazine. She was gathering opinions from folks in the industry so we chatted about the topic while at ICRS and frankly it's been in the back of my mind ever since.

If you want to blow past supposed CBA guidelines, you'll have a hard time with sexuality and (pretty much) and impossible time with language. But blood and guts seem okay...as long as there's righteous justice. Nihilism won't fly but bullets certainly can.

Jana ends up coming down softer than I thought she might on the topic. The point she does make is important...at least to me. She wants awareness and intentionality in the content choices made by publishers. Doing something simply because we can get away with it seems a recipe for bad news.

A few other thoughts:

1. As a country, I think we've long held a double-standard between "acceptable" sex vs. "acceptable" violence--especially on TV and in movies. Unfortunately, the push of some folks seems to be as permissible with sex rather than showing restraint with both.

2. Christian men like them their blood. I know so many guys for whom Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, and Gladiator are all in their top ten films. It is the message of these films that I know men love—but they are messages that I don’t think can easily be extricated from the violence. Heroism in the face of puppy kisses is not the same as storming the beach at Normandy or facing the lions for the sake of Jesus’ name.

These things also demand “villains”—which isn’t so hard in a historical setting, but becomes more problematic when we cast our stories in present day or the near-future. Because then the question essentially becomes: “Who is it acceptable to kill?” I hope we see how thorny that question is.

3. This is a crucial topic to me because I’ve acquired books with body counts. Children are threatened in Waking Lazarus. Folks get all sorts of mangled by the powers working in Relentless. Next spring’s The Heir is one-part murder mystery.

None of these books can be called explicit, I don’t think, but is that my defense? And what do I say to the proposals reaching my desk now? Which are just a little more explicit. Where the context between message and violence seems a little more tenuous.

4. Part of the reason I think the boundaries have shifted for violence rather than sexuality is that the books are so obviously not for what’s historically been the most important CBA customer—romance/women’s fiction readers. While Janette Oke readers continue to buy books and exert their influence on the market, Ted Dekker has (assumably) generated a readership apart. His books look different; they read different. A historical romance, meanwhile, continues to be marketed to roughly the same readership as before…where the chance of irking a more conservative reader is far higher.

5. Finally I just want to offer a quick comment on how we’re viewed by the world. I know a number of secular reviewers who, when they cast their eye toward the Left Behind series commented on the casual slaughter of the enemies of God. This should be on our minds. Voices who speak so strongly in favor of life in some areas, I don’t think, should so dramatically change their tune. Any death represents the last chance a soul had to find redemption. To celebrate a soul gone to hell strikes me as merciless.