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7 Ways “Clean” Fiction Can Harm Us

My article at Novel Journey, What’s More Dangerous, Amish Heroines or Christian Vampires?, has stirred far more discussion than I anticipated. At this writing, there are 34 comments, several of them taking a turn I did not expect.

Camille’s comment is representative of a theme that emerged in response to my assertion that Amish fiction can become escapist, even idolatrous.

I’m a little confused. I’ve never been interested in reading an Amish story [to date], but it seems to me that there is another simpler and less “dangerous” reason for reading it than to escape reality and worship the idol of the idyllic. My Christian friends and I are always hoping to find entertainment (novels and movies) that aren’t full of garbage and profanity. You may call it escapist, but that may be a little narrow a view of why some people read it. What about wanting to simply read a book they know isn’t going to fill their mind and heart with crap? To desire that isn’t to say you’re closing your eyes to reality; maybe they just want to take a break from the constant onslaught of profanity around us. We are surrounded by people, situations, media, etc that add to the temptation to lust, curse, gossip, backbite, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to pick up a book or pop in a movie and know you can ‘escape’ from the battle for your mind’s purity for a little while?

Camille’s concern is extremely common among evangelical readers. They want to read something “clean,” something that does not deride their values, offend their moral sensibilities, and undermine their parental objectives. In fact, the Bible commands us:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

So there is a legitimate biblical basis for avoiding “crap,” and taking heed to what we read, listen to, and view.

But just because someone reads Christian fiction or watches only “family friendly” films, does not automatically make them any more holy, healthy, or happy than someone who doesn’t. In fact, the Bible warns that there may be a subtle danger in consigning ourselves only to what is “clean.”

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees followed the Law to a “T.” You could say, they were “clean freaks.” They washed ceremonially before meals, said their prayers at the precise times, and stoned those who required death. You’d think Jesus would applaud their righteousness. But He didn’t. In fact, He called the Pharisees “children of the devil” (Jn. 8:44). And if that weren’t enough, Christ told a story about those who would stand before God pleading their good works — “Didn’t we heal the sick and cast out demons?” — only to be told they were “workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23). In both these cases, it was the “clean,” the seriously religious, who were decieved.

In light of this, Reading clean fiction doesn’t necessarily make us clean. In fact, the notion that it might, can actually deceive us and distance us from God!

Here’s seven ways, off the top of my head, that “clean fiction” can harm us:

  • Clean fiction can harm us if it replaces actually living good — It’s like the person who thinks that going to church on Sundays gets them off the hook the rest of the week
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it causes us to be self-righteous and holier-than-thou — We think reading only Christian lit earns us brownie points with God and makes us better than the masses of dumb, indiscriminate, consumers
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it disconnects us from the real world — We become so enamored with the world as we want it to be, that we disengage from the world as it is; it becomes an echo chamber of escapism
  • Clean fiction can harm us if its theology is askew — Just because something is G-rated does not guarantee that its worldview is biblical; after all, the demons believe in God (James 2:19)
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it limits our appreciation for other art –If the absence of nudity is all we’re after there are many classic paintings we must shield our eyes from… not to mention good books
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it causes us to look down upon those who don’t share our values — “Lord, I thank you that I do not watch R-rated movies like THOSE Christians.”
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it becomes an idol — We worship the thing God uses, rather than God; we defend the genre as if it were “God-breathed”; being “clean” becomes our god

The desire to keep our minds focused on what is “pure, lovely, and admirable” is a great thing. Heck, it’s biblical! Nevertheless, that same Bible says that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14). In other words, Satan is more likely to deceive us with something that looks good (“clean”), than something that looks evil. Just because some stories are free of profanity, violence, and nudity, does not make them impervious to spiritual deception. In fact, the desire to read only what is “free of profanity, violence, and nudity” may itself be a spiritual deception.

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • XDPaul September 30, 2009, 1:53 PM

    Man, now you've got me wanting to write a book about Amish vampires. Do you realize how awful your radical ideas are going to be for my future book sales?

  • Rebecca Luella September 30, 2009, 5:48 PM

    But just because someone reads Christian fiction or watches only “family friendly” films, does not automatically make them any more holy, healthy, or happy than someone who doesn’t. In fact, the Bible warns that there may be a subtle danger in consigning ourselves only to what is “clean.”

    In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees followed the Law to a “T.” You could say, they were “clean freaks.”

    Mike, while I agree with your overall point, I don't think the "Pharisees argument" applies to Christians. Jesus didn't condemn the Pharisees because they were too law abiding but because they looked past Him to the law and their ability to keep it as a means of salvation.

    Some Christians may be legalistic, but if they are indeed Christians, they haven't done what the Pharisees did. If they do, then they aren't actually Christians.

    For a Christian, I think it's a good thing to be concerned about "clean" when it comes to my life. It's ridiculous to be concerned about "clean" for a non-Christian's life since that isn't what saves.

    When it comes to other Christians … a bit of a gray area. When to confront a brother or sister with sin? When to be understanding of a weaker brother or sister? When to let God do His work of convicting of sin?

    One thing I'm pretty sure of, I'm a legalist if I expect other Christians to live by the standards God has convicted me of. (But am I legalistic in saying that? 😮 )

    • Mike Duran October 2, 2009, 2:25 AM

      Becky, the Pharisees are evidence that the Law cannot save or give life. They are also serve as an example of how religious communities can become ingrown and blind to their own distance from God. The Pharisees illustrate how a people can miss God for external standards of morality, tradition, and service. So while the Pharisees may not be Christians, they still serve as a warning against certain religious conduct and beliefs that can damage our soul. All that to say, I do think the "Pharisees argument" can apply to Christians. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that some types of Phariseesm are alive in well in many of our churches. Thanks for your comments!

  • Nicole September 30, 2009, 8:04 PM

    "If" being the operative word. Makes the points valid.

  • Dayle October 1, 2009, 5:58 PM

    Becky,

    Thanks for that reply. I was going to say the same thing but it would have probably sounded more rude because of my apparent inability to make proper inflection of my points in text. I'm really one of the nicest guys on the planet, but Mike has yet to perceive any evidence of it from my past comments. Of course it could be because he doesn't have a sense of humor.

    ***Disclaimer, Mike I do agree completely with Becky on this one, but the above comment is written in jest.

    • Mike Duran October 2, 2009, 2:30 AM

      Dayle, if you want me to believe you're really "one of the nicest guys on the planet," then you should stop agreeing with Becky, and start agreeing with me.

      • Dayle October 2, 2009, 3:08 PM

        Wow, Mike finally made a funny. (tear) I'm so proud.

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