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.