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“Clean Fiction” as White Magic

Several months ago, in a discussion about Christian speculative fiction and where it’s heading, I suggested that “‘bad theology’ has shaped much of mainstream Christian fiction.” One aspect of this “bad theology” is the glindabelief that reading “clean fiction” — and by this, Christians normally mean fiction without sex, profanity, excessive violence, occult themes, etc. — is better for one’s soul, more in line with holiness and godliness, than reading darker, more R-rated stuff.

“Clean fiction” is part of the toolbox of evangelical holiness and separation from the world.

So yesterday on Facebook I mentioned televangelist Pat Robertson’s recent claim that watching horror movies can invite demons into ones soul. My rather snide response was, “Of course, watching horror movies can invite demons into your soul. So can watching The Bachelor, Jimmy Fallon, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.” Point being: Horror movies aren’t inherently evil; the devil is an “angel of light” and can use seemingly good things to deceive.

An undiscerning, undiscriminating, unbelieving, naive, morally confused mind is more a gateway to the demonic than are horror movies.

E. Stephen Burnett commented that Robertson’s response is typical of a bigger problem: “Christians pushing ‘white magic’ in response to ‘black magic.’ Burnett continued:

I believe Christians invite the work of Satan more often when they react to supposed devilish “black magic” work and therefore resort to “white magic” methods of protection to control their environments, protect the dynasty, promote fertility and agriculture, etc. …

…evangelical divination methods can include the “prosperity gospel,” prayer-as-mantra, that “prayer mat” that comes in the mail, listening to new revelation from voices, and even (I’m afraid this is going to be very unpopular) putting faith in manmade corporation-building methods to build churches rather than having faith in God’s Spirit to make our efforts bear fruit.

This got me thinking — which I will do out loud — and you can tell me where I’m wrong.

I think E. is spot-on in his assessment. There are many “evangelical divination methods.” Of course, we don’t see them as divination methods. Nevertheless, they are little different than the spells, counter-spells, protective spells, and iconography employed by many occultists. We just attach biblical jargon and imagery.

  • “Pray this.”
  • “Bless that.”
  • “Stay away from these people, places, or things.”
  • “Repeat these words and believe them with all your heart.”
  • “Don’t watch, listen to, or speak that.”

I would include Christians’ penchant for — I could say “obsession” with —  “clean fiction” as a possible “evangelical divination method.” In other words, we’ve come to believe that reading THIS as opposed to THAT, reading THIS word as opposed to THAT word, including THIS description as opposed to THAT description, makes a story more or less worldly or other-worldly, holy or unholy.

The problem with that approach is that it puts stories, more specifically words, in the category of… magic. We see the correct combination of words, or the exclusion of specific words, as possessing an inherent power, for good or evil. As such, Christian fiction is the “white magic” that counters the spell of secular fiction, which is “black magic.”

Here’s the problem: The word “shit” does not have magical powers.

The belief that keeping THAT word out of my story makes it intrinsically less worldly and more holy, is akin to white magic. It’s little different than the sorceress who believes that uttering THIS word invokes THAT power and refraining from THAT word prohibits THIS power.

Of course, 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, watches only “family friendly” films, or doesn’t curse, 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” (see: Pharisees).

In other words, reading “clean fiction” does not cast a protective spell over ones mind and heart. You still need discernment! In fact, the notion that “clean fiction” is actually safer and better for us  might actually deceive us and distance us from 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.

Okay. So that’s my theory.

How is our rigid avoidance of profanity and R-rated content NOT superstition, a form of white magic that believes the absence and exclusion of specific words makes one more holy?

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  • Ruth October 5, 2015, 2:48 PM

    Believers are diverse just like every other people group on the planet.

    The ‘clean’ reader should not decry the ‘dark’ reader as being a wayward Christian (simply for reading a book), and the ‘dark’ reader should not decry the ‘clean’ reader as shallow(simply for reading a book). That being said I agree with Mike’s point entirely, which isn’t intended to say clean books are less by default, but to point out the blind spot in so many folks eyes that would equate a clean book with good theology.

    Grace Bridges has already made this point, but I’ll add my story to it: I believed that abstinence-until-marriage was the ultimate spiritual measuring stick. Part of that belief was derived from fiction and part of it was evangelical church culture of the 90s (I survived True Love Waits) but either way it was the narrative. The story. Not that it was *bad* mind you, its scriptural, but there was an understood promise attached to all of it that was a lie. If you do this than you can trust in all of that… the problem is, scripture never promises such a thing when it comes to the outcomes of our actions. Thankfully I figured that out on my own well before my husbands pre-existing addiction burned the house down around us so-to-speak so I wasn’t disillusioned, just sort of angry that so much of the narrative in my youth was focused on one piece (also, don’t drink) and that I sold both of us so short, for so long. Would that I had removed the pedestal and the blinders sooner and prayed for him more often instead of putting my faith in a story that was noble in intent but perpetuated a lie. And *that* is the problem with a blind trust that clean is safe. There was always a promise, meant to entice us into good character, that if we do it Gods way we will be saved from all these woes…

    Honestly, I don’t want to talk about them but the situation with the Duggards illustrates exactly the same thing. As far as I can tell they’ve mixed trusting Christ with trusting in works. If I deprive myself of x then I will be presentable. But the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.

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