Frequently on discussion sites, the issue of “too much” inevitably comes up. Where does a writer/reader/viewer draw the line when it comes to sex or bad language or violence? In other words, what constitutes too much?
The discussion of “too much” for Christians when we create or enjoy art, even pop art, is not something to push aside as irrelevant. In fact, here at Spec Faith the topic has come up often, from one point of view or the other. See, for example, archived articles in the topics of sex, violence, and language. And still, the question comes up about what constitutes “too much.” Almost the question seems to beg for someone to draw the line, to create the box, or to erase the line, to demolish the box.
The next question seems naturally to be, are there parameters for Christians when it comes to our reading and writing and viewing? Is “whatever you want” the right strategy? Or should Christians stand apart from our culture. After all, as many point out, we are to be in the world but not part of it.
Another consideration some may bring up for writers is, for whom do you write? After all, when you want the general market to read your books, don’t we need to “fit in” so that secular readers will pick up our books?
In my article last week I stated,
In truth, God’s word is already apropos to our lives and it doesn’t need our dressing it up or our covering it up so that “seekers” will feel more comfortable with our stories.
God’s word. In addressing how Christians are to live—which by necessity includes how we do and enjoy art—we need to root and ground our actions in the word of God.
Some decades ago, the call was to simply ask, What would Jesus do? Of course the problem with that approach was that no one actually knows if Jesus would always drive the speed limit, write Amish fiction, or watch The Game of Thrones. Our opinions about those things are actually guided by our greater understanding of God and His word.
Often in these discussions, Paul’s statements in Romans and in 1 Corinthians about eating meat offered to idols comes up. There is also a verse in Ephesians which many apply to novels and movies and TV programs:
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (5:3-4)
For whatever reason, we rarely talk about the effect of art on those who respond to the art. One goal writers have is to make readers feel. Yet when it comes to the issues of “too much,” we seem fixated on the do’s and don’ts, but not the why’s and the why not’s.
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,
But the naive go on, and are punished for it.
A prudent man sees evil and hides himself,
The naive proceed and pay the penalty.
The questions from these verses are two-fold. 1) Are we prudent or naive writers/readers/viewers; and 2) What is evil?
I suppose there’s a third we could ask: Are we willing to pay the penalty? That’s pretty sad, though, because it means the answers to the other questions are, we are naive and we have determined that what we are writing/reading/viewing is, in fact, evil.
The New Testament talks a lot about abiding in Christ, which doesn’t seem like a place for the naive. After all, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” I conclude that Christians will opt for the “prudent” option—that we should see evil and hide from it.
If you think about it, we have no problem hiding from things that pose a danger to our physical lives. We run from burning buildings (unless our job is to put the fire out), we wear seat belts and bicycle helmets to “flee” injury in case of an accident. We throw tainted food out to avoid food poisoning. We kill or capture dangerous snakes or bears or coyotes. We put up “Stay Out Of The Water” signs when a shark is sighted off the coast. We caution kids about talking with strangers, in real life or on the internet.
These are wise things to do. We see the potential for harm, so we avoid the dangerous situation if possible.
How is it that we do not use the same wisdom when it comes to evil?
Perhaps the problem comes with that unanswered question I posed earlier: What is evil?
Some things are clearly evil for all of us: murder, hatred, immorality, lust. Lust? Yes, according to Jesus. Lust is no different than adultery. That flies against our culture that puts lust-inducing images in front of us at every turn, that has turned porn into an “everyone does it” form of entertainment. But there it is in Scripture.Other things such as “foul language” aren’t so cut-and-dried. Is bad language “evil”? And which foul words are really foul? Can we write/read/hear some words that mean excrement but not others? Does context make the difference? Intent? Impact, both on the characters in the story and on the viewer/reader? What about the impact on the writer? Is the writer responsible for the thoughts and emotions that his writing might generate within his audience?
Things could get complicated.
From the complexity, I think one thing should be clear: making a list of what’s acceptable and what’s not allowed, really isn’t possible. (And we haven’t even talked about how language changes over time, how words like gay were once upon a time not charged with sexual meaning.)
But there’s something else that should be clear: avoiding danger is wise.
Can language alert us to spiritual danger? I think it can.