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One day, while I was still attending Seminary, one of my professors came in and admitted to doing something heretical. I remember it well, even fifteen years later.
| Jan 30, 2013 | No comments |

One day, while I was still attending Seminary, one of my professors came in and admitted to doing something heretical.

I remember it well, even fifteen years later. Just as class was getting started, we in class were making small talk about what we had all been doing the night before and, in the course of the conversation, we asked the prof what he had done. What he said shocked all of us:

“Last night, I watched The Last Temptation of Christ. And you know what? It was actually pretty good!”

The_Last_Temptation_of_Christ_posterDo you remember The Last Temptation of Christ? Twenty-five years ago, it was the center of a major controversy. Christians all across America were offended by Martin Scorsese’s movie. Even though it hadn’t been released yet, people heard what happened in the movie: Jesus slept with Mary Magdalene and did all sorts of other stuff that weren’t Biblical. I can remember the calls for boycotts, demonstrations, all sorts of negative press at the time. The way some Christians were carrying on, you’d think that if someone actually watched this cinematic abomination, they’d automatically wind up with 666 tattooed on their forehead or something equally sinister.

So you can imagine our shock that our straight-laced, conservative professor would watch that movie, admit to it in class, and above all else, think that it was okay! One of us expressed our surprise at his viewing choice and his opinion of the movie.

Then he said something like this, “It wasn’t that bad because all of the controversial content, such as Jesus sleeping with Mary Magdalene, happened in a vision while Jesus was hanging on the cross. It literally was part of the last temptation of Christ, where Satan was tempting Jesus to come down and live a normal life. But in the end, Jesus rejected it. So what’s wrong with that?”

We reminded him of the controversy, and he had an interesting observation: most of the controversy took place before the film was released. In other words, all the calls for boycotts and protests and denunciations came from people who had never seen the movie. He wondered if they had, would they have been so offended?

I couldn’t help but think of that due to the little brouhaha that’s been stirred up over a recently published book on the fringe of the CBA. Or, should I say, the Hinterlands?

I know that Speculative Faith has done a lot on Vox Day’s latest book, A Throne of Bones. Publisher Jeff Gerke wrote a recent article about his journey to publishing this very massive tome. And then, a few days later, Vox Day was interviewed by E. Stephen Burnett for this blog. And in the comments of both posts, there was a lot of hand-wringing and worry about the novel’s content. There was sex, violence, coarse language! Could this book actually be considered Christian when it depicted such behavior in its pages? The way some people have presented this situation, you’d think that some sort of literary Armageddon was about to descend on us all to destroy us.

I was already planning on reading it anyway, but I have to admit that the controversy only made it more attractive. So, in mid-December, I fired up my Kindle and started reading. And it took me a while to get through, partially because I learned the hard way that my Kindle is not a fan of Minnesota winters. And now that I’ve finished, I’m left with one question:

What’s the big deal?

Was there violence in there? Yes, there was, but it never seemed gratuitous. Coarse language? A ton of it, but never blasphemy or swearing (and yes, there is a difference). Sex? Well, yeah, there is that scene. Between a married man and wife. And, from what I remember, while there was no question about what they were doing and whether or not they enjoyed it, I wasn’t titillated or tempted to go and do . . . well, anything. And when I clicked the “forward” button for the last time, I couldn’t help but wonder. Have the people who are so up-in-arms about this book actually read it? Or is this another case of people reacting to something that they haven’t actually seen?

Now by saying that, I’m not suggesting that we should open the floodgates to potentially offensive material. If there had been more details included in the aforementioned sex scene, I would have questioned its purpose as well. As it is, though, I thought that A Throne of Bones was a good story, a decent read, and really, nothing to get worked up over. Is it going to be for everyone? No, and I understand that. I just wonder if it’s worth getting offended over.

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Mickey
Guest

I felt the same way about The Golden Compass. Admittedly, I have only watched the movie, and not read the books yet.
Still, the movie features an unlikely heroine who restores the dignity of creatures who had been abused and given up on themselves. She then enters the deadliest place there is, the very heart of the enemy’s fortress, and literally sets the enslaved creatures free. 
So the guy that wrote it is an atheist and hates Christianity. So what? Can he really write a story that neglects the basic human desire for freedom from sin’s lies? Or, the greatest human desire, whether acknowledged or not, for reconciliation with the creator? 
 

Kat Heckenbach
Member

The difference is, the guy that wrote The Golden Compass is an atheist who thinks Christianity needs to be eliminated like some invasive fungus, and the remainder of the books in the series–and I HAVE read them–take the protags on a journey to kill God, not reconcile with Him.

Christian Jaeschke
Guest
Christian Jaeschke

True, but that only really becomes apparent in books 2 and 3, especially 3. I quite enjoyed the first book (to a degree, it reminded me of “The Great Divorce”). Here in Australia though, “The Golden Compass” is known as “Northern Lights”. I’m very familiar with Pullman’s feelings for God and Christianity as his final book in the trilogy seethes with poisonous hate.

Sherwood Smith
Guest
Sherwood Smith

What a sensible post! (Also, I hadn’t known that you’d written a book, and it looks very much like my cup of joe, so I went over and ordered it for Kindle.)

Kessie Carroll
Member

Good for you, John! As I’ve said elsewhere, I didn’t think it sounded all that bad. I haven’t read it and don’t really plan to (high fantasy’s not my cup of tea), but I don’t think it deserved the controversy. Of course, controversy sells books! So maybe that’s a good thing.
 
Meanwhile, nobody has made a peep about Bid the Gods Arise over there in the sidebar, which has several bedscenes, sexual abuse, torture, violence and all the rest. And it’s a GREAT book! Maybe we should be complaining about it more, huh?

Paul Lee
Member

Well, I do agree.  And I plan to read A Throne of Bones someday.  However, sometimes I am afraid to read things that I know I’m going to disagree with.  I care very little about content one way or the other; nothing said about A Throne of Bones would discourage me from reading it.  What I care much more about is theme, and philosophical agendas.
 
One of my most terrifying experiences was deciding to read atheistic arguments against Christianity.  I felt an obligation to do so.  I was raised in a Christian home, but most people in this world weren’t.  Atheists think that they’ve sought truth for themselves and found it, and the only way that we can counter that is by really seeking truth more honestly and sincerely than they do.  There was an atheist in my class, whom I had previously had a run-in with.  I asked him to show me a book from the community college’s library defending atheist.  I didn’t read the whole book, but I tried to sincerely face the hostile arguments against my faith.  It was agonizing.
 
I guess it’s the same with fiction.  We can’t speak out about the morality or lack thereof in any particular work until we have evaluated it as sincerely and honestly as possible.  It can be a terrifying, miserable duty.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

[…] In the comments of both posts, there was a lot of hand-wringing and worry about the novel’s content. There was sex, violence, coarse language! Could this book actually be considered Christian when it depicted such behavior in its pages? The way some people have presented this situation, you’d think that some sort of literary Armageddon was about to descend on us all to destroy us.

I must ask for specific examples, because I didn’t see those. If my own comments are in the examples, I ask even more eagerly! That’s because my challenges did not come based on personal offense, much less dislike of the book or Marcher Lord Press’s ambitions here. My challenges were against those who were in effect saying, “Finally! Writing like this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s go further in fiction.”

Even those who didn’t go that far offered very bad reasons for Controversial Stuff in stories. Those reasons include the ever-popular “people will like us more” and “we need to fight legalism” and of course “it’s Realistic.”

Those are shallow and lame reasons for putting Controversial Stuff in stories. In fact, they’re the exact same motives that have led to the Christian-fiction limits and lameness that we now criticize. Thus I try to criticize this nothing-new-under-the-sun repetition, and shift the discussion to “What is more Biblical? What is good and beautiful and true? What will best glorify the God of all stories?”

Jessica Thomas
Guest

I don’t plan on reading Throne of Bones, but I’m certainly not up in arms over it’s supposed content. My WIP has been through many iterations and this last one (hopefully!) includes the salty language that I had taken out, put back in, taken out…etc. The language is right for the book and the characters, so I’ve finally made peace with my decision to include it.
As for the Last Temptation of Christ, I only got through the first ten minutes (maybe) because it was so over the top, it was like fingernails on chalkboard.

Esther
Guest

I have been challenged on this issue within the last year or so. It had to be a situation that attacked either a book I already loved or a moral absolute that I hold firmly. What happened was this: a radio show host on a show I listened to frequently decided to take on the Harry Potter books. I had not yet read them, but my children had, somewhat against my better judgement (but they are grown-ups and allowed to do that sort of thing now 😉 ).
What angered me was that this show host was willing to LIE in public todefame the HP series. Now, having never read the books, my children had to inform me that the guy was lying. But once I knew that, I knew I had to read the books so that I could be sure of what this fellow was doing.
Read them I did. Then I confronted this fellow by email and called him out on his lying. Unfortunately it did no good…he would not admit his fault, nor would he cease telling the lies: he would only confront ME about the content of the books he had not even read. He refused to read them–that’s fine, everybody has their limits–but he refused to be corrected about the facts he was misrepresenting.
I’d forgotten about the movie The Last Temptation of Christ…but I’m guilty of believing everything the holiness police spouted about it at the time.

Just sign me…

Wiser now

R. L. Copple
Member

Overall, I agree with the article, but I do feel a need to add in one missing concept.
 
I think most people who come across as “offended” aren’t offended but are concerned that such works will promote, encourage, and dull the faithful’s acceptance of sin. Same thing they see happening in other areas of our society, the gradual acceptance of sin as “normal.”
 
One can debate how well founded and informed those fears are as you have pointed out, but I don’t know we should either downplay the influence of our literature in rationalizing and affirming sin if we so let it.
 
Not saying this book does any of that. Doubt I would be reading it purely because I don’t care for a ton of course language. But that’s just me. Not because I think it is sin.
 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

John, after reading your article, I clicked over to the comments to say something similar to what Stephen said. I thought the discussion was reasonable, a healthy exchange of ideas.

I suppose my comments were the closest to what might be characterized as “up in arms,” but no one has said anything yet to lead me to believe it’s ever OK to walk into someone’s bedroom and watch a man and his wife have sex.

Why would we think it’s OK in a book then? I don’t care if it isn’t too explicit (which makes me think it probably wasn’t a strong scene) or if it’s between married people. The issue is putting sex before people and saying, it’s OK for you to watch.

This is especially significant in light of the brain studies we’ve talked about here at Spec Faith that indicate reading a story with sensory detail imprints the brain as if the reader has had that experience.

So am I up in arms about Vox Day or Hinterlands or the Bone book? No, but I am kinda up in arms that Christians are talking like it’s OK for us to watch sex as long as it’s between a husband and wife. As far as I can see, this comes from a society that has accepted pornography as normal without drawing the connection to increased sex crimes, including sex trafficking.

In essence, we’re going to “Christianize” what the world is doing. And yes, I realize this is a book we’re talking about, not a movie, but see reference to brain studies above. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can put sex scenes into books and not be either writing poorly (in which case, why put them in) or enticing people by showing them what ought to be an intimate (as in, not public) sexual encounter.

So there’s my “up in arms” comment, and I don’t think I have to read the book to hold this view. Sorry. 😕

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

No one has said anything yet to lead me to believe it’s ever OK to walk into someone’s bedroom and watch a man and his wife have sex.

True. That’s the one thing no one ever discussed, really.

A defender may say, “But there’s nothing wrong with it.” That’s not the point. Even if there’s nothing wrong with it, what’s right with it? For Christians the Biblical standard is never “is there any rule specifically in Scripture against a thing”? That’s legalism, folks. That’s “how far can I go without actually sinning?” And that’s lame.

Alas, Scripture’s standard is a lot higher and more fun to try to follow based in Christ’s finished work. It says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:17). So conversely, Whatever does proceed from faith isn’t sin.

Does reading even a married-people, vague-details sex scene “proceed from faith”?

What about writing it? Where must the mind go in order to write it? Good question.

I for one am becoming more a member of the “less is more” story school. Becky touched on this on Monday, and this relates. You don’t need to have an erupting volcano, meteors from space, and dinosauroid creatures rising from the ocean depths to bring crises into a hero’s life. Similarly, you don’t need to jump in bed with two characters — and have what amounts to an authorial threesome, or foursome if you count the reader — rolling around in there in the hay, in order to show the fruits of a romantic God-honoring marriage. In fact, is that how we enjoy the fruits of marriages of real people we know? By watching them get it on? If not, then why are sex scenes only considered “more realistic” or “needed for the story” when it comes to fiction? Who established that rule? 😛

Ergo: “Showing” marital sex is, at minimum, very likely a plain cheat.

Kessie Carroll
Member

And following that line of logic, Christians should only ever read/write juvenile fiction, because the only thing safe from sin is things meant for children.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Kessie, I don’t think that’s where this line of thinking leads. For one thing, sex between a husband and wife is not sinful! It’s us watching that’s sinful. So the thing about writing, and reading, is whether or not we are involving ourselves in what we should not.

Is my observing characters lie, steal, gossip, cheat, take revenge, etc. involving me? Sometimes yes, if a spark ignites within me that affirms those actions as right, appropriate, good, but sometimes no when I see the action and reject it as not honoring to God or fitting for His followers. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to sinful behavior in fiction.

In short, I think showing sex is unique. Whether in a sinful context or in a healthy, normal, and loving context, I don’t see a reason, ever, for someone to watch. If there is such a reason, no one has brought it up yet, so I am unmoved by the “realism” plea.

Becky

R. L. Copple
Member

I would tend to agree with Rebecca. I would only add the only time I can see it would be necessary to “enter the bedroom” would be if it was needed for the plot to work. And then, I would have to seriously consider if that is a story I should write. The closest I ever expect to get is what happened in Reality’s Fire. But indications that that is what a couple is going to do, and then cut away I think is fine, whether it is married couples or sinful. Then you’re not watching.
 
I think of it like this. If it is okay to sit in on a love scene in a book, then it should be okay for me to watch porn on the Internet. The two are equivalents. But it is not necessarily sinful for me to watch someone kill another, or gossip, or whatever. Those are not intimate acts. Unless I have a psychological problem, I’m not going to be motivated to go kill someone by reading about a character in a book that does.
 
In my understanding of what Rebecca is saying, and I agree with it, it isn’t a matter of whether the act is sinful or not, or whether the characters are sinning or not, but whether I as a reader would be sinning by reading it. Only those who don’t think porn is sinful would agree that going into a bedroom scene isn’t sinful to the reader.
 

Kessie Carroll
Member

I personally found the long, drawn-out seduction sequence in Reality’s Fire to be more disturbing than if they’d just jumped in the sack. You don’t have to show what goes on in bed, but you showed every last detail of the seduction. (What’s worse, she marries him later! What kind of message does THAT send?)
 
In the secular world, sex is just a thing that happens. It’s not always shown, but it’s always implied. The attitudes surrounding it is what I wish Christians would challenge–that it’s best saved for marriage. I don’t really want to read bed scenes, but books that deal with it better than the average YA novel.
 
I appreciated the Golden Fool trilogy by Robin Hobb so much, because although the hero sleeps with a girl, it shows the consequences–their friendship is completely destroyed. Eventually they splitsville because there’s no relationship anymore. I wish YA novels showed more consequences and less conquest.

R. L. Copple
Member

I can understand why his seduction of her may have been disturbing. But you are proving my point. Showing sin should be disturbing. But watching someone do that isn’t the same as porn, isn’t the same as “watching someone have sex,” even if it is in your head, as far as the reader participating in committing a sin. There are lots of people who aren’t disturbed by the sins they commit. Doesn’t mean the activity involved aren’t sinful based on their degree of disturbance.
 
That gradual seduction was intended to show the general way it happens, and the justifications people make in the heat of infatuation to move their morals to the side long enough to do what they think they want to do. It should be disturbing. If that’s how it hit you, then I accomplished my mission. But it is still not involving the reader into “watching” porn.
 
You said, “What’s worse, she marries him later! What kind of message does THAT send?”
 
It sent the message that people and situations like that can be redeemed. He did change, I gather you noticed. If he had not, then yes, marrying him would have sent a bad message. That’s my take on what I wrote. I don’t want to get into a discussion here of the finer points of my novel as that could be off topic, but I did want to answer your question.

Galadriel
Guest

Hmm…that’s part of my reason for reading HP as well as Game of Thrones, just wanting to know what it’s about and like. I’m kind of… unsure how I feel about HP (books, I’m more certain about the movies) on both a literary and moral level, though I was utterly against them when younger. On the other  hand,  I refuse to read Twilight. Part of that is a sort of pride, but another part is…well…I don’t know exactly what, but yeah…

Kessie Carroll
Member

I read Twilight before they got popular. They weren’t the greatest thing ever but they weren’t the worst, either. I’ve read way worse books. And they did have some interesting ideas, like the way the werewolves worked. And I have always wondered if you could have a “vegetarian” vampire, e.g. one that only bit animals. I thought it was written quite satisfactorily.

Shannon McNear
Member

I just have to jump in here and play devil’s advocate. (Or support John, whichever is less, um, offensive. :-D)

We tend to equate sexual content in a book with, as Becky put it, “watching” someone have sex. But is it really the same? I would say, not. Sexual content in film has bothered me for a LONG time because, hey, those are two real people who have to have actual contact with each other to create that scene. Even kissing scenes in film make me squirm for the same reason. (I would not want my husband kissing another woman like that, ever, not even for the sake of “art.”)

But in a written story–these are *words* that the author has put together to yes, evoke certain images. The characters are fictional. THEY ARE NOT REAL. Is it sin to witness fictional characters going about their lives, perhaps committing sin, perhaps not?

The images evoked stir certain emotional responses within us–as good writing should. I’m not suggesting that someone should ignore that response if it crosses the line into sin. But, just as each of us has a different trigger to sin, I wonder if it isn’t the emotional reaction we shouldn’t be discussing. I recently read Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, and found myself gagging over descriptions of violence that I felt were more graphic than they needed to be. I kept reading, but I still have a faintly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of those scenes. I’ve talked to several people who didn’t have trouble with that aspect, and whose stomachs are stronger than mine when it comes to other authors. (I had to quit reading Steven James because his violence felt too vivid to me–but I know a lot of people able to overlook that and read for the story.)

Back to sexual content. Does it always follow that reading a scene of marital love drives the reader to lust? Or is it possible that what it stirs is a longing for true, satisfying intimacy, which even those of us who are married sometimes find elusive? I don’t think it’s sin to have that longing, any more than it’s sin to long for a good meal when you’re hungry, or to long for heaven when we’re particularly world-weary.

Or how about challenging the fact that we’ll fuss about a “sex scene” in a book, and yet nothing is made of the fact that as writers, we can sketch a character so winsomely that some poor critique partner finds themself infatuated with one of our own creations? 🙂 Now, that strikes me as even weirder, but it happens all the time, even across Christian fiction …

R. L. Copple
Member

“Does it always follow that reading a scene of marital love drives the reader to lust?”
 
I don’t even think that is the issue. Nor whether the characters in my mind are real or not. It is whether it is appropriate to watch someone else have sex or not. Whether doing so apart from your own spouse isn’t violating an intimacy as designed by God.
 
The one advantage writing does have is a lot more control over the details. Film has some, but even watching two people under the sheets so you can’t see any skin is a big problem because you are still watching. Whatever images a book creates in your mind is really no different. I don’t see the fact the characters aren’t real being important. Whether real or not, they are still creating an image. After all, the people on the movie screen are just actors, and most likely there isn’t any real penetration since they usually don’t show that. It’s all fake, not real. But it is still wrong.
 

Shannon McNear
Member

Rick, you wrote: “After all, the people on the movie screen are just actors, and most likely there isn’t any real penetration since they usually don’t show that. It’s all fake, not real.”
 
So, only “penetration” makes the touching real, in a film? 🙂  And no, I wasn’t advocating voyeurism (what happened in that movie with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman…ick). My point is that there IS a difference in whatever image is stirred by words in a story, as opposed to images created when real people (actors or not) touch each other in front of a camera.
 
And even the Bible has some pretty frank and graphic language when it comes to sexual content. Is it evil, then, because those words create an image in our minds, based upon our own experience? I can’t believe that this equates to “watching someone have sex.” If so, someone shoot me now, because I couldn’t help the image, however fleeting, that went through my head when I read Genesis 24 to my children tonight: “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her…” And that’s a mild example.

R. L. Copple
Member

No, I wasn’t talking about whether real touching happens or not, but the fact it is fake, not real, like the not-real people in your head generated by words on a page. Many people can be affected by fantasies just as much as by porn on a screen. As a matter of fact, for women in general, the emotional excitement a romance book gives is much more than watching porn, which is more a man thing, in general.
 
But that wasn’t the point. Either route can result in images that can cause one to be “watching” the act. Note, I understand you are not advocating voyeurism. But I think there is a big difference between being told someone is having sex, and showing that scene in action by the written page.
 
But the Bible verse you cited I would not call going into someone’s bedroom. It is simply told. Not shown. It is the equivalent in a fiction story of making it clear a couple is about to have sex, then cut away. You know they had sex. That’s about it, but no images are created by the words short of making them up yourself.
 
About the most graphic you get is Song of Solomon, but even that is all by analogy, not directly stated, and the graphicness of it relates more to teaching, if you know what he’s talking about, than going into a bedroom and giving us play-by-play descriptions of what happens.
 
And I think that was Becky’s point. Not that it is bad to indicate that someone is or is going to have sex, but to go into the bedroom  and describe it is involving the reader in sin. At least, that is what I understood her to say and agreed with her on. Just to say he went into her and they had a child is not describing the sex act as it would be done in fiction, and create those images.
 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

And I think that was Becky’s point. Not that it is bad to indicate that someone is or is going to have sex, but to go into the bedroom  and describe it is involving the reader in sin.

Yes, Rick, that was my point precisely. Thanks for spelling it out clearly. I don’t see this as complicated, either, or legalistic or nit-picky.

I don’t know what God intended when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, naked and unashamed. Would sex have become a private thing if they had not sinned, or would they have been comfortable copulating with their children playing beside their bower? 

Today, however, since Adam and Eve did sin, and until someone explains how watching people have sex is OK, I can’t think why a Christian would want to put a sex scene (actually showing people having sex) into their book.

Becky

Paul Lee
Member

This whole fictional sex discussion seems to be getting hopelessly complicated and convoluted.  With so much hair-splitting theorizing over what is and is not sin, I think we’re bound to come up with some artificial rules that won’t do any good.  Even if we follow all our rules — even if we restrict ourselves to PG material — we can still write or read something in such a way as to sin.  Conversely, I think if we just write what is in our hearts without intentionally gratifying sinful desires, we won’t sin, no matter how it comes out on the page.

R. L. Copple
Member

Not sure I’m following you on what is so complicated about it. Question is, is going into someone’s bedroom, on screen or on page, and having described in enough of a way to get an idea what they are doing beyond the fact that they’ve had sex, sinful for the writer and the reader to participate in.
 
Naturally anything we write can be the catalyst for someone to sin since it is all interpretive. I can’t be held accountable for another’s sin who reads one of my books and takes it the wrong way. But if I write a “bedroom” sex scene, am I *forcing* me and the reader to sin? Due to the intimate and unique nature of sex, it is not like watching other activities a person might do that while sinful, are not intimate in the same sense.
 
It isn’t a matter of whether reading that could cause a person to sin or whether the characters themselves are sinning. It is a matter of whether the very fact of reading that is sinful. I think the bulk of Christian history would resoundingly say that it is. I understand that others may not agree, and that is fine. They answer to God for themselves. But like Becky, I don’t see a time when I would be required to write a sex scene for the plot to work. It is enough to let people know it happened, if it needs to be there.
 
I don’t need to describe what happens. Everyone has a pretty good idea anyway. To describe it is redundant writing, like saying the phone rang and you describe them picking up the receiver. If they start talking on the phone, everyone knows they picked up the receiver. No need to describe it to the reader for the sake of realism. If you indicate a couple has sex…like the Bible…that should be enough. No reason to “go into the bedroom with them.”
 
I don’t see anything complicated about that. It either is or isn’t sinful to write/read such a scene.

Paul Lee
Member

I’m sorry to argue.  It still seems quite complicated to me.  There seems to be a vast range from describing something explicitly to not broaching the subject at all.  By “not describing it,” does that mean describing up to the point of the act and then “fading to black,” as in cutting to a different scene, or does it mean mentioning off-handedly that it happened without providing any details?  How much detail is too much?  The line in the sand seems arbitrary for me.
 
On the part of the reader, I don’t think it’s possible that merely reading anything can categorically be sinful.  There’s a big difference between reading erotic writing in a deliberate choice to sin and choosing to read a book that ends up having explicit content, whether or not the content was known before the decision to read the book was made.
 
On the part of the writer, well, I wish we didn’t have to talk about it at all.  Can’t we just write awesome stories without worrying about content?  If explicit content really is sinful, I think it would never occur to us to include it if we were only ever worried about writing naturally and sincerely.  But when there are arbitrary limits, there is the temptation to get close to the line without crossing it, which I think is always a bad attitude.  How do we know for certain that our limit is not really too permissive?  Far better to have no arbitrary limits, and to just naturally write good stories.

R. L. Copple
Member

“On the part of the reader, I don’t think it’s possible that merely reading anything can categorically be sinful.  There’s a big difference between reading erotic writing in a deliberate choice to sin and choosing to read a book that ends up having explicit content, whether or not the content was known before the decision to read the book was made.”
 
Let’s put it this way. For me, once you begin describing what they are doing to each other and what they are feeling during a sex act, it enters “into the bedroom.” That doesn’t seem arbitrary, but obvious and common sense.
 
I’m gathering we’re on two different moral/theological planes here. At least from what I’m reading here, correct me if I’m misunderstanding, you’re saying that an erotica scene in a book, whether a small section or the whole of it, isn’t categorically sinful to read. Accidentally coming across that doesn’t determine sinfulness. It doesn’t carry the same accountability, but either something creates a wedge between you and God or it doesn’t. Either it is a result of the fall and needs God’s grace through Jesus Christ to overcome it, or it doesn’t. So I’m not sure I can explain it any more clearly. It may be we’re talking past each other theologically here on what sin is.
 
For the record, I’m sure no one here is advocating putting erotic sex scenes into our stories. So I don’t mean by the above that you are advocating such.
 
But to the gist of your argument: ” But when there are arbitrary limits, there is the temptation to get close to the line without crossing it, which I think is always a bad attitude.  How do we know for certain that our limit is not really too permissive?  Far better to have no arbitrary limits, and to just naturally write good stories.”
 
I get what you are saying, and think it would work most of the time.  But 1) I don’t think the “don’t go into the bedroom” is arbitrary, but an obvious limit to avoid pornographic material in your book, and 2) having a limit and someone who wants to push that limit are two different things. By that reasoning, we should ditch all the laws on the books because it will tempt people to push them.
 
That said, I understand the “where do we draw the line” on such limits. Obviously while I think it is okay to indicate a couple is going to have sex then cut away or just say it happened, readers who shop at CBA stores might think any mention of having sex is crossing the line. So I know my books aren’t going to ever be shelved or sold in a CBA store because they violate too many of their limits. Not just on sex, but on drinking, magic, and even a rare cuss word.
 
But I think it is easy to do this. Write your first draft without any such concerns for limits. Then in editing, you take that into consideration according to your audience, and adjust where you need to. If you end up writing a sex scene, and you think it isn’t sinful to read because it is done so tastefully, then that is your call. Or you may decide to adjust, tone down, until you are comfortable with it. Then like Jeff did on Vox’s scene, the editor may decide to tone it down even further.
 
But, I don’t think just because there is a limit is going to cause writers to see how close they can get. If they do, that is a problem with them, not with the boundary. But I agree that is a bad attitude to have. I just don’t think the way to fix that is to toss the boundary. Then those same people just fly right on over it fully, whereas at least they were restrained before. But most writers aren’t going to go there just because the limit is there. 
 
But sin is sin is sin, and we don’t get away from that by acting like it isn’t there. If we agree “watching” porn unfold on the printed page involves the reader in a sinful activity, then we just acknowledge that for ourselves and we have our own internal limit, not imposed by God, but embraced by us trusting in God’s wisdom.
 
But while some of us hope to influence our society’s culture and direction through our stories, we have to ask ourselves, how much of our society’s cultural morals put forth in movies and books have influenced us in turning sin into 50 shades of grey?

Paul Lee
Member

At least from what I’m reading here, correct me if I’m misunderstanding, you’re saying that an erotica scene in a book, whether a small section or the whole of it, isn’t categorically sinful to read. Accidentally coming across that doesn’t determine sinfulness. It doesn’t carry the same accountability, but either something creates a wedge between you and God or it doesn’t.

I think that sin does not reside in anything except our hearts/souls, not even erotica.  It must be impossible to be forced to sin by anything, or anyone.  I believe that choosing to read something for erotic pleasure is sin.
 

For the record, I’m sure no one here is advocating putting erotic sex scenes into our stories. So I don’t mean by the above that you are advocating such.

Certainly not!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Bainespal, I agree that sin resides in our heart and souls, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the difference between idolatry and worship of God or love and hate or righteousness and unrighteousness. There are specific things God has prescribed for our well-being. Jesus, and the New Testament writers, didn’t soften the Old Testament dictates, but drew the line tighter: don’t look on a woman with lust, don’t hate your brother, greed is as the sin of idolatry, love your enemy, and so on.

If a writer then creates a scenario in which the reader joins a character in hating and wanting revenge, can we say that the problem is only the reader’s? I don’t think a story can force a reader to have hateful feelings, but the writer has first crossed the line, hasn’t he, by creating a character readers identify with who holds hate in his heart and justifies it to the point that it feels right?

In other words, when a writer creates so that wrong feels right, hasn’t he sinned before any reader can be said to have joined in that sin?

I realize in the postmodern world we live in, it feels off to say something is categorically wrong, sinful. We are of the mindset today that what is sin for me may not be sin for you, and in some ways that’s true. But not always. Scripture leads me to believe there are some black and whites, some right and wrongs that apply across the board.

Sexual immorality is one of those. Is it ever right to have sex with an animal? No. With a child? No. With a same sex partner? No. With multiple partners? No. In public? No. Is it ever right to watch? No.

Our society, however, has slowly challenged the latter two via the porn industry (as the gay and lesbian community has regarding same sex involvement). Christians answering by showing husbands and wives having sex, isn’t really an answer. It’s an acquiescence. It’s a way of saying, it’s OK to watch as long as you’re watching and making public moral sex. But the very act of public, for-display sex is immoral. So you can’t whitewash an immoral act under the cover of morality. That’s what I think is happening.

Becky

Paul Lee
Member

So you can’t whitewash an immoral act under the cover of morality. That’s what I think is happening.

I agree, at least somewhat.  I think that it is bad to do anything in order to be liked.  Adding sex scenes, or any kind of content, to be accepted by the world is wrong.  We shouldn’t compromise morality by whitewashing immorality.  I was just saying that I don’t think specific rules to define exactly what Christians can or cannot read or write are very helpful.
 
Although I am not upset over A Throne of Bones, I do think that the arguments in defence of its style and content were somewhat off.  I think it would have been better if the book were merely published, and nothing had been said about its content at all, other than that it contains mature themes.