About “Icky Bits” — sometimes-controversial story elements such as violence, swear words or sex that are usually foreign to Christian fiction — I could say plenty more.
Last week I said that icky-bits defenders can have shallow reasons for their defenses, or that they can react in cultural “fundamentalist” fashion in favor of Icky Bits, and that they can simplify the issue to “it’s between me and Jesus” while leaving out crucial truths such as the value of personal holiness and worship with other believers in Christ.
This week I could go on and argue further about how some defenses of Icky Bits are shallow, careless, or un-Biblical. Instead I think I’ll start with another angle:
Q: Let’s put Icky Bits into fiction and really stick it to the sentimentalist CBA types!
A. Let’s not be nearly so boring.
Seriously, I almost want to avoid this entire topic because so much cyber-ink has been shed about Icky Bits and the cyber-pens have become dull. The best “argument” for Icky Bits is to show how they are done in a fantastic, well-made story and to be kind to critics while doing it. A story made for that motive is interesting. A story made as reaction to a conservative Faction is dull. Besides, don’t we want to avoid endorsing “agenda fiction”?
Q: Yes! We need to talk about how We As Writers approach Icky Bits!
A. Let’s talk first about how we approach Icky Bits as readers.
If we skip to looking at the Icky Bits issues from the perspective of authors, we miss a step. I want to emphasize this mainly because I fight the impulse in myself — the impulse to try to be a Big Spiritual Fiction Leader and consider myself Arrived, having transcended the level of the proletariat reader who simply seeks great stories. We can’t assume we already mastered this basic reader-level stuff and have leveled up to debate it as master Jedi.
How have youas a reader come to appreciate Icky Bits? If you felt differently before, what Biblical arguments and support from stories changed your mind? I do believe it should be those two things that have primarily changed our minds on Icky Bits, rather than anger against a particular conservative Faction — anger that can lead to embracing the dark side.
Q: Fine then, let’s talk about how Icky Bits will help us share better stories with non-Christian readers!
A. This would also start the conversation much too late.
It’s actually a rather evangelical impulse to want to “use” fiction primarily for the cause of evangelism. If someone says they want ickier-bittier fiction to help non-Christian readers, I suggest they’re accepting this evangelical impulse and simply want to do it better. But does that not treat fiction primarily as a vehicle and not as “an end in itself”?1
Q: Okay, but I’m not worried about writing or evangelism; instead I simply want to share better Art by Christians with the world.
A. This is simply secularized “evangelism” without John 3:16.
Before you can be a writer, an evangelist, or an art enjoyer/sharer, what are you?
A human being.
A human being who loves stories.
A human being who was created to consciously worship and glorify God in all things.
Let’s avoid thinking about fiction and Icky Bits as writers, evangelists, art lovers, or leaders of any kind. First let’s decide the purpose of fiction as simple humans, or even as children.
I want to keep this viewpoint in the background of every discussion I have about fiction:
Q. What is man’s chief end?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Q. So what is our chief end for enjoying fiction?
A. Fiction’s chief end is to help us glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
So if Icky Bits in fiction help us enjoy God better — “enjoying God” being defined the way God’s revealed Word to His people defines it — then great. That’s a far better path to Art.
And if Icky Bits in fiction also helps fiction take us on a journey and provoke thought about how reality truly is, about how lies may compare with truth or how ugliness compares with beauty, then great. This accomplishes evangelism but doesn’t treat fiction as a mere vehicle.
And if Icky Bits in fiction liberates aspiring authors to glorify God in an approaching-sinless way, which will in turn better “simulate” truth and beauty to readers, that’s also fantastic.
See — all along I have hoped not to avoid exploring Icky Bits as authors or evangelists or art-lovers, but simply to re-approach those secondary aims after a significant detour.
And I am afraid I will keep the detour open and keep waving my signs. As long as Christians are confused about this “chief end” of fiction, I feel I must always emphasize this basic truth here on SpecFaith and anywhere else. We can’t pretend we already agree on what fiction is meant to do and then talk about advanced stuff. We must first agree on that chief end.
Finally, my intent is not to levy guilt for supposed sin: You haven’t been discussing the “chief end of fiction” as much as I have. Instead I hope to ensure that, whatever we decide about Icky Bits, we seek to use them first for God’s glory and not for lesser goals such as writing or evangelism or Art. Yes, all those other goals are very good goals. But if readers, fans, or writers make those goals into their Chief Ends, I say they may be leaning toward idolatry — and they also cannot reach those lesser goals.
Aim for God’s glory and you will get great art, evangelism, and storytelling thrown in.
Aim for those lesser goals and you will get none.
- I use the phrase with a hidden meaning: “an end in itself” means that the action is sufficiently pleasurable to be righteous before the Lord without it needing to be a mere tool for some other function. ↩