Reading Choices: Isolation Or Insulation?

I don’t think isolation is an answer to the darkness of this world, and that approach leaves our culture without a witness. I’d also suggest that it’s wise to use insulation only as necessary.
on Jan 20, 2014 · 13 comments
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Veam-PowerLock-Connectors-InlineElectric wires are encased in a material such as rubber to prevent accidental contact with them. Homes have layers of insulation to keep heat in and cold out, or air conditioning in and scorching temperatures out. Under the right circumstances, insulation is good and necessary.

Might the same principle be true in reading? I dare say most Christians would agree that children ought to be insulated to a degree so lies of the world don’t alter their ideas or expose them to “mature” subject matter before they are ready. But what about adults? Is there a proper insulation adults should maintain as well?

Isolation, on the other hand, is viewed as an aberration unless mandated by a doctor. Agoraphobia is an irrational fear of going outside which causes otherwise healthy people to isolate themselves from others.

And what about isolation as a principle in reading? Should Christians cut themselves off from the influences of the world? Should we seek to read (listen or watch) only stories that agree with a Biblical worldview?

I believe many Christians mix up isolation and insulation in determining a standard for entertainment. Others resist isolation but then neglect insulation in the process.

Here are some contrasting points about the two concepts that might be helpful.

256px-Paper_insulationInsulation is put in place to protect people from a known danger or to keep out an undesired element. A recovering alcoholic, for example, stays away from all forms of alcohol. A reader coming from an occult background, then, stays away from all stories about witches and wizardry, magic and demon activity.

Isolation, on the other hand, separates people from the good as well as the dangerous, without discrimination. An illustration would be a person fearing electrical shocks, turning off the electricity in a home. For readers, a person who fears exposure to the world system, stops reading fiction.

Insulation targets something specific. For the reader, this would center on personal weaknesses or proclivities.

Isolation spreads a wide net. There is no targeting. There is nothing more than a categorical rule aimed at everyone.

Insulation has a particular goal–the protection of an individual from a known danger. Consequently a book with explicit sexual content might be targeted as one from which readers should be insulated.

Isolation also aims to protect, but the goal is nebulous because the danger is imagined rather than known. In this vein, any story that suggests or implies sexual activity might fall under a ban.

Some readers may wonder if insulation is ever needed or appropriate in conjunction with books. Today our culture seems to agree that ideas aren’t dangerous, that all we need to guard against is physical harm.

Except, some have begun to talk about “cyber-bullying,” a use of words to belittle and control someone else. Put another way, words do have power to influence how a person thinks.

If this is true on the Internet, why would we think it is less true in fiction?

Well, some may say, because it is fiction!

But the truth is, fiction shows us how other people reason, make choices, handle difficulties, interact with others. We are exposed to their worldview which may call into question our own.

So should we isolate from those? Should we embrace them?

No and no. Other worldviews must be examined in light of the Bible and the errors exposed. We can’t expose errors if we are isolated and ignorant. We can’t expose errors if we embrace them and make them our own. Yet Scripture tells us exposing error is part of the believer’s responsibility:

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them (Eph. 5:11)

The commission Jesus gave Paul doesn’t seem to me to be all that different from the one the angel gave to the followers of Jesus who witnessed his ascension, and ultimately, to us.

‘I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness . . . to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ (acts 26:16-18)

How does this commission apply to readers?

1. We can learn in fiction where light is most needed.
2. We can discover through reading what form darkness is taking.
3. We can formulate a response before we confront someone in real life who holds the views of darkness about which we read.

In short, I don’t think isolation is an answer to the darkness of this world, and that approach leaves our culture without a witness. I’d also suggest that it’s wise to use insulation only as necessary.

Not everyone needs the same level of insulation. I live in SoCal where the temperature is slated to reach 80 today. Home insulation is more or less optional here, but we still don’t run electric wires through our houses without the proper material protecting us from shock.

How about you as a reader? Do you have a type of insulation you utilize? Is this something you’ve thought through and determined ahead of time? Do you agree that it’s important to have this kind of protection when it comes to our reading habits?

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. notleia says:

    And right here is where I make a snappy one-liner like “You only need insulation if you can’t handle the voltage” before I zip off into the Internet-sunset of swear-laden Nostalgia Critic videos and Hyperbole and a Half comics on my cyber-motorcycle of Google Chrome.
    I was pretty sheltered as a child, and I vastly prefer being able to look at what I want without somebody tsking because it has swears or sex jokes in it. But on the flip side, I don’t care if someone else feels obligated to avoid either of those. I just won’t watch Nostalgia Critic with them. Their loss. But I think there’s a strong likelihood that I would get judged because I’m not “pure-minded” or whatever.

    • “You only need insulation if you can’t handle the voltage”

      Well, that’s the point, isn’t it Noteleia. No one else can know whether or not I can handle the voltage. So it really isn’t up to someone else to pressure me into stripping off the insulation.

      But your comment makes it sound as if you think “insulation” should be put up by someone else for you. That’s missing what I was trying to say. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to make a list of what is or isn’t OK for me. They don’t know my proclivities or my history. Putting someone else under my list of convictions is my definition of legalism. I can’t legislate (apart from the clear commands of Scripture) for anyone else.

      In addition, I don’t think we should extrapolate from the clear commands of Scripture to make expanded rules (for example, “You shall not commit murder” becomes, “Don’t read stories about murder.”)


    • But [notleia‘s] comment makes it sound as if you think “insulation” should be put up by someone else for you.

      That’s an easy error to make, though, if you’ve grown up — as notleia said — being “pretty sheltered as a child.” It’s not a uniquely evangelical notion that children should be sheltered for the purpose of more-sheltering, rather than the purpose of being taught to become more responsible for their own increasingly free choices. (After all, it’s not Christians who are over-padding those public playgrounds with foam and rubber.) But evangelicals do often practice the wrong sort of isolation — and strangely, not on themselves. All agree someone has to go out in public and brave the sin and get the groceries, or review the bad movies! Instead parents may practice isolation only on their own children. Example: You can count on one finger the amount of discerning Christian culture-review websites whose repertoire addresses individuals and not parents-with-children, with a Biblical viewpoint that includes self-discernment. (E.g., Guys, avoid this one, because: naked people.)

      Our solution, however, is not no insulation, or so-called “freedom” for freedom’s “sake.” The solution is accepting the purpose of anything — freedom for His glory, not freedom’s own sake — and returning to that Biblical ideal of holiness borne of faith. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

      • notleia says:

        Yeah, exactly. Most (ie, pretty much all) of my experience in insulation or isolation has been with outwardly dictated mandates that you were expected to conform to, by means of authoritative pressure or just shame. I don’t think my parents did this intentionally, but they probably weren’t sure how to handle the awkward conversations and just preferred to ignore it all out of existence. I didn’t — and don’t — appreciate that, though thank goodness they’ve finally adjusted to the idea that I don’t need to be monitored.

  2. Julie D says:

    As a college graduate living at my parents’ house for the time being, I am trying to sort out the whole insulation issue, made further complex by the presence of my two brothers (tween and teenager). For example, I recently finished season one of Call the Midwife and the Sherlock season three premier. 
    The former is a brilliant, historically-grounded drama about midwives in London’s East End during the 1960s.  While it demonstrates a much more mature attitude towards sex and its consequences than 90% of broadcast dramas, as well as a pro-life perspective, I don’t know if my parents would approve of us all sitting together and watching it.
    The Sherlock premiere opened with a (faked) suicide, moved to a torture scene, and included a presumption of homosexuality (neither character was actually gay). All of which made my parents question if I should be watching it.  And I didn’t want to have to sit down and give them a full explanation of art and external versus internal sources of sin, or even explain that no, John and Sherlock are not a couple, fandom perception notwithstanding. I just wanted to tell them “sit down and watch it.”
    Granted, it’s complicated because they’re my parents, but how should one open up a conversation about these things?

    • Julie, I think it’s harder to open up the debate from the side of daughter to parent than the reverse, but I think it’s worthwhile to try. Maybe not during the show, though. 😉

      When I was a kid, I had a discussion about violence with my mom. I didn’t think it was a big deal because it was pretend (and at that time, not graphic, not even realistic). She was somewhat comforted to realize I knew the difference between what was real and what wasn’t.

      But here’s the thing. Are we to insulate ourselves from knowledge about the way non-Christians live? Are we to look the other way when we see something on TV (in the news or in stories) about prostitution, drug addiction, robbery, or even murder? I don’t see how that’s Biblical. Acknowledging that there is sin in the world and that people engage in sinful behavior doesn’t taint us.

      The things we should be on guard against (insulated from) are the things that can undermine our faith, not our behavior. We aren’t saved by works. Our behavior will never be good enough. And by saying that, I’m not saying we should therefore go out and sin at will. But we shouldn’t be monitoring our behavior by trying to conform it to a check list, I don’t think. Rather we should guard our faith–basically what Eve did not do in the garden. When Satan questioned her and got her to think that maybe she could trust him more than she could trust God’s word, he was undermining her faith. And he does the same today. That’s what we should insulate ourselves from, in my opinion.

      Even saying that, I don’t think that means we should be ignorant of the false teaching that challenges our beliefs. Just the opposite. But knowing a belief is false and thinking it might be a viable option are two very different things. So there’s a time to insulate so we can grow in the understanding of God’s word, and there’s a time to confront and to challenge and to expose error.


      • Julie D says:

        The whole issue of temptation is something I hadn’t considered. I’m not tempted to use guns or engage in premarital sex, or even to give them blanket approval.  And as an English major, I am especially keen on analysis, so it’s not even a matter of subtle messages.
        As for the news–I tend to ignore that anyway,  because they always emphasis the bad parts of life in a way that makes helping seem impossible, or they highlight bad things and call them good. Most fiction and drama (at least the type I like) presents  trials in a way that suggests change is possible. 

  3. bainespal says:

    I don’t think the concept of individual insulation from potentially harmful influences is controversial. The thing I think is debatable is whether “insulating” oneself means more than just not consuming or participating in certain things.
    For instance, profanity is something some Christians feel the need to insulate themselves from. But if we were to have an objective discussion of swear words and their place in fiction or in the Christian’s life, could we spell out the swear words in order to discuss them? If not, I would say that insulation has turned to denial.

    • Julie D says:

      Yes. When you start putting dashes everywhere, only the very youngest people are actually unaware of what should go there instead.

    • I definitely don’t think insulation is from stuff other people do. It should be reserved, in my opinion, for stuff that can draw me away from my first love. If I would rather do anything more than obey God, then whatever that “anything” is, I need to insulate myself from it. That’s why I think it’s personal. No one can answer what I need to insulate from other than me.

      Re. the swear words, I once had contact with a person who referred to God as G*d, so as not to take His name in vain, I gathered. Did that offend me? Why should it? Was it some form of denial? Not sure how that applies. I mean, what other people do is between them and God. I’m not a referee of my Christian brothers’ and sisters’ behavior.

      But I am responsible to God for my own behavior–particularly whatever would draw me away from my relationship with God. Who else can know that except me and God? So I don’t really care if someone thinks I’m stodgy or uptight or ridged or in denial. As long as I’m not putting someone else under a list of my convictions, I can insulate myself as I see fit, don’t you think? So for the person who doesn’t want to use swear words in a conversation about swear words, I think that’s their choice. I don’t think they’re pretending no one else uses them, but they’re making a statement about their own conviction. That’s how I take it, anyway.


      • notleia says:

        Apparently the G*d thing is a Jewish thing, like YHWH. Or at least the majority of people I see using it have mentioned being Jewish. But Jewish people are used to their customs not being followed by everyone. Or the pacifist Amish or Quakers, who don’t gripe about their tax dollars going to support the biggest military on the planet. I wish those annoying people trying to wriggle around birth control mandates would take a page from their books (looking at you, Hobby Lobby).

      • Oh, that one stings, notleia. (Not like that is new. 😛 ) I’d love to hear a legal or especially Biblical defense of a government deciding that the First Amendment somehow does not count when it’s time to force individuals to make up the cost for purely elective medical treatments (actually only three kinds of it; the company already provides other birth-control methods) that they argue cause abortion, not merely birth control. Yes, this is off-topic on SpecFaith. However, you do know what day tomorrow is? Furthermore, it’s only enough to know this issue is not so cut-and-dried. Your approach seems to indicate that that only possible reason for individuals could have for this action is hatred of women. Which is hokum.

  4. Henrietta Frankensee says:

    I insulate because I have an overactive imagination.  The horrid bits don’t stay on the page, they follow me around for days. 
    Also, sometimes my emotional state is too raw to allow sharing a character’s trauma. 
    Neither of these has to do with sin/no sin.  This is the human connection a reader makes with a plot and characters. 

What do you think?