You may be missing an excellent discussion after Rebecca LuElla Miller’s May 12 column about Christian authors versus trends. As I write the talk has turned toward a topic of constant interest on SpecFaith: what freelance writer Amy Davis called “icky bits” in fiction.
Around these parts — I include SpecFaith and a host of like-minded fan sites, writers, and blogs — I think we talk more about Icky Bits in the abstract above actually citing specific examples of Icky Bits. This strikes me as odd, because good fiction is supposed to be more concrete, or to use the rightfully popular Christian buzzword, incarnational. So while you may have a different vague or specific image, here’s an example of what I mean by Icky Bits:
- “Damn,” uttered Matilda despondently.
- Mud pies.
- Squalor in the gutter.
- Sex slavery.
- More sex.
Yes, I’m trying to lighten the mood a bit. It’s a serious topic but still we must show some joy during the debate. Yet my purpose here is no less than a summary “position statement” on Icky Bits. This statement is not on behalf of SpecFaith or any of its writers; SpecFaith is a cooperative ministry and you will find as many perspectives here — if not more — as there are contributors. But I feel it’s a good time for me to step in with some clearer thoughts about how Christians ought to approach the discussion about Icky Bits in all sorts of fiction.
Q: Should we even have the Icky Bits discussions?
A. Yes, definitely, but maybe not for the reasons you believe.
Many of us come from backgrounds of “sentimental” Christian art and storytelling. All the “clean” stuff — if it was allowed at all — was meant to teach Family Values or other moral lessons. Some of us now see what a plain turnoff that is. Worse, it can distract from the true Gospel and the causes of showing a very real, very Hands-in-the-dirt incarnate Savior who doesn’t deny the reality of fallen, horrible human beings or the state of a world without His Kingdom. The best stories often show exactly these truths. So we do need the discussion.
All of that are good and Biblical reasons. But these issues are also subject to very deep, personal emotions — ones that may pit us against other Christians who have different views or different journeys. Such Christians may prefer status-quo (yet often stereotypical) Christian fiction, speculative and otherwise, in which there are not even hints that people utter Bad Words and in which children simply arrive without physical romantic cause. I’m not one of those Christians. But I do not want to begrudge them their view. I want to see where they are coming from and why, and only then to challenge if their beliefs are Biblical.
Thus I don’t desire only to stick it to “fundamentalists” or else bemoan how their legalism (actual or perceived) has solely gotten Christian fiction or all of Christianity itself into the sick state it’s in. Such motives seem reactionary, joyless, and boring. They are also familiar.
Q: Can we keep some of the nasty behaviors we inherited from “cultural fundamentalist”1 Christians and simply switch “sides” to support Icky Bits?
Some time ago I woke up and realized that some of the loudest critics of more-conservative Christians sound a lot like their favorite enemies. In the critics’ case it’s not enough to say “‘clean’ conservative standards hurt me” or “those practices may be okay for others, but I believe God has helped me outgrow their excesses.” Instead some imitate the most clichéd counter-cultural responses by thundering from pulpits or blog platforms about how their sins are the worst sins and it’s only this behavior that makes “the world” rightfully despise we Christians — all but consigning more-conservative Christians to the lowest pits of Hell.
It’s wrong to condemn a Christian who prefers fiction with Icky Bits. It’s just as wrong to condemn a Christian who prefers even the most sentimental, escapist “clean” fiction.2
Q: So isn’t this purely an issue of conscience, between myself and Jesus?
A. Yes and no.
Several Scriptural passages address “disputable matters” and I’m among the first to pull them out when I confront (lovingly, I hope) repeated “Harry Potter is evil” criticism or the frequent “you can’t enjoy Story X because other people who do that use it to sin” notions. But I can’t wholeheartedly endorse a “this is between me and the Art and Jesus” response.
1. Scripture does warn us about holiness. Not taking this seriously is at least as bad an error as falling into legalism. Some matters are indeed “disputable.” Others are not.
2. No story is safe. Thanks to our own hearts’ sin-shrapnel, we can abuse anything to sin, even “clean” fiction, good theology, non-sentimental fiction, or arguments for any of these. I’m not safe, you’re not safe, no one is safe. God can use others’ cautions to help us fight sin.
3. It’s not an issue between you and the Art and Jesus. The Jesus Christ I see in Scripture keeps harping on this oft-irritating concept of “the body of Christ,” in which He does His best work when we’re in Kingdom outposts together. Here I recall the limitations of blogs and online discussions — they are not the same as a Biblical local church. Yet SpecFaith and other ministries can help motivate fiction fans to explore and take their fandom into local churches where they can hash out these issues personally among people they trust.
Next: approaching these issues as worshipers over writers, plus more “Chief End” reminders.
- I use “cultural fundamentalist” to refer to people who cling to particular manmade cultural or religious traditions for their own sake. Once “fundamentals” was a fine term to describe “mere Christianity,” the tenets of Biblical faith. Now the term “fundamentalist” means different things to different people and most of the meanings are negative. ↩
- In fact, you can make a subculture “bubble” that sentimentalizes non-clean art, as noted here. ↩