So, I’ve made no bones about my suspicion of the label “christian books” to describe any books, especially novels; mainly because it speaks to a set of assumptions about a moral code that may or may not be what the book is about or may lead a reader to overstretch and read into a text in a way that strips a narrative of its simplicity or complexity. I’m also cautious about the way authors of “Christian” books are burdened by external pressures to place moral message before their craft. It’s safe to say that this is one of my buttons! I even wrote a post for Transpositions titled Why I don’t just read Christian Books.
I came across this tweet on my twitter feed about how christian books should *never* contain profanity:
So now I really wanted to know what a “Christian” book actually was.
Yep. that doesn’t help me. I still have no idea what is meant by either ‘christian book’ or ‘profanity’ – but to be honest we haven’t even ventured toward the latter yet!
To write compelling narrative it is often important that the dialogue sound the way people actually speak to each other. Which sometimes means using the language and dialect of those you are characterising. To be frank, I find bad writing more vulgar than the use of profanity sparingly to make a point in a well written book! I don’t make a habit of sprinkling my vocal utterings with profanity or swearing, but plenty of people do. To write certain kinds of characters I would contend that it is necessary.
But, it is also important to remember that I’m wearing my training as a literature scholar and I’ve decided that I should not divorce that from soberly considering how these things affect my fellow Christians. Keiki and I finished our exchange with her sharing a link from her blog.
Her blog post did present another perspective. I respect that for Keiki Hendrix, profanity and reading profanity in novels causes her grief, and scratches her conscience. Her post “Willful Disobedience” has enabled me to understand where she is coming from. However, I would stress that I don’t struggle with finding that reading occasional profanity in novels or hearing it occasionally in films (there are films that i’ve turned off because of their crassness) has not (thanks to God) resulted in it spilling over into my speech. As Lewis once said, “Eunuchs should not speak of the ease with which they avoid adultery.” This, then is not a battle or a struggle I’ve dealt with and one which I should not boast of not having struggled with.
There are lots of books I’d love to suggest to people wanting wonderful literature, who also want to avoid profanity. That’s one advantage of being a scholar of the 18th-early 20th centuries I guess! But, there’s also plenty from the last 100 years and contemporary authors too: Read Solzhenitsyn, Read Doestoevsky, Read Marilynne Robinson. Read G.K Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry. Read Dorothy Sayers!
Read that which is good and holy, true and worthy. Read that which reflects humanity as created by God. Read beautifully crafted, well-written, wonderful writing! There is plenty of good literature without resorting that that marketed as “Christian” simply because it has Christian in the title. Besides, many of the authors I mention are, lo and behold, God-fearing man and women.
What is truly profane to me?
That which profanes the name of Christ. There are many well-meaning, politely written, politically correct pieces of writing (that do not deserve the label literature) that profane the name of Christ. They are far more offensive to me. But, in so far as the literature scholar in me is concerned, I want well crafted narrative. I want rich characterisation – if that means true to life dialogue, then so be it.
Oh, and I still think the label “christian” book when slapped on fiction is an anathema. It’s either a good book or it’s not. It’s either well-written or it’s not. I will say that four letter filled dialogue is often lazily written dialogue. If it’s good art, then it reflects the creativity we have as a consequence of being made in the image of a creator God.