Friday, November 13, 2009

Why I Write About Evil

I thought I would take a moment and respond to a thoughtful comment / question from the previous post. The reader asked about the spiritual content of my novels, wondering if a Christian would enjoy reading them.

I often get asked if my books are “Christian” or not and I’m not always sure how to respond. If you are looking for a narrativized sermon, then I would suggest you bypass my fiction.

When I write my novels, I don’t do so from an answer, such as “It’s good to have faith in God,” or “We should all tell the truth.” Stories are built on tension, not resolution, so trying to tell a story simply to make a point would result in something that isn’t really a story at all, but a lesson dressed up as one.

It’s actually very sad to me that the most virulent and hateful comments I get about my books come from Christians who do not like the violence the novels contain. (Go to Amazon and check out the reviews for The Pawn. It’s informative.) Non-Christians seem to rate the books more on the quality of the writing, the plot, the artistic excellence. I genuinely respect and appreciate that.

Some people whom I’ve met seem to believe that a story needs to talk about God or have a conversion scene if it is to be considered a “Christian” story, but I was speaking with a pastor one time and he pointed out to me that there are no conversion scenes in any of the stories of Jesus. Also there is no mention of God in the book of Esther in the Bible. So, is Esther a “Christian” book?

Other people consider a book "Christian" if there is no sex, violence, nudity, offensive language, and so on. Considering the content of the Bible, that seems like an odd and arbitrary criterion list to me.

We live in a violent and fallen world. Rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes frightening and vivid descriptions of murder, beheadings, cannibalism, sorcery, dismemberment, torture, rape, gore, blasphemy, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. In the stories of Jesus, people are beaten, killed (Matthew 21:35), tortured (Matthew 18:34), dismembered (Matthew 24:51), and allowed to suffer forever in the fires of hell.

I believe that the Bible includes such graphic material to show how far we as a race can fall, and how far God came to rescue us from ourselves. That's what I hope to do in my novels as well.

So, what would make a book unChristian?

I believe an unChristian book (or movie or painting, etc...) would be one that celebrates the things God abhors, or promotes an agenda that he detests.

In my books I never glamorize violence or make evil look attractive. However, I believe that including graphic material within the broader context of a redemptive story, just as the Bible does, is appropriate when trying to reveal the truth about human nature and our relationship with the Divine. For the record, when I write my novels I strive to

(1) uphold the dignity and worth of human life,
(2) as much as possible avoid showing violence on the page (most of it occurs off the page, in the minds of the reader),
(3) show that ultimately, hope does not come from inside ourselves, but from God,
(4) honestly portray the universality of evil,
(5) celebrate life, love, imagination, beauty and family,
(6) validate the purpose and meaning of life within the context of the broader scope of God's story,
(7) tell the truth about the world--exposing the grief and horror as well as championing the hope and joy.

If you’re looking for inspirational books, or more theological offerings, please check out my books "A Heart Exposed," "Story," or “Sailing Between the Stars.”

Stay open to joy.