On Violence

Sometimes Writing Wednesday can tip into…Tipped Thursday? Hmm, I’ll have to work on that one.

Anyhoo.

The massive success of the book and movie version of The Hunger Games has brought up the subject of violence in literature again. Some people look at the deeper meaning of the story, and some people can’t get past the teen on teen violence.

They must not remember high school.

Kidding! However, the world of Christian fiction has an interesting dichotomy. Sex and naughty words are a no go, but violence is tolerated/accepted much more. Mike Duran has a good post on this conundrum that I recommend.

I’ve talked about it at length here. My most recent post linked to a couple of articles that took opposite viewpoints.

I also participate in blog tours for books regularly. In 2007 there was a book featured that had some scenes that stimulated my thoughts on the topic of violence.

It ended up spurring six days of posts, with some great discussion on all of the posts. Since it seems relevant with the Hunger Games discussion, as well as catching me up quickly to my blogging delay, I present links to each of the posts.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

The take home points were that the Bible is not sanitized when it comes to violence, but it is also not written to entertain but to narrate events that happened and to show consequences. If a Christian author uses violence, it should fit the story and not be done in a gratuitous manner, and they should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in how to show it. We can’t be afraid of the professional weaker brother, but discernment is always a good thing to exercise.

What say you? Have you noticed excessive or gratuitous violence in a CBA book before? Is there a level for “too much?”

On Violence

Sometimes Writing Wednesday can tip into…Tipped Thursday? Hmm, I’ll have to work on that one.

Anyhoo.

The massive success of the book and movie version of The Hunger Games has brought up the subject of violence in literature again. Some people look at the deeper meaning of the story, and some people can’t get past the teen on teen violence.

They must not remember high school.

Kidding! However, the world of Christian fiction has an interesting dichotomy. Sex and naughty words are a no go, but violence is tolerated/accepted much more. Mike Duran has a good post on this conundrum that I recommend.

I’ve talked about it at length here. My most recent post linked to a couple of articles that took opposite viewpoints.

I also participate in blog tours for books regularly. In 2007 there was a book featured that had some scenes that stimulated my thoughts on the topic of violence.

It ended up spurring six days of posts, with some great discussion on all of the posts. Since it seems relevant with the Hunger Games discussion, as well as catching me up quickly to my blogging delay, I present links to each of the posts.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

The take home points were that the Bible is not sanitized when it comes to violence, but it is also not written to entertain but to narrate events that happened and to show consequences. If a Christian author uses violence, it should fit the story and not be done in a gratuitous manner, and they should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in how to show it. We can’t be afraid of the professional weaker brother, but discernment is always a good thing to exercise.

What say you? Have you noticed excessive or gratuitous violence in a CBA book before? Is there a level for “too much?”

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 6

What to say in the end? I’ve raised different facets that play into the discussion of how much violence in Christian fiction and is there a line to cross? Honestly there have been several good comments that hit on where I was planning on going with this.

1. I still believe in the idea of the Christian artist having the freedom to write what they feel like they need to in order to make the story what it is supposed to be. That doesn’t mean freedom from critical reviewing, because any time someone puts out a creative effort it is open to critique.

2. It depends on the genre and audience the author is writing for. I wouldn’t expect graphic violence in a prairie romance, (unless written by Chris Mikesell 😉 ), and it would probably turn off the intended readers. If I pick up a Robert Liparulo novel, I am definitely anticipating it, and that is my choice as a reader and consumer if I make that choice.

Some genres like war or suspense pretty much require some violence, mortal danger, etc. It wouldn’t be true to the story if it wasn’t included. If it makes sense with the overall story, then it probably is needed. Yet a necessary scene of violence can become gratuitous if overblown. That may well be a point of taste that is impossible to quantitatively determine, but falls under the old adage, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

3. I am reminded of the quote from Jurassic Park regarding cloning: “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” I will state continuously that Christian artists should creative in freedom and integrity. Just because we can have greater freedom in publishing to write violent scenes doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. I like what Merrie said in a comment, about the toolbox of a writer and using different techniques at the right time. Using all sorts of dramatic settings or plot twists can enhance the story. She mentioned Hitchcock showing just enough to scare without being voyeuristic about things. Sometimes the subtlety is a better way of portraying a scene than hitting the reader with a gross-out hammer.

Sure, tastes have changed since his day, and audiences are supposedly more “sophisticated”. Maybe our culture is just dulled from being able to appreciate subtlety and the build-up of suspense over showing the violence.

4. Just tonight I was watching a show on the life and martyrdom of William Tyndale. Here was a godly man who lived in constant fear and danger of being discovered, yet still managing to translate the Bible into English and write books that would change history. Finally he was betrayed by a friend, imprisoned for 500 days, and when brought for execution had the privilege to be garroted so that he was dead when he was burned at the stake. I’m reminded again how our faith is not the sanitized, dressed up in “Sunday go meeting” clothes faith we live in America. Our predecessors suffered terribly for our rights and abilities to serve Jesus, and there are millions today who also are persecuted to the point of death for His name. To ignore this dramatic history and its legacy, to whitewash the blood of the martyrs, it would be a horrible injustice to the strength of our witness.

5. Overall this was a question without any definitive answer. People in the comments hit that right away. I don’t have answers that will satisfy. We won’t have labels or ratings on books. Reviews may or may not expose issues for sensitive readers. I’ll defend an Christian artist’s freedom to do something even if I think it may have crossed a line, and I may bring it up as a reviewer. Some books won’t be for everyone.

Ultimately as Christians it comes down to us being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His guidance. If we write something that is integral to a great story, yet we realize that it will grieve the Spirit, do we serve the muse or the Lord? (Reminds me of the ending to Stranger Than Fiction) As I try to write, I want to increase my skill and what I can portray with words, but it has to come down to how it works out in my relationship with God. If being true to that means writing books that leave the squeamish behind, so be it. If it means sacrificing a little artistry to being a disciple, then make it so.

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 6

What to say in the end? I’ve raised different facets that play into the discussion of how much violence in Christian fiction and is there a line to cross? Honestly there have been several good comments that hit on where I was planning on going with this.

1. I still believe in the idea of the Christian artist having the freedom to write what they feel like they need to in order to make the story what it is supposed to be. That doesn’t mean freedom from critical reviewing, because any time someone puts out a creative effort it is open to critique.

2. It depends on the genre and audience the author is writing for. I wouldn’t expect graphic violence in a prairie romance, (unless written by Chris Mikesell 😉 ), and it would probably turn off the intended readers. If I pick up a Robert Liparulo novel, I am definitely anticipating it, and that is my choice as a reader and consumer if I make that choice.

Some genres like war or suspense pretty much require some violence, mortal danger, etc. It wouldn’t be true to the story if it wasn’t included. If it makes sense with the overall story, then it probably is needed. Yet a necessary scene of violence can become gratuitous if overblown. That may well be a point of taste that is impossible to quantitatively determine, but falls under the old adage, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

3. I am reminded of the quote from Jurassic Park regarding cloning: “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” I will state continuously that Christian artists should creative in freedom and integrity. Just because we can have greater freedom in publishing to write violent scenes doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. I like what Merrie said in a comment, about the toolbox of a writer and using different techniques at the right time. Using all sorts of dramatic settings or plot twists can enhance the story. She mentioned Hitchcock showing just enough to scare without being voyeuristic about things. Sometimes the subtlety is a better way of portraying a scene than hitting the reader with a gross-out hammer.

Sure, tastes have changed since his day, and audiences are supposedly more “sophisticated”. Maybe our culture is just dulled from being able to appreciate subtlety and the build-up of suspense over showing the violence.

4. Just tonight I was watching a show on the life and martyrdom of William Tyndale. Here was a godly man who lived in constant fear and danger of being discovered, yet still managing to translate the Bible into English and write books that would change history. Finally he was betrayed by a friend, imprisoned for 500 days, and when brought for execution had the privilege to be garroted so that he was dead when he was burned at the stake. I’m reminded again how our faith is not the sanitized, dressed up in “Sunday go meeting” clothes faith we live in America. Our predecessors suffered terribly for our rights and abilities to serve Jesus, and there are millions today who also are persecuted to the point of death for His name. To ignore this dramatic history and its legacy, to whitewash the blood of the martyrs, it would be a horrible injustice to the strength of our witness.

5. Overall this was a question without any definitive answer. People in the comments hit that right away. I don’t have answers that will satisfy. We won’t have labels or ratings on books. Reviews may or may not expose issues for sensitive readers. I’ll defend an Christian artist’s freedom to do something even if I think it may have crossed a line, and I may bring it up as a reviewer. Some books won’t be for everyone.

Ultimately as Christians it comes down to us being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His guidance. If we write something that is integral to a great story, yet we realize that it will grieve the Spirit, do we serve the muse or the Lord? (Reminds me of the ending to Stranger Than Fiction) As I try to write, I want to increase my skill and what I can portray with words, but it has to come down to how it works out in my relationship with God. If being true to that means writing books that leave the squeamish behind, so be it. If it means sacrificing a little artistry to being a disciple, then make it so.

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 5

Philippians 4:7-9
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve been heading each of these posts with examples from the Bible of violence. In winding down, I thought that this completely different passage was appropriate, but it needs explanation.

I’ve seen this beautiful Scripture used as a bludgeon on anything that didn’t meet one person’s view of “whatever is lovely, pure,” or etc. I don’t think it is meant to be used like that, and it is definitely not my intention in this argument to do that either. I even debated whether to use this verse because of past misuse of it, but I felt that it still had an important consideration.

I’ve honestly meditated about this, and I’ve decided you can’t use “lovely” or “pure” to the exception of “admirable,” “noble,” and “right.” Some may argue that an author shouldn’t use any violence or portray a dangerous situation without blood and gore. I don’t agree. The contrast from showing true nobility overcoming true evil is a powerful image in fiction.

This leads to context. Sometimes, even most times will call for an example of the trial the protagonist. A hero escaping mortal danger is inherently more dramatic than our hero escaping from a group of grey-haired grandmas at a potluck accosting him for having a tattoo. It is a potent tool to let us see, hear, feel, smell, or taste the danger.

So the use of violence can clearly fall under the guidance of Phil 4:8. I thought today would be the end, but this topic fleshed out more than I intended, so I’ll finish up (likely…) tomorrow.

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 5

Philippians 4:7-9
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve been heading each of these posts with examples from the Bible of violence. In winding down, I thought that this completely different passage was appropriate, but it needs explanation.

I’ve seen this beautiful Scripture used as a bludgeon on anything that didn’t meet one person’s view of “whatever is lovely, pure,” or etc. I don’t think it is meant to be used like that, and it is definitely not my intention in this argument to do that either. I even debated whether to use this verse because of past misuse of it, but I felt that it still had an important consideration.

I’ve honestly meditated about this, and I’ve decided you can’t use “lovely” or “pure” to the exception of “admirable,” “noble,” and “right.” Some may argue that an author shouldn’t use any violence or portray a dangerous situation without blood and gore. I don’t agree. The contrast from showing true nobility overcoming true evil is a powerful image in fiction.

This leads to context. Sometimes, even most times will call for an example of the trial the protagonist. A hero escaping mortal danger is inherently more dramatic than our hero escaping from a group of grey-haired grandmas at a potluck accosting him for having a tattoo. It is a potent tool to let us see, hear, feel, smell, or taste the danger.

So the use of violence can clearly fall under the guidance of Phil 4:8. I thought today would be the end, but this topic fleshed out more than I intended, so I’ll finish up (likely…) tomorrow.

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 4

Psalm 137: 8-9

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Yesterday I talked about the Bible and violence within Scripture. The main points were that yes, the Bible has violence in it; it is not very graphic; however it is not written as entertainment – the literary purpose is different.

What about the influence of other media? You can use the terms “the world,” “secular,” or “non-Christian” for this question. What kind of influence does shows like CSI, authors like Stephen King, and movies from Silence of the Lambs to Saw have on authors of Christian fiction.

That question will have to be addressed to specific authors, I’m afraid. TL Hines, author of Waking Lazarus and The Dead Whisper On, admits to being a fan of Stephen King. While Hines writes some intense fiction, even though he looks to King as an influence, his writing does not approach the horror master in terms of graphicness.

The influence of secular media also plays a role in the reader. I’ve read one Stephen King book, and still wish I hadn’t. I recall that he was very good with suspense, but the subject matter was not something I want to partake in anymore. I’ve read one James Patterson book. Besides my feeling that his writing is shallow and low quality, his cavalier language and treatment of violence left a nasty taste that still regurgitates anytime I see one of his titles.

Someone who is more comfortable reading King or Patterson, or who routinely watches CSI type shows may be more accepting of levels of violence. Perhaps I’m not the best person to address this subject. As others have mentioned in the comments, it does depend on the comfort level of the individual reader. Some people shouldn’t read certain types of books.

Yet the discussion here is simply, is there a point of too much in Christian fiction, and if so, what is that point? I think this can be asked by anyone. I also think I’ve covered the most important variables that relate to this topic. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 4

Psalm 137: 8-9

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Yesterday I talked about the Bible and violence within Scripture. The main points were that yes, the Bible has violence in it; it is not very graphic; however it is not written as entertainment – the literary purpose is different.

What about the influence of other media? You can use the terms “the world,” “secular,” or “non-Christian” for this question. What kind of influence does shows like CSI, authors like Stephen King, and movies from Silence of the Lambs to Saw have on authors of Christian fiction.

That question will have to be addressed to specific authors, I’m afraid. TL Hines, author of Waking Lazarus and The Dead Whisper On, admits to being a fan of Stephen King. While Hines writes some intense fiction, even though he looks to King as an influence, his writing does not approach the horror master in terms of graphicness.

The influence of secular media also plays a role in the reader. I’ve read one Stephen King book, and still wish I hadn’t. I recall that he was very good with suspense, but the subject matter was not something I want to partake in anymore. I’ve read one James Patterson book. Besides my feeling that his writing is shallow and low quality, his cavalier language and treatment of violence left a nasty taste that still regurgitates anytime I see one of his titles.

Someone who is more comfortable reading King or Patterson, or who routinely watches CSI type shows may be more accepting of levels of violence. Perhaps I’m not the best person to address this subject. As others have mentioned in the comments, it does depend on the comfort level of the individual reader. Some people shouldn’t read certain types of books.

Yet the discussion here is simply, is there a point of too much in Christian fiction, and if so, what is that point? I think this can be asked by anyone. I also think I’ve covered the most important variables that relate to this topic. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 3

2 Kings 9:30-37
Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?”

He looked up at the window and called out, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.

Jehu went in and ate and drank. “Take care of that cursed woman,” he said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, “This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. Jezebel’s body will be like refuse on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, ‘This is Jezebel.’ “

There have been some great comments so far! I’m enjoying reading them. If you’re new to this discussion, make sure to check them out.

I’ve been starting off these posts with certain Bible stories for a reason. We don’t necessarily have a sanitized, violent-free faith. We know life has violence in it, and if fiction is going to accurately depict stories of life, there are going to be moments of danger, episodes of violence, and people getting hurt and killed. The Bible is definitely not immune to it.

Things aren’t sugar-coated in the Word. The King James Version would use English euphemisms for sexual issues – “Adam knew Eve.” It doesn’t shy away from stating that Sisera had a tent peg hammered through his temple, or like the above example with Jezebel getting trampled and most of her body getting gobbled up like Kibbles and Bits.

I referenced a discussion that went on in September 2006 across several blogs. At Faith * in * Fiction, there was passionate dialogue about this issue (I think Nicole was a part of that one too!). Anyway, Mark Andrew Olsen (author of The Watchers, another CBA novel that had significant violence in the beginning) had a strong response discussing a man who was unfairly arrested, tried, and then beat and tormented with flogging, thorns, and was finally nailed to a tree to hang for his alleged crimes (Olsen wrote that up much better BTW).

Our Lord experienced some of the worst violence that mankind could dish out, all on our behalf. It seems that at times his crucifixion gets rushed by or pushed aside at times by the church, when it was an awful, bloody affair. I remember rehearsing a drama in youth group re-enacting the crucifixion, and those playing soldiers were half-heartedly doing their parts. The pastor saw that and came rushing in, incensed that we were not taking the act seriously and really showing what Jesus went through. Obviously it made an impact on me. It may not be as much of an issue after Passion of the Christ, even though that movie had its criticism for its violence.

Then again, the Biblical authors didn’t really detail gore or what happened. We don’t get descriptions of the blows that drove the tent peg through Sisera’s noggin, or Jael’s thoughts as she did it. The above passage is about as graphic as it gets.

Going back the other way, the Bible is written in different literary forms. History, law, epistles, gospels and so forth. No novels are found in it (no matter what some may say about fiction in the Bible). The passages about Jezebel, Jael, and Jesus are not written for entertainment purposes, but as part of a larger narrative. It didn’t serve the purpose for the author of Judges to write from Jael’s perspective, and they probably wouldn’t have known it anyway. Writing fiction has a very different purpose and different requirements.

Where do we go with this? How does it apply to modern Christian fiction?

Violence in Christian Fiction – Day 3

2 Kings 9:30-37
Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?”

He looked up at the window and called out, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.

Jehu went in and ate and drank. “Take care of that cursed woman,” he said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, “This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. Jezebel’s body will be like refuse on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, ‘This is Jezebel.’ “

There have been some great comments so far! I’m enjoying reading them. If you’re new to this discussion, make sure to check them out.

I’ve been starting off these posts with certain Bible stories for a reason. We don’t necessarily have a sanitized, violent-free faith. We know life has violence in it, and if fiction is going to accurately depict stories of life, there are going to be moments of danger, episodes of violence, and people getting hurt and killed. The Bible is definitely not immune to it.

Things aren’t sugar-coated in the Word. The King James Version would use English euphemisms for sexual issues – “Adam knew Eve.” It doesn’t shy away from stating that Sisera had a tent peg hammered through his temple, or like the above example with Jezebel getting trampled and most of her body getting gobbled up like Kibbles and Bits.

I referenced a discussion that went on in September 2006 across several blogs. At Faith * in * Fiction, there was passionate dialogue about this issue (I think Nicole was a part of that one too!). Anyway, Mark Andrew Olsen (author of The Watchers, another CBA novel that had significant violence in the beginning) had a strong response discussing a man who was unfairly arrested, tried, and then beat and tormented with flogging, thorns, and was finally nailed to a tree to hang for his alleged crimes (Olsen wrote that up much better BTW).

Our Lord experienced some of the worst violence that mankind could dish out, all on our behalf. It seems that at times his crucifixion gets rushed by or pushed aside at times by the church, when it was an awful, bloody affair. I remember rehearsing a drama in youth group re-enacting the crucifixion, and those playing soldiers were half-heartedly doing their parts. The pastor saw that and came rushing in, incensed that we were not taking the act seriously and really showing what Jesus went through. Obviously it made an impact on me. It may not be as much of an issue after Passion of the Christ, even though that movie had its criticism for its violence.

Then again, the Biblical authors didn’t really detail gore or what happened. We don’t get descriptions of the blows that drove the tent peg through Sisera’s noggin, or Jael’s thoughts as she did it. The above passage is about as graphic as it gets.

Going back the other way, the Bible is written in different literary forms. History, law, epistles, gospels and so forth. No novels are found in it (no matter what some may say about fiction in the Bible). The passages about Jezebel, Jael, and Jesus are not written for entertainment purposes, but as part of a larger narrative. It didn’t serve the purpose for the author of Judges to write from Jael’s perspective, and they probably wouldn’t have known it anyway. Writing fiction has a very different purpose and different requirements.

Where do we go with this? How does it apply to modern Christian fiction?