Saturday, October 26, 2013

Should Christians read R-rated books?

Caveat: I'm doing what I said I would never do: talk about religion in my blog. Bear with me, please. Nothing I say below is intended to offend or provoke anyone. Nor am I trying to proselytize. I'm actually speaking to believers with the blog below, so if you aren't one, feel free to skip this post and go onto the next (which features a picture of a very handsome man).

Okay, now that it's just the two of us, let me be clear: I do not write Christian or inspirational novels. But my faith is a part of everything I do and everything I am. My stories reflect the deeply flawed choices that deeply flawed humans make. As a writer who is also a believer and follower of Christ, I have struggled with this question for a long time: should I write R-rated? Should I read it?

I write very frankly about relationships between men and women in a real world way. I have been criticized by Christians for the portrayal of sensuality in my books; one reader on a review website even called my books "porn," which quite frankly took me aback. Porn is degrading to women and anathema to building relationships. That is definitely not what my stories are about. I think what they count as porn was simply the frank depiction of human sensuality. In that case, Song of Solomon in the Old Testament would have to be considered porn.

Ultimately, as Dr. Jerram Barrs explains in this video in which he discusses whether Christians should watch R-rated films, it is the context of these portrayals which must be taken into consideration. Are the portrayals intended to uplift or degrade?

I think a lot of what he states is right on target and can be applied to novels as well as films. I have struggled for a long time with how to address this very question to those Christians who ask me why I write (or read) these sorts of books.

So here I am, trying to explain.

I have an interest in the ways men and women relate to one another, both good and bad, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, and my choices reflect that. While my stories aren't true, they are, I hope, real, and readers identify with that reality. I'm like them, they think. I want to be loved unconditionally. I want to experience the sort of physical union that comes as a result of the union of two souls committed to one another unto death. The yearning to be loved unconditionally, which is often reflected in romance novels, is one that I believe is an echo of the yearning we have toward God--the only one who can truly love us unconditionally.

So, if you are a believer, and you want to explore those questions along with me, understand that there may be sex. There may be swearing. There may be bad choices. But, ultimately, there will be life, love, an uplifting union, and a happily ever after. Because in God's book, the good guys win; in mine, they do too.

That's not to say that every romance novel fits the criteria of being uplifting. And some, quite frankly, degrade the very people they are intended to entertain. I don't read those. That's my choice. You'll have to make yours.

If you are uncomfortable with the frank depiction of sexuality between men and women, I wouldn't recommend reading my books. There are many lovely, wonderful books out there that close the bedroom door before the couple climbs into bed, and I can suggest several that I myself have enjoyed. As I get older, in fact, I find I enjoy seeing less of the physical side of relationships in books and more of the emotional side, and my own work is beginning to reflect that. I'm at a different place in my life and asking different questions as a result.

I also don't recommend my books for young readers--I don't allow my own underage teenage boys to read them, although they are well aware of what I write. I suggest to them that they wait until they are mature enough to handle the material, just as my husband and I have monitored which movies they watch and allow them more leniency as they mature and are better able to handle what they see.

My first published book, The Legacy, written about 13 years ago, was pretty frank, and yet I still managed to explore God's love in that one as I have in each successive book. My writing has gotten stronger and I'm able to do more with less, to write tighter, to get more impact with fewer words. Still, please don't be shocked if you pick up one of my books and read a love scene (I've always said I don't write sex scenes, only love scenes) that makes you uncomfortable. If it's not to your taste, find a book that is. There are plenty of other choices out there, and plenty of authors who would love your support. One of the things I love about being a Christian is the freedom it brings to make my own choices while understanding the consequences those choices have, both for me and for those around me. I never want what I write to cause my brother (or sister) to stumble, so if you feel my work might do that for you, feel free to make a different choice.

Thanks for letting me explore this topic with you. I've wanted to for a long time, but never really knew how to say it until now. Yep, even writers have trouble with words sometimes when it counts most.

~TJ Bennett


Unknown said...

Thank you for addressing a difficult topic with honor and integrity.

TJ Bennett said...

You're welcome, Michelle. Thanks for reading!