Christians Writing and Reading the Forbidden

As a writer, my obligation is to tell the truth as I see it. As a Christian, my obligation is to honor God. You wouldn’t think those two would conflict. The problem may lie in those words “as I see it”. As a fallen human being, I can’t be entirely sure that what I see is the truth. (Nor, for that matter, that my actions really honor God.) Is honest intention enough?

I’m working on a novel that is taking me to some pretty strange places. Places in my head, for now, but no less dangerous for all that. These people are doing things that I’ve generally been too sensible, uninterested or afraid to do. At the moment, they’re having a lot of non-marital sex, and describing it in words that the New York Times is still quaint enough to refer to as “obscene gerunds”. The central love story in the book, the one that’s most likely to end happily (if they cooperate), is between two gay men. While I’m not shielding my imaginary friends from all the consequences of their poor impulse control, I’m also letting them enjoy themselves in the short term, rather than imposing immediate punishment from above.

Am I, as a Christian, allowed to write a book like this? Are other Christians allowed to read it?

My characters drink, swear, commit adultery, have one-night stands, choose rock ‘n roll over doing their homework, and otherwise follow what they think is their bliss because the gospel is not just for people like me who don’t find any of those things appealing (except swearing — I am from Manhattan). I see the beauty and joy that they are seeking, the genuineness of their quest for a life beyond rational self-interest, as well as the insufficiency of their answers. Just because you could read my life story without blushing doesn’t make me less sinful than they are. They did, after all, come from my subconscious.

Perhaps I’m rationalizing my inappropriate fantasies, like a porn addict who argues that otherwise he would have to rape women in real life. All I know is that as I write, I’m constantly praying that God will reveal the truth through my work. I could assume I already know God’s truth, and impose it on the narrative like a Procrustean bed. That’s how I’ve always worked before, and my work became more lifeless the more I strained to make it “Christian”. It’s far scarier and more delightful to step out into the abyss, hoping that if my writing rings true to my experience of the world and human psychology, it will also end up at God’s doorstep. If Christianity is true, it has to work in the real world, not a world between Thomas Kinkade pastel book covers where moral judgment is always swift and visible.

No one says this better than W.B. Yeats, in his famous poem “Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop”:

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

‘A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

Then again, he managed to say it without any obscene gerunds….

13 comments on “Christians Writing and Reading the Forbidden

  1. Ken says:

    I applaud you for thinking about the “dangerous”, for admitting you think about the “dangerous”, for writing about the “dangerous” and for losing sleep over writing about the “dangerous”. You speak the truth when you say that “If Christianity is true, it has to work in the real world, not a world between Thomas Kinkade pastel book covers where moral judgment is always swift and visible.” Wrestling with the issues should not stun people into non-action. You may not have the answer to your questions until the novel is complete so I hope you do finish it.

  2. Hugo says:

    This is so good, I’m stealing the topic. Brava, Jendi.

  3. Jendi Reiter says:

    You’re too modest, Hugo – you’re the one who got me thinking about this issue with your posts about moral responsibility for our fantasy life. Bravo to you too.

  4. I find you through Hugo. You’re not the only Christian writing a on non-Christian novel. My first novel is not pristine and pure, and for much the same reasons yours isn’t. I’m glad I found your blog.

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