Is Reading Romance Idolatrous?

What a question—is reading romance idolatrous? Some bloggers have suggested that some of the “quieter” Christian fiction (read Amish) can be idolatrous, so why not romance? Why not Christian romance?

Some things we do are clearly forbidden in Scripture. Lust, for example, and greed. So a novel that elicits those sinful desires as its raison d’être should be avoided, right?

Which, I think, is why a number of readers turn to Christian romance. Those stories exist for a greater reason, not just to evoke sensual thoughts and desires.

But I think we might be missing something important: things that end up being idolatrous aren’t necessarily bad.

The Israelites made an idol, for example, of a bronze serpent—the one God told Moses to create and to lift up on a standard in order that those in the camp dying from snake bites could look at it and be healed; the same one the gospel of John references as a metaphor for Jesus being lifted up in crucifixion so that all who believe in Him might be saved.

Clearly there was nothing sinful about that serpent statue—until the people started worshiping it. In the end, that good object designed for a good purpose became a means of disobedience and needed to be destroyed.

[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.
– 2 Kings 18:4 (emphasis mine)

But let’s face it, none of us have seen our friends burning incense to a romance novel, at least not in the last decade or so. 😉

Yet we also recognize that making an idol of something entails more than outward worship. There’s that inner attitude that says, this thing or this person is more important than any other person or any other thing.

The danger comes in not recognizing our own attitude shift. When does reading romance—or playing golf, watching ESPN, gardening, shopping, school extra curriculars (you know what I’m talking about—scheduling your child’s piano lesson sandwiched between soccer practice and ballet), even serving on the deacon board—become idolatrous instead of something good and wholesome and fun?

I don’t know that any of us can decide that for others. It’s hard enough to recognize an attitude of idolatry in ourselves. But here’s the thing. I think we need to know that the enjoyments of our lives have the potential to become idols. We need to hold them with open hands, willing to give them up if God asks us to. We need to maintain our focus on things above, not on things on the earth—our enjoyments must not change that focus.

Is reading romance idolatrous? Maybe. It never hurts to do an attitude check and see if something I love is crowding out my love for the One who gave me the capacity to enjoy it.

7 Comments

  1. Rebecca,

    It’s easy to see why “things” can become idols (or as I like call them = Neutrals) I have found that many idols are established as a result of culture and influence. While it is true that Israelite’s were healed by the Rod & serpent, they like every other person in the world, held onto the thing & method God used which wasn’t sacred and made it more than it was ever intended! God always chose to add His super to our natural to bring heaven to earth, but mankind has found a way to ruin that! We look at the natural as the instrument worthy of our attention thus giving a measure of idol to it! Sadly God was trying to teach us that it wasn’t ever what we had but what He could do with what we had! As for this issue of “Christian romance novels” is simple! The author should not input so much description to illicit behavior as to glorify it, but also each reader has to check their own thoughts to see if they are pure before God. Everything as you so brilliantly said should be open to an attitude or motive check!! Truly being vigilant in the spirit is the only way to guard against idolatrous activity!
    Thanks for the provoking thoughts.
    B~

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  2. Idolatry . . . worshipping anything, everything, and/or anyone but God or instead of or over God. Interesting that you picked romance novels instead of fantasy novels, Becky. 😉 What about writing? Sometimes to listen to us writers, you’d think the earth revolves around our excellence or shakes loose under our pathetic lack of talent.

    I agree that none of us can easily determine what has become an idol for someone else or ourselves at times. Lust doesn’t just exist in the sexual category–it can be for power, prestige, and/or money.

    If we’re prone to worship certain kinds of stories, chances are we’ve got a slew of other things set up as idols in our lives, too.

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  3. Idolatry is worship (service) to false gods. What we read is not an object of worship. The question is whether what we read induces us to immoral or unethical behavior or thoughts. I think that a more urgent problem is the fact that the establishment of so many demographic categories of readers by book marketers has led authors to write in a “genre” rather than for an ideal reader. When I wrote my YA novel (see my website) my ideal readers were a handful of teenagers and college students. The result has been that the book has proved to appeal to middle schoolers up to adults of any age. Having something important to say as a writer also helps a lot.

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  4. As usual…well put.

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  5. This really spoke to me, “Yet we also recognize that making an idol of something entails more than outward worship. There’s that inner attitude that says, this thing or this person is more important than any other person or any other thing.” Well said!

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  6. Thanks all for your great feedback. It’s helpful to know your thoughts on the subject.

    David, you said What we read is not an object of worship. I guess that’s my point—I think it can be. While I agree that reading can also lead to immoral or unethical behavior or thoughts, I’ve seen reading, and particularly reading romance, become a god. It takes over thought and desire and shoves out of the way duty and obedience.

    But once again, reading romance isn’t the only pastime capable of capturing our hearts.

    As Nicole insinuated, even writing can become our first love, when God alone should rule our affections.

    Am I saying that God is a kill-joy and won’t let us do what we want? Hardly! But when we want Him more than we want anything else, our joy will be full.

    Becky

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  7. I think Christians tend to tip-toe around romance too much. God created romance. It’s for our enjoyment and it’s a good thing.

    We tend to go about our lives, especially if we’re married and have kids, and push romance to the back burner…like…we’ve grown past it, don’t need it anymore, will put it off till later. Sometimes it takes a good romantic book or movie to remind oneself, “oh yeah…romance is one of God’s gifts…”

    What is a healthy dose of romance for one may be too much for another. What may incite lust in one may be okay for another. Each person has to decide for themselves how much is too much.

    And yep, anything can be turned into an idol.

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