Christian Morality: For Wimps And Weirdos?

In a recent post, blogger and critique pal Mike Duran offered two free copies of the latest issue of Midnight Diner, a genre periodical he worked for until his busy schedule required him to step down. In describing the content of the stories published by the Diner, Mike said

The Diner does not serve wimps: there is language, gore, and appropriate nastiness.

That triggered a thought that’s been rolling around in my head (without much obstruction, apparently 😉 ) for some time.

First, my reaction to the line from Mike’s post. It was a series of questions really. Is it wimpy to refrain from “language” (by which I assume Mike means “bad language”), to choose against gore, to shun “appropriate” nastiness? And if so, why? Why do we think it takes courage, toughness, fortitude to look at what is appalling? Is it a character strength to not be appalled by the appalling?

That line of thinking led me to the morality issue (they didn’t even know how to blush – Jeremiah 6:15). Of late I’ve been made aware of a number of professing Christians who apparently think nothing of engaging in premarital sex even as another group proclaim they are gay.

I scratch my head at this and think, What are they learning in church? Have we become so enamored with the way the world thinks that we no longer say, Here are the Biblical standards.

And there it is. The way the world thinks seems easier. Everybody’s doing it makes it appealing. Conversely, standing alone makes a person feel like a weirdo.

Someone I know recently made a decision to live the party life, at least a little. The fact is, he knows the Biblical standard, but he wants to have some fun first.

In my way of thinking, he’s exhibiting weakness and delusion. Weakness, because he knows the right thing, the best thing, but he’s giving in to what he wants now. Deluded because he thinks he’d be missing out if he passed on the stuff the world is doing—that somehow God would let him miss something important … or fun.

He reminds me of the people of Israel when they made the golden calf to worship. Moses had been gone too long. They wanted god now. In fact, they wanted a god of their own making. They wanted a god that let them play, not the One that scared them by speaking from a burning mountain and gave them a list of do’s and do-not’s.

The world probably looks at someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs or hook up, who doesn’t sleep with his girl friend or cuss when he’s mad (or glad or surprised or wanting to be cool) as a wimp or a weirdo.

But how much easier it is to give in than to stand against. How much weaker, less noble to live for self gratification than to live for Someone else.

It’s ironic. The Apostle Paul had a list of religious things he said he counted as rubbish in order that he might gain Christ. Today we Christians don’t even want to count as rubbish the rubbish of our lives in order to gain Christ.

Honestly, who’s the real wimp, who’s the true weirdo?

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Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm  Comments (18)  
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18 Comments

  1. Hi Becky! Condoning bad conduct is one thing. Portraying bad conduct in fiction is another. (Or are you suggesting that portraying bad conduct in fiction IS bad conduct?) I am not a cusser. (Okay, maybe once in a while.) But I work around guys who do and have little problem associating with them. Which may be why I have little problem reading or writing about characters who don’t act like me.

    Some may believe that it is morally wrong to read fiction that contains curse words. But when Christians demand that fictional characters adhere to THEIR morals, I think that’s wimpy. I agree with you that it takes more moral courage to abide God’s call to holiness than to disregard it. But when we use that call to holiness to scrub the real of world of dirt, we are being Pharisaical.

    By the way, I noticed that you didn’t enter my giveaway for a copy of the Diner. 😉

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  2. Well look at these fellows. Nothing wimpy about their brand of Christianity, eh?

    I guess you could call the weaker brothers wimps. I honestly don’t think it makes a difference if you call human waste by any number of different words. If you were to say to a person, “You little mound of feces,” that would be wrong. But some Christians think that some words for human waste are crude and others are acceptable. I’m not sure why. I mean, I guess it has to do with society–what is socially acceptable. Not causing offense. Because what is considered crude changes from time to time.

    Interesting post. I’m with you, in the end. I see nothing wimpy about refusing to curse or look at gore. I just don’t think I have the right to tell others they can’t do those things.

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  3. Excellent article. You nailed it exactly about the Biblical standards – it’s easier to live in the world than apart from it, and when we try to live according to those standards, we are vilified.

    Thank you for your thoughts and your stance.

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  4. Mike Duran said:
    Some may believe that it is morally wrong to read fiction that contains curse words. But when Christians demand that fictional characters adhere to THEIR morals, I think that’s wimpy.
    ———-

    The old saying “you are what you eat” is also relevant in spiritual terms.
    What we choose to feed our mind and spirit has an effect on what we become.

    As Paul wrote in scripture:

    Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

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  5. The old saying “you are what you eat” is also relevant in spiritual terms.
    What we choose to feed our mind and spirit has an effect on what we become.

    True indeed, Onesimus, and yet I also find it helpful to recall Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Mark 7:

    “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. […] Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”
    So a Thing — a bottle of alcohol, hearing a bad word, seeing an act of violence portrayed — is not at fault if in being exposed to it, I sin. I myself am at fault. Still, if the Thing exacerbates my sin nature, I’d best avoid it, for God’s glory.

    These are the “gray areas” (I use the term loosely), such as eating meat previously offered to idols, that Paul cautioned about in his epistles. For me, reading a swear word in fiction may not cause me to sin. But it may cause someone else. Therefore I as a writer should be willing to give it up in my own fiction, if I love my readers and want to show them God’s grace and my own respect, right?

    So I don’t agree with calling anyone who disagrees as a “wimp.” They may be Wimp. But one could easily call one who believes otherwise a Compromiser. Either “set” could contain sinners going either direction. But for those who squirmed about meat sacrificed to idols, Paul did not call them wimps. He didn’t call those who ate (privately!) compromisers. Love for each other is the goal.

    Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:3)

    Those who felt squeamish about eating should not condemn those who do eat, Paul said.

    And those who feel free to eat should not condemn those who don’t as wimps.

    Please tell me if there’s a better context for the above quote about “wimps.” Otherwise it seems to be in direction violation of this Biblical principle.

    Some may believe that it is morally wrong to read fiction that contains curse words. But when Christians demand that fictional characters adhere to THEIR morals, I think that’s wimpy.

    I hope this does not sound snarky, Mike, but in response to this perceived “wimpiness,” are you sure you’re not (by accident) in effect demanding that fictional characters adhere to your morals? I see a lot of that kind of “legalism” from both overt “legalists” and those who say they oppose legalism — but then feel compelled (a man-made law?) to do whatever they can to crap things up. 🙂 No freedom to turn something down, or make a discernment without feeling that it’s “wimpy”?

    I agree with you that it takes more moral courage to abide God’s call to holiness than to disregard it. But when we use that call to holiness to scrub the real of world of dirt, we are being Pharisaical.

    This is very true, and Paul’s warnings to the Galatians about their adding man-made law (and real Law, already fulfilled in Christ) to the Gospel are relevant here. Still, I do see some Christians who seem to think Pharisaism is the only potential discernment-related sin in Christianity. (I’m not saying you’re acting this way; I only know it’s out there.) Other Christians act as though Worldliness is the only sin in Christianity, and the two “groups” go on and on, basing most of what they believe and do on Fixing the Problem — rather than Fixing our Eyes on Christ.

    The same Paul who warned against adhering to man-made rules that have an “appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” (Colossians 2:23) also said “[S]exual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5: 3-4). Now I know some (“Pharisees” or otherwise) have taken this to the extreme of Christians sticking their heads in the sand, in denial of their own or others’ sins. Still the thought is here: avoid the crap. And don’t just watch your language — replace it with thanksgiving.

    Whether this means to avoid swearing in fiction, because that may be different — I’m not yet sure. In my own works-in-progress, several characters have occasionally used Language. Yet if that causes stumbling to a brother, my job as a Christian is not to stand on my own (legalistic on my part!) platform and mock them for having issues. The “meat offered to idols” guidelines (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10) apply here. I should “become all things to all people,” in this case Christians, and remove the “bad words,” in order to point others in subtler ways to grace. This better glorifies God.

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  6. I think if fictional characters are supposedly Christian but choose to act like everyone else in the world, are they really Christian? The word Christian means “Christ Follower”. Yes, Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, but he did not become a prostitute. He lived in the world, but did not become like the world.

    Now I don’t mind a character who is changing. I have a character who just became a believer and still slips up with the tongue, is finding he still has a temper, and struggles with lust, but he is seeing that now in himself and is working on it. After all, we’re not perfect once we accept God’s gift of salvation. The bible says there is a renewal process going on inside of us.

    But portraying Christian characters who are not changing but continuing in the filth God saved them from, I wonder if they actually wanted to be saved in the first place.

    As far as demanding characters to adhere to MY morals… well, I might have my own set of morals, but I can’t get around that the Bible is pretty black and white in some areas. And wanting to see characters who claim to be Christian at least strive to adhere to God’s morals, I don’t think that’s wimpy on my part.

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  7. Sally, I looked at the post you put and was really disturbed by the lyrics of these rappers. Because they used the F-bomb? No, actually what disturbed me was them talking about (putting it bluntly but clean here) having sex with a woman until her back breaks.

    Um… Not God honoring nor woman honoring at all. No, their brand of Christianity is not wimpy because I wouldn’t call it Christianity at all.

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  8. Back in my “Christian T-Shirts are cool” phase of life [smile], I saw one I still like today: Any dead fish can tumble down stream. Go against the flow.

    ~Luke

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  9. The first thing I thought about after reading this was the book I was reading last night called, “The Unknown Black Book.” Now there’s where someone who stood up against the wave of evil looked like a weirdo. Very good and very depressing.

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  10. Thanks for the post Becky, I really appreciated what you had to say. I’m getting a bit tired of this whole conversation because what I demand from any book I read is quality writing and storytelling. I read both ABA (or “secular”) and CBA (or “Christian”) fiction. I do not like reading pages on pages of gore, nor characters who curse violently and gratuitously, nor graphic depictions of sex. This has as much to do with my morality as it does with my contention that these devices are often cheats by writers who want to deliver cheap thrill points rather than write a serious story. There are plenty of famous, well-respected, secular authors who don’t write that way. Is there a reason “Christian” authors are supposed to?

    To answer some specific points raised: sally, I do appreciate that many of the words we find most offensive today are little more than descriptions of bodily excretement. Linguistically, I know that the more offensive words often come from the Anglo-Saxon side of the language and thus were vilified more for cultural reasons than any real moral issue. The “F” bomb is a case in point, as originally it meant little more than its original meaning. But language changes over time and that word has come to mean a whole host of (at times ridiculous) new and mostly vulgar meanings. I know that some people drop these words with little thought toward their offensiveness. However, while I may respect others’ personal sovereignty and ability to use whatever langauge they like in their own lives, I feel no such compunction to read or watch this kind of stuff. That’s not about telling others what to do; in effect, it is telling me that they way I live is not acceptable, that my standards of decency are wrong. I get to choose what I enjoy for my personal entertainment value. If I don’t like lots of cursing, I don’t think its too much to ask for stories to appeal to me and other like-minded readers.

    Also, to mike: I appreciate what you’re saying, or what seems to be your intent. But again, I’m not sure why I should have less strict standards for supposedly “Christian” entertainment than I do in my secular readership. As I keep saying, there’s plenty of successful, good stuff out there that doesn’t utilize this stuff. Some does, of course. But fiction “scrubs the dirt,” so to speak, all the time. How many books actually show you where they use the bathroom? Does anyone really want to read about that? How about the mundane tasks of life, like days of toil on repetitive mindless work. Most fiction writers to skim right on past those boring nasty chores. I don’t know what “appropriate nastiness” means exactly. I certainly enjoy a good villain’s appropriate nastiness, like destruction and personal threat. I’m not asking for less conflict. But I don’t really need to see or read about an entire sexual encounter or the exact way someone sliced open a neck. Hitchcock knew that the best methods of heightening suspense were in what is not shown, not what is spelled out. In our attempt to tell real stories, let’s not get so caught up in “realism” that we forget ultimate truth, which is far more interesting than “real” life.

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  11. I suppose it’s natural that at a site about fiction, much of this discussion camped on what a writer can and cannot include in his stories, particularly when it comes to “language,” meaning cussing or swearing.

    I actually was making no statement about Mike Duran’s original post or the line I quoted other than that it got me to thinking about morality, particularly whether or not we’re looking at morality correctly.

    For example, how does the world view a guy who is a virgin, manly or wimpish?

    How do we in the Church view him?

    How does the world view a guy who stays away from blood-and-gut video games, as manly or wimpish?

    How do we in the Church view him?

    I have been thinking about John’s (Christ’s) admonition to the church in Thyatira:

    ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.

    ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

    ‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.
    – Rev. 2:19-21

    I think we might be tolerating Jezebel in the Church today. We might even be thinking, like the Corinthians did, that our tolerance shows our liberty in Christ. And conversely, those who advocate for holiness are legalists.

    It’s not legalistic to point to the Bible and say, Our authority tells us to stay away from sexual immorality. Or gossip or covetousness or lying or hatred or lust or …

    What would be legalistic would be for me to say, Certain pictures tempt me to lust, therefore Christians should not look at those pictures (and in fact, it would be better if no one in the entire US saw them. In fact, it might be necessary to start a political movement to get them banned).

    OK, I got a little carried away with the illustration 🙄 You get the point, though. When I extrapolate from my own personal experience and apply that to others (be the group large or small), I’m being legalistic.

    However, I think we in the Church have become so afraid of being classified as legalistic, we’ve stopped teaching about morality and holiness. That is to our shame. 😳

    Becky

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  12. I don’t think bad language is necessary in fiction, or in movies. I have seen plenty of evil, nasty characters in books and movies made by secular people that had little to no bad language, and nobody complained about it. Quite frankly, I don’t know hardly any person, even the most foul-mouthed person I know, that watches a movie and says “Man, that movie could have really been good if they actually cussed in it.”

    Nobody needs cussing to enjoy a book or movie. It adds NOTHING to it. I agree that if you are trying to portray the way a bad guy might speak you don’t want to use “fake” or “milder” bad words that make the guy sound like an idiot or that you are too afraid to go all the way and use an outright bad word. So why not simply avoid using any kind of bad language or substitute for bad language altogether?

    If you actually know how to write well, it should be clear to your readers that this is a really nasty person without having to drop f-bombs or detail a sex scene. Countless books and movies prove this point.

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  13. Morgan, I thought later that I should have posted a warning with that link. Sorry. It is horrid, horrid stuff. And shocking that they could think that what they are doing is consistent with their profession to be Christians.

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  14. I understand both sides of this issue and have some sympathy for both. All deference to Mike, I find myself put off by a site that makes a point of it’s language and gore. If it’s okay for writing there why not just allow and not make a big deal about it. Perhaps by biggest issue with a lot of “edgy Christian fiction” talk often sounds more like tying to prove a point than anything else. That’s just my viewpoint.

    A case in point about the use of language and explicit sex can be seen in the evolution of Dean Koontz’ writing over the last 10 years or so. Compare is early novels to his latest and you will see marked decrease in both. Now he uses language with measure and generally when it obviously fits the character and the moment to make a particular impact.

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  15. Becky, I’m glad you clarified, but I’m afraid the damage is done. It’s amazing to me how many defenders of “clean” fiction must resort to extreme examples in order to make their point: like Sally’s link, Tracy’s insinuation that I am “vilifying” Christians who live by biblical standards, Onesimus inferring that I am condoning worldliness, and Michelle interpreting me as suggesting we should have “less standards.” Like it or not, by attaching my quote to your thoughts, I’m now “the guy” that says Christians should “show everything” and maintain no standards of moral purity. Depressing. I’ll probably do a rebuttal post some time (just too busy and a bit torqued now), but I think this post and your readers responses shows why there remains a legitimate divide in how “Christian art” is viewed.

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  16. Mike, I think you may have read the comments here in light of what you thought I was saying rather than what I actually said.

    Sally was making no comment on your post. She was giving an illustration of people who claim to be Christians but who apparently have little or no regard for personal morality.

    Tracy, too, was interacting with my content. I said it takes more courage to stand against the immorality of the world. She simply was agreeing by saying that when we stand against immorality we are vilified. (I can attest to that after a couple comments I made to Eric Wilson’s article about homosexuality).

    Michelle did address your comments but she was talking about her own personal standards. She has a certain set of standards for the books she reads from the general market, so why should she change those and have “less” for books put out by Christian publishers? I saw nothing in her comments that suggested she thinks of you as the guy who advocates showing everything.

    Onesimus obviously was reacting to your post, but I certainly didn’t see him inferring that you condone worldliness. In fact, I agree that what we take in affects us to a degree.

    I used to argue against this with my mother because she didn’t like the violence of the TV programs I watched. I had no problem with it because I could easily dismiss it as fictitious.

    When movies, and then TV, started showing spurting blood, that was a different thing. I know I am affected by gore, by bad language, by graphic sex scenes.

    From my perspective, I would be wimpy to go along with what everyone else is watching or reading, knowing what I know about myself.

    And if you would write gore, bad language, graphic sex scenes, what would that say about you? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I am responsible for my standards, not yours. I didn’t see Onesimus saying anything different, but you’d have to ask him.

    Becky

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  17. Becky, your entire post is extrapolated from something I SAID. You linked to my site, mentioned me by name three times. Your commenters mentioned me four times. And you think I’m misreading this?

    After quoting me, you ask:

    Is it wimpy to refrain from “language” (by which I assume Mike means “bad language”), to choose against gore, to shun “appropriate” nastiness? And if so, why? Why do we think it takes courage, toughness, fortitude to look at what is appalling? Is it a character strength to not be appalled by the appalling?

    That line of thinking led me to the morality issue…

    What “line of thinking”? Well, the one MY WORDS evoked in you. Heck, even the title of your post uses MY WORD (wimp). And somehow “your content” has nothing to do with me? Whatever…

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  18. Mike, I’m surprised that you’re so upset. First, because you used the word “wimp,” are you saying I can’t use it? Or can only use it to refer to exactly the same person in the same way that you did? I know you are more reasonable than to think that, but your comment doesn’t sound like it.

    The part of my post you quoted was exactly my reaction to your article. However, it was not the thrust of mine. It was the catalyst to my thoughts about real life, not fiction.

    My reaction led to a string of questions (the “line of thinking” you asked about.) When I got to the last one (Is it a character strength to not be appalled by the appalling?) I was no longer thinking about fiction. I was thinking about my childhood hatred of passing an accident on the freeway and my dad’s simple answer to my complaints: “Don’t look.”

    I was asking, Am I consequently a wimp? But I no sooner wrote that line than the verse about forgetting how to blush came to mind, and that took me away from physical gore to spiritual gore. The rest of my article is about morality in life, not fiction.

    I have no idea why you’re offended by my giving you recognition as the one who spurred my thinking. I didn’t need to include that part in my article. In many respects it wasn’t relevant. I was simply offering my readers context and, I thought, giving your Midnight Diner offer a little press.

    I was surprised by your first comment, Mike. Made me feel that you hadn’t read the entire article. I was more surprised by your second when it seemed you missed the fact that three of the people you mentioned were reacting to what I said, not what you said. (We didn’t say the same thing—we weren’t even talking about the same topic).

    This third comment … it really doesn’t sound reasonable. I don’t understand why you are so mad.

    Becky

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