How dark can Christian fiction be? If horror exists in Christian fiction, when does one have to draw the line?
A common definition I’ve heard of a lot of Christian fiction is that it’s safe. It’s the novels written for those who want their reading to be clean. That idea can be great, and well, not so great, depending on how you look at it.
From my point of view, a lot of Christian fiction falls flat in that it doesn’t leave a grand impact on me. It may entertain and teach a few good morals, but it’s missing that something that makes it stick. It’s, in a way, sterile. But from another’s point of view, a lot of Christian fiction is the perfect alternative to their secular counterparts. It’s free from profanity, sex, and other things immoral. And I want my own fiction to be free from those as also (well, some of my characters have muttered a d**n here and there). But what about evil? What about violence? What about darkness?
This is where things get tricky. Evil and darkness are obviously immoral, yet without them, you don’t have a story. No matter what genre you write, some form of evil has to be present. It’s what gives conflict and tension and that is what keeps readers flipping the pages.
So if we conclude that violence is allowed in our novels, how much of it is acceptable before it becomes too much. How dark is too dark? And if we show too much of it, are we numbing ourselves to it?
In this day and age violence is extremely glamorized and glossed over. You see and hear about murders on the television and the news. The reporter will glance over the story, then move on to the next sports report, and we’re left feeling unbroken and numb. We’ve seen so much of this glamorized, glorified violence that we have forgotten the darkness and weight that it carries in the lives it takes. We see the destruction from a cyclone on TV, and while we may gasp and point out how bad it is, but unless we see the young child trapped and dying under a pile of debris, we only feel indifference.
So maybe it’s the other way around? Maybe we’re not showing evil for what it truly is? That reason there is why I love the author, Ted Dekker. His books are dark, often times very violent, but he shows evil for what it is and it impacts me and makes me feel anguish for those who are lost. The value of life in fiction has been greatly reduced to the point where in action movies we see random bodies fly across the screen and we’re left with no emotional response. But give weight and value to the life of another person (i.e. the main character in the movie), and violence suddenly becomes a lot more evil. And a lot darker.
I was reading a post on author Mike Duran’s blog, Decompose, and he talked about the grotesque in Christian art and literature. He talked about how Christian fiction and the horror genre should co-exist, and he also talked about the painting by Hieronymus Bosch called The Garden of Earthly Delights. This painting is considered one of the most disturbing and terrifying pictures ever painted. Bosch said that it was his faith in God’s delivering power that freed him to, “depict the full range of the grotesque.” Without faith any grotesque work is flat and only serves to glorify evil. But knowing God’s power to deliver us back unto Himself he was free to color Hell as it really is.
Christian history was awash in horror, but today we seemed to have lost the ability to show evil for what it is, and in doing so it seems to have the opposite effect of what we’re trying to accomplish, which is to write inspiring fiction that points readers to Christ and His work on the cross. And while we mean well in saying horror is “unredeemable,” we’re sacrificing the true power of God for the feel good kind of fiction that’s fearful in showing the horrific. Maybe if we believed in God’s delivering power as Bosch did then we’d be led to paint our fiction with a darker brush. But if that never happens, will Christian art and literature only serve to paint a dim light and make us numb to the broken state we’re really in?
So where’s the line that yells at us to “Stop!” I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is that the price for our salvation was a bloodied and broken man on a tree. And to this day I struggle to take in the sheer brutality of that dark day.