Friday, January 6, 2012

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#41) -- Drawing the Moral Line

Is it moral for a writer to /choose/ to write just any kind of story? -- James Wynn

I would say no, James. And that's a great question.

For example, because I don't believe (based on my Christian worldview) that life is essentially meaningless and purely about survival, I couldn't and wouldn't write a traditional nihilistic slasher film. Would I write one about redemption and self-sacrifice and the search for meaning in death? Absolutely.

But I see those as theme issues, which is where I draw the line. Morality issues are a grayer area because my characters must have different morals than me and each other in order to fully realize them as "people" in the illusion of the story. If they are all moral people who use the same guideline, then the story has no "truth" to it. It's just a setting for preaching to a choir (pick your choir, religious or political or socio-cultural, propaganda is propaganda).

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Post Facebook discussion addendum (warning -- theological content, proceed at your own risk):

I couldn't agree more that that morality is objective. I belive that we in the Christian community have confused morality and (what we call) holiness for way too long. Morality is culturally based, whereas the biblical principal of holiness is an objective one (in our belief). And we tend to care less about that objective one (with its dictates to feed the poor, take care of the widow and orphan, have no other gods before me, extend grace, love others like God loves them, be one in spirit etc.). 

That's one of the core reasons we Christians get into such a cultural/philosophical argument with the world, because we criss-cross our terms so much and try to argue an objective concept using words that reflect connotatively to the average listener a sliding scale.

I know its a semantics question for some, but in a world of deconstructionism, it's an important one, I think. To the rest of the world, morality IS relative, and that undercuts any argument of what's intrinsically right in any given situation. Therefore we must use words that speak to the issue.

For my part, I can only respond to the question by exposing what I mean when I say morality, i.e., is it moral for ME to write just any kind of story?

Emphatically no. 


When the theme of such a story opposes my values as I understand them, no.

When the content in such a story may however require understanding and grace from the reader to understand and not immediately judge my moral standing before Christ because of said content's presence in the story, that's a different matter.

Which brings me back to the morality/holiness semantics issue. I'll trample morality underfoot in my writing all day because it is inconsistent depending on the time period in which is standardized. Preachers can use "suck" or "crap" in the pulpit today in some places without a shocked face in the pew (or nice comfy chairs). Forty years ago, they would have lost their jobs. Why? Because the morals around what is profanity change. Besides, biblically, everything I've found about language involves speaking truth and not using oaths. And while we are biblically instructed not to engage willy nilly in sex, writing about sex is clearly not a sin or else it wouldn't be in scripture. Not even writing designed to titilate (i.e., Song of Songs, which would have hit readers in its context a lot stronger than it hits us today).

As long as I can write what I write while my soul remains clean before God (to couch it in Christian terms), I feel that is between me and God. As Mike Yaconelli once said, (paraphrased because I can't remember in which book I found it):

I stopped worrying about my behavior when I realized that it wasn't offending the least of these out of the kingdom and causing them to question the truth of faith (which is the meaning of that verse). It was only causing those within the kingdom to question whether or not I had it, and I could live with that.

If writing something causes me to stop loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind or loving my neighbor as myself, then I will not write it because to do so would be wrong based on God's standards of holiness. To practice some of the things I write about would be wrong based on that standard. To write about others practicing them, not so much.

That's the long-winded answer. How's that?