Monday, October 29, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 3

2 Kings 9:30-37
Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, "Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?"

He looked up at the window and called out, "Who is on my side? Who?" Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. "Throw her down!" Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.

Jehu went in and ate and drank. "Take care of that cursed woman," he said, "and bury her, for she was a king's daughter." But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, "This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel's flesh. Jezebel's body will be like refuse on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, 'This is Jezebel.' "

There have been some great comments so far! I'm enjoying reading them. If you're new to this discussion, make sure to check them out.

I've been starting off these posts with certain Bible stories for a reason. We don't necessarily have a sanitized, violent-free faith. We know life has violence in it, and if fiction is going to accurately depict stories of life, there are going to be moments of danger, episodes of violence, and people getting hurt and killed. The Bible is definitely not immune to it.

Things aren't sugar-coated in the Word. The King James Version would use English euphemisms for sexual issues - "Adam knew Eve." It doesn't shy away from stating that Sisera had a tent peg hammered through his temple, or like the above example with Jezebel getting trampled and most of her body getting gobbled up like Kibbles and Bits.

I referenced a discussion that went on in September 2006 across several blogs. At Faith * in * Fiction, there was passionate dialogue about this issue (I think Nicole was a part of that one too!). Anyway, Mark Andrew Olsen (author of The Watchers, another CBA novel that had significant violence in the beginning) had a strong response discussing a man who was unfairly arrested, tried, and then beat and tormented with flogging, thorns, and was finally nailed to a tree to hang for his alleged crimes (Olsen wrote that up much better BTW).

Our Lord experienced some of the worst violence that mankind could dish out, all on our behalf. It seems that at times his crucifixion gets rushed by or pushed aside at times by the church, when it was an awful, bloody affair. I remember rehearsing a drama in youth group re-enacting the crucifixion, and those playing soldiers were half-heartedly doing their parts. The pastor saw that and came rushing in, incensed that we were not taking the act seriously and really showing what Jesus went through. Obviously it made an impact on me. It may not be as much of an issue after Passion of the Christ, even though that movie had its criticism for its violence.

Then again, the Biblical authors didn't really detail gore or what happened. We don't get descriptions of the blows that drove the tent peg through Sisera's noggin, or Jael's thoughts as she did it. The above passage is about as graphic as it gets.

Going back the other way, the Bible is written in different literary forms. History, law, epistles, gospels and so forth. No novels are found in it (no matter what some may say about fiction in the Bible). The passages about Jezebel, Jael, and Jesus are not written for entertainment purposes, but as part of a larger narrative. It didn't serve the purpose for the author of Judges to write from Jael's perspective, and they probably wouldn't have known it anyway. Writing fiction has a very different purpose and different requirements.

Where do we go with this? How does it apply to modern Christian fiction?


  1. Criticizing "The Passion of the Christ" for violence about takes the cake, doesn't it? On television they show brain matter and bloodspatter hurling from heads after gunshots. Give me a break.

    The Romans were brilliant at the "art" of torture, knowing just how long to keep a man on the edge of death before the final blow. They could take hours or even days. The people of that day might not have understood the medical failings of the body while being crucified, but they certainly knew it was a brutally painful, ugly way to die.

    So, violence in Christian fiction . . . I believe it was Bonnie, and perhaps Mir, too, who indicated the author will basically have to answer up, so they need to be sure their violence is acceptable within the framework of the story.

    I guess I would say that unfortunately violence can be just as titillating to some as sexual scenes, so that adds another checklist for an author who is writing to please the Lord.

  2. You know why people complained about the violence in The Passion and not in other movies? Because in other movies, we don't care about the characters. Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel presented a loving Jesus. They made you suffer right along with him, to understand what he went through. That's why it hurt so much to watch.

  3. I think they criticized Passion because Hollywood hated the story, hated that it was being done independent of them, and hated that Mel Gibson was doing it. It wasn't perfect, but the criticism for it hit such a higher pitch than any conservative criticism for something like The Last Temptation of Christ.

  4. Not to change the subject, but I thought "The Passion of Christ" was one of the most beautiful and artistic films I have ever seen. I was shocked that none of my Christian friends ever pointed that out to me. All I heard was that it was extremely violent and difficult to watch. So, I didn't see it until it came on TV.

    This has been a great discussion, Jason!

    For me, it all comes down to the artist's toolbox. As writers we have a large number of "tools" available to us that can evoke emotion and interest in our stories. Among them are violence and sex, things that really do get people's attention because they affect us on a primal level: survival.

    So, to me, the master artist knows when and where to use those tools. I love the way Hitchcock used them. He would reveal just enough to capture your attention and keep you wondering what would happen next.

  5. "The Passion" was the hands down best made depiction of the Cross or any other biblical-themed film of the life of Christ and may remain the best ever.

  6. This is a good discussion, Jason.

    As to Passion, I have not yet seen the movie--because of the violence. I heard a pastor's sermon depicting the crucifixion, a large portion of it quoting an historical account, and I was in tears. I couldn't imagine watching it, especially going purposefully to watch it.

    In regard to violence, I admit to being a chicken. I closed my eyes in Raiders of the Lost Ark when it was apparent what would happen to the guy fighting near the airplane propeller. I don't read Stephen King, stopped watching CSI.

    That's why I was shocked at some of what I wrote in my second book. Maybe because it's fantasy, I don't know.

    I tend to think, for writers, it's more of a question of the necessity to the story. I think that can sometimes be an easy out, so I don't say that lightly. Sometimes a scene is better for having something NOT there. The graphic nature actually can detract from the purpose of the scene. If it is present just to draw readers, I'm not sure that's a good reason.