Romantic Fiction Books
NCW 69: August 2000 - January 2001
Q. Is there any harm in a Christian reading romantic fiction? I think it's harmless but my Pastor says it isn't edifying. What is NCCG's opinion?
A. Romantic fiction has changed a lot in a century. Read any romantic fiction book that has been published since 1950 and the chances are you are going to start encountering values that promote as socially acceptable practices which are contrary to biblical teachings. By the time you get to the 1980's serious immorality, even in so-called "soft" fiction, you will find that premarital sex is approved of even if the parties marry later.
The fact of the matter is that the publishers of romantic fiction have been under considerable pressure to conform the morals of their stories to social "norms" in order to remain financially solvent, as people just won't buy biblically moral fiction anymore. Accordingly they have turned up the temperature, publishing racier and more pornographic-type stories.
Buy any kind of romantic fiction today and you will find, for example, that the hero basically conforms to a very worldly and carnal stereotype, known in the business as the "alpha man". They are strong, mentally and physically tough, intelligent, tall and dark. And, of course, they usually sleep around and experiment with several sexual partners before finally deciding who Mr. (or Mrs.) 'Right' is. They may even be married and decide that their partners aren't all they would wish and therefore feel justified in dumping them in their search for the romantic 'high'. As one London publisher, Mills & Boon, once remarked: "The 'honest Joe' type of man may make a good husband, but he's not exciting enough for our readers".
I would have to agree with your Pastor's sound judgement. Modern romantic fiction simply isn't edifying. Worse, it makes the reader rôle-play and start yearning after forbidden fruit. Christian values are not exalted, but rather our New Age ideal of "if it feels right, it is right, and d**n moral values".
Sadly, many readers, mostly women, turn to romantic fiction, to "fill in the gaps" of deficient marriages and end up yearning after imaginary heroes. This activity, even if it doesn't lead to physical unfaithfulness, is still, according to Christ's definition, adultery, and needs to be repented of. As for young, unmarried readers, this kind of material is simply breeding dangerous expectations in them, and encourages them to launch out into a quest for the carnal, sensual and devilish. Young women define their "ideal men" in terms of the romantic fiction men-heroes they have read about or seen in movies, and vice versa. Whilst TV and video films do enough damage, books can be just as bad because they give free reign to the imagination. And in countries like Scandinavia, where the population are avid readers, the potential harm of romantic fiction novels - "pulp fiction" as they are better described - is obvious.
I wouldn't touch anything written after 1980 with a barge pole, and I would be very cautious about anything written between 1950 and 1980. But even if the material is "clean" and the marriage estate is held up as the ideal, I do wonder why so many people - and especially women - are drawn to romantic fiction. For it is my view, and that of my wife also, that if a marriage is built on a sure foundation and romance is alive, that there is no need for "romantic fiction" in the first place. It may well be that people read such material out of nothing more than curiosity about the romantic lives of others and just want to "compare notes" or to find ways of improving their own marriages and this, I suppose, is relatively harmless.
Some months ago we as a family watched on video two classical romantic novels of Jane Eyre (Pride and Prejudice and Emma) which were based on the romance of the English aristocracy nearly three centuries ago. Whilst very morally clean - promoting healthy values - and entertaining, we noticed that they were still far from the standards and ideals which we as New Covenant Christians held and, if watched too often, might tend to lead one into expectations at variance with our own biblical standards. The females in our family, who are strong Christians, had by this time got quite addicted to them and realised much how much time they had wasted. As I said, we had a big discussion in which they admitted that they had got sucked up into the atmosphere of the film which, because the people were rich and idle for the most part, was creating an escapist mentality that was injuring us as a family. They were quite surprised by what they learned.
Some months later we bought a modern romantic fiction film called Six Days, Seven Nights about an engaged couple who went abroad on a 'honeymoon' (the typical modern pagan sex-before-marriage and let's-experiment-before-we-commit scenario). The woman goes on a flight and crashes with her pilot on a deserted island and - you've guessed it - falls in love with the pilot. In order to "justify" the transfer of her romantic and sexual affections to the pilot, her original lover has a brief steamy affair with a cabaret dancer when he thinks his fiancée is forever lost but deeply regrets this when she turns up alive and wants to resume the relationship. But it's "too late" - she wants the pilot, and even though they've been living together for seven years, the relationship is "over". And the film is so designed to make you sympathise with the new relationship - the original fiancée is portrayed as a moral moron, and the audience go away smugly convinced that the "if it feels right, it is right" modern way is the best solution for everyone.
We threw the film out right afterwards. Although there were no sex scenes beyond kissing, though the music was sweet, the scenery breathtakingly beautiful, though everybody was "nice" (apart from some nasty pirates who were deliberately juxtaposed with the adulterous couple so that the pirates became the "bad guys" and the adulterers the "good guys" - that's the way moral barriers are broken down in fiction) and mostly "reasonable", the whole spiritual foundation was completely and utterly wrong. Though the murderous pirates were plain evil, the "nice" folk were, in God's eyes, sexually evil, imitating Satan's ways. Their sin was sugar-coated but it remained sin. It was, in a word, a soft-core version of the Babylonian way, but still very, very immoral. Compare this with the hard-core material that's about and you have some idea of just how rotten western civilisation has become.
I give this illustration because the theme of this film is typical of modern "soft-core" romantic fiction. It's accepted as quite OK by most nominal and even less "nominal" Christians because it represents the cultural norm of the West which these Christians basically agree with. The great error of the majority of Christians is that they fail to understand that our post-Christian Western culture, for all its glitter, democracy, and "reasonableness" is, in fact, a stinking sewer of immorality and apostasy. It's core is morally and spiritually diseased, it's lifestyle a slippery slope to hell. And modern romantic fiction reflects this kind of way of life.
Apart from some classics, there is virtually no romantic fiction in our home. We don't need it and we don't want it. For many it is a drug substitute for dull or decaying marriages, for the rest its just a cheap thrill that subconsciously is laying the railway lines for the engine of their own romantic aspirations. Children should learn about romance from their own parents, and about sex from the Bible when they are of age. A mother and father in love, who are true and faithful, are the best example a child can get of romance. The younger children can then see this same ideal of romance in the marriages of their elder siblings. As for sex, everything a couple needs to know for a fulfilling and physically sound marriage is found in the Song of Solomon which traditionally in Hebrew culture was "held in reserve" for young men and women until they became of age.
Of course, if you have come from a family where Christian values have been lacking, where parents have lived immoral lives, finding a rôle model becomes more difficult. And sadly, these days in the West, you have less than a 50:50 chance of having good rôle models. Perhaps more than ever before the Church now becomes so important, and particularly the Deacons, Deaconesses, Eldress and Eldresses who are held up as people to imitate. In the New Covenant Church of God, which has deep fellowship and intense fraternisation, those coming out of the world find themselves in a healthy spiritual environment that makes the perceived need for cheap romantic fiction, whether in book. or move-form, redundant. If you have a collection of such things my advice would be to get rid of it for it is not only corrupting for you but for others in your family who may read or view it. And of all the romantic fiction I have been exposed to in my life, there is almost nothing that I still have in my home. I frankly don't miss it because I don't need it. All the romance I'll ever need is in my marriage.
This page was created on 22 January 2001
Last updated on 22 January 2001
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