Tag Archives: Christian culture

Why Christians are Lousy at Romance

The title of this blog is a bit misleading. I’m not saying that Christians are terrible at being in romantic relationships. That’s a whole other subject. No, I’m saying they’re terrible at writing stuff like love songs and love stories.

This train of thought came about because of a conversation I had with some friends on my personal Facebook page. We were discussing songs I’d consider using for a first dance if I got married, one of which was “Godsend” by dc Talk. One friend commented that she didn’t think that was that good of a song and that most Christian artists were bad at writing love songs. I asked her why she thought that, and she replied (in all caps for humorous emphasis) “BECAUSE OMG(osh) IF PEOPLE LISTEN TO LOVE SONGS THEN THEY MIGHT GET SINFUL IDEAS. PROTECT THE PURITY!!!”

I laughed because it was true.

Since my youth, I’ve known about the three primary words used for “love” in ancient Greek: eros (sexual/romantic love), phileo (friendship), and agape (unconditional love). The latter two were used in the Bible, but not the first. While it was often preached that all three were needed to have a thriving marriage, the huge emphasis was placed on agape because it was correctly said that unconditional love required commitment, and commitment was sorely lacking in many modern marriages. Too often, though, eros was barely acknowledged or it was forgotten, relegated to being the least of the loves.

This, sadly, is a huge fault of western (or just American?) Christian culture. They have so overcompensated for a secular culture that both exploits and worships sex and romance that they have almost demonized it. Now, this isn’t a new problem. There’s always been a sect of ascetics somewhere in Christianity that held to views like this. This was influenced by Gnosticism, a belief that what was of the spirit was good and what was of the body was evil. While it was regarded as heresy, some Gnostic thought has infiltrated some Christian teaching like an insidious disease. This is most true when it comes to Christian culture’s view of sexuality. Sexual desire was equated with the sin of lust. Women’s bodies were seen as weapons of temptation. Men were seen as animals incapable of controlling their urges. This has wreaked havoc on Christian young people, as you might expect. Even I wasn’t totally immune to it growing up despite having sensible parents.

Even if sexuality wasn’t seen as a vice, there were still those who minimized its importance because it was believed Christians—particularly young people—placed too much of an emphasis on romantic feelings and not on “true love.” In other words, agape. Eros didn’t last; it was selfish because it focused on one person and his/her immediate “needs.” It wasn’t what made a marriage last. It’s like eros was the ugly middle child the family acknowledged only out of obligation. I’ve even heard of Christian romance novels (I hate using that term as a genre) where the woman in the couple acts as though she has no sexual desire at all, and this is presented as a good thing!

This is why many Christian creators don’t write much about romance, preferring to focus on agape, phileo, and/or loving God. Those are safer. There are plenty more positive Bible passages on those subjects. They forget the Bible has its fair share of love stories (Jacob and Rachel, Ruth and Boaz, etc.) Heck, if you really want to shock some Christians, make them read Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs)! Yes, the Bible has love poetry in it—and it’s steamy, at that!

Even when Christians do write about romance, it’s often watered down or presented as an allegory for the love of God for the Church. This, I think, is an example of some Christians becoming, as the old saying goes, “too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good.” While the Church is called the “bride of Christ,” the Bible never uses romantic language to describe that love. Even the Song of Solomon has been interpreted not as the sultry interactions of two lovers but as a metaphor for Christ and the Church. (I’d love to see how they’d handle passages like this one, then).

God created romance. God created sex. Genesis says God looked at all He created and called it “good.” This included sex and romance. The Bible begins with the “wedding” of Adam and Eve, the first lovers, who were unashamed in their nakedness and love for each other. It was the Fall that ruined things. But sex isn’t a byproduct of sin. The Devil, being evil, is incapable of creating anything. He can only corrupt what was already good. He did the same with sexuality and romance. It’s him who compels humanity to exploit it as a commodity or to worship it as an idol. They were God’s creations, His gifts to mankind. The Devil knows how precious and powerful those gifts are, how they can bind two people together and make them a powerful force for good. That’s why He fears them and wants to see them denigrated.

It’s time Christian creators stopped fearing sex. It’s time they elevated eros as being equal with the other loves. It’s time they took back what was taken from them by the Devil.

I, for one, would love to be a part of that.

Do you think Christian creators need to work on being “romantic”? Why or why not? Can you name any good examples of good love songs or love stories written by Christians? Why do you think Christians are bad at writing romances?

“Christian” is a Worldview, not a Genre

U2. Believe it or not, they’re a Christian band.

The beauty of WordPress is I can schedule a blog to be automatically posted, which is what I did with this one. I actually wrote it a few days ago. Why did I do this? Because I’m in the middle of the “fortnight from Hell” at my day job. (Long story).

Anyway, I grew up in a Christian home, so I’m well-versed in the Christian subculture. Honestly, the older I’ve gotten, the more annoyed I am with it. Not so much that I’ve rejected my faith (I think Christian faith and Christian culture are two completely different things and may as well be mutually exclusive), but enough to see how they usually don’t match up.

I’m going to focus only on one particular facet today: the idea that “Christian” is a genre.

This idea was initially sparked a year or so ago when I was talking with a friend on the phone who said she didn’t want to read my books because they weren’t “Christian enough.” As in, they wouldn’t fit into the Christian “genre” as defined by booksellers.

Christians, despite being commanded to go into the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20), have for many years seemed intent on isolating themselves from the rest of the world and creating their own little culture complete with its own brand of entertainment. It goes all the way back to 1970s with the advent of “contemporary Christian music” thanks to the Jesus Movement. This has since expanded in other forms of media. Most recently, “faith-based films” such as God’s Not Dead have been popular the last few years.

While I have issues with the often poor artistic merits of many of these media (that’s a blog for another day), my biggest gripes with the so-called “Christian genre” are the mindsets it creates. First, it makes Christian culture very insular. I’ve known many fellow believers who refused to consume any media that wasn’t obviously Christian. In other words, listening to Carman was fine, but not Run-D.M.C. If it wasn’t didactic about faith, it was “too secular.” Some of it was even erroneously seen as satanic. These were things to be shielded against, especially when it came to kids (it’s always about the children, isn’t it?). So, new media was created by Christians for Christians. Considering the aforementioned often poor quality of their substitutes, it’s no wonder many Christians in the last 30-40 years grew up with bad senses of what makes good art. (Not to mention Christian creators were making obvious rip-offs of “secular” entertainment long before the Asylum. Anyone else remember the Spine Chillers Mysteries books?). It created an “us vs. them” mentality. It was about being “safe” and avoiding risky ideas that might challenge one’s faith.

Second, as I’ve already hinted at, it made “Christian” into a genre. Demon Hunter wasn’t just a metal band; they were a “Christian” metal band. (For the record, Demon Hunter is a genuinely great band). Like any genre, this automatically establishes the intended audience and the content (which, as I’ve noted, was often didactic and subpar). The problem is that “Christian” shouldn’t be a genre. It should be a philosophy, a worldview. Do atheists and other religions turn their beliefs into genres for the sake of marketing? For the most part, no. (Although some may do so in response to “Christian” stuff or as satire). In the history of literature, Christian authors didn’t concern themselves with whether their stories fit nicely into a “Christian genre”; they just told their stories. Think about how classics like Moby-Dick by Herman Melville or Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky or The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (did you really think I’d get through this without mentioning my all-time favorite book?) if they were published in today’s environment in Christian publishing. I have a feeling they’d either be rejected by Christian publishers or watered down in the editing process.

“Christian,” as I’ve said, is a worldview, not a genre. It’s something that, when done correctly, flows naturally into a creator’s work because it’s a part of him. Art is an expression of its creator, so it’s impossible for him to not imbue it with how he sees the world. But, as I’ve said for years, story must be king. The moment someone starts sermonizing in his story, whether it’s about religion or environmentalism or whatever, it brings the story down. The storyteller will lose his audience. Heck, even kids will see through that.

Readers and critics will discuss themes and ideas when dissecting a story, but they usually don’t do something like label Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game “Mormon fiction.” Those elements are part of that book because they’re part of Card. To tell his story honestly, he had to write it that way. He wasn’t trying to proselytize anyone. I know that to my fellow Christian creators that might sound crazy, even sacrilegious, but I believe your witness can be helped by not being didactic with your stories.

I’ve been listening to U2’s Greatest Hits albums while writing this blog. U2 is a Christian band (specifically, they’re Irish Catholic). Even a casual listen to their music makes that obvious. They don’t hide or flaunt that. They make their music and let it impact people. Jesus said you can know someone by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). That fruit doesn’t need to have “Apple” written on it for people to know what it is.

If you’d like to hear more about this, I highly recommend listening to these episodes of the Derailed Trains of Thought podcast hosted by my friends Nick Hayden and Timothy Deal: Episode 57: And the Moral of the Story is… and Episode 64: Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink.

What are your thoughts on this? Should “Christian” be a genre unto itself? Why or why not?