If you're an author aiming for the Christian market, it is far easier to write about one character shooting another than cussing them out. Better a bucket of blood than a pinch of expletives. Just peruse the Christian fiction section of B&N and you will find your share of serial killers, hit men, assassins, abusers, and wannabe anti-christs plying their trades.
But I dare you to find one character who ever says “damn.”
Why is this? Why do Christian publishers tolerate violence more than profanity?
Now, by being "tolerant" of violence, I am in no way suggesting that there is a glorification of violence or an excessive amount of it. Indeed, in relation to the general market, violence and gore in Christian fiction is probably minuscule. Cursing, on the other hand, is non-existent. So somehow, somewhere along the way, a concession was made for violence and against profanity. But why?
I have two theories about why, in Christian fiction, violence is more tolerable than cussing.
First, the presence of violence and bloodshed in the Bible allows us to condone the presence of violence and bloodshed in our stories. The world is a violent place. Christians aren't immune to death, disaster, and criminal behavior. So why should we scrub our stories of it? Likewise, Scripture corroborates, telling of wars, dismemberment, hellish torment, and grisly crimes. Of course, the Bible does not go into graphic detail. We are told that David removed Goliath's head, without a play-by-play of the hewing. Likewise, the "mass drowning" of Noah's neighborhood is left to our imagination.
Furthermore, the Christian life is often viewed as a fight. We are described as soldiers and warriors; our lives are a real struggle against real spiritual opponents. The inclusion of violence in our fiction is an expression of our struggle to follow Christ in a dark, evil, world.
So my first guess is that Christian publishers tolerate violence because the Bible contains bloodshed and violence, the Christian life is a battle, and Christian aren't immune to the evils of our fallen world.
But why is there a more liberal approach to violence than profanity? Why show a hit man stalking his prey and a serial killer fulfilling his sadistic urges, without so much as a single expletive? I'm sure there's several possibilities, but the one I keep returning to is this:
Contemporary religious fiction is tethered to Fundamentalist roots. Much of the Christian art industry -- Christian film / fiction / music -- is a reaction against secularism. This posture can be traced back to early Fundamentalism's withdraw from many American institutions like politics and entertainment. Holiness, for Fundamentalists, came to be defined in terms of "negatives" -- no smoking, no drinking, no movies, no makeup, no dancing, etc., etc. Much of the evangelical counter culture was rooted in this cultural separation. Christian art became an alternative to "worldly" fare. As such, it was defined as much by what it didn't have, as what it did. I think that's still true today.
In this Fundamentalist "hierarchy of holiness," some sins are just worse than others. Homosexuality is worse than gluttony. Smoking is worse than envy. Drinking is worse than gossip. And dancing... well, let's not go there.
Consumers of Christian fiction appear to employ this "hierarchy of holiness." Thus, we've come to see the presence of profanity in our fiction as worse than the presence of violence. In the same way that we inflate certain sins like homosexuality or smoking, we have inflated certain words. (Which is why it is far easier to decapitate an antagonist than have him utter the dreaded "dammit.")
The flip-side, however, is that by cultivating this hierarchy we inevitably "deflate" or "diminish" other evils. Like violence. Either way, we have come to believe that it's worse to read an expletive, than to read about murder. That's why, for the Christian author, it is much easier to portray a drowning, a strangling, an electrocution, an assassination, or a mafia-style execution, than to simply show a character cuss.
Anyway, I'm interested in your thoughts. Do you think Christian publishers tolerate violence over profanity, and if so, why?
* * *Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," in stores February 2011. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.