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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Should Christians Read to "Escape"?

If the entertainment industry is any indication, modern man desperately needs to "escape." It's understandable when you consider how bleak things can appear -- globally, economically, and existentially. What better way to forget that you don't have a good job (if you have one at all),  your love life stinks, your knees are shot, an asteroid just missed striking earth, and the nuclear black market is thriving, than to get lost in a good book or movie? It's understandable that you'd want to escape. 

What I don't understand is why Christians are in need of doing so. I mean, Christians are supposed to have abundant life and be fully engaged in the world that is. So why do they read fiction to "escape"?

Yes, I realize there's those who've challenged the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. Like, J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote in his essay "On Fairy-Stories" that escapism, in its attempt to understand and envision a different reality, contained an element of emancipation. C. S. Lewis was also fond of suggesting that the usual enemies of escape were... jailers.

At the risk of sounding like one of those jailers, I get that some reading transports us to a very healthy place, one that fires our imagination and inspires us to right living. It just doesn't seem like a lot of Christians read fiction for that reason.

I recently heard a respected CBA agent conjecture that one of the reasons Historical fiction is so popular among Christian readers is that during hard economic times, people want to escape. And nothing says "escape" like petticoats, parasols, and remarkably clean-speaking pirates. But if you're reading because the economy sucks, perhaps you should be reading Making Ends Meet on a Shoestring Budget rather than Love Finds You as Far Away from the Here-and-Now as Possible.

Which leads me to ask,
  • Do Christians read books to sharpen their discernment or to give it a rest?
  • Do we read books to help us engage the world, or detach from it?
  • Do we read books to add excitement to our lives, or stave off terminal boredom?
  • Do we read books to help us love our spouses more, or create expectations that will never, ever, be matched?
  • Do we read books to think more, or think less?
  • Do we read books to enrich our time, or kill time?
  • Do we read books to revel in life or forget about our crappy existence?
Listen, I can definitely "escape" by reading Buck Rogers and the Venusian Vixens. Question is whether the planet I land on will be any better than the one I'm fleeing.

Mike Duran writes supernatural thrillers. He is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, and an ebook novella, Winterland.  You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.

5 comments:

jessekoepke said...

I agree, Mike, I don't think we should be reading to escape. That's been something I've wrestled with; I don't want to be a storyteller that just gives people an escape, because the only thing that's going to help their problems is facing the reality of needing Jesus.

The funny thing is, the movies we go see and the books we read are just as full of strife and hard times as the real world we live in, and often even more so. I may be stressed out about living from paycheck to paycheck, but I am most certainly not dealing with giant robots wanting to take over my planet or a cruel tyrant named Sauron trying to subdue all life. If we really, truly were "escaping" into these stories, we would only be telling stories of perfect worlds, perfect people, and perfect happiness.

But we're not, and I think this is why: we want to see that it's possible to make it through hardship.

I enjoy reading great books because I get to reach the ending and see how everything fits together and see someone who actually pressed through and survived. I'm in the middle of my story with the Lord and I don't know if I make, I don't know how everything fits together. Reading stories—good stories—gives me courage to keep walking, keep persevering.

Your post is a good reminder to not get too focused on the stories. The stories are an add-on to our lives, not the main thing.

Jessica Thomas said...

I don't think Christians *should* read to escape, but I think it's fine if they choose to do so.

When I see the word "escapism" I think vacation, temporary break. What you seem to be describing is what I'd call "avoidance", that is, Denial with a capital 'D'. Yes reading to avoid a problem or to try to fantasize it out of existence is unhealthy if done in large quantities.

But if someone wants to fictionalize and perhaps over-romanticise history because it helps them refocus on God's gifts after a long hard day, why not? The brain needs a break. The brain needs to play. Playing promotes mental health.

Also, Paul tells us to keep our eye on the prize. The prize isn't this sinful world it's heaven. I think some Christian readers probably "escape" this world with fiction to refuel and help them remember what is to come--that after this arduous journey there will be a prize greater than our wildest imagination.

My two short stories on Smashwords are what I'd call escapist. There's not much point to them but to poke fun at human behavior and remind us to stop taking ourselves so seriously all the time. However, one of my upcoming short stories is very dark, and I purposefully try to leave the reader with a pit in their stomach, which I hope then translates into a call to action.

I write both. I enjoy both. Variety is the spice of life, so the saying goes.

Sally Bradley said...

I don't read to escape; I read because it's what I like to do. It's also why I watch White Sox games (thank goodness they're good this year) and why I make chocolate chip cookies while I watch The Biggest Loser. I enjoy it.

Our country's wealth, despite the economic difficulties we currently face, allows us a lifestyle of leisure. Some people like to travel. Some like opera. Some like painting. Others like video games. We each have something we enjoy that has nothing to do with making a living or improving ourselves. It's just fun.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I do think that with the best books, it's a little of both. We find out more info about another location/time, or perhaps just see the world through a new author's eyes. That said, I enjoy books that have twists and make me think. Books like THE TELLING. If I need to really escape, I play video games. I'm weird like that. Grin.

Michael Ehret said...

I have no problem with reading to escape--for anyone. Frankly, I don't even understand why this is a question or issue.

My wife does yard work to escape the stress of her job (and she reads, too). My sister cooks to escape the stress of being a nurse. My daughter watches sports of all kinds to escape.

I read, listen to music, and watch movies ... but not yard work!