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Monday, September 22, 2014

"Clean Fiction" as White Magic

by Mike Duran @CerebralGrump

glindaA while back, in a discussion about Christian speculative fiction and where it’s heading, I suggested that “‘bad theology’ has shaped much of mainstream Christian fiction.” One aspect of this “bad theology” is the belief that reading “clean fiction” — and by this, Christians normally mean fiction without sex, profanity, excessive violence, occult themes, etc. — is better for one’s soul, more in line with holiness and godliness, than reading darker, more R-rated stuff. 

“Clean fiction” is part of the toolbox of evangelical holiness and separation from the world.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when televangelist Pat Robertson claimed that watching horror movies can invite demons into ones soul. My rather snide response was, “Of course, watching horror movies can invite demons into your soul. So can watching The Bachelor, Jimmy Fallon, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.” Point being: Horror movies aren’t inherently evil; the devil is an “angel of light” and can use seemingly good things to deceive. 

An undiscerning, undiscriminating, unbelieving, naive, morally confused mind is more a gateway to the demonic than are horror movies. 

E. Stephen Burnett commented that Robertson’s response is typical of a bigger problem: “Christians pushing ‘white magic’ in response to ‘black magic.’ Burnett continued:

I believe Christians invite the work of Satan more often when they react to supposed devilish “black magic” work and therefore resort to “white magic” methods of protection to control their environments, protect the dynasty, promote fertility and agriculture, etc. …
…evangelical divination methods can include the “prosperity gospel,” prayer-as-mantra, that “prayer mat” that comes in the mail, listening to new revelation from voices, and even (I’m afraid this is going to be very unpopular) putting faith in manmade corporation-building methods to build churches rather than having faith in God’s Spirit to make our efforts bear fruit.
This got me thinking — which I will do out loud — and you can tell me where I’m wrong.

I think E. is spot-on in his assessment. There are many “evangelical divination methods.” Of course, we don’t see them as divination methods. Nevertheless, they are little different than the spells, counter-spells, protective spells, and iconography employed by many occultists. We just attach biblical jargon and imagery.
  • “Pray this.”
  • “Bless that.”
  • “Stay away from these people, places, or things.”
  • “Repeat these words and believe them with all your heart.”
  • “Don’t watch, listen to, or speak that.”
I would include Christians’ penchant for — I could say “obsession” with –  “clean fiction” as a possible “evangelical divination method.” In other words, we’ve come to believe that reading THIS as opposed to THAT, reading THIS word as opposed to THAT word, including THIS description as opposed to THAT description, makes a story more or less worldly or other-worldly, holy or unholy.

The problem with that approach is that it puts stories, more specifically words, in the category of… magic. We see the correct combination of words, or the exclusion of specific words, as possessing an inherent power, for good or evil. As such, Christian fiction is the “white magic” that counters the spell of secular fiction, which is “black magic.” 

Here’s the problem: The word “shit” does not have magical powers.

The belief that keeping THAT word out of my story makes it intrinsically less worldly and more holy, is akin to white magic. It’s little different than the sorceress who believes that uttering THIS word invokes THAT power and refraining from THAT word prohibits THIS power.

Of course, there is a legitimate biblical basis for avoiding crap, and taking heed to what we read, listen to, and view. But just because someone reads Christian fiction, watches only “family friendly” films, or doesn’t curse, does not automatically make them any more holy, healthy, or happy than someone who doesn’t. In fact, the Bible warns that there may be a subtle danger in consigning ourselves only to what is “clean” (see: Pharisees).

In other words, reading “clean fiction” does not cast a protective spell over ones mind and heart. You still need discernment! In fact, the notion that “clean fiction” is actually safer and better for us  might actually deceive us and distance us from God!

The desire to keep our minds focused on what is “pure, lovely, and admirable” is a great thing. Heck, it’s biblical! Nevertheless, that same Bible says that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14). In other words, Satan is more likely to deceive us with something that looks good (“clean”), than something that looks evil. Just because some stories are free of profanity, violence, and nudity, does not make them impervious to spiritual deception. In fact, the desire to read only what is “free of profanity, violence, and nudity” may itself be a spiritual deception. 

Okay. So that’s my theory. 

How is our rigid avoidance of profanity and R-rated content NOT superstition, a form of white magic that believes the absence and exclusion of specific words makes one more holy?

* * *

Mike Duran 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, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Mike, I think you've hit the proverbial nail on the head. I get so tired of arbitrary rules that make no sense whatsoever. Great post!

  2. I think as Christian writers and readers, we have exactly what you suggested as perhaps THE key element: discernment. There are different story elements which certain readers can't handle for various reasons. Excessive bad language, sexual situations, innuendoes, and scary blood-letting descriptions, for example, do bother many readers, and all are not necessarily believers, but for sure those who can't handle these particular elements definitely reside in the CBA publishing houses and reading demographic. And that's okay IF they don't presume to be the judge and jury for all other Christian readership and Christian authors. Guarding our hearts does not imply separation from the world and its evil but rather to expose it for what it is and to guard our hearts for desiring to be immersed in it. If by reading certain fiction, we feel drawn to whatever enticing element interferes with our ability to keep that pure heart, then, yeah, eliminate it from our reading repertoire. It's fairly simple to do. What doesn't appear simple for the Christians you're describing is to decide this for themselves and leave it there. Instead they wish to condemn others for their beliefs, their Christianity, their "wicked" ways. Each of us answers to our Lord for our heart conditions and what that ultimately produces.

  3. While I am not a fan of gratutious sex, violence and vulgar language, and I rarely use such in my own writing, I know as a practicing witch that white magic is poetry, and black magic is anything that works. Intent is everything. There is more than enough for all in the loving and prosperous universe.

  4. Great post! When I was a young adult, which feels like either yesterday, or forever ago, I devoured all the squeaky clean Christian fiction on the market at the time. What happened, was that as I read, I formed expectations of how the world worked that were way off. Disappointment and anger and eventually depression colored my life as reality and a distorted sense of reality collided. On one level I knew the stories were "make-believe", but somehow I internalized those fictional worlds as truth. The world is both beautiful and hideous. Bad people are really bad. All relationships are hard and all people are broken. Some shattered. Why not portray the world with an honest look? Why not harness the powerful tool of story to show readers how to navigate such a tough world with grace and hope? Following Christ comes at a cost. Sometimes that cost is big. Very big. Not everyone is healed. Not every story has a happy ending. Life sucks. That's the reality we all live with every day. The characters in our stories can reflect that reality by making choices: to live a sucky, hard life WITH the power of Christ, or live a sucky despairing life WITHOUT the power of Christ. The difference alone provides endless conflict and plot lines for writers of all genres.


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