Should LDS authors who include objectionable content in their books go to H-E-Double Toothpicks? (Read original question here.)Okay, that wasn't the real question, but isn't that the crux of it? And you noticed, didn't you, that I said should, not will?
And here's a corollary question: Am I now doomed because I dared to even refer to "the bad place" in this post? (Now here's an idea for a future contest. How many ways can you refer to "the hot place" without actually using it's real name??)
But let's get serious. Today's issue breaks down into two parts:
1) Do LDS authors have a responsibility to write books without objectionable content? and
2) should we doom them to heck when they include content that doesn't match up with LDS teachings?
1) Yes and no.
2) Yes and no.
The whole point of the gospel according to LDS theology is to teach people correct principles and then allow them to act according to their own agency. I believe someone important, like maybe Joseph Smith, said that. (Journal of Discourses 10:57,58)
Interpreted into this scenario, authors, LDS or otherwise, are free to write about whatever they want to write about, and readers, LDS or otherwise, are free to think and say whatever they want to think and say about what they read.
The problem occurs when someone tries to guess what others are going to find objectionable. I've heard of words that are on the taboo list for other publishers that I wouldn't even think twice about. I've also read words in books published by DB & Covenant that I would edit out.
Even when faced with the issue of pornography, there's disagreement. We all (hopefully) agree that pornography should not be included in books published to and for an LDS audience (or anywhere else, for that matter), but shockingly, we wouldn't all agree on what should be labeled as pornography. I know some people who put Michelangelo's David in this category. Some people will be offended at the mention of this statue, and highly offended that I included a link to an image of it. Other people are going to read this and think I'm making this up; that no one seriously defines this piece of sculpture as pornography. (I am not making this up. I used to regularly argue with a neighbor over this very thing.)
Bottom Line: It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to define objectionability for an entire community of readers. All I can do is define it for myself and then share that definition with others. (See yesterday's post.)
For me, it's not the subject matter in a book that is objectionable, but the treatment of it. Someone in the early days of the Church (I'm thinking Brigham Young, but I'd love it if someone could find me the exact quote with source and reference), said something to the effect that the evils of this world should be addressed on the stages of Zion. I believe that also applies to the pages of our books. We can learn vicariously through watching others, even if those others are completely fictional.
I believe that all authors, including LDS authors, have a responsibility to express the truth of their world view. If you are LDS, I believe you have a responsibility to write to the level of your testimony and beliefs; the overall theme and message of your stories should support what you believe to be true. As long as an author is true to what they believe, I will not condemn them. I may not read them, and I may pray for their soul, but I won't say that they should have done it differently. That's between them and God and none of my business.
The truth of my world is that we all struggle with issues that are sometimes dark and difficult. Exploring those struggles in fiction, using the tool of metaphor, can be very, very helpful to those still in the fight between good and bad choices. I believe that is the purpose of story—even in the fluffiest, most escapist, let's-just-have-a-fun-read forms of fiction.
I believe the reason some stories are beloved by so many people, is the author has successfully used their metaphor to tap into a need, a dream, a desire, or a struggle that speaks to the heart of others, and that in some way, it helps the reader to resolve or to cope with that issue.
Within those guidelines, I also have a list of personal Dos and Don'ts. I have the same set of rules for LDS fiction and authors, and non-LDS fiction and authors:
- I may need to know that two someones have gone into their bedroom, but don't want to peep in and watch.
- I may need to know that terrible things have happened to someone, but don't want to watch it as it happens.
- I may need to know the level of someone's frustrations, and the fact that they may use a word that I won't admit to using myself, but I don't want to listen to every single expression of someone's anger or outrage.
- I want enough information to understand what is happening and why, and I can fill in the details myself.
- I want my life view supported and confirmed: that when people make poor choices and behave in ways that hurt others, they pay a price, eventually; that when people make good choices and are kind and loving to others, they are blessed, eventually.
- Whether God is addressed in a book or not, when I finish the last page, I need to still know as firmly as when I read the first page that there is a God in heaven who has established rules of right and wrong, that He loves us, and that He is sure and in charge; I do not want to be left with nagging thoughts of question or doubt.
This is my opinion. What is yours?