Christianity and the State
Sowing Bad Seed
Consider our Lord’s parable of the wheat and the tares, in Matthew 13. The servants asked the master, “Did you not sow good seed in this field? Why then hath it tares?” And the master said, “Some enemy hath done this.”
The fields of the Lord are many. One of the fields that I work in is Young Adult fiction, YA for short.
And there are a lot of people sowing tares in it.
Kirsten Salyer, a deputy editor at Time Magazine, recently published some of her thoughts on YA fiction, With a Little Help, You Too Can Write a Young-Adult Novel(Time, Oct. 3, 2016). Her essay is a review of a book on the subject, The Magic Words, by Cheryl B. Klein. But whether she knows it or not, Ms. Salyer has offered us insight into the thinking of the tare team.
YA Fiction is Important
Ms. Salyer is acutely aware of the importance of YA fiction, much more so than most of us. The ungodly are often a lot cleverer at getting what they want in life, whatever it may be, than we Christians are. Jesus warned us, in His parable about the crooked steward: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). They know what they want and know how to get it—even if what they want is only perishable, worldly, and, compared to the blessings of God’s Kingdom, contemptible and cheap.
Salyer knows that the fiction absorbed by readers early in their lives—she’s talking about books, but it certainly applies to movies and television, too—will help to shape their thinking, and their outlook, for many years to come. “The books we read when we’re young have a special sort of power … They’re as formative as anything else in our young lives, and sometimes they’re the first place we encounter larger-than-life ideas.” She concludes, “The narratives we tell young readers can influence how they understand and value the world around them. The magic isn’t in the words; it’s in how the words come together to reflect and affirm the realities of a diverse young-adult experience.”
I think she’s right, or I wouldn’t have written ten Bell Mountainnovels, eight of which are in print as of this writing ( https://leeduigon.com/books/). We who write such books are sowing seed, either in the Lord’s service or the world’s: like it or not, it has to be one or the other. But what kind of seed does Salyer wish to sow?
She’s high, for instance, on a 2014 book by Jandy Nelson, I’ll Give You the Sun, a YA novel “with a gay protagonist.” Actually two “gay” protagonists, a pair of twins. And off to the side of her essay is a review of The Best Manby Richard Peck, described by one reviewer as “a big-hearted novel of gay marriage.” She’s really high on this one: “[T]he uncle he [the twelve-year-old protagonist] idolizes is marrying a teacher he idolizes. The newlyweds are men.
“Peck, who won the Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder, masterfully frames issues of sexuality for young readers, translating the message that ‘love is love’ for a demographic still navigating first crushes,” and so on.
What, in her view, do these books accomplish? They teach important lessons, she asserts, in “acceptance” and “tolerance.” Young readers are to be taught that homosexual acting-out is “normal” and praiseworthy—which cannot be true unless God is wrong for declaring it a mortal sin. So the seed being sown here is anti-Biblical, anti-Christian, and morally wrong. It cannot be right unless the Bible is wrong.
If you survey the field of YA fiction, you’ll find such tares as these springing up all over—I haven’t the space or the patience to list them all: books celebrating, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly, sodomy, transgenderism, pedophilia, and abortion. The field is morally in a lamentable state.
For all her talk of trying to find out what truly appeals to young readers, and writing toward that end, she and the authors whom she praises merely go ahead writing about what appeals to them. The lesson that “love is love,” whatever form it takes, is profoundly antinomian. But we cannot expect non-Christian or anti-Christian writers to deliver any other kind of message.
A Field Full of Tares
The abundance and success of so many YA novels preaching sin as virtue, evil as good, is evidence that indicts us for being careless with our culture, especially when it comes to deciding what sort of material we allow to seep into our children’s minds. The publishers would not be selling this stuff if we weren’t buying it. And it ought to be noted that many such books have been placed into school libraries and hawked and touted in school classrooms.
Do you remember the big push for Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materialstrilogy? Published by Scholastic Books—always prominent among the usual suspects—this was an overtly atheist tract ( https://leeduigon.com/2010/11/03/satanism-for-young-readers-a-review-of-his-dark-materials/). It was brought into public school classrooms, hyped with assorted contests for the kiddies, made the subject of classroom teaching, and quickly translated into a major feature film. The good news is that the movie flopped—probably because parents finally cottoned on to what Pullman’s work was all about, and didn’t take their kids to see the movie.
This suggests that there’s something we can do about the abundance of tares being sown in the YA fiction field.
We really ought to read what our children are reading, rather than just to be so happy that they’re reading at all that we pay no attention to the content. We should not be bringing into our homes books that preach an anti-Christian message. And if our children, especially those in their early teens, have been exposed to such a message, we must equip ourselves to discuss that message with them. We must not allow our silence to be taken for consent.
Few people can actually write a book and get it published, so I won’t be asking you to write your own Bible-friendly YA novels to crowd the bad stuff off the shelves. Parents must act as consumers—as pre-consumers, if you will—making sure that the young readers in our own households are only consuming literature compatible with a Christian view of life. We are even better off if the children have received a Christian education and already know, or at least can sense, when an author is trying to lead them into the counsel of the ungodly.
When I was a child, this was much easier on parents: there wasn’t much out there that was going to lead young readers astray. But the culture that we live in has changed, and we are now called to be vigilant.
As we can see by some of the books that Ms. Salyer recommends, the field today is full of tares. These are nourished on consumers’ money. Withdraw that source of nourishment, and some of those tares will shrivel and die—hopefully a lot of them.
Water the Wheat, and Not the Tares
Some of you will be surprised to learn there’s plenty of YA fiction out there suitable for Christian readers—all kinds of it, from heroic fantasy to humor, from mystery to romance (yes, Christians do fall in love), historical novels, school stories, everything under the sun. These novels don’t get the kind of marketing buzz that Scholastic Books could give to Philip Pullman, atheism and all; but they are out there, and you, the Christian consumer, can choose to water this good seed with your dollars instead of watering the tares.
I’m a great fan of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and S.D. Smith’s heroic rabbit tales, The Green Emberand The Black Star of Kingston. But there’s so very much more to choose from. The Goodreads website, for example, offers a list of 206 YA books enjoyed and recommended by Christian readers (http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/12825.Best_Christian_YA_Books ). These were picked by readers like you, not self-anointed experts, and might be a good place to start looking for the best books for your children.
Light reading, casual reading, is so much more than that. We want to relax, we want some entertainment—but it’s also one of the chief ways by which we educate ourselves.
I dread to think of the effect on young readers’ worldview, and character, of a steady diet of some of those books that Kirsten Salyer recommends—to say nothing of the long-term effects on our entire culture.
Lee Duigon is a Christian free-lance writer and contributing editor for Faith for All of Life. He has been a newspaper editor and reporter and is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels.