To Read or Not To Read…

read no evil


I have had occasion of late to ponder the question of reading non-Christian literature and to what extent a Christian should consider a work off limits. The conversation is one I think worth having with fellow Christian bibliophiles.

I’m not going to write a lot here because I am truly interested in the things my readers use as litmus tests for deciding what to read or not to read. My litmus test is so short as to be shocking to many Christians who lean toward the idea of shunning anything which doesn’t espouse a Christian worldview. Or which doesn’t qualify as classic literature.

My thoughts (in general) can be found on the Reading Standards page. Any further thoughts or questions I’ll answer in the comments. The question ultimately comes down to this:

Are we to assume that anything not specifically branded “Christian” is bad? Are we not mature enough  (and are we not teaching our children) to filter every sentence they read through the lens of Truth?



26 thoughts on “To Read or Not To Read…

  1. Booky McBookerson says:

    Just off the top of my head since I don’t really dwell on the question too much, I’m probably more like you on this.

    There are things to be gained from non-explicitly-Christian material, even if it’s “what not to do”. I would avoid things that glorify vice simply because I find that banal, but also because I know it is poison. It might depend on how easily influenced one is. If one finds one’s self getting sucked into enjoying vice, one would be wise to be more careful about what one consumes.

    There’s a difference between realism and glorification, and I think perhaps that is the test for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hearthie says:

    Conviction is such a personal thing… what my past and my weak areas make dangerous for me aren’t the same things as you need to avoid. (Your post is only about things I avoid for the sake of my soul, not for simple distaste or disinterest).

    I re-read a lot – so things exit my library when I find that they affect me adversely. “This book makes me emo” would be a reason to let it go. I often read one book (or part of a book) by an author and decide that I won’t be reading any of their other work.

    Insofar as the usual Christian lists of books to avoid, I tend to see the tendency to apply our convictions to other people writ large. There *are* gateway books – and part of our jobs as parents is to know our children enough to be the umbrella of conviction over their weak spots – but again, the gateways can be very nearly anything. How many types of sin are there?


  3. Maeve says:

    You know, Els, just thinking of all the works (of literature and not-so-literature) which would have been denied to me based on the “is this Christian” litmus test makes me ache.

    No Anne of Green Gables, Men of Iron, The Sound & The Fury, Persuasion, A Passage to India, The Woman in White, The Three Musketeers, Daddy LongLegs, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Iliad, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Le Mort D’Arthur.

    Le Sob.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bike Bubba says:

    Pretty much what Maeve says. There is so much treasure out there, so much that speaks to Psalms 24:1 (“The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”), I’m to ignore that….why?

    Now there is some stuff out there that is just trash–romance novels come to mind, along with a large portion of science fiction (romance novels for nerdy boys), but what’s a waste really depends on genre and the plot of the book, not the worldview of the author.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Elspeth says:

    Booky, you nailed my perspective pretty well. Avoiding things which glorify vice is an excellent way of putting it.

    Another thing a friend pointed out to me which is worth mentioning is the inherent problem to be found with limiting oneself to things branded “Christian”. I wish I had time to get into THAT madness but it may be worthy of its own post at a later date.


  6. joanna says:

    I just wrote to a good friend of mine this morning about how even though he was homeschooled and I went to public school, I was much more sheltered than he was. He was taught to read and filter, I was taught to avoid. What does avoiding for the sake of avoiding do?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Elspeth says:

    Okay seriously Jo. You make a good point about sheltering. Once our kids were about 13 they read what they wanted within very wide boundaries.

    They read Harry Potter(well except Bright Eyes who was into mysteries) for instance even though I still haven’t read those yet.

    They have been taught truth and the reality between reality and fantasy.


  8. joanna says:

    I had a pastor once tell us from the pulpit that he listened to secular music and it was okay because everyone can handle different things in regards to their faith. I agree with him, but I thought it was odd he was announcing that from the pulpit. If he’d told me that in a casual conversation, I wouldn’t have thought it odd.

    Encouraging everyone to read everything is probably bad, because some people will view some books as gateways to whatever. But it is equally dumb to insinuate that you’ve lost your faith because you read something that some random person decided was not “christian.” Who gets to decide that?

    I laugh at all the Christians that got on the LOTR-is-a-metaphor-for-Christ bandwagon when it started to get popular a while ago. Tolkien specifically said it wasn’t a metaphor for or analogous to anything, just a story. However, because so many people were touting Tolkien’s conversion to Christianity, people could be okay with wizards, spells, magic, elves, and the evil Lord Sauron in LOTR. However, Harry Potter is a gateway practicing witchcraft. It must be because the author wasn’t a Christian (neither was Tolkien when he wrote LOTR) and the word “witch” is used in the book. I don’t know.

    It’s all so random and totally subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. joanna says:

    LOL! I know. I so rarely comment anywhere anymore. You should feel special that I actually read your blog. It’s the absolute only one.

    I was so hesitant to read HP because of all the Christian angst about it, but man is it ever a good series. And then I was talking to my homeschool friend and he told me this:

    “It’s sad because so many things that are secular have these amazing elements that show truth. HP is a perfect example. Harry’s mother’s sacrifice marks him with love while Voldemort marks him with hate. But love is the more powerful. It protects Harry. He cannot be touched by evil because of his mother’s love and sacrifice. Beautiful illustration of Christ’s love for us.”

    I thought that was so great. Why hide from what can be discerned in all the amazing minds out there. It’s true that there is so much crap. Goosebumps comes to mind. But really, so much excellent literature. Go find it and enjoy it instead of judging others for doing something you’re too scared to do.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Booky McBookerson says:

    On Harry Potter, my 13YO has been reading that with the knowledge that witchcraft is essentially putting one’s self above God, amongst other discussion points. We did a sort of comparison with Lord of the Rings to illustrate various things.

    There was one book she got out of the library called Spellcraft that I took a look at and basically said no, you don’t need to read anymore of this, and we had a discussion about it and why it wasn’t a great idea. That one didn’t seem to have much to recommend it with a lot of occult symbolism that frankly gave me the willies.

    The other thing is that a lot of what is purported to be Christian is not consistent with traditional Christianity anyway, so then the danger is that you let your guard down thinking it’s good and wind up with garbage anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Elspeth says:

    You make an excellent point with regard to the differences between books which have similar story elements, such as wizardry, etc.

    I use to wonder why Christians who raged against Harry Potter would then rave about the Narnia books simply because they were written by C.S. Lewis.

    To borrow from the piece Eavan linked, both sets of stories make a clear distinction between good and evil and good triumphs over all.

    Another set of book my kids read were the very popular Percy Jackson series (yes it smacks of twaddle, LOL). With that came discussions about the Greek mythology and the gods within the stories.

    I was raised strictly but with a fair amount of leeway when it came to things like this. My parents frankly, both working full time, didn’t have the time or inclination to police my reading. They taught us truth and went on from there.

    I read (or at least researched) the things our kids read because my husband was much more inclined to want the details, ins and outs of what they were reading and listening to.

    When it comes to the things I read, I have read enough to be fairly comfortable with knowing the things I can read, the things I can not (even if there is nothing inherently wrong with them, and the things I should shun.

    I had another thought about this when I consider the tendency of some (not all) believers to declare anything not Christian evil (or “worldly”). It kind of piggy backs on Hearth’s original comment concerning conviction. Maybe I will have time for that later.


  12. Booky McBookerson says:

    13YO has read the Percy Jackson books too and knows quite a lot about Greek mythology. Also whatever the Egyptian mythology series is called by the same author.

    While we do try to get her to read other things that are a bit less fantasy based, she has learned at least something from those books, even if they are a bit silly. No way I’m going to read all that stuff and I don’t like micromanaging so whatever. I wasn’t even raised Christian and I like to think, for all my flaws, I’m not an evil person because I read choose your own adventure books when I was 12, lol.

    One thing I’ll say about the Percy Jackson books is that it is apparent that certain “gender” themes have crept into the later books. But since we’re always talking about current issues around here, she was able to spot it, mentioned it, and we talked about how these things are designed to be subversive either through – wait for it – foolishness or malice. She said she just ignores stuff like that.

    So even when questionable things do come up, it’s an opportunity. They do need to know what’s going on outside our little enclave and they will and do encounter people who believe different things than they do.


  13. Elspeth says:

    My kids notice the gender stuff, too.

    We did the most “micromanaging” through our kids’ middle school years.

    Once they hit high school (14YO) we pretty much left it to them to fill us in in what they were reading. Since we have always had open conversations here (an attempt by both of us to instill what we felt like we missed out on), they never hesitated to discuss with us things they encountered that were questionable of that gave them pause.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Eavan says:

    What is the definition of “Christian” literature? Written by a Christian, sold in a Christian bookstore, told with an explicit Christian worldview, accepted by all our Christian friends, written by a Christian celebrity, no swear words, no sex, no sin?

    Two events when I was a young woman affected my view of this question. The first was when an older single lady at church gave me a book to read published by a Christian publisher, written by a Christian author, a novel about Esther, the “love story” of Esther and the king. The whole thing was a lie, from the descriptions of harem life to the physical features of the king (well, who knows about that part, although I doubt he looked like the model for a romance novel.) I was 14 and completely unprepared to cope with the temptations the book presented to me. But it was “Christian.”

    The second was when I chatted with a Christian lady who was trying to get a book published. Two Christian publishing houses had offered to buy her book, but only if she unsalted the cowboys’ language. They told her nobody would buy the book if the cowboys didn’t use “Christian” language. I have chosen not to read books full of profanity because it detracted so much from the story, but a story has to in some sense reflect the actions that the characters would take. This is the problem with so much “Christian” literature – there are no people like that in the world, and literature should be true. So many books sold at Christian bookstores (as an aside, I disagree with calling objects Christian, but don’t know how else to communicate the idea) are propaganda about what being a Christian involves.

    Better questions are: Is it true, beautiful, and good? Does it reflect reality?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. hearthie says:

    I can pop in again here, because I do read fantasy. Hopefully I’ll make sense, this is why I didn’t mention it before.

    There are books which are just books about witches and wizards and vampires and et al. Evil is still evil, good is still good. I think that the HP books fall into this category. (The “danger” is that kids will want to mess with the occult… well, that’s a danger anyway, and have you been to a bookstore lately? Tarot coloring pages anyone? Can’t keep kids safe just by keeping HP from their lives. Onward).

    Increasingly, you find books where black is now grey, white is secretly black, the “good guys” are the worst guys, and the bad guys are just misunderstood. AVOID. Especially in the realm of urban fantasy and kids w/o discernment. There are a lot of authors who write witches as the really good, enlightened people, and the Christians as either bumpkins or evildoers. AVOID. (I dumped one of my favorite authors when she embraced this writing style explicitly).

    Oddly, that doesn’t mean I don’t read stuff by pagan authors – although it leaves a questionable taste in my mouth. I do want to hear their worldview, and I have a lot of pagan friends. But being straight-up pagan is one thing – being sneaky and hostile is another.

    With fantasy, you want to watch the romance/sexy levels very closely. Most of the new stuff I won’t touch and there’s no way I’d let my kids read it. Sex scenes aren’t as tempting as romance, IMO – especially in teenagedom. (At least from my experience). I don’t need anyone thinking the vampire is a good mating prospect and ever so “romantic”. -rolls eyes- It’s a vampire. Vampires are evil. You can read all the vampire novels you want – as long as the vampires therein are portrayed as evil. (This world is very intent on blurring the lines between evil and good, I consider that a danger).

    With any book, the question to ask is, “what hunger does this create in the soul?” – and “am I susceptible to that hunger?” That’s individual, and it changes with time. I’ll edit my kids’ libraries because I know them that well… I’m not going to edit YOUR libraries, or your kids’.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Bike Bubba says:

    I remember listening in as a woman angrily told her sons that they would NOT be reading C.S. Lewis because it featured witchcraft. The fact that the witch in question was a picture of the Devil did not apparently matter. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Robyn says:

    In all honesty, the only Christian fiction I’ve read (and enjoyed) is Frank Peretti’s writing. Which isn’t saying that much because I don’t read very much fiction at all.

    My basic parameter for reading for me and kids, is (and for all media) does it point to God in the end game. Or universal truth, which God is. If you look for God you can find Him (and His style) anywhere. Conversely, if you see Satan at every corner and turn and page and lyric …. then, you will find him there.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Elspeth says:

    You know Jo, I kinda thought you’d appreciate Eavan’s thoughts on the tendency to label things “Christian” in the first place. I thought of you after she left that comment.


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