Romance novels

My husband and I were discussing romance novels the other day, and I have to say that I have always thought of romance novels as p*rn for women. While men often have a weakness toward straying visually, I think that emotional straying is a weakness common to women. Romance novels fit the bill. The fact that they are often extremely graphic only makes the comparison even stronger.

This begs the question: what about Christian romance novels? The nice clean sort, where people only long for each other until they are safely married? The ones were they undergo physical and emotional turmoil before ultimately finding their destiny in their life partner?

I have read a few of these in the past, and I still think they cultivate and fill appetites that ought to be filled by a woman’s husband or that should not exist in the first place. I think that these books encourage ladies to be discontent with their day-to-day lives which lack the angst and excitement of the heroine; bored with their husbands who may bear little resemblance to the dashing hero; disappointed in their spiritual life which may lack the earth-shattering highs and lows of the characters in these books; and dissatisfied with their own appearance and personality.

If mass-marketed romance novels are p*rn for women, then maybe Christian romance novels are like the underwear section in the Sears catalog is for men: full of images that are technically clean but nonetheless lead our thought life in directions that are not glorifying to God.

Of course these accusations may be leveled against any book that presents trials, struggles and a happy ending, but some awaken healthy desires in a godly way while others do not. A good book may inspire readers to work harder, love more deeply, or fight more courageously, but I think that romance novels are designed to awaken our coveting nature: we women want romance, excitement, love, security. We might already have all these but we want more – like Eve, we want to know what we’re missing. The serpent didn’t tempt Eve by telling her how delicious the fruit was; he tantalized her with whispered hints of things outside her experience.

Some may say, “But what about the Song of Solomon?”
Obviously the book has deep figurative lessons, but even if you take it entirely literally, the Song of Solomon is not a romance novel: it is a celebration of love and a mutual praising. In its treatment of love, it bears little resemblance to romance novels of any sort.

Maybe my evaluation of romance novels sounds harsh, but even if you disagree I hope you’ll evaluate your choice of books Biblically. Don’t look only for objectionable language or content. Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What sort of worldview is reflected?
  • What attitudes does it foster?
  • What desires does it seek to raise in the reader?
  • What is the message or moral of the story?
  • Why do I want to read it?
  • And ultimately, how will reading this book aid me in my mission, furthering the kingdom of God?

Can you add to the list?
No uninspired book will be perfect, but let’s not fool ourselves about which ones are true, noble, just, pure…

Comments

  1. pilgrim says:

    thanks :)
    God bless xx

  2. CappuccinoLife says:

    I agree. Though, I did find Francine Rivers writing to be edifying. :)

    But this past week I picked up two novels that looked interesting, one published by Bethany House, even, and was surprised at the sexual content! Neither one was touted as a “romance”, and if they had been, I wouldn’t have gotten them. It seems that the authors felt the need to include titilating stuff, and felt that it’s OK if it’s a man kissing his fiance or a husband and wife talking about bed-things. :(

    I thought of your post when I ran across other ideas in the novels–one included the obligatory talk before marriage about family/children….”So, how many do you want?” “One, or maybe two” “Won’t that be wonderful?”. sigh. And the other said something like “She knew he’d wanted a son, but soon they realized they enjoyed their two daughters so much there wasn’t a need–or room for–another child”. Augh!

    It’s not just sexual stuff. Many of these “Christian” romances present utterly worldy views of childbearing, childrearing, and family life.

  3. Martha A. says:

    I agree with you! i think we should judge a book by its content, rather than by its labeling- fiction, non-fiction, romance etc. I have read some fiction books that may be classified as romantic fiction that have ministered to me more than some others that people say are more edifying. Francine Rivers is the one author that comes to mind. Most of the fiction that I enjoy the most is old fiction! It has alot more depth to it than much of the fluffy stuff available now.

  4. Happy Mom says:

    Amen amen amen! I’m one of those who doesn’t like to put a book down, so I used to become worthless to the world in the middle of a good story.

    I choose other things to read now, not because Christian fiction caused me to be discontent, but because there’s just so much great stuff out there! Besides, with homeschooling, I get to delve into all sorts of great historical fiction – and biographies, too, of course! After all, they say truth is stranger than fiction…and even more fun to read.

    I would definitely use your caveat on much of the romantic fiction out there, but our family recently read the “Wilderking trilogy” by Jonathan Rogers, which is fiction loosely based on the early life of King David, and heartily recommend it! Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  5. I must agree with you. I do believe that even Christian fiction can be read in the wrong attitude. I have really changed my reading habits recently, from almost any sci-fi/fantasy book available, or any women’s fiction, to a more wholesome way of looking at things. I have found that too much of anything: sci-fi, HGTV, blogs, etc, can make one disappointed with the life given.

    I TRY to take my discontent and talk to God about it rather than wrapping up in fiction. I still read fiction and watch TV, but I try to be more aware of what it is doing to my mind.

    Oh, and one of the things I deeply regret is that I used to read romance novels. It has hurt my marriage in many ways. I will be talking directly to my daughter about them and how they affect the way readers look at husbands and love.

  6. Thanks for this post. One of my new year’s goals was to not read any fiction this year. It’s been so rewarding. I only read Christian fiction, but because I get so consummed by what I am reading, I am worthless around the house and to my husband during the days or week that I am reading a book. I agree about the coveting nature we possess–when I read fiction, I get so wrapped up in the story and the excitement that I feel like my own life of diaper changing and mothering is so boring in comparison and it leads to a lack of contentment.

    Wise words. Thanks.

  7. I’ll add another amen. I quit reading not because of discontent, but because those fiction – christian fiction – affected my emotions so much it usually consumed me for days while I was reading the book. I would break out into tears over anything even when I wasn’t reading. Or if the emotion was anger, I would be angry at everything. We women are very emotion driven!

    — Mom of 6!

  8. I so agree with this. I stopped reading these years ago because it fostered deep discontent with my husband and really felt “impure.” The struggle I now have is with my daughter — a 13-year-old who loves to read. I have had to tell her no often and wish I didn’t have to tell her no in regard to pretty much all the fiction books directed toward women at the Christian bookstore.

  9. Martha C says:

    Wow! My husband and I have said the same thing! In fact, our word for them – including “Christian” ones – is also “emotional p*rn.” Glad to read we are not the only ones. There is so much wholesome literature available that gals do not need to turn to trash.

  10. Once upon a time I would read Christian Fiction, eagerly awaiting the single kiss or show of affection. Now I read Christian Fiction that barely have a romantic hug, much less lots of kissing or even marriage at the end. I’m more interested in a good story that finding romance, because I’ve already found mine, in my husband. :)

  11. Amen!

    Just because something is “cleaner” than the next thing doesn’t make it the BEST thing.

    We get ourselves into many worlds of hurt by comparing ourselves, our actions, and our activities with the worst-case scenario rather than comparing ourselves with the best. The only real way to compare is to compare ourselves to Jesus and our actions to His. Then, of course, we always fall short and (hopefully) recognize our need for a Saviour!

    Sorry to ramble.

  12. Meredith says:

    Kim, I think the underwear analogy is a great one. We can fall into that trap of believing that Christian romances are “better than” the alternative, but that doesn’t make them the best use of a woman’s time.

  13. A well thought out and carefully worded critique. I have a similar beef about women’s magazines. They encourage discontent with your home, clothes, and mom-body. I had to toss them when I was a young mom because they made me greedy for things we couldn’t afford and didn’t need. Later on someone gave me a subscription to one as a gift and it did the same thing to my attitude only this time it was about “me” time, treating yourself “right”, and how much your husband should be serving you.
    The whole magazine was geared to cause discontent and greed so that you buy the advertized products.

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