Thursday, April 19, 2007

E-Mail Answer

D. G. D., like Cthulhu, will answer your e-mail.

I recently got an e-mail asking the following:

Dear Mr. Davidson,

First, I love your blog. It's great
to see your site and also know there's a webring out there that is safe to
surf. I had to abandon my 40-year devotion to sci fi because I could no
longer trust that I wouldn't read something hideously evil (I still have images
and smells in my head that I wish I'd never read) or the usual anti-Catholic

Secondly - a request please. Do you know the
best place to go to know if a writer is "safe" to read? I loved "Good
Omens" and would love to try more Neil Gaiman, but if it's a really good novel
and lesson in how to disrespect God or the Church, I don't want to touch
it. I'm too good at coming up with "what if's" myself, and don't need
anyone to give me more information to lead me astray.

Thank you. And if there isn't such a place, your site is still great, and I plan
on coming here frequently.

Yes, there is a place. A happy place, where...oh, wait. Lost my train of thought. Well, the world is a dangerous place, and Fäerie is more dangerous still, so I can't help with that, at least at the moment. But here is my response to the e-mail, slightly edited.

That's an interesting question. I don't think it has an easy answer. I spoke to a priest recently about the issue. Being a writer, I'm obligated to read. This priest suggested that it's not good to read anything that "stirs up" obvious temptation. That's my first answer to the question. You need to use good discernment and a well-formed conscience to determine exactly what that is. The answer then is to stop reading anything you're reading that you think you shouldn't be.

The second answer is to read actively. Don't approach anything you read or watch without seriously considering it and thinking about what it means. I don't think that means you need to try to draw an anti-Christian spin out of anything you read, but it does mean you need to seriously consider what you're reading, trying to pick out both positive aspects and deficiencies. Anything you read will contain both.

Also, seek out wholesome books. That may mean some trial and error. As for Neil Gaiman, I can't help you much there because all I've read of him so far is his Sandman comics, which is probably the sort of thing you're trying to avoid. His children's books are likely cleaner.

As for anti-Catholic rants, if you're strongly Catholic, this may not be a serious problem. It may even inspire you to learn more about the faith and how to defend it. I'm not trying to encourage you to read books that might damage your faith, of course, but speaking purely from personal experience, I think Pullman's His Dark Materials probably encouraged me to become Catholic, and Stross's Glasshouse has encouraged me to be a stronger Catholic. Both of them present cartoonish anti-Catholic rants of the sort that are relatively easy to dismantle, and the process of dismantling them gets me thinking seriously about my faith. You may not wish to read Glasshouse, though, because it has a lot of sexual content.

In the non-fiction section, find some works with good overviews of Catholic apologetics for starters. Though, again, I don't want to encourage you to read anything you think you shouldn't, getting a solid base of Catholic doctrine and apologetics will greatly lessen the impact of any reading you might encounter that will raise doubts.

Another thing I might add while I'm thinking about it is, read books that inspire chastity. This is necessary whether you're reading sf or not. Get some good overviews of The Theology of the Body, like a DVD series or a book by Christopher West, and then follow that up with some reading that depicts marriage or romance in a wholesome way and carries the sort of emotional impact that makes it stick in your mind. Paradise Lost is reasonably good on that side of things, and it's something everyone ought to read anyway.

I'm just about finished with Jane Eyre, and though I don't care for it too much, I know a lot of women do, and it seems to be wholesome and I'll probably recommend it. I think Bone is good for this if the reader has a solid Catholic foundation, though it probably has a heavier impact on male readers. I know Lewis recommended The Faerie Queene, but I haven't read it yet; it does contain some anti-Catholic allegory, but that's probably not much of a problem.

On the less-reading-more-praying side of things, keep Jesus always before your mind's eye.

D. G. D.
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