Carlotta Wren sleeps with any man she finds attractive, with little thought to the consequences or a possible future together. She disguises herself and sneaks into society parties with forged tickets. She continues to buy designer clothes (albeit at a discount) even as she contemplates filing for bankruptcy. She does all these things despite having seen several lives destroyed or ended as a result of lust, deception, greed, and the drive to keep up appearances.
Other than her commitment to raising her younger brother after their parents abandoned them when she was a teenager, Carlotta has few redeeming qualities. She is not the kind of person my mother would want me to hang around with. Yet, I enjoy spending time with her – so much, in fact, that I bought one of the books in the “sexy mystery” series that features her as the heroine (Body Movers by Stephanie Bond) when the library’s copy didn’t come quickly enough. (I rarely buy books for myself.) And Carlotta Wren is not the most immoral of my fictional friends.
I sometimes feel guilty for being entertained by books that celebrate things that I, as a Christian, despise in real life. Some would say I am repressed, that deep down I really want to be like Carlotta Wren, able to enjoy myself without being constrained by such a strict moral code. I admit to wanting a little more adventure in life, but I truly would not want to live with the consequences of a wild lifestyle. If I lived like Carlotta Wren, I would be lucky to avoid a broken heart, homelessness, a prison sentence, and worse.
Many of my fellow Christians would say that it is my sin nature that makes me enjoy these books and that reading them will lead me to moral compromise. I should only read books, they would say, that celebrate “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8). I respect believers who avoid certain types of books because they recognize that those books turn their thoughts away from God, but I have not yet been convicted to change my own reading habits. (I do occasionally stop reading certain books when I find myself sympathizing with characters so much that I begin “calling evil good” [Isaiah 5:20] or when the protagonist has so few morals that I cannot relate to him or her at all.)
Until I see that the books I read are seriously hindering my faith, I am more concerned with the opposite danger: becoming further isolated from the rest of the world by exposing myself only to “Christian” media. When Christians block out all forms of art and media that don’t conform to our worldview, it inhibits our ability to demonstrate to others the benefits of following Christ. Books that offer a perspective different from our own (even light fiction like the Body Movers series) can help us understand the thoughts and motives of the people we are called to love. Fiction does not take the place of real life, of course – I can’t build a friendship with a fictional character – but it does provide insight into human nature.
Some of my favorite people in real life are those who do not share my faith or even my moral sensibilities. They are people with whom I can discuss ideas openly, find common interests, and share some laughter. I leave their company feeling refreshed. Though I recognize the importance of fellowship with other believers, I tend to find kindred spirits in unexpected places, even among those who (gasp!) don’t go to church every Sunday. It would be wrong of me to write off people I love just because they haven’t lived up to moral standards they never chose for themselves. And I feel much the same way about the books I read. Call me a heretic, but I just might keep spending time with Carlotta Wren – and her real-life counterparts.