Dealing with demons

By , 20 April 2007 9:11 pm

It’s been a very busy week this week at college, home and church. But I also seem to have ended up preaching twice on Sunday in the middle of vast amounts of marking and preparation. And to make matters worse it’s the hottest sunniest April that anybody can remember and I keep telling myself it’s really important to get out there and get some exercise.

So, in all honesty, I haven’t really been able to give much time to thinking about my own writing this week. But obviously, like everybody else I was appalled and saddened by the ghastly events at Virginia Tech. There have been a few slightly smug comments in the UK that ‘this could only happen in the States’. In the sense of scale, that is broadly true, but we have had our own little massacres, and I don’t see any grounds for complacency. My own observation here is far more to do with the pen than the gun. Actually it isn’t really an observation, it’s more a sort of open-ended cautious comment. The thing is that Cho Seung-hui, the sad and terrible executioner of so many, took creative writing classes in which he expressed something of the hate and turmoil in his own heart.

Now it seems to me as a writer that I – and all of us who write – need to ask whether engaging in the activity of creative writing encouraged this man to pursue his bizarre and ultimately lethal fantasies? It is I suspect one of the earliest questions known to the human race: does thinking about evil, encourage evil? To put it in a crude but memorable aphorism, ‘does writing exorcise daemons or merely exercise them?’ Christians have tended to be rather cautious on creativity. I think the general view has been that there is a general sequence from thought to expression to action and that it is best to stop very early on.

This is, I presume, why most Christians have accepted that there ought to be some sort of censorship. I remember once when I was doing my postgraduate teacher training a lecturer saying, ‘I am not a Christian myself, but I do wonder what Christians have got against creativity.’ I remember thinking at the time that he had really rather overlooked the potential for evil to hijack creativity. Christians do applaud creativity, but we recognize that the world being the sinful place that it is, creativity can be warped. We can do without more creative ways of killing people quickly or rendering cities uninhabitable.

So am I against creative writing? Well, a dramatic case like this is probably not a good basis to generalize from. Nevertheless we surely need to be aware that creativity is not neutral. In the light of this terrible tale I’m glad that those of us who are Christian writers write within limits. Sometimes those limits are irritating, particularly when you really feel the urge to outdo Stephen King in the gore and pain stakes. But maybe there is a wisdom in restraint. Not everything in the garden of creativity is good. Maybe we need courage to say of things that are written: this is not neutral; this is not harmless; stop it before someone gets hurt!

2 Responses to “Dealing with demons”

  1. Tery says:

    Chris, I appreciate your question regarding the role of one’s writing in the development of evil. Many sides and bunny trails to that one. But I was most interested in how the question ties in with your article in Speculative Faith on setting limits. I’ve given that some thought since I read it, and have posed the question to some friends. It has triggered some good discussion, and taken us in some directions we probably wouldn’t have gone. So thankyou.

    I enjoy checking in here each week, and look forward to your blogs. God bless you.

    Terry

  2. Chris says:

    Terry,

    Thanks. I appreciate your comments. To be honest,some Fridays when I stagger back from work, the Blog is just one more thing I could do without. But your comment makes it all worthwhile.
    Blessings

    Chris

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