As a Christian who writes and publishes, rather than a “Christian writer”, I’ve been engaging in the question of holiness in art for years now. To be honest, I’m a little tired of the discussion because there’s simply no clarity–no accepted definitions for anything. This is a general problem for all of us in a postmodern society, but more on that in a bit. Years ago, I befriended a community of fellow speculative fiction writers, most of whom I found at Mike Duran’s. Throughout the years, the topic of holiness vs honesty in art has been beaten to death over there. Here is one example (that happens to conveniently be showing up in his “most popular posts” list at the sidebar): Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction.
In this conveniently accessible post of Mike’s, he divides Christians into two camps: the Holiness Camp and the Honesty Camp. The Holiness Camp will, ostensibly, produce clean literature complete with appropriate moral messages. Those in the Honesty Camp are, by contrast, a group of artist types who believe they are more intellectual than the Holiness types. I have one crucial question to ask: Why is Holiness not the light that reveals what Honesty is? I will reiterate: If you are a Christian, why is Holiness not the beacon you use to determine Honesty?
Perhaps the problem is with the definition of Holiness. Perhaps those in the Honesty Camp are anything but honest about what Holiness is. Is Holiness defined as following a set of man-made rules? Please answer that question for me. Is it? Did Jesus himself violate Holiness by refusing to follow man-made rules? Did he? One commenter on the article linked above makes an argument so oft-repeated it nauseates me: The Pharisees loved the Law more than they loved other people (and presumably God) and that was their error; by extension, Jesus loved people more than he loved Jewish Law and constantly broke the laws to reach people (this commenter goes on to demonstrate how Jesus broke laws by speaking to the woman at the well). Let’s extract the truth from this oft-repeated nonsense. The Pharisees didn’t love God; that is true. They didn’t love God enough to love God’s laws above their own set of rules. The Pharisees were following their own laws and deeming themselves righteous for doing so. Jesus didn’t ever break his Father’s laws. If he had done so, he wouldn’t have been the spotless lamb. He would have been guilty before God and in need of redemption just as the repentant thief who died by his side was.
Do you want honesty? You need a new definition of Holiness. You don’t know what Holiness is. If you knew, you wouldn’t insist on continuing this argument.* Thank God our salvation doesn’t require a perfect understanding, or we’d all be sunk–especially in these postmodernist days when anything means nothing or everything depending on the day and the popular mode of literary criticism.
For most of my life, I’ve been deeply skeptical of postmodern art, and I’ll tell you why. I don’t mind pushing the boundaries of traditional forms. I don’t mind breathing new life into word and image and dance. But what has always bothered me about postmodernism is not the desire to bring something new to art, but the desire to completely destroy all traditions from the past and rebuild art and religion from a postmodern worldview–a world without definition such that each individual can create one for himself. Don’t you realize how modern man has robbed himself of vital foundations? Don’t you see that in art, in poetry, in dance?
Don’t you see how that foundation is missing in religion, as well? We literally have no foundation to stand on. When we accept that there is a dichotomy between Holiness and Honesty, we admit we no longer have a foundation. It didn’t used to be this way. It didn’t. Holiness and Honesty are intertwined concepts. They inform each other. They tell us what state man is in, and what state man should be reaching toward. One cannot exist without the other, not honestly anyway.
*This is a general “you”. I’m not picking on YOU.