Creative Writing and Sin

Is it possible for someone to commit a sin while writing a work -a book, a movie screenplay, a song, a play, etc.- creativity?

I mean, I understand that an artistic creator is sinning if his work is made to cause harm to others: one example of this is “The Birth of a Nation”, which paints lynching as a positive thing by portraying African Americans (played by whites in black-face, of course) as serial rapists who WILL assault white women unless stopped with bullets.

But can a work still be sinful even if it is not meant to cause harm?

Say for instance I am writing a story and I want it to be either historically accurate or morally grey. Would I be committing a sin if the story I wrote included violence, intoxication, or non-marital sex (not in support or condemnation, just to show a fact of life)?

Excellent question. I would distinguish at least four things here:

  1. Writing that is base, glorifies evil, inculcates falsehood, etc.;

  2. How likely the writing is to lead readers into sin or error;

  3. The author’s intent (which could spring from a sincere, but badly formed conscience);

  4. The author’s culpability, based on nos. 2 & 3, if he creates no. 1.

There is an element of subjectivity here, and I think some room for disagreement on what writing would fall under #1. But generally speaking, writers should take care to avoid creating near occasions of sin for others.

That said, merely including portrayals of ugliness for the sake of story or realism is not in itself sinful or necessarily creating a near occasion of sin. Readers have a responsibility to exercise discretion in their choice of what to read. Not that this justifies writing trash, but we can’t make it perfect for everyone. There are plenty of adult themes in the Bible. (Granted most of the Bible is not creative writing, but I think you get the point.) Not to mention much classical literature that is highly esteemed by good Catholics.

Where it gets complex is that creative writing is generally not for one reader, but for a large audience; and every reader is different. People will have different reactions, and one man’s near occasion of sin is another’s remote occasion. Again, I think it’s reasonable to go by how likely it is to have a bad effect on a significant number of people.

I also think it’s a good idea to get a second pair of eyes, or more, on your rough draft, especially from people well formed in the faith.

I guess it depends. I shudder when I read some of the filth written by the Catholic priest Father Greeley.

Writing something historically accurate would not be sinful. It would be like a journalist’s writing,
Writing something morally gray – ideally, a Christian will not write morally gray stuff. We should write works that show the truth, which is that evil deeds reap unpleasant consequences, and good deeds result in happiness, if not in the short term, certainly in the end.
We don’t need to lecture the readers, but we should portray reality as it is, which IMO is inherently moral, since God created reality.
Shakespeare’s works are highly moral, although they include murder, duels, infidelity, betrayal, and other unpleasantness – think of Macbeth.

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A person can write about an adulterous affair without being descriptive of details. The writer should not want to stir the imagination of the reader, as it may be a serious occasion of sin.

Sacred Scripture has writings of this kind…for example, David and Bathsheba. Just the facts are given.

But the problem is that life is morally grey to some extent: even the best of people do less-than-honorable things on occasion, and even someone who leads a sinful life can still do something good.

The main point made in the guidelines of the Catholic Writers Guild when determining whether it should award their Seal of Approval to a written work is that it should not PROMOTE anything contrary to Catholic teaching.

Murder, adultery, blasphemy, etc. may have a legitimate place in a work of fiction, but it should never be promoted or portrayed as morally good.

What does the Catholic Writers Guild consider to be murder?

I am struggling with this very same issue as a fellow writer.

There is a small opportunity to make a very nice profit on small time publishing contract. However, the editor wants me to turn in a romance/erotica installment :eek:

The money is super great on this opportunity, it really is. But would this cause others to sin?

Sure, they want “erotica” because that sells. Yes, it does cause others to sin.

I think murder is self-explanatory but murder should always be presented as a universal evil. Here are their guidelines:

blog.catholicwritersguild.com/seal-of-approval

I think it has all the merits required by Catholic writers. Even journalistic-syle writing should be avoided in fiction if the desire is to be too graphic. As a working editor, I’ve got a manuscript in front of me and I do remove all inappropriate scenes, details and graphic situations/language.

Ed

Murder really isn’t all that self-explanatory. For example, in the movie Taken, the protagonist has to gun down multiple human traffickers in order to rescue his daughter. He’s taking the law into his own hands, so could not that technically be considered murder? (killing people for revenge/rescue, and being justified in doing so, is a common theme in media).

Revenge is bad. I’ve seen too many A) Hero kills bad guy for revenge, or B) Hero doesn’t care about the law, so he sets up situations where the bad guy has to be shot. The “hero” is, in no way, being heroic.

Rescue is a different story. If there is no recourse, then yes, the bad guys will kill the hero and/or the person(s) that need rescuing if he doesn’t kill them.

Remember, you control everything. It’s not good to copy the movies of the last 20 years, or much TV for that matter. Play the hero smart. Give him backup, a plan, or get the law to help. There’s been too much “authority figures are too corrupt, so why work with them” that I’m sick of it. There’s also too much violence and killing because people who make movies think it’s OK.

Sure, if anyone - not you - thinks this is OK, or “modern” or “what sells” then nothing I write will convince them. But, too often, in the end, the audience is treated to the deaths of the bag guys because “they deserved it.”

The stories I tell are about justice. The bad guys live and are brought to justice. Not all law-enforcement personnel are bad. In fact, they wouldn’t be out there if their only goal was to be bad. “To Serve and Protect.” Not kill for revenge.

Self-defense is fine, but blood flying everywhere or brutal deaths carried out by the “hero” means he’s NOT a hero.

Justice. First.

Ed

I have a hard time thinking that it’s not a sin to write and publish, say, 50 Shades of Grey. It glorifies awful behavior; it debases society; no one is better off for reading it.

There’s a difference between Dante and Baudelaire.

I wasn’t saying it was OK, I was just pointing out a social trend in media.

I agree that “Hero solves his problems by punching them to death” is overdone, and really could be done more intelligently. Perhaps the hero makes it clear that he is not acting out of revenge, but because it is clear the bad guy will continue to hurt others unless stopped? Perhaps the after having his revenge the hero realizes that it brought neither closure nor peace? Or perhaps, and this is a radical idea, the hero learns to forgive the person who wronged him?

One interesting twist on this is Batman: while he shares a lot of similarity with the “violent revenge hero” that pops up in most media, one thing that makes this character stand out is his refusal to kill another person (not even the criminal who murdered his parents in front of him is exempt from the no-kill rule). In one Batman movie, The Dark Knight, a serial killer tries and ultimately fails to provoke Batman into breaking his rule.

As for treatment of law enforcement, I agree that unless the setting is in a totalitarian state (such as the USSR or Fascist Italy) the officers of the law should be treated (at the very least) as having good intentions.
Interestingly enough, under The Hays Code/The Motion Picture Production Code (a series of legal codes that used to regulate Hollywood to keep movies moral) revenge was only allowed to be shown in settings where there was no law enforcement; hence, any director hoping to make a revenge movie had to make it a western.

I write too, but I’m not published and have no wish or intention to be. I just write little stories, all fictional, or based on real or made-up people in the Bible, and keep it to myself. I just enjoy the writing of it, but I don’t want to turn it into anything more than that. I can relate to this thread. I know what you mean about Fifty Shades. I’ve never read the book, of course, never will, but have heard plenty about it. And, of course, not only is awful behavior glorified within its pages, but the secular world glorifies it as they do all immorality. The more twisted and filthy and violent the better, in their blinded eyes.
I am all right with reading/ writing mildly intimate scenes between a husband and wife. To me, that’s okay, because they are married, and it only needs to be mildly suggestive, not full-blown explicit the way most books are written. Lately, the romance novels even have become downright X-rated in my opinion. The covers are horrible. Not even lightly suggestive anymore. Now it’s all this Paranormal romance the rage, with vampires and blood and glorified immoral sex. It’s disgusting, and I stay away from it. I don’t know how it can appeal to anyone. I feel I have to wash my hands after I’ve handled the book (I work in a library), although I know it’s just a book and isn’t literally dirty. Just the mind of the sick author and the contents.

Obviously writing pornography is sinful. I think we can all agree on at least that.

Most of the Hays code is my template for good writing. The Batman movie you refer to was too violent. The Joker portrayed in it was far more insane than the first Joker. The trend is definitely downward - more brutality, more violence. All I’m saying is we need to reverse that trend.

Movies always carry messages. They are declining in showing messages that are good. The justifications for beating up the bad guy are less and less valid. There is nothing radical about forgiveness. The police officer who is shot by a criminal should realize what motivates criminal behavior. In the end, the man who shot him ends up in jail. Police standoffs are common in real life. They spend hours trying to get a barricaded gunman to realize he cannot escape and if he decides on violence as his way out, things will get worse for him. The police are equipped with a few devices that will bring down a violent person without killing him, but that’s rarely depicted in movies. Explosions, gruesome death or just ‘shooting up the place’ are more common ends.

As writers, we need to set our sights higher.

Ed

Of course this is true.
But the responsibility of the writer is to impose order on the chaos of reality. Reality is really not chaotic, it just seems that way to us because we can’t see most of God’s behind-the-scenes activity. (Have you seen “The Chicken Runs at Midnight” on youtube?)

So we must clarify the world in our writing, to show the reader that there really is order, that good will be rewarded, in the next life if not in this, and that evil will have consequences. We can do this without being preachy.
Otherwise there’s not much point in writing. Only modern “literary” novels, so I’m told, describe the meaninglessness of life. What’s the point? We can look around us if we want nihilism.

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Thank you for this excellent post. Yes, the arts should lift us up and teach us!

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