Sin in reading

Dear all,

A little over a year ago, I reverted to the Catholic faith, and things have been going very well. I posted very regularly on this forum, but now use it occasionally. I would like some perspectives on an issue so I’d be grateful to get yours!

I use to read a lot of novels, but when I converted, there was so much for me to read about Catholicism that I haven’t really read any fiction for a year. Well, now I’d like to start again, but my first two attempts involved picking up supposedly reputed books, but they contained impure content, to the point that I had to put them down.
Also, I know that the Church used to have an index of books not to read. I am in a bit of a tricky situation vis-a-vis this index, because as a philosophy student most of the 16th to 20th century books that I have studied are on it! I would like to avoid reading offending literature in my free time too…

Now for my questions. Is reading a bad book a sin in itself, meaning exposing oneself to it, or is just indulging in impure passages and false philosophies (for example) the true sin? Secondly, if you are a reader of fiction, how do you choose your books? I thought about only reading Catholic authors, but that feels sad. My two favorite novels are by non-Catholics (Dickens and Tolstoy), and I really appreciate the opening onto different perspectives that good literature can give.

 Thank you for your thought and perspectives!


Hi Robert,

I don’t know if the Church still has this index or not.

I don’t read books that contain pornography, even the so-called soft kind. I know the Fifty Shades of Grey series is popular among women but I choose not to read it. A pastor at a church I attended preached against it.

I abhor violence so avoid that as well.

The Bible tells us to be careful about what we put in our minds.

You can always ask here. Put the title or author in the title of the thread & there’s sure to be someone who has read it & can give you feedback.

What I’ve learned to do is stop reading as soon as I realize a story is going the wrong way. Hard for an “addicted” reader to do - but it is possible!

If I own the book, it goes in the garbage. No reason to send it out to tempt someone. If it’s a library book, I just take it back.

And whatever you do, please don’t censor library books! There is someone in our town who does & it drives me batty. Crossing out the “bad” words simply draws attention to them - as well as defacing a book that belongs to someone else.

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As Bonnie said, if a book (or movie for that matter) is going the wrong way, I stop. I tend to research a book or movie before I invest time and money in it. I suggest looking at reviews of books and seeing if the reviews mention inappropriate material. I tend to read older books, anyway, at least when it comes to fiction.

As Bonnie said, again, try asking here, as well. :slight_smile:

Les Mis was on the index, I often wondered if we should avoid reading it. I would like to suggest Quo Vadis if you haven’t read it already. The James Herriot books were so fun and 100% clean.
Has anyone read Francine Rivers? She is a Christian writer but some of her books could lead to impure thoughts, is it wrong to read them knowing that?

The question of offense is misguided. We are called to avoid pornography, i.e. real or simulated sex, which of course has different parameters in literature (“they had sex” would not qualify) than in visual media (explicit sex scene). We are also called to avoid gratuitous and pornographic violence. Other than those criteria, the Church permits the faithful to exercise their consciences appropriately. If something is leading you away from God, then put it down. But “a bad word, ergo I must stop” is bad reasoning because bad language per se is not sinful. The thinking would rather be “bad words draw me away from God, ergo I must stop.” This may not be the case in every context for every person.

Now for my questions. Is reading a bad book a sin in itself,

The concept of a “bad book” is already problematic.

meaning exposing oneself to it, or is just indulging in impure passages and false philosophies (for example) the true sin?

Define “indulging.”

Secondly, if you are a reader of fiction, how do you choose your books?

Based on how intellectually stimulating and well-written they are.

I thought about only reading Catholic authors, but that feels sad.

No such restriction is necessary, though it is of course permissible.

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Thanks for your replies! I don’t have time right now to respond in detail, but I will do so as soon as possible!

Yes! I’ve learned how to do this. I think it is a good spiritual exercise.

Thanks for the suggestion!
So many books considered classics today were on the index, meaning that it was considered more or less harmful for a Catholic to read them. I’d like to learn more about what a book having been on the index means. I read somewhere a Vatican authority saying that the index was no longer binding, but that it was nonetheless to be taken seriously as a guide. Though I often hear Catholic intellectuals quoting authors from the index… Getting some clarification on this would be great.

I’m using it in the sense that books on the index were bad. This is admittedly a vague use of the word “bad,” but it’s meaning is pretty clear: a book that could probably be harmful because of its content.

Indulging would be using a false philosophy or an impure description as an occasion to sin, basically, to use perversions for pleasure. Many false philosophies are appealing and so are many impure things. Indulging in these will, as you put it, draw us away for God, and so is definitely something to avoid risking.

I guess that we must read to the extent what we find ourselves capable of. If you have a problem with lust, reading a book with some lustful content could be a very bad idea, etc. hum…

I welcome any more ideas on this topic!

When you want to make sure everything is OK with a book, look at the reviews first. Find out what the story is about, and get a feel for the setting and the author. Usually, bad authors write other bad books. Sometimes it is easy to identify bad books because of their bad authors. In fact, it’s an even better method to find good books, by looking up their authors. :thumbsup:

It is not binding. To me, that is the necessary clarification. It may still prove helpful to some individuals.

I’m using it in the sense that books on the index were bad. This is admittedly a vague use of the word “bad,” but it’s meaning is pretty clear: a book that could probably be harmful because of its content.

Right, but the individual must be factored in. The Church clearly teaches that we must use our consciences. Perhaps a better framework would be “a book that could probably harm me because of its content.” This is a fruitful perspective: instead of attempting to guess what books are “bad,” a notion that does not quite make sense, you can focus on which books are bad for you. No abstraction required; only personal conscience.

I think it depends on how it affects you. Whether you feel it will lead you to sin.

(caution to people suffering from scrupulosity: scrupulous people may think TOO QUICKLY that something will lead them to “sin”… speaking from experience…)

Right now I am reading a novel about a teenager who is clearly in some ways on a very wrong way, morally and spiritually, which can also be judged by her language. I feel however that reading it will NOT make me myself behave immoraly or think “oh yeah, she is right, I should talk/think like that too”. Rather, I hope that in the course of the story she will come onto the right path :). So I think it is ok for me to read it, as I am firm in my faith, and apart from these things the book is good, the story interesting, and lots of positive things are in there too e.g. about friendship and growing up and a young person having to deal with an extraordinary situation.

I remember stopping reading a book because the author used such bad language I was afraid I might “pick that up” from her. Especially as I read it in a language I was still learning. So in that case I think it was wise to not go on reading. Also if a book turns out to be too focussed on the sexual side of relationships… I don’t want to read that, I don’t think there is a point in reading that, it is something too private.
Sometimes when I read a book and like it and it has some too intimate scenes in it - a lot of novels do, don’t they? - I might jump a paragraph if I feel it might cause any sinful feelings… not sure sometimes where scrupulosity starts but in this case often I have chosen to be careful… as really I don’t need to read those details in order to get the story.

I think to a certain degree it is really a matter of personal judgement - knowing oneself and whether or not something might lead one to sin or have a negative effect.

I agree with you here. I guess that what I am still puzzled by is how reading affects us in a bad way. Maybe like Kathrin put it, if you can feel that the book is going in a direction that will be bad for you that is the criterion.

This can be a risky criterion though. I am convinced that mediums such as music, television and cinema can manipulate peoples’ thoughts and world-views without them being aware of it. I don’t see why the same is not true for reading. I guess that there is always that risk of not realizing that a book is harmful, and so thinking that it is safe and not realizing the effect of the harm.

That happened to me once - that I am aware of. :wink:

Quite a few years ago I was reading a popular book that had a lot of hells & damns in it. I didn’t think it was affecting me. But while chatting with a friend a damn slipped out. She looked shocked as she’d never heard that word from me, unless I was talking about damnation. When I got home the book went into the garbage. :slight_smile:

Also years ago, I remember reading about a survey that found that people who watched violent tv show - cop shows were all the rage then - tended to be more frighted than people who didn’t watch those shows. It was about that time I stopped watching tv.

Yes but then that goes for most things in life too. Things that could have, without our knowing, a negative effect on us, are for example: Talking to somebody, reading an interent forum, looking at a picture, even walking along a street.
I think then we couldn’t do anything anymore and THAT most certainly would have a bad effect on us. :wink: :wink: :wink:

Different if you become aware that something really has a bad effect on you.

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