I recently discovered that I wanted more edginess in Christian fiction. It came as a surprise. I’d always been so uninvolved in that particular argument before.
It hasn’t escaped any of you that the world of Christian writers and readers, especially in the speculative fiction genre, has been engaged in a long-standing controversy over “edginess.” Edginess in art is a matter of pushing boundaries, and consequently is relative to what, and whose, boundaries. The boundaries, in this case, are those traditionally upheld in Christian publishing, limiting the treatment of violence and sex and often (not always) eliminating use of bad language, alcohol, and cigarettes.
I have decided to add to this controversy, though what I have to contribute is more a thought than an opinion, and more a question than an answer. But before I offer them up, some background.
What first got me thinking was Tamela Hancock Murray’s post “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry?”, addressing the subject of alcohol in Christian fiction. At the end, she asked, “Would you like to see Christian literature become even more edgy?”
And I thought: No, not really. But I would like to see Christian fiction become more accepting of alcohol use, including by heroes. This is not edgy to me; I’m a teetotaler in practice but not in principle, and I’ve never regarded alcohol as inherently wrong. And though I’ve had plenty of contact with Christians who rejected alcohol totally, that wasn’t the culture I was raised in. A hero sipping wine isn’t pushing my boundaries.
But it is pushing someone’s, and moreover boundaries still held in some sectors of Christian publishing. So maybe I would like to see Christian literature become more edgy. Who knew?
I wonder how much of the edginess controversy comes down to this. What makes the difference between the two sides may not be any grand question of art. It may simply be what each of us is, by theology, temperament, or experience, already prepared to accept. In other words, maybe the debate is not about whether boundaries in general should be pushed but whether certain boundaries should be pushed, and where we come down on the question will largely depend on whether or not they’re our boundaries.
I would not criticize this. It’s only sensible. Some boundaries should exist and some should not, and if we thought any boundary was right it would, of course, be ours. Naturally we oppose those boundaries we think are wrong, and if that’s called “edginess,” well, go for it.
In a curious way, however, this would also undermine some of the rhetoric used by people who advocate edginess. To be edgy, I have heard, is to get out of the safety zone. But if the boundaries aren’t yours, can the safety zone be yours? Doesn’t this really mean taking other people out of their safety zones? There’s no larger principle about not being “safe” if it’s somebody else’s safety you want disrupted, just as there’s no larger principle about pushing boundaries if it’s always other people’s boundaries.
So here’s the thought: Maybe “edginess” is nothing more or less than opposing other people’s boundaries. And here’s the question: Does that matter? What do you think?