Disclaimer: This essay is aimed primarily at Christians, because few others will sympathize with the dilemma, or care about the argument. As such, it's full of unashamedly Christian language and references to the Bible. If that upsets you, you don't have to read it. Consider yourself warned.
I wrote this because I am a Christian woman who enjoys slash fiction, and I don't see anything wrong in that. But it took me much soul searching, prayer, reading the Bible and commentaries, and discussion to get to that position, and I would like to share my conclusions with other slash-reading Christians, in order to spare them the months of struggle, self-doubt and self-hatred that I've gone through.
So, you're a Christian, and that is very important to you. You love God and want to do his will. You want to obey him, but you can't stop reading slash... You want to stop, because you believe it's wrong. The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin, and it is therefore wrong to vicariously enjoy it.
You've tried to stop, but it's like an addiction - you keep coming back, and even if you can keep away from the stories, your own fantasy life is full of slash, and you can't get away from that. You're tired of fighting, tired of losing, afraid that God will condemn you, afraid that God hates you, because you are repugnant in his sight. You cry out to Him to free you from this sin. But he doesn't.
Perhaps you've tried to talk about it to your Christian friends, and you have suddenly experienced the full force of the condemnation which the Church can inflict; 'how could you do this? how could you betray your principles like this? this is a crisis of faith - you must stop the fantasizing, or lose your faith. God will disown you. God hates this.' And you're in despair, because only you know how hard you've tried to stop, but you can't.
I know, I've been there.
Or perhaps you come from the other side. Perhaps you're a Christian who cannot believe how vile this slash fiction is, how perverted and Godless the people must be who read and enjoy it - let alone those who write it. You feel it's your moral duty to speak up against it, to protect people from another of the evils of this permissive society of ours.
I hope this essay will help you too. I offer it in praise of God, whom I now understand to be far better, far kinder, far more accepting and loving than I had ever imagined. What truth is in it, He showed me. He rescued me from despair and in the process taught me to love him more, to detest a great injustice in society which previously I had ignored, and to resist the narrow legalism of the Church, which has turned into an instrument of hatred, where God intended us to be instruments of his love.
1. Erotic fiction per se; is it wrong?
To answer the question whether all erotic writing is wrong we need look no further than the Bible, which contains an entire chapter of erotic fiction called 'The Song of Songs.' It's not particularly explicit, but it is quite clearly a celebration of physical attraction, love and sex.
It's also (if commentators are to be believed) an allegory of the relationship between God and his Church, or the soul and Wisdom. But having deeper meaning does not mean that it is not a piece of erotic writing. On the contrary, it means that even erotic fiction can be used (a) to convey deeper truths, and (b) to glorify God.
'I'm not sure,' you might say. 'I don't think you should arouse sexual desire in any way other than with your spouse. Not even in thought. Not even with het erotica. After all, doesn't Jesus say that if a man even looks at a woman in lust he has committed adultery with her?
If that is so, then I would hope that as a Christian you were as vocal in objecting to the many depictions of het sex in mainstream films, on the TV and in books, as you are in objecting to slash. Many Christians are, of course, and I commend them for having a standpoint of integrity.
However, I don't think Jesus' words need to be taken to rule out all forms of erotica. He was talking about a married man (or woman) allowing themselves to lust after a real person, with whom adultery might be possible. Someone who would - if given the chance - sleep with someone other than their spouse.
This is not the case with those reading erotica. Firstly because - as with the Lover and the Beloved of the Song of Songs - the people in these stories are not real. There is no possibility of unfaithfulness, no intention of unfaithfulness, and indeed the reader cannot be (and does not want to be) part of the action. This is quite different from lusting after - wanting to have sexual congress with - anybody.
As C.S.Lewis says, sometimes it may be a married person's duty to increase their sexual urge to avoid frustrating their spouse, and erotica may be a useful way of achieving this.
But I digress.
Given the existence of the Song of Songs, many Christians would rightly say that heterosexual eroticism is not ruled out by the Bible. But they would object very strongly to slash (homosexual) eroticism.
It's not hard to see why. Most Christians believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin; more than a sin - an 'abomination'. It cannot be right to derive pleasure from a sin. Paul says; "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." And they then conclude that they should not be thinking about gay sex, let alone having it form an important part of their fantasy life.
I think this is right. It must be harmful to take great pleasure in dwelling on murder, for example. It must be harmful to enjoy sin even in the imagination.
However - and here is the crux of the argument - the Bible does not say that homosexuality is a sin.
2. Homosexuality - is it a sin?
This is a question that requires a book in itself. Fortunately, that book has been written. It's called 'What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality', by Daniel A. Helminiak, and you can find it at Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk. I recommend it heartily, and suggest that - if the question worries you - you go and check out this reading list:
Gay Christian Reading List
For the purposes of this essay I will just summarize the points made in this book, starting with the most obvious;
The story of Sodom does not condemn homosexuality; it condemns violence towards strangers, inhospitality and the attempted gang-rape of angels.
The related text in Jude about 'going after strange flesh' refers to sex between humans and angels. (If you remember, sex between human women and angels had created the race of giants, and that also was seen as a very bad thing.)
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 condemns lying with a man as with a woman as 'an abomination'. Abomination is an unfortunate translation for the Hebrew word, which means 'something which is unclean under the Purity Law.' Like eating shellfish, or touching a dead pig, it made a person ritually unclean. Since, under Grace, Christians have been released from the requirements of the Law, this does not apply to us.
Romans 1:19-32 equally refers to homosexuality as 'unclean' not as a sin. Paul's gist in this passage is that Gentile Idolatry lead to ritual uncleanness *and* it lead to real sin (such as envy, murder, strife, deceit etc). Paul then goes on to attack the notion that anything is unclean, and to maintain that it is only real sin which matters. In saying this, he actually places homosexuality in the category of 'things which are OK for Christians - like eating non kosher food.'
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are difficult to interpret because the greek words used are uncommon, and modern scholarship isn't entirely sure what they mean. But the consensus seems to be that they condemn male prostitutes (or just men who are lazy and self-obsessed) and men who prey sexually on other men, using power or money to force others to have sex with them. (Possibly they may be the clients of the prostitutes...but no one really knows.)
To assume that this is a blanket condemnation of gays is the same as assuming that a condemnation of pimps is a condemnation of all heterosexual sex.
The Bible does not classify all gay sex as a sin.
Therefore slash readers are not in the position of taking pleasure in imagining a sin. They are in the same position as readers of heterosexual erotica. And as we've seen above, that is not a position of condemnation.
We can accept gays, and we can accept ourselves. God does not hate us for this expression of the sexuality that he gave us. His church may still condemn us, but He does not, and that's what matters.
If we now go back to that passage from Paul:
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
We can see that the reading and writing of slash is not ruled out by this. On the contrary, if we are reading about love, about self-sacrifice, about heroism - as, in Lord of the Rings slash in particular, we often are - we are obeying this instruction. Remember that the Song of Songs embodies a truth about the overwhelming joy of the soul's love for God? Slash fiction too can contain wisdom, purity, beauty.
I know that I have found moments of deep loveliness in slash fiction - representations of the heartbreaking tenderness of first love; of awe. I have read slash stories which were beautiful, spiritual, softened my heart to feel compassion and made me praise God.
Of course, I've read absolutely ghastly ones as well. Not all slash is good slash, and there are stories out there which make you want to wash out your head with lye. Like drinking wine, it's a pleasure that has to be faced with responsibility, remembering that love is the nature of God, but torture is not, nor is unbridled promiscuity, nor rape. We still need to be careful about what we approve of, what we learn to enjoy. But we need not condemn the whole genre, nor ourselves. God did not make us - with our strange sexuality - just to suffer, or to be sent to hell.
He did, however, call us to fight injustice...
I could leave it there. After all, this was supposed to be an essay about slash fiction, not about gay rights. However, if you've suffered condemnation for enjoying slash, and if it's left you feeling crushed, worthless, desolate, then consider this: this is what gay people go through all of their lives.
Straight women who like slash can do it in secret. We can fit into society and no one will ever know. But gay people who want to live together in love - something the Bible does not condemn - cannot. If we don't speak up, we won't have to face the terrible, soul-destroying hatred of our fellow Christians. But gay people cannot get away from it.
This is wrong. This is a terrible injustice being perpetrated by Christians on innocent people, and we should not stand for it. While there is doubt that the Bible condemns homosexuality at all, how can we condone our churches telling people they are outcast, damned - in rebellion against God? It is appalling.
If you are a slash reader, then you are lucky enough to know in a minor way what it feels like. Let's take that sympathy and try to change people's attitudes in the Church about gay people, opposing hatred, sure in the knowledge that God is love.
If you are anti-slash, then consider this; the Pharisees believed that they could become holy by obeying all the laws in their Bible. Did Jesus praise them for that? No, he condemned them for cold-heartedness, for using those laws to make people suffer - for keeping people away from God. Jesus treated lepers, and women, adulteresses and thieves with kindness and acceptance. God sent Phillip to the Ethiopian eunuch (a class of men famous for having sex with other men), and Phillip baptized him without saying a word of condemnation.
Please, take these as your models, and remember that even if homosexuality is a sin (which it is not), we are all sinners. The next time you are tempted to write a review saying 'this is disgusting, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!' remember what Jesus said, and before you try to take the speck out of your brother's eye, first take the plank out of your own.