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. . .because I’m about to post about the Twilight Series!
When you are finished gasping please note that no, I haven’t actually read them. No, I probably won’t. And no, I don’t have a hugely literary opinion upon them other than knowing that every person I know who has read them has nothing to say in their defense. My checkout girl at Whole Foods yesterday leaned across the counter and whispered the fact that she was reading them. Couldn’t admit it out loud. I even heard of one guy who put the book down three pages before the end because he just didn’t care. Can you imagine? What I am going to say about these infamous books is that gazillions of girls (and grown women) are a bit gaga over them, and it is this phenomenon upon which I will opine.
I read a Christian review recently that attributed Twilight’s popularity to the fact that all women have a selfish lust for worship, and that Twilight played to this want. Edward, a “god-like” character, and his love or “worship” of Bella, was supposedly what made girls all swoony over this series. I know I’m probably overreacting here, but whoa. Let’s stop right there and talk about this, because that sort of response from the “Christian side” is one I find to be all too familiar. It is a wholesale condemnation, not just of the books, but of the people who read them. At heart, it is simply provocation; the only response it can elicit from a girl who loves those books is defensiveness at best, total antipathy to Christians at worst. Entirely lacking in compassion, that review misses the fact that often, it is gaping, unmet needs of the heart that drive the appetites of a culture.
While I agree that these books manipulate the volatile emotions of teenage girls, I don’t think its lust for worship they exploit (though I’m sure there’s plenty of teenagerly swooning). I think its desire. This could get tricky, but that review convinced me that we God-lovers sometimes have a hard time knowing the difference between a sinful hunger and a sacred one. We are tempted to treat any strong, romantic (or otherwise worldly) desire as bad because we are (rightly) intent on keeping ourselves pure from an all too sinful world.
From what I understand, the Twilight books portray a shallow, self-centered view of love between a man and a woman. Sure, we can debate that view, but if we are quick to attack the girls enamored of it, we will miss a deep insight into their hearts. We are so quick to judge, we miss the point that not all desire is wrong. God made love and romance, beauty and food, laughter and laziness. We humans are made in such a way that we will literally die without community, touch, fellowship, and affection. Our want for these things is in keeping with the soul of our Creator. I believe that if we approach myriads of teenage girls as lustful, despicable sinners because they bear these needs, we’ll drive them straight away from the God who is longing for their hearts.
Thing is, I know, and rather adore, quite a few teenage girls. I remember being one (and have moments when I feel like one still). And I can guarantee you that most aren’t harboring a dark desire to be worshiped by a man. What they do want very much is to be loved. Are the lot of them boy crazy? Pretty much. And I’m sorry, but isn’t that part of how God made us? Sometimes I think we criminalize teenagers for having desires that God gave them so that, good grief, they’d get married and have kids. The problem is not that these girls like a boy.
The trouble is that there are thousands of girls, millions, who don’t have fathers, families, or homes to fill the gaping want in their heart or show them a holy way to have it filled. Fooled by a culture shaped by casual sex, isolation, and divorce, girls look to flirtation, to the swooning moonlight farce of self-centered infatuation portrayed in Twilight instead of the deep, self-giving love that comes with marriage, and the God who created it. They fill a sacred desire with a cheap, confusing satisfaction that will leave them hungrier than ever.
Yet the original desire for love remains a holy thing. I wonder if we underestimate the sacredness of desire, its power to speak to us of a God in whom all things are right and good. After all, every sin, every false desire, is only a degradation of an original good. In his allegory of heaven and hell, C.S. Lewis portrays a man who struggles with lust, and the man’s sin is pictured as a lizard perched ominously on his shoulder. When the man finally defeats his sin and casts the lizard from him, it becomes a snow white stallion that bears him deep into the new heavens and earth. The force of wanting for love in that man had been corrupted by sin. But when it was purified, the desire became what it was meant to be: a force to carry him straight to the heart of God.
I wonder if its the same for most of us, and for the gazillions of girls whose desires are corrupted by a promiscuous culture. Do their desires, do ours, need purging? Of course. We are all tainted by sin, frayed at every edge by need. Are teenage girls inherently selfish? Probably. I know I was. Am. Are they often misled by their emotions? Yes. But the answer is not to beat them over the head with condemnation. It’s to point them, and any seeker, to the God who will fill, heal, and answer their deepest desires with a goodness that will never destroy. A goodness that purges us of sin, enriches us with beauty. Delight yourself in the Lord, says Psalm 37, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
So. I still don’t know about those Twilight books, but I do know what I think about the girls who read them. What they need is a love that will never fail them. I know a Man for them. And I’m ready to make the introductions.
Sarah Clarkson is the author of several books including the best-selling The Life-giving Home, which she co-authored with her mother, Sally Clarkson. Sarah is currently studying literature at Oxford University where she's not only a brilliant thinker and writer, but is also the president of the C. S. Lewis Society.