Christian Response to Scandal Re: Marion Zimmer Bradley

ShatteredChain2I’ve blogged about my love for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover lately, and even started a Facebook page dedicated to the cristoforos of Darkover— a Catholic derived sect on the imaginary planet. And if both hadn’t been utterly ignored so far, I’m sure I would have been asked for my response to the scandalous accusations about Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The scandal is this: Mrs. Bradley’s husband, Walter Breen, was convicted of the sexual abuse of children and imprisoned. Now, 15 years after MZB’s death, an accusation was made that not only was MZB complicit in her husband’s sex crimes against children, but that she committed such crimes on her own. The Guardian: SFF Community Reeling after MZB’s Daughter Accuses Her of Abuse

Some of the responses in the blogosphere are so extreme that they not only demand that no further reading of MZB’s books should happen, there is the suggestion that the books should be burned. (Imagine what these book-burners would have said if conservatives offended by the homosexual characters in some of the Darkover books had held a book-burning because of that.)

I don’t believe that’s the appropriate response. As a Christian I believe that we are all sinners. We have all violated God’s moral law. And any violation of God’s law— from a simple bit of cruel gossip to serial killing— is bad enough to cut us off from God. So therefore we must respond to any accusation— or conviction of a person with the knowledge we ourselves are also guilty sinners. Only the death of Jesus Christ on the cross made it possible for any of us to be forgiven.

I read the Psalms of David in the Bible. This is what David once did: he spied on a woman bathing from his rooftop, and instead of turning his eyes away he sent for that woman and seduced her. And when the woman became pregnant, David sent her soldier-husband out with sealed orders that the man be sent on a suicide mission. This happened, and the man died, murdered by the king he served.

Can any decent person read the writings of a man so vile as to commit such a wicked crime? I know, David said he was sorry— after God sent a prophet to admonish him for his secret crimes. But we all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God, and so we keep the Psalms of David in our Bible— not even Martin Luther, who wanted to expel James and Revelation from the Bible, suggested that— we read the Psalms of David, and we use those Psalms, along with Psalms by other authors, as the basis for Christian prayer and worship— in the Mass and in Protestant services, in the Divine Office prayed by priests and religious, and in Psalm-based hymns.

Christianity not only points out our sins— even the sins we didn’t think were so bad— it provides a cure. And it is even possible that Marion Zimmer Bradley experienced that cure. I started reading her because, as a Neopagan at the time, I’d heard MZB was some kind of Neopagan or Wiccan. But I heard that later in her life, MZB attended an Episcopal church. So there is the possibility that MZB repented her sins— whatever those were— before her death, and received God’s forgiveness. And if God can forgive child abusers and serial killers, maybe we should be more forgiving as well?

MZB’s fictional world of Darkover is flawed, as all such worlds are, but it has brought intense happiness to Darkover fans. I intend to keep reading and to buy the new Darkover books being written by Deborah J. Ross, even though they don’t compare to the MZB-written earlier books.

Question: what would YOU do if your favorite writer did something very wicked, or was accused of it? Writers: what if YOU someday commit a notorious crime— is it fair if your books are tarnished because of it?

7 thoughts on “Christian Response to Scandal Re: Marion Zimmer Bradley

  1. Nissa, I believe I do not have the job qualifications to judge in God’s place. Besides, He might get steamed at my brazeness! Some years back I read a good many Darkover novels. Wasn’t THE BLOODY SUN one of them? Anyway, she got more “out there” for the younger me, and I strayed to other authors like Roger Zelazny, who had a quarrel with God, too, but he could tell a fascinating story! And he made me laugh. 🙂

  2. Hmm … what a tough question! I think that whatever a person’s beliefs and ways of living, right or wrong, those beliefs will make it into their writing, and readers should at the very least be aware of that. However, as you say, we are all sinners. So I think, in the end, it lies with readers themselves. If we read responsibly and conscientiously, and make sure we see things always through a Christ-centered worldview, then we should go ahead and read the things we enjoy – as long as we can honestly say they aren’t deterring our growth or relationship with God. I have enjoyed reading MZB in the past as well … but wasn’t aware of the scandal until I read your post!

  3. Because I was a Neopagan for many years, many of my favorite authors have non-Christian worldviews. Now that I’m a Christian, I still read my old favorites, but I hope with more discernment. And I hope all my favorite authors of that type make it to heaven and rewrite their books from a more heavenly point of view!

  4. Eternal rest grant unto the dead, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, especially those I am most tempted to judge. Amen.

    All I can comment on is the effect (on me) of her manifest work. That she was “out of her mind sexually,” as her daughter put it, is consistent with what I got from her books back when I was reading them in the late ’70s. Not indeed the books she wrote in the early ’60s, but by the ’70s the gloves were off. I think of the, er, climactic scene of The Forbidden Tower and also The Ruins of Isis (though it’s not Darkover). And I’m afraid what she thought of Christian sexual morality and those who struggle to follow it, at least as of the time she wrote Darkover Landfall, is shown by what Fr. Valentine does when he comes halfway to his senses after the Ghost Wind.

    Yes, it says something more about me than about her that those are the scenes I remember, whereas I’ve forgotten almost all of the rest of the stories. In those days I was much more beset by insecurities from within and without concerning the mystery that is woman (terrible as an army with banners). I am sorry to say it is actually a lifting of a burden to learn that she was not typical. Thanks to all readers of this for their patience.

  5. Jerome, I’m reading some MZB books now to psych myself up for a new/old writing project I’m working on, and it’s hard not to read things into it. I think there’s nothing in the MZB books as far as sexual ‘liberation’ goes that I might not have written myself back when I was a feminist and in rebellion against Christianity, and I certainly wasn’t going out there accumulating much practical experience at the sex stuff.

    I take the hopeful view that the cristoforos and Fr. Valentine were MZB’s efforts to come to terms with Christianity, and she could not make herself portray it as all bad, she sensed there were good things there.

  6. Other peoples wrong doings* are no justifications for accepting/supporting the works of a child abuser and/or rapist. Even if that were not true its a sad fact that all royalties of Bradley’s books go to individuals who have said nothing to distance themselves from Bradley’s atrocious acts. Not one penny goes to Bradley’s abused children. People should consider that when thinking about buying, supporting or reading Bradley’s works.

    *as the concept of “sin” is a uniquely christian one, I have no business using it.

  7. ‘Sin’ is not a uniquely Christian concept. ‘Christian’ is capitalized. And since Mrs. Bradley was not convicted in a court of law, the presumption of innocence is in effect.

    And as for the requirement to ban her books, do we destroy Michaelangelo’s David because Michaelangelo may have been guilty of sexual wrongdoing? I think not, if we are civilized.

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