The Character and Influence of Good and Bad Literature

Louis Berkhof

1. The CHARACTER of Good and Bad Literature.

The word "literature" is here used in a limited sense to denote collectively those literary productions of the human mind that are works of art rather than of science, and that are meant to be read rather than studied. They may be works of poetry or prose, biographies or histories, books of travel, historical romances or works of fiction generally, etc.

These literary productions may be divided from various points of view. The distinction made in our subject is a moral distinction. Good books are those that are characterized by a good moral tone, that praise virtue and piety, that reveal to us something of the ideal beauty of life while they condemn all evil. Bad books, on the other hand, are those that describe evil in such a manner that it appears virtuous, and that mock at religion and morality. This is done in many of the sentimental romances that describe the lowest stages of society, and that teach immorality and represent vice as heroism.

2. The INFLUENCE of Good and Bad Literature.

The books we read naturally exercise a great and lasting influence on us. In that respect they are like the people with whom we associate. We may even call them our best friends, since they are always the same, are ever faithful and never grow peevish. It is readily understood that their influence may be for good or for evil.

Good literature has an elevating influence, where it reveals to us something of the ideal beauty of life. Moreover, it ennobles us by bringing us into soul-contact with noble characters. This again is instrumental in leading our lives into the right channels. And finally the reading of good literature affords us relaxation and thereby renews our strength for life's arduous task.

Bad literature, on the other hand, has a degenerating influence. It draws us down into the mire of sin, blunts the moral faculties by palliating and even glorifying evil, pollutes the imagination by immoral representations, and, by the unnatural excitement it produces, causes weariness and fatigue and often leads to sins of thought or act.