This phrase is circulating around the blogosphere lately, a good phrase in itself and very true, that I have been pondering this last week. While the phrase is generally used to give a heads-up to people about explicit content in a story, I think it can be interpreted wrongly to mean that a reader is immature for not being able to handle a book.
If one sweeps sex, violence and language under the rug of 'maturity', that immediately pressures well brought up girls to face the fact that they want to be mature, and they also don't want to excuse sin. What are they to do? Some people are less sensitive to language, for instance. Others are not
In the desperation to be mature, aggressive readers can take on an attitude of "I can hold my liquor with the best of them," while other readers feel shame that they throw up when they drink it. Thus, the thought itself deserves some definition.
Do different levels of sensitivity mean different levels of maturity?
People would be well served to use 'older readers' phraseology instead of 'mature reader'. You can have a mature 12yo who isn't ready to handle Russian literature, for instance, or a mature 40yo that takes no interest in Russian literature. Maturity is somewhat individual. There are 12yos who can read Russian lit and handle it fine. The ability of one and the inability of the other does not define their maturity.
However, the appropriate time to allow them to handle certain themes defines their capability. There are pleasures and concepts in life that are better able to be handled after the frontal, emotional lobe has completely developed, so they can be handled properly and biblically. Thus, we have the phrase around our house "this is an older book", meaning it's good, but can do damage if read too soon.
Some Readers Are Immature
When I was younger, some things I called sin that were not. It was like in Screwtape where he's talking about the young Christian fiancee:
It is an unobtrusive little vice which she shares with nearly all women who have grown up in an intelligent circle united by clearly defined belief; and it consists in a quite untroubled assumption that the outsiders who do not share this belief are really too stupid and ridiculous. ~The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis, chapter 24There is a kind of self-righteous immaturity that can be extremely restrictive when it comes to reading. The idea that all characters must act with the same moral lifestyle as the reader, or they are in sin is unwise. (I.e., "Our family doesn't drink wine, so all characters who drink wine are in sin.") Also unwise is forcing everything to be neat and tidy and perfect and refusing to allow the book to combat real issues, conflicts, and sinfulness.
On the flip side, it is immature to have no boundaries whatsoever. Readers who don't think through the moral implications of the character's sin, who accept the author's words merely because they are a Christian, or who excuse wrongdoing because of a well-handled plot are relying on others to make judgments for them, and taking a shallow view of dominion-minded reading.
Most serious Christians grow out of both of these stages, and time is the best overcomer for this matter. Both are certainly very forgivable and natural mistakes that we all fall into at some point in our lives.
Some Mature Readers Choose to Abstain
Here is the crux of the matter.
While it is immature to deny sin, and immature to avoid sin, two equally mature readers may come to an appropriate difference as to how much sin they will choose to allow.
Now as to what's sin, and what's not--that's where the heart of the debate lies. But don't feel forced to cave in just because your standards are a little tighter than others. Conscience is individual. It is not to be violated for the sake of majority consensus, even if you find yourself treading a narrower path than everyone else.
The Recabites in Jeremiah were not immature for honoring their father and choosing to abstain from wine--even though other mature believers drank it. Readers are not immature for choosing to honor parents, avoid something that causes them special temptation, or abstain from something that they feel they are not ready to handle--whether other Christian readers are accepting it or not.
It would be immature to judge the level of their faith for choosing to participate; but it would also be immature to force yourself to accept the same things without flinching just because you desperately want to be considered one of the grown-ups. People will respect you for differing with them, even if your standards are narrower than theirs.
The mark of maturity means that other people may believe differently than you, but you do not allow that to shake you when you choose not to participate. Allow them to participate, because they have the freedom before God to do that. Don't force yourself to join the party if that violates your conscience.
The mark of maturity, as a friend once told me, means that whatever you can read to the glory and praise of God, with thanksgiving, you do, and not one whit further--no matter if the person sitting next to you is thanking God for it.
You do not need to be ashamed of that.
Thus, I think it's good to clarify.