Let's take this one as a given: No matter their religion, or non-religion, most people have a moral code they live by. Certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. There may be some exceptions, such as sociopaths, serial killers, my inherently evil sink full of dishes, and toddlers throwing tantrums, but for the most part, people believe there are good ways and bad ways behave. These morals vary across individuals, cultures, generations, etc.
Next question is, what influence does a writer have on a reader's beliefs and moral values? (I'm not going to even get into TV and movies here--they're a whole different animal). Can you change what someone else thinks or feels through your books? Has a book ever changed you? If so, what is your obligation as a writer? Even if your character is a hermit, your book still needs conflict. How are you going to treat this conflict? Here's another question: If your main character doesn't come from the same background as you, is he/she going to see moral dilemmas the same way?
As a reader, preachy books annoy me. I don't want the character telling me what's right.
As a writer, I've learned that you can't please everyone. Let's take the Twilight books, for example. It's been not so high on everyone's moral horse for different reasons. Some people hate them because they think vampires and other paranormal creatures are too much like witchcraft. Some don't like the sex. Others don't like Bella's abandoning her plans when she gets married and pregnant at a young age.
Some complaints about "questionable" books might sound like this:
"The author makes it okay that (insert evil action here)"
"The author makes the evil characters likeable/normal/sympathetic"
"The depiction of (evil action) is inappropriate for young readers"
"(Evil action) is glamorized"
"(Character who committed evil action) never faces the consequences for his/her actions"
"I can't believe someone who shares my culture/religion/politics/shoe size would write this way"
What it comes down to, either spoken or not, is the end of the sentence, which goes something like this "...so readers/young people learn that..." and you can fill in the appropriate (or not) blank as you please.
Is that what readers do? Do they automatically assume that whatever printed matter they read is true, valid, and should make up their moral code? How malleable are the minds of the people who pick up books, and should we care? If I write about how fun it is to vandalize buildings, am I partially responsible when some teenager reads my book and decides graffiti is her true life calling? If I put something less than ideal in my book, am I being realistic or immoral?
And as a reader, if I disagree with the morals in a novel, should I put it down, or do I have a (moral--ha ha!) obligation to keep an open mind and see the book through to the end?
I phrase these as questions because I don't have the answers. But I'd be interested to hear your opinions.
BTW, gentle sphere, sorry about the evil font issues on this post. Blogger is out to get me.