Monday, July 16, 2012

Cultural Belief Systems and Christian Speculative Fiction, Take 2

Hello blogger friends. :D  This is going to be a rather long post – one of the longest blog posts I think I’ve ever written – so if you get through the entire thing, I commend you!!!

I’m writing this post because I think I might need to clarify what I meant in my last post.  Reading through the post again, and reading through the comments, I start to realize that the true purpose behind my post was not understood the way I hoped it would be (I think perhaps I beat around the bush a lot before actually trying to come to the point).  Hopefully I can clear it all up in this post. J

Before you read this post, however, I think it would be a great idea if you headed on over the first post and read through the comments.  A lot of the comments touched on what I originally meant for my post to portray, but they worded it better. ^_^

And now, ONWARD! :D

First off, I’m going to use part of one comment left from my last post.  It had some very good points in it. :D

 Philip Nelson said...

First off, there aren't moral shades of grey. Anyone who thinks that hasn't seen Good (or has refused to). (See how Job repented when he saw God, for instance, or what happened when Daniel came face to face with the glory of God.)

What makes it complicated is that Evil is the counterfeit of Good. That's the original sin: Lucifer thinking in his heart that he could make himself like God.

But God is incorruptible, and outside God things wear out. So, one way to tell whether something is good or evil is durability: in the long run, evil always wears out; good never does.

Philip has some very good points.  First off that there aren’t any shades of grey in morality.  Actually, this was pointed out in several of the comments from my last post, not just in Philip’s. 

Don’t worry guys!  I don’t believe there are shades of grey in morality, at least in the morality that I perceive.  That really wasn’t the point I was trying to get across.  Morality doesn’t deal in grey… only in black and white.  The problems come when Morality is placed into a religious belief… and before you guys jump all over my tale because I said that, wait a couple of minutes; I will explain. :D

It is quite simple.  Morality, as with all other aspects of human nature, can be distorted from its original purpose when it is tagged on to a belief system, or even to a personal belief or outlook.  Take murder for example… Murder is considered a morally wrong act – a vicious act of death.  Why then is it considered an honor in the Islamic society for suicide bombers to not only take their own lives, but to murder hundreds of innocents in the process?  In that case, murder is not considered morally wrong by the suicide bomber… it is considered an act of honor and valor, even though the rest of the world may see it as a horror. 

Morality, as with any other aspect of human nature, can be twisted from its purpose.  What is right and wrong can be skewed so that what is wrong can be seen as right… thus creating the “grey” I was talking about in my last post. 

But, as Philip mentioned, God is incorruptible. No matter what any of us believe, the Truth that is God is absolutely and 100% incorruptible.  Morality aside, what is true with God is ALWAYS true, and any truth that is not with God is not a truth at all, but a falsity.

Now, I have no problem with Christian writer’s showing this in their books.  In fact, I encourage it; there need to be more Christian books out there dedicated to showing this truth. 

The problems come when writers try to make it all TOO evident – when the right and the good is so evident that there is no point in choosing the wrong at all.

“Well,” you say, “That’s the point, isn’t it?  To have readers understand that they should choose the good over evil?  To make it so that the characters understand that they should always choose what is right over what is wrong?”

Uh… no, actually.  Well, yes… but no.

You see, I’ve read so many books like this, it’s not even funny.  I even started writing one and one point in time, but I stopped.  These are the books where the right choice is almost easier to follow than the wrong choice… which, in reality, is almost NEVER the case. 

Here’s another great Comment from my last post.  (I really do suggest you go and read the full comments… they are very thought provoking. :D)

Nathan Petrie says:

…What a lot of Christian Spec. Fic. tries to do, is present this in the clearest way possible: black and white. Because the world actually IS black and white, even if it's hard to see sometimes. There is only one right way to salvation and one right and one wrong. As for faiths, Christ is right, and everything else is wrong. That is a two option choice--Christ, or something else. Therefore, a lot of Spec. Fic merely simplifies the choice to show the ridiculousness of believing anything else. 

I agree with most of what Mr. Petrie’s saying, except for that last part…. Where he says that most Spec. Fic. merely simplifies the choice to show the ridiculousness of believing in anything else.  THAT is where I think most Christian Fiction writers are going wrong.  I’m not saying we should blur the lines between what truth is and what lies are, but simplifying the choice isn’t going to help in my own opinion.

Why?  Because the choice isn’t simple at all.   The choice to Christ may be right, but it’s not a simple one.  And following Christ is certainly NOT easy.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~ Mathiew 7: 13-14

The bible says it clearly: Those who enter by the wide gate and follow the easy path to destruction are many.  The people don’t even realize that they are on their own way to destruction.  What is difficult is choosing the gate that is narrow and walking the path that is hard.  Very few people enter through this gate.  

And why?  Because the choice between the Truth and a lie, between right and wrong, is certainly not simple.  The wrong choice is easy from the get-go, though it ultimately leads people to a dark end.  However, the right choice… the right choice is often paved with hardships and apparent troubles; it can be difficult to follow; a person may stumble a lot.  And yet this path is the one that leads to true freedom, and that is because it begins with the right choice… with Christ and salvation. 

Now, I would like to go back to my last post, pull a few things that I had touched upon, and use them to explain what was originally supposed to come across from my ranting. I understand that my purpose wasn’t clear last time, but hopefully I can make it clear now. *sheepish smile*  

I said:

I AM saying that I’m tired of Fantasy worlds where there are multiple cultures and races but only one True belief system for all of them; all the characters believe in One Ruling God (no matter their culture or race) and in one evil entity, and all the good characters are trying to work together to overcome the bad ones.  There may be some neutral characters, who don’t really take a side, but they still know that the sides are there to take and there is almost not middle ground.

I stand by this statement.  It pretty much sums up what I was saying earlier… that in many Christian Fiction books the choice to right is often SO clear that there is hardly a choice at all.   No matter what race or culture the characters come from, they all believe in the One true God (which isn’t true of humanity in this world, and almost never was unless you go clear back to the very beginning of the world, or even to the time after Noah).  And in these books, only the Evil Character and his minions are bad, and his minions are either just smaller parts of him, or characters that he forced to be evil.  And of course, all the good characters are trying to overcome the bad characters so that the world can be made perfect again.

There’s a key word in there, though: forced.  I’ve seen the technique used before with “evil entities” and other characters’ free-wills.  It doesn’t work.  And WHY doesn’t it work???  Because within the law of free-will, neither God nor Satan can force a human to do anything.  Humans can force other humans, but God will not force his people to love or obey Him – they have to choose to do that for themselves.  And Satan may be able to manipulate the thoughts and minds of men, but he can’t force a human to do anything they didn’t ultimately choose to do themselves.

Satan can, however, and often does lead people mentally astray… THIS is what has built up the many different cultural belief systems of the world today.  Satan was able to convince Eve in the Garden that God had not actually meant that she would die should she eat of the forbidden fruit, and so Eve ate of it.  And ever since that day, Satan has worked to discredit the actual word of God… he has built up his own followers and they are scattered all over the world.  Some of them don’t even realize that they are not actually following the truth, but are instead part of one great gigantic lie!  A lie that spans ages, generations, and many differing belief systems… all of them originally clinging to some form of truth, and all of them ultimately failing and falling in the end. 

And let me tell you something; all these different belief systems and cultural histories by no means make the choice to Christ any easier to find or to follow.  Each one of these belief systems claim that they are the only way to the light; they all think that they are right and they all claim that they have the truth, but Christ said that there is only ONE way to Truth, and that is through Him.

So then why do writers try to make the choice SO evident, when it is CLEARLY not?  I mean, part of what makes Wayne Thomas Batson’s “The Door Within Trilogy” so good for middle graders to read is the fact that all of the characters had and made their own choices; they could CHOOSE to follow the light, or the dark, or remain neutral, but they HAD to choose.  And often times, choosing the dark seemed the best answer; there was lots of money to be had, and power, and food, and wealth…  It was not easy to be part of the “good guys”.  In fact, it was often much harder to be good than it was to be bad. 

It’s like that in real life too.  

This is what I was trying to get at when I was speaking about adding multiple cultures and belief systems to Christian Speculative fiction.  The choice is important… in the real world, and in speculative fiction.  It is the choice that makes or breaks not only the story, but also the character, and often the plot.   But WHAT does your character have to choose from?  Why?  How?

Here’s another statement I made in my last post:

I said:

“It is my belief that a believable story world should be based on the truths perceived in this world, since this world’s history is supposedly known as reality.”

I realize now that that is a confusing statement.  I’m going to try to clarify it here.

What I meant was that I think writers should look to this world’s history for examples of choices to put in their books depicting right and wrong.  Not that they should only write historical fiction, no.  Historical fiction is fine in its own way, but I’m not going there at the moment.

However, think about the history of the world – even the history of Christianity.  There is so much conflict with other belief systems and other religions… other cultures.  History itself has brought Christianity to what it is today – and it was stock full of pitfalls and temptations. 

Think on the reformation, if you will.  That’s a time in history that I’m going to be using in subtle context within my novel, “Song of the Daystar”.  The time when the Protestant Faith decided to break away from Catholicism, which ultimately led to the creation of the different denominations within Christianity today.  Granted, I am not a big fan of the different denominations and I personally believe that God’s church should be of one body and mind, but STILL!!!  That's part of the beauty of Freedom in Christ -- Christ gives us the freedom to be diverse; to be ourselves in His truth.  Without Christ and his Truth, and by extension without the reformation, I technically wouldn’t even be allowed to think on such things without it being a danger to my life!    

Even before the time of Christ there were different belief systems that ended up tempting and eventually overcoming God’s Chosen.  I think now of the time when Moses went up to the mountain for the making of the Ten Commandments, and in his absence the people made an idol of a calf and began to worship it.  Or how about in the time of Elijah, when the people of Israel were oppressed by Jezebel and Ahab, and had turned their eyes to the false god, Baal? 

In the end, Truth prevails, but the other choices… the other cultural beliefs, the other religions… are there to tempt the people of God; to try and turn them astray.  THIS is where the real spiritual battle begins, and this is what so many books in Christian Speculative fiction seem to be missing.  I’ve seen it done well in a few of them, but there are so many other books out there that are just missing the point!

This is another part of why I think multiple cultures and belief systems should be added to Christian Speculative fiction… not as a truth in itself, mind, but as choice; as a temptation.  And think on this: the people of other belief systems do actually think that they have the key to truth, even if they don’t really.  Thinking this, they can be very persuasive and very defensive when it comes to their faith.  (That’s what I meant when I kept saying that people of different cultures and different belief systems see black and white differently.  I never meant that Black and White were negotiable; simply that people see right and wrong with different perspectives… and this was not meant to bring morality into the debate, although it ended up sneaking its way in anyways. ;D) 

What’s saddest of all is that often times the people of different belief systems such as the Muslims and the Buddhists are more loyal to their religion – to their faith – than the Christians are with our walk with God.  I’ve seen this first hand; I know it’s true.  It’s so, so sad… but unfortunately, it is a truth for many Christians (me included in many instances).  This fact, however, can make the people of those belief systems even more convincing when it comes to arguing out their beliefs.

However, it’s like I said in my last post:  I believe that part of the wonder of True Salvation is the fact that there are so many other (false) belief systems in the world a person could pursue, and yet it is the truth behind Christianity – the truth of Christ – that draws people in to seek God’s face and find True Love and Salvation in Him.

Why do you think that so many churches send missionaries to foreign countries steeped in the cultural beliefs of a lie?  The Islamic and Buddhist and Hindu countries?  It isn’t to learn their belief systems… it is to spread the light and truth of Christ.  But even our missionaries need to be wary, and need to be covered by prayer when approaching such matters.  It’s dangerous; unsafe.

The path to true salvation is not an easy one: the gate is narrow and the way is rough and pitted.  BUT, making that first initial right choice in a whole world filled with much more succulent looking wrong choices is the first real step.

THAT, my friends, is what I meant when I wrote my last post.  THAT is what Christian Speculative writers need to work on putting into their stories – stories that have been missing that all-important spiritual conflict for so very long.  THAT is why I believe that multiple cultures and belief systems should be included in Christian Speculative Fiction – not as different forms of Truth, but as temptations and pitfalls; beliefs that are thought to be true by those who believe in them, but that ultimately lead to destruction.

With these choices before them, along with the choice that leads to salvation and redemption, the characters of a story have a long and difficult road before them.  If they are not already aware of the Right Choice and the Right Path, then they may have difficulty understanding it; they may end up turning aside, looking at other belief systems, thinking that other religions and cultures hold the key to the truth that they crave.  They may not be able to fully grasp what true salvation is… some of them may even fail in their journeys.

BUT, that’s why I usually pair my characters like this with another character who does know the difference… Who has been in that position before, and works to help lead my other character in the right direction.

Take my character Curron, for instance; he’s a young boy who grew up hearing stories of Anahdor  (the representation of God in my book) but never actually knew what true faith and belief in Anahdor actually meant or what it called for.)  Curron is eventually paired up with another character in the story known as Caellahn; Caellahn has already chosen the path to salvation through Anahdor, but he has to be careful because the King has issued a law that bans certain outlooks and views of worshiping Anahdor. (This is where I will start to work in certain aspects of the Reformation period, as well as subtly touch on some thoughts on denominational separation.) 

On his journey with Caellahn, Curron is going to be introduced to different cultural beliefs… all of them false, and all of them just different facets of darkness that eventually lead to the father of lies and deceit. (In my story, that evil character is known as Ungahl.)  And yet, when Curron is introduced to these belief systems, the people of those religions will, of course, think that their beliefs are the only ones that hold the key to truth.  They are deceived by Ungahl, but they don’t even realize it.

Curron will also be introduced in many places to those who believe as Caellahn does, who have found the one true path to salvation and redemption, and who will help Curron and pray for him as he works through his own inward struggle to find God.

Perhaps now you are starting to understand what I tried to get across before: I never meant for anyone to think that I believe in multiple truths, or that I think that there are different types of white and black, right and wrong.  I simply meant that often times, people who believe in something other than the Truth think that they are right: they THINK that they know right and wrong, black from white, when in reality they are just wrong.  There is no other way to God but One. 

AND YET, it is the very fact that there are people like that and belief systems like that in this world that often confuses people between the truth and some random falsity.  If done correctly, multicultural belief systems could be the key to revealing to our characters and therefore to our readers (through a series of events and plotlines, of course) the only ONE TRUE PATH to salvation – through Chirst.  

We should not try to purposely exclude such elements from our stories because they are wrong, we should not keep our outlook of God stuffed in a box, and we should definitely not try to ignore these aspects of our reality and of this world by excluding them from our books.  Why?  Because IF they are used correctly, adding this extra depth to the world of our story could actually aid us in our mission to reveal the Truths of Christ through fiction.

And that was my point all along.

What do you think?


Emilyn J Clover said...

Finished the post! It was shorter than I thought it would be, lol.
Yes, I believe that exactly. Good job! I looked at the scroll thing and it made it look like the post was a whole book long, so I began to scroll down to see the end but then I found it two seconds later.
Yep, only black and white. Of course, in a different topic, people believe that no one is black or white, which is very true too. I mean, people have stories behind them. No one is perfect except God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit, and no one is as evil as the devil. That's the point that the book Auralia's Colors tried to get across.

Galadriel said...

While I can understand where you're coming from, there's something wonderful about a world so straightforward, sometimes.

Philip Nelson said...

Yikes! I wasn't trying to give you a hard time, Nichole. :)

I didn't think you were saying you didn't believe in good and evil or black and white. I was really trying to talk about the notion that evil is diverse and therefore interesting, when it's neither for very long. (And I don't know if you were trying to say that, I just felt like writing it. :)

Now, I'm not sure I'm disagreeing with you here or not (I'm not trying to, either way :), you just inspired me to write this). I'll say this about choices: all people who can choose are without excuse if they choose against the Truth, because God daily preaches the gospel to every person on the planet (see Psalm 19, and also where Paul quotes Psalm 19 in Romans 10:18, and then Romans 1:18-20).

No matter how murky the world may be, God never leaves himself without witness. And those who reject the message of the glory of God declared by his creation are given over to reprobate minds, and God actually chooses their delusions (Isaiah 66:4).

So, the lies that people believe, God picked those lies for them to believe, because to believe those lies, one must reject the Truth first (see II Thess. 2:10-11).

Consider the circumstances of King Ahab's death, for an example of that principle in action.

And I could go on, but I'll stop there. :)

Star-Dreamer said...

Philip: lol! I didn't think you were giving me a hard time. haha! I just wanted to explain what I meant... I mean, like I said, I read back through the post and realized there were quite a few places that could sound like I meant something TOTALLY different than what I actually meant. I just thought I'd better clarify. :)

And btw, good points all. I definitely see what you mean. But that is also my point... God chose their delusions, but do they consciously understand that they aren't really following the truth? I mean, God would never leave himself without a witness, no, so whoever makes a decision against God has done so conciously... but why? What is their reasoning?

The human mind is fickle and easily manipulated. I just read a Middle Grade Christian Fantasy book that touches on some of this, and it was absolutely AWESOME! I'm preparing to do a review on it. It definitely started me thinking about certain things... I would even go so far as to say it could be right up there with the Chronicles of Narnia... and believe me, I certainly do not say THAT lightly. lol! :D

Philip Nelson said...

Nichole, I don't think there is any reasoning for rejecting God. There may be reasons for rejecting religious counterfeits of God or an abstract notion of God, but there's no reason at all for rejecting God having once seen Him.

And that's what a person with a reprobate mind is. :/ They saw God and hated him without a cause.

C. S. Lewis depicts that well in the Last Battle, when the Door is open, and all the creatures trying to come through have no choice but to look Aslan in the face.

And I'm glad I wasn't giving you a hard time. :)

Jake said...

Very good post! I'm glad you clarified. :) For the most part, I think I agree with you.

Disclaimer: in this post, I might sound like I'm at least partially deserting the conventional and orthodox view that man is inherently evil (which is a belief I hold) and that men might make excuses for salvation. It might sound like I don't believe life is cut-and-dry; but the choice between evil and good is always cut-and-dry, as is the choice to obey God. As you read this post, keep in mind that I'm not talking about good-versus-evil, but, in many ways, just man-versus-man.


Almost subconsciously, I've been rebelling against the cut-and-dry way Christian fantasy is portrayed. Like Nathan said, in Christian fantasy there's always a good side and a bad side and little in-between ground. I disagree that that's always a good thing, however. One book I read some time ago (Behemoth was the name) the writer evidently wanted to write a creationist tract. What he did was make all of the creationists good and all the evolutionists bad. The evolutionists don't want to believe in creationism despite the (as the author portrays it) "overwhelming evidence" for creationism. This may be true of SOME evolutionists, but certainly not all! It was hardly realistic. And I'm really tired of stuff like that.

I guess I could summarize it in this way; the ultimate CHOICE we have is black and white, God or Satan, heaven or hell. There's no middle ground - we are without excuse! But like you've said so excellently in this post, people don't THINK they've chosen one or the other - they think they can go on with life without choosing one or the other, much in the same way that America thinks it can be entirely secular. To borrow my former example, some evolutionists are really wonderful people; some creationists give us all a bad name. I've met nice agnostics and violently legalistic Christians. To generalize in our portrayal of "the illusion of reality" is to not really portray reality at all.

We are all given one choice; but some people are hearing, but never understanding; and having eyes, "see not".

Life is so much more complicated (and I wish it weren't); but life is not always good-versus-bad. For instance, in World War II we were convinced that the Allies were the "good guys" and the Nazis with their allies were "the bad guys". In reality, Stalin (who was allied with the U.S.) murdered MILLIONS more than Hitler ever did and subsequently became an enemy of the U.S. - but only after the world war was ended. Were the Allies really the "good guys" after all? That's what history tells us. (It's more of a question of who was less evil.)

Here's another example: can anyone label modern-day America a completely "good" nation, or China a completely "bad" one? What about the U.K.? Congo? India? Turkey? Saudi Arabia?

If we are to create an in-depth novel, then why are we creating inherently good kingdoms and inherently bad ones? Granted, in the ultimate scheme of things, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness there is no middle ground. But add to those kingdoms the petty kingdoms of men and their secular ideals and you have a mess - but you have to use that mess to create a novel.

Now, if you have allegories (and many Christian novels are), then you are not required to create that same "illusion of reality" - all you have to do is successfully translate biblical truths into a story world. Since there IS a black and white choice between two kingdoms, an allegory can portray reality that way. Thus, in books like Chuck Black's, there are the good guys and the bad guys, the good king and the bad rebel. Even so, he has some cultural diversity in his books.

Jake said...


Interestingly enough, I've been addressing some of these topics in my current work-in-progress (codenamed Tornado C). It's really a story about people desperate for the presence of God in a world that has been cut off from His conscious voice, much in the way that the Jews were during the time they waited for the Messiah. It's not about this kingdom of bad people versus this kingdom of good people; it's about a person who wants to follow God and desperately needs forgiveness but is losing the fight with his own nature. He can't do it alone, so he's trying to find the One who can. And, in the midst of all this, he's trying to stop a bloody war with the help of a man who wants to kill him - and what's worse, he's the one who started the war.

It's all a tangled mess. But through that, I'm showing that God can redeem even the most conflicted person.

Unknown said...

I've been following this discussion with great interest and I must say I agree with you, Nichole, in that we make Christian fiction too simple, with choices that are too cut-and-dry. I usually end up asking: "Okay, so that choice is obvious, but what do I do when the choices aren't easy or when the right way isn't perfectly clear?" There are such cases, much as they make us uncomfortable and don't look so acceptably Christian on the surface. Instead of presenting an uncluttered world with obvious choices, I think Christian fiction should show the clutter, then tear it away to show the Truth, so that we have a pattern to follow in real life.

By the way, I've referenced your blog in my own (in-depth) discussion of the topic over at Hope that's okay!