In my last post I touched on my journey reconciling writing and reading fantasy while being a Christian. There is so much more that could be said on this topic. It is true that many Christians do not have a problem with Fantasy as a genre, and many enjoy it just as much as I do. Yet, there is a culture and expectation amongst certain circles that one should not engage in it. Certainly, this isn’t a topic worth being a martyr over, but it is worth exploring deeper.
The first thing we should get out of the way is that the Bible has been used to justify or condemn every sort of behavior imaginable. This leads to anything from judgmental Pharisee-like attitudes to downright destructive behaviors. The condemnation of Fantasy comes from the Bible speaking out against magic users and sorcerers, and the call for us believers to use good judgement and discernment when it comes to our entertainment. Not a bad intention. On top of that there are those who have more sensitive consciences, which makes it difficult for them to comprehend why someone would enjoy something that appears so “evil” to them.
Putting blanket rules around entertainment is difficult for these reasons. Often times people read into Scripture their presuppositions and try to impose them on others. I understand that, especially since believers are called to rebuke fellow Christians if they are not following God’s commands. However, it is easy to take it too far and become judgmental over things that ultimately do not matter such as enjoying a specific genre of books.
There is something important to note. Most of the time magic and sorcery in fantasy does not even closely resemble occult/pagan magic condemned in Scripture. Magic in ancient times often took the form of astrology and divination or summoning spirits. Fantasy magic such as in Harry Potter is invented as a plot device and for fun. Fiction authors don’t pretend their works are real either which is something that distinguishes itself from true occultism. We are told right away these stories are fake and meant to teach lessons of friendship, love, and what it means to be human among other things.
As believers it is our job to discern what entertainment we consume. Instead of cherry-picking Scripture to back up our biases, we need to look at the Bible in its entirety. Yes, sorcery is condemned in Scripture, but Paul also makes it clear that different people are sensitive to different things. Our only job as believers is to not create a stumbling block, not reign judgment upon other people.
When Harry Potter became popular, there was debate amongst Christian circles whether it was healthy for children to be exposed to or not. After all, Scripture condemns sorcery, and that in Harry Potter, children go to school to learn magic. As a Christian who enjoys fantasy of all kinds, this was a struggle for me growing up.
As a young man who attended an extremely conservative Christian college, my hobby of writing and reading fantasy became a point of contention in some conversations. Later, in my college career, something happened to me which caused an existential crisis of faith. For a few years I questioned everything, researched everything, learned varying perspectives on all matters in order to find out what I believe and why. Ultimately, I learned that obsessively researching online only leads to confusion and depression, but I digress.
In the end my faith remained intact, and I came to a few conclusions on important matters, one of which is that being a Christian doesn’t mean I have to be against it, but the opposite. Deciding to condemn fantasy and avoid it is a personal conviction, not a Biblical truth. For me, the genre is not mere fun, but a part of me, it reflects important timeless truths. If you are one who believes reading or watching fantasy is wrong, that is your choice and conviction. However, it is far from Scriptural to condemn stories simply because they have magic. The words of Jesus seem aptly appropriate for this, “Beware the yolk of the Pharisees.” I know, that doesn’t give us a pass to do whatever we want, but Paul makes it clear that some people have more sensitive consciences than other. That is okay, however do you like Football? The argument could be made that its evil if Scripture is twisted to say that due to scantily clad cheerleaders that football is evil. I know that sounds silly. So are most arguments against enjoying fantasy.
In the end a walk with Christ is more important than fiction choices, and those who enjoy stories different than what you like do not deserve condemnation. So much more could be said on this topic, which is why I will continue this in my next post.
Part of being a writer is reading. That is painfully obvious. Reading gives an author the tools necessary to equip him or her to do the job. That said, I find it difficult to find things to read regularly that I enjoy because I’m pretty picky.
I can spend quite a while reading reviews and scrolling through books in genres that interest me, but rarely am I wowed by something. I like originality, hope, and meaning in stories as I’ve indicated in past blogs. That doesn’t mean characters have to be perfect, on the contrary, I like them to have flaws, but not when those flaws are used to create senseless tension. For example, one series I read a few years ago had a character fight and pine for a female. When he finally wins her heart, and marries her he cheats, without a believable motive to do so. It appeared that the entire point of the secondary romance was to create a forced sense of suspense. As indicated, the character had no real motivation and that’s what bothered me. I know cheating happens, and characters can do it to add depth, but there must be a believable reason for it.
I know quality books are out there, but due to limited time I continue to be picky about my choices. I fully admit that it is partially a personality quirk of mine. However, my search for books that live up to the fiction classics continues. For it is the classics that I tend to enjoy the most, yet I know there are good stories out there, I only need to find more of them.
The Tolkien era of Fantasy had brought us villains who were evil for the sake of evil. Their motives were pretty much they wanted to destroy the world because they were evil and nothing more was really known about these antagonists. That was the point, they represented the force of evil more than being individual characters with motives. In a few stories this works, but now there is a call for more depth to the villains of the stories. Generally, now there are antagonists with motives and backstories, and just like reality these people tend to not see themselves as evil but as saviors.
History is rife with horrible rulers of both nations and organizations. Some of these people were like Sauron who simply wanted to dominate others without sympathy or empathy for anyone else. Others though were more like Darth Vader, horrible people who saw themselves as protectors or necessary such as Valad The Impaler.
How often do we do things that are wrong and justify it in our minds? Taking that line of thought further, how often do we glorify our ideological positions while demonizing the “other” side? Sure we may not be killing anyone or desiring to, but isn’t that a similar train of thought that these evil people in history and fiction acted on? I’m not saying everyone who dug in their heels and stood up for their convictions is akin to a villain, but just that it is easy to continue down the rabbit trail and become so blinded by ideology empathy no longer remains. This is especially common in political spheres from 2015 to present in America.
Certainly, there are things we all disagree with. That is okay, in fact it is necessary for anyone who has a spec of critical thinking and morality. With the advent of the internet it is becoming easier to live in an echo chamber and grow angrier at those who are outside of your thought circle. Hope is only found in those who agree with you and me, while despair and the end of the world comes in the form of those that dare think differently. To me, it looks like there is less nuance in our culture than there was even ten years ago. People are ready to sever ties with friends and even family because of differing viewpoints because their beliefs are “dangerous.” With this mentality, called Tribalism, which I addressed in previous blogs, it is only opening the door for a real evil to rise to power. As freedoms erode the people will cheer that person on because “their” person was in power, not the “other” side. Of course, the opposite group will do everything they can to oppose the person in power, but perhaps it won’t be enough. This is hypothetical, and not a subtle dig at the current president or any before him. I know that some already view him in this light, but that isn’t what I am referencing. In an environment where people are looking to be offended or read into their own bias, I feel that is necessary to state.
Fiction is meant to teach us. To help us ponder our own actions as well as the happenings within our own culture. Let us actually implement the lessons from history and fiction, lest we create a monstrous world we cannot undo.