What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 3: In The Image of God, Darkly

The human race is made in God’s image. But unlike David and his creator from “Alien: Covenant,” that does not mean God looks like us physically.

The previous installment of this series used the aliens of Arrival as an example of how science fiction has at times shown aliens who are radically different from humans and also affirmed that such “alien” aliens teach us something about God. Because the God of the Bible in many ways is fundamentally different from human beings.

A natural objection to this idea comes from the question, “But aren’t humans made in the image of God? Doesn’t that mean God is like us?”

David from Alien: Covenant is shown to be in the literal image of his master. He looks human, even though as an android, he is not. Is the image of God like that for human beings? Are we basically the same as God, with only a few differences?

David stands with his creator (Alien: Covenant).

While we reflect some characteristics of God and in that sense are “in his image,” the Bible, when carefully studied, makes it plain that the image of God in the human race should neither be taken literally as referring to physical form, nor should it be taken as all-encompassing.

The Image of God does not refer to physical form:

  1. God has never been seen / is invisible. John 1:18, I Timothy 1:17
  2. God has no physical form / is a spirit. Deuteronomy 4:12, John 5:37, John 4:24
  3. God (the Father) has never been seen. John 6:46
  4. God dwells in “unapproachable light” and cannot be seen I Timothy 6:16 / no man can see him and live Exodus 33:20
  5. God on the throne shows colors and lightning and thunder, but no physical form is seen. Revelation 4:2-3
  6. God appears or is described in various “forms” but they are not his real nature: As a man, Gen. 32:22-30. Beheld by elders of Israel (sapphire under their feet), Ex. 24:9-11. Seated on a throne, Isaiah 6:1-6. As the “angel of the Lord,” Judges 6:22-23; 13:21-23; as having wings, Pslam 91:4, Deut 32:11 (uses “like” before mentioning wings), Psalm 17:8, Psalm 36:7, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 61:4, Psalm 63:7, Jeremiah 49:2; as pillars of cloud and fire, Exodus 13:21
  7. Seeing God “face to face” is a figure of speech in the Bible and is not the same as seeing his face: Compare Ex. 33:9-11 to 33:18-23 (Seeing the Lord “face to face” is specifically linked to seeing the pillars of cloud and fire in Numbers 14:14.)
  8. Jesus is the only visible manifestation of God: Hebrews 1:1-3, Col 1:15. I.e. neither God the Father nor God the Spirit are physically visible (even though they can symbolically manifest themselves such as through the voice of God or a descending dove or by other means).
  9. God can be found in every place (is infinite), Psalm 139:8 / but is not contained in any part of the universe, I Kings 8:27
  10. We cannot in fact fully understand God as he is, but will understand better in the future: I Cor 13:12 (we see through a glass darkly), I John 3:2

Though it is true that in the Trinitarian concept of God, Jesus has a physical body that can be seen, thinking of human beings as having been created in the image of Jesus, who the Bible says was made into the likeness of a human being (Phil. 2:7) creates a rather chicken-or-the-egg problem I won’t try to resolve here. But the general Christian thinking on human beings “in the image of God” has been we are in the image of God the Father, not the Son.

And even though some Christians have imagined God the Father to look like a human being, that view is not justified by Scriptures. Which portray God as an invisible spirit without a body that permeates the universe–who can show himself in physical manifestations that are not in fact him.

Yet that spirit sees—so he created us with eyes. He hears—so we have ears. He moves as he wishes—so we have legs to walk. He handles the substance of the universe—so he gave us hands. He uses language and mathematics and creative art—and enables human beings to do the same through our brain.

God distilled elements of his nature into human beings to create them in his “image.” But we cannot think we reflect him in every way. That image is NOT all-encompassing.

We are clearly limited to one place, one time, one moment, one physical self that is joined to a spiritual self. We know but only in part. We see, but only in part. We are a refection of the image of God, but not a full one. Especially with our capacity to constantly change our minds, to forget, to lie, to sin—we are but a dark reflection of what God is.

So when we look at the God who created us, he is not like the god we humans have created in our own image, the Pagan gods. Who are stronger and more beautiful than us and immortal but who still have physical bodies. Who still have love affairs and petty interests and jealous bickering.

Jehovah is not like them at all. He is beyond the imagination of the human race, transcendent. Or to use another term, he is “alien” to us. Far more different from us than Alien Covenant’s  David was from his creator.

Next time we will look at how an “ancient alien” explanation of God fails to explain his “alien” nature. But for now, what do you think of this topic? What do you think “being made in the image of God” means? Would you agree that the nature of God marks him as being in some ways a fundamental different type of intelligence than a human being—that the human race being “in his image” is only in a limited sense?

‘Merlin’s Mirror’: a Legend Remade

In Merlin’s Mirror, the legend of Arthur is reborn into science fiction.
| Jan 17, 2018 | 3 comments
Shannon McDermott is the author of the fantasy novel The Valley of Decision, as well as the futuristic The Last Heir and the Sons of Tryas series. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website, ShannonMcDermott.com.

The old legends of Europe hold that Arthur, greatest of Britain’s kings, was conceived by the trickery of the wizard Merlin. Merlin himself, the tales go, was demon-born, the son of no man.

But what if both were the sons of no man – the sons, rather, of the Sky Lords, aliens seeking to return to Earth? This is the essential idea of Merlin’s Mirror, a science fantasy novel by Andre Norton. The book takes classic tenets of fantasy and works them into a sci-fi universe, and thus the legend of Arthur is reborn into science fiction. There is no “magic”, properly speaking, in Merlin’s Mirror, just misunderstood technology.

Published forty years ago, Merlin’s Mirror is old school: an omniscient viewpoint combined with a brevity that is now almost extinct. This slim volume covers in 205 pages what modern novelists would need a trilogy to tell, and possibly a longer series. It was oddly refreshing to read the story of Merlin’s entire life in one book – just to see it told in its essentials, without chasing the enticing side trails all modern novels have to run down. But the downside of this style of novel-writing is also evident. The novel took Merlin’s ruling motivation (to carry out the mission given him by the Sky Lords) too much for granted; it puzzled me initially.

The brevity hurt Merlin’s characterization in other ways. As a character, he is stained by his manipulative role in Arthur’s conception, showing no reluctance beforehand and little reflection afterwards; the story sweeps on, and Merlin is worse for it. Nor does the novel make it clear, until the very end, that Merlin really cares about anything besides his mission. So although he is in some ways admirable, and in other ways pitiable, he is not really likable.

Norton retains much – not all – of the original unpleasantness of Arthur’s conception and of Mordred’s. This, together was Nimue’s (failed) temptation of Merlin, adds a few raw moments to the book. I did not enjoy it, though I realize that as modern standards go – in some respects, even as the original legends go – the book is mild.

Merlin’s Mirror presents the clearest religious view of any novel I have read by Andre Norton. Yet it is still murky. Aside from presenting a more elegant version of the Christ-as-moral-teacher viewpoint – making Him great, yet only one of many who had seen “the Great Light” – the narrative makes little clear. “The Power” – a phrase of which Merlin proved fond – sometimes refers to knowledge or alien technology, and sometimes seems to be religious, and so confuses the story.

The ending was clever in its own way, and almost hopeful; it had a sense of anticipation, at least. But more than anything else, it was sad. The last pages of the book cast doubt on Merlin’s mission, a doubt compounded by the ambiguity of “the Power” and the immoral means once used by Merlin. This is the worst thing: that Merlin, for all his power and dedication, may have been only a tool or victim. He also may not have been, but a confusion sets in near the end of the book, and it’s hard to tell precisely how certain things are meant to be understood.

With an innovative premise, and even some emotional power (“lonely Merlin” – sniff!), Merlin’s Mirror intrigues but it does not satisfy.

Re:Zero’s Second Chances Only Make Life Worse

In Re:Zero, modern teen Natsuke Subaru is thrown into a world of second chances to save lives, yet he’s pushed to his limits.
| Jan 16, 2018 | 2 comments
Audie Thacker likes to think of himself as a writer, and so far his word processor hasn't been able to convince him otherwise, though one can't fault its efforts. He is the author of the fantasy novels Shifters: Manipulations and Shifters: Judgments.

Re:Zero is a series I’ve heard about for a while, and it seemed like it could be good, so I finally got around to watching it. Overall, I was not disappointed.

Natsuke Subaru is a modern-day teen guy. But things go very strangely for him when he’s returning from a trip to the local food mart and, in the blink of an eye, ends up in a completely different world. Not only that, but in this new world he gains a very strange power—whenever he’s killed, he returns to a time in his past, which allows him to try to correct the mistakes he made that got him killed.

But as his story goes along, this power takes a heavy toll on him, as he see people he’s come to care about injured and slain in brutal ways. He can’t seem to find the answers to how to keep it from happening again and again and again.

Visual caveats

First, a content warning.

In the first part of the story, the fight at the loot house, there is a female character who dresses rather revealingly. After that the fan-servicey stuff is not so much of an issue.

Outside of that, probably the main content warning should be for the blood and violence. And those things could be serious issues for some people. Without going into details, I wasn’t exaggerating when I wrote that some characters are harmed and killed in brutal ways. I know some people didn’t like that kind of stuff in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and this series is even worse in that regard than FMA:B, so I hope some of you can find that helpful in determining if you want to risk this series or not.

Pushing characters to the limit

It seems like I’ve read some advice for writers and storytellers about how they need to push their characters to their limits, make them suffer, put them through the wringer, or pretty much just make their situations as difficult as possible. I could hold up Re:Zero as a stunning, even extreme and drastic, example of pushing a character to the breaking point, and even going past that.

Starting about halfway through the current 25 episodes and continuing for several episodes, Subaru is pushed, and pushed, and pushed a whole lot more. Behaviors that worked for him early in the series suddenly work against him in this new situation, he makes bad decisions that cause people to not trust him, and even his attempts to act bravely only lead to him getting soundly thrashed. And that’s before he gets caught in a seemingly endless cycle of restarts, where every decision he makes only cause things to become worse, and where his weakness and helplessness are made starkly clear to him as his friends are killed time and again.

This isn’t the most enjoyable stretch of episodes I’ve ever watched, but story-wise it’s among the best. Subaru’s desperate and stupid decisions, and the ways the people around him respond to him, are very difficult to watch, and Subaru often acts like anything but a hero in this part of the story.

Getting pushed to the limit

In fact, probably about the only thing less enjoyable than watching a character get pushed to the limit like that is having it happen in real life.

Little is gained by sentimentalizing or romanticizing such painful times. They don’t always bring out the best in us; in fact, they often bring out the worst, or show us the worst that is already in us.

In Re:Zero, the difficulties bring out Subaru’s pride, selfishness, ignorance, and rashness, along with other faults and sins he has. For us, weariness may make us impatient, pain may make us angry, hopelessness may make us want to harm other people or ourselves, and that’s hardly an exhaustive list of causes and effects.

While the idea of getting multiple chances to do things right does work as an idea for some fascinating stories, real life isn’t like that. Our rash decisions and rash words cannot be undone.

Our hope, then, is that we have a Redeemer who was Himself pushed to the limits, and suffered many things, including the cruel death of crucifixion, and did so without sinning. Our hope, even for those of us who are already believers in Christ, is the same gospel of Christ crucified for our sins that we first believed. It’s something we don’t outgrow, even and especially when we think we’ve made some progress in our sanctification.

Along with that, there is the hope of knowing that the things we go through are not random or without purpose. Romans 5: 1-5 says:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Keep in mind the caveats from above. But if those elements won’t bother you too much, then I have no qualms about recommending the series Re:Zero.

So Many Good Writers, So Many Good Books

I thought perhaps today we could add to those resources by sharing information about books and/or authors we like that may be flying under the radar, and others need to know what we know.
| Jan 15, 2018 | 12 comments |

Writing fiction, and getting your books in print (or on a digital device), has become unimaginably easier than in years past. Of course, completing a book, and making it available to the public still does not insure that people other than your family and close friends will actually read your book. We here at Spec Faith want to promote speculative stories written by Christians, particularly those written from a Christian worldview.

I realize what I just said is somewhat controversial because there are some who say a Christian will, of necessity, write from a Christian worldview, and that’s something I’d like to explore at a later date. For now I’m interested in highlighting some of the stories you may not already know.

First, let me mention that our Friday guests or the excerpts posted in our Friday Fiction articles hopefully are advancing the cause of informing our visitors about new books and authors they haven’t yet read. And of course we have the Spec Faith library that is a good resource for those looking for new novels to read.

But I thought perhaps today we could add to those resources by sharing information about books and/or authors we like that may be flying under the radar, and others need to know what we know.

I’ll go first.

My author is K. M. Weiland.

Some while ago, one of my writing groups spent some time discussing one of Weiland’s writing books. We all think she’s an excellent teacher and gives helpful illustrations, but as it turned out, I was the only one in our group who had read one of her novels.

Here’s what she says on her website about why she writes:

Stories are like breathing. Life without a story in my head is one-dimensional, stagnant, vapid. I love the life God has given me, but I think I love it better because I’m able to live out so many other lives on the page. I’m more content to be who I am because I’m not trapped in that identity. When I sit down at my computer and put my fingers on the keys, I can be anyone or anything, at any time in history. I write because it’s freedom.

Just today I “purchased” one of her novels for free as a Kindle ebook. According to Weiland’s newsletter, she’s currently working on the sequel, which she describes as a portal fantasy, to this book. The thing is, there’s more to the story than simply moving from one world to another. Here’s the description of Dreamlander:

What if it were possible to live two very different lives in two separate worlds? What if the dreams we awaken from are the fading memories of that second life? What if one day we woke up in the wrong world?

In this fantasy thriller, a woman on a black warhorse gallops through the mist in Chris Redston’s dreams every night. Every night, she begs him not to come to her. Every night, she aims her rifle at his head and fires. The last thing Chris expects—or wants—is for this nightmare to be real. But when he wakes up in the world of his dreams, he has to choose between the likelihood that he’s gone spectacularly bonkers or the possibility that he’s just been let in on the secret of the ages.

Only one person in a generation may cross the worlds. These chosen few are the Gifted, called from Earth into Lael to shape the epochs of history—and Chris is one of them. But before he figures that out, he accidentally endangers both worlds by resurrecting a vengeful prince intent on claiming the powers of the Gifted for himself. Together with a suspicious princess and a guilt-ridden Cherazii warrior, Chris must hurl himself into an action adventure battle to save a country from war, two worlds from annihilation, and himself from a dream come way too true.

Your turn! What books have you read or what authors have piqued your interest of late? Tell us what you liked, if you wish, and anything else you think book people will be interested in. Include links if you like.

You could even tell us about YOUR books, if you’d like. We want to know what’s out there that we may be missing.

Are Antiheroes Anti-Christian?

It’s not always clear where the line is between antihero and just-plain-flawed hero. Regardless, antiheroes are out there in full force these days, and they seem to be getting more popular.
| Jan 12, 2018 | 8 comments |

For the longest time, I ignored everyone’s posts about the TV series Breaking Bad, until I finally had one too many people tell me I just had to watch it because I would totally love it. Which I did—watch it, and totally love it—as did my husband. We followed up with what is available of Better Call Saul. Then began our search for another show to binge and found ourselves in the universe of Dark Matter. We made it to the end of that series (well, to the point where it cuts off because it was cancelled) and our current binge is The Blacklist. There is something all of these shows have in common: antiheroes.

Walter White is a family man cooking meth in Breaking Bad. Saul Goodman is a con man who goes from being a nearly-honest lawyer to the man who protects criminals in Better Call Saul. In Dark Matter, a crew of mercenaries on a stolen space ship travels around saving people all over the universe. And Raymond “Red” Reddington uses his background as a master criminal to help the FBI catch other master criminals on The Blacklist.

an·ti·he·ro

The most common definition I could find online: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

The definition we came up with at an antihero panel at the Necronomicon: a central character who does the right things for the wrong reasons, and wrong things for the right reasons.

I hadn’t even thought about it until the other day, when we’d gotten a few episodes into The Blacklist. I found myself turning to my husband and saying, “Hm, another show with an antihero.” It made me start pondering why he and I keep being drawn to them, and I realized we’ve enjoyed antiheroes for a long time.

Silence of the Lambs has been one of my favorite movies since my husband and I first saw it in the theater on our first date. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lector helps Clarice find serial killer Buffalo Bill. Highlander is another of my top-favorite-ever movies, starring an immortal who goes around beheading other immortals because “there can be only one” rather than any sense of goodness. Sure, the villain is super villainous and deserves to be separated from his head, but the main character is a murderer, a thief, and quite the con man. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (a contest between con artists), Fun With Dick and Jane (ordinary couple turned bank-robber), A Knight’s Tale (yes, Will Thatcher wants to be a knight, but he’s a thief and liar even though he has a good heart, and Chaucer is a complete scoundrel). The Punisher, James Bond, Maleficent. I’d even call Iron Man an antihero because it’s really Tony Stark’s ego that drives him.

OK, OK. So I may be pushing into some gray area here, and it’s not always clear where the line is between antihero and just-plain-flawed hero. Regardless, antiheroes are out there in full force these days, and they seem to be getting more popular. What makes this true? And how as Christians should we handle antiheroes? Do they have a place in what we view and read? Do they have a place in what we write?

I’m going to start with my last question. Because I think they absolutely have a place in our writing. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be writing so many of them myself. The first time I realized I had truly written an antihero was with a short story I had published in an anthology titled Dark Heroes. My story, Ordinary Folk (now its own ebook), is about a woman named Jamie who discovers her strange monthly symptoms have nothing to do with her hormone cycle (as her doctors had convinced her) and everything to do with the cycle of the moon. Yep, she’s a werewolf, but had been raised by humans and had never turned, so she had no knowledge of the truth about herself. She discovers her history when she goes back to the town where she was born and meets an old man who knew her biological parents, and who shares their particular attribute. She is a monster, but she is a hero because she defeats the real monster in town: the man out to kill off the werewolves who have learned to live in peace with humans.

I wanted to show forgiveness with this story—a main character able to forgive herself for being deeply flawed and not letting herself become her flaw. She needed to be more than just a main character dealing with a bad temper or struggling with a vice. There had to be something deep and dark lurking in her, far beyond the typical human flaw. Something that would take more than a normal dose of forgiveness to overcome.

Likewise, when I began writing my latest novel, Relent, I found myself wanting to create a character who needed forgiveness but felt unworthy. Simone is a half-angel, but only finds out the truth about herself when the demon Wraith tells her the story of her birth and how her angel mother left her on earth in order to regain her status in heaven. Simone goes on to have a child of her own, and abandons that child just as her mother had abandoned her. But when she decides she wants her daughter back in her life, she uses methods that cause the angel half of her to begin to fall. She turns to Wraith for help—Wraith, the one who almost always mixes lies with truth, but is completely honest about doing so, which makes him the one Simone trusts more than anyone. Wraith, who will manipulate Simone to keep her by his side, until it means losing her to the darkness that has succumbed him.

Both of those stories are what I feel are the most “Christian” of all the stories I’ve ever written. Yes, my YA fantasy series is allegorical, but it doesn’t truly show the absolute forgiveness we all have access to, which is the whole point of Christ’s death on the cross. I have other short stories that show the bleakness we face when we don’t know Christ (“Fire Wall“), and stories that flat-out point to God as our creator (“Dude“). But Ordinary Folk and Relent are stories where the rubber meets the road for characters most Christians would consider unredeemable.

Which brings me to the other questions. If, as my writing shows, stories written by Christians can have antiheroes, then I would say those stories can absolutely be read by Christians. They serve as reminders that all sin can be forgiven, that no one is beyond God’s touch, that Christ died for every last one of us, not just we who are mostly good. The worst of the worst still have some good, or at least the potential for good, which means they too can accept the gift of Christ’s redemption and God’s grace. Is that maybe why antiheroes have become so popular? In a world where we see so much evil, so much hate, so much discord, are we searching for stories that show there is hope after all, even in the darkest places of humanity, even for the darkest of souls?

What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 2: ‘Alien’ Aliens

If we think of God as somehow “alien,” does this help us understand his transcendent nature?

Sometimes science fiction has attempted to deliver aliens that are not based on human beings at all. The “attempted to deliver” has to be added because these efforts are usually incomplete. If a fictional alien is intelligent at all, its at least a little like a human being.

But some of these efforts are worth noting. A recent example is from the movie, Arrival. The key feature of the aliens portrayed in the film is they have a language in which an entire sentence is said at one moment, no one word preceding any other in time. So therefore, the aliens have no concept of beginning or end like humans do. Which in in the story was supposed to give them the power of being outside of time as we know it–since, apparently, living one moment at a time in order is a function of how humans process language, one word after another in order, no matter in which language of all human languages.

An alien language depicted. (From Arrival, 2016.)

Of course the story does not focus on the fact the aliens issue their entire-sentence-in-a-circle-without-beginning-or-end statements one at a time. These come in an order from the first time they met the humans, when they were strangers to our race, to including more familiarity with individual humans over, ahem, time. 

Still, even if the ideas about time don’t quite work, the fictional language in which a sentence has no beginning or ending is something that makes the aliens in Arrival distinctly separate from every human being who has ever existed. These aliens, unlike Klingons, are not projections of human beings–they are truly alien, that is, unlike any human being who has ever lived.

By the way, fiction aliens who are entirely “alien” is not the same as writing non-human (or “inhuman”) aliens. The Alien film franchise created space monsters with very little in common with human beings–but they do have quite a lot in common with some insect forms of life, with a queen mother (like ants or bees), laying eggs in hosts (like some wasps and may other parasites), with a rapacious desire to kill and devour like some insect predators, and with rapid and dramatic metamorphic changes in body form (like caterpillars to moths).

When I say “alien” aliens, I mean beings that have completely different motives than humans. Or have aspects of an intelligence that is more foreign to the entire human race than individual human ethic groups are foreign to one another. After all, all humans smile when we are happy and cry in distress and share other features that transcend all human cultures. “Alien” aliens manage to be different from every one of us.

Most science fiction aliens are not that alien, but some have been. And these “alien” aliens can help us understand that like them, the Creator God of the Bible is in fact very different from human beings in important ways.

Isaiah 55:8 records the Lord proclaiming: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” In theology God is called omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, and in short, transcendent. No human being shares these characteristics with God.

God is also devoid of sin, incapable of sin, incapable of lying. That means human beings share a feature (sin) that is completely separate from God. So in some important ways God is like an alien being to us–unlike all humans who ever lived.

In future installments here we’ll look at how this fact of God being “alien” can be compatible with the human race being made in the image of God, how this has nothing to do with “ancient alien” theories, how it does have to do with the longing some people feel to meet aliens, and how the UFO phenomenon in some ways shows an alternate or substitute for communion with God. But in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the basic idea here?

Do you agree that sometimes science fiction shows aliens who are in no way human? Do you think that God, like these particular science fiction aliens, is in some ways completely different from any human who has ever lived? Is thinking of God as “alien” a useful concept?

In a Mirror Dimly

What would Christianity and a highly-digitized church look like in the future?
| Jan 10, 2018 | 1 comment |

If you’re like me, you’ve been smiling, cringing, groaning, gasping, and staring in confusion during the latest season of Black Mirror currently streaming on Netflix. Now in its fourth season, Black Mirror has always been a reliable source of fantastical and often frightening possibilities about the interactions between humanity and technology. Some are predictable, some are ridiculous, but most of the episodes make you think (and look at your Keurig coffee maker with suspicion). Heck if I’m getting an Alexa anytime soon. Yet none of the episodes seem give much consideration to religion, opting instead for social and political commentary. It does make one wonder, though: what would Christianity and a highly-digitized church look like in the future?

Some would say we’re already there. Sermons are streamed online, church services have graphics and laser displays that rival those seen in sports arenas and rock concerts, and any Bible version or language is available at the touch of a button. Some have even speculated that the prevalence of social media would facilitate Revelation 1:7, which states that “every eye will see Him” when Jesus returns. Maybe we will see the second coming of Christ on Facebook Live.

Image copyright Endemol UK

Of course, if taken to Black Mirror lengths, the church still has a long way to go before becoming fully enmeshed in a digital future. So what would some of these science-fiction-but-not-for-long steps be?

One very plausible possibility will be “virtual” churches with congregations consisting of members at home plugged into their VR devices. It’s more than just watching the preacher on your TV screen; you can sit on your comfortable couch but it looks like you’re sitting on a long wooden pew in a soaring Gothic cathedral, surrounded by friendly faces and listening to the pastor preach from the pulpit with perfect acoustics. Who knows – we might even have virtual Communion one day.

For those who would still actually go to a brick-and-mortar building, holographic guest preachers could deliver the message from the comforts of their own home on the other side of the country, or perhaps even the world. He (or she, as the trend continues) could pace the stage and scan the congregation, even though in reality, they might be looking at a blank wall or a bathroom mirror. Imagine a holographic Andy Stanley delivering a sermon in a tiny house church in Laos.

Let’s go a little further and take the church into true Black Mirror territory. How about Scripture Surfaces for the ultra-religious? Any surface in your home – walls, tables, even windows – are screens that can be programmed to display Bible verses with soothing, natural backgrounds when you enter the room or at the touch of your finger. It would be like living in a Bible!

Or how about mind filters that automatically censor anything that offends Christian sensibilities or may cause a brother to stumble. Imagine being able to walk through a construction site and not hear a single curse word! Or if an attractive woman is jogging down the street in a clingy, revealing outfit, your optical filters will instantly add some fabric. Click! She’s wearing a shapeless parka in the middle of summer. You could live a completely sanitized, G-rated life that would make an Amish romance writer proud.

All things considered, technology is not our enemy and has opened up countless doors for sharing the Gospel. However, as we have seen with all other walks of life where technology is now inextricably intertwined, there is always a price to pay.

What Does 2018 Look Like At Spec Faith?

Under Stephen’s leadership, Spec Faith has expanded and looked to partner, not only with authors, but other organizations that also seek to further the fortunes of speculative stories written by Christians.
| Jan 8, 2018 | 2 comments |

Some of you may be new to Spec Faith, and some of you may be wondering about any changes we’ve made, so I thought I’d do a quick drive by of . . . well, Spec Faith.

First, we are a group of volunteers who blog at this site because we are Christians who want to increase the interest in speculative fiction, primarily that which Christians write. We ourselves are all fiction writers. And we are Christians who adhere to a basic statement of faith.

Here’s our line up. On Mondays I kick things off, usually later than most because I write from the West Coast. While you easterners are thinking about what to have for lunch, I’m just kicking off my day. As you can see in my bio, my fiction is fantasy—good ol’ classic fantasy. I’m one of the original founders of Spec Faith. The others were Stuart Stockton, Mirtika Schultz, Beth Goddard, and, if memory serves me right, Shannon McNear and Rebecca Grabill. Our archives apparently have not captured all of those early days.

At any rate, one by one the other members of the founding group departed—some to a different genre, some because of health reasons, some to get married, and some simply because life happened. About four years into our existence, E. Stephen Burnett, who had become a regular contributor, returned from his own goin’-ta-get-married hiatus to revitalize and enlarge the vision of the site.

We’ve been blessed to have a wonderful crew of writers, some staying around for some time. We’ve also had a great guest lineup, ranging from agent/publisher Steve Laube to established and well-known authors like Karen Hancock, Chuck Black, Donita Paul, and Jill Williamson, to self-pubbed or just getting started writers like Jillian Adams and Mike Duran.

Under Stephen’s leadership, Spec Faith has expanded and looked to partner, not only with authors, but other organizations that also seek to further the fortunes of speculative stories written by Christians. Some years ago we added a library, established a place where reviewers can talk about the stories they love (or hate, but probably love), and connected with Christian Geek Central to bring our content to YouTube. Most recently, Stephen has launched Lorehaven. While not an official part of Spec Faith, the sister site is dedicated to promoting the genre to a broader audience, specifically through the establishment of book clubs within churches.

2018 promises to be more of the same with a few tweaks. Stephen will move from his Thursday writing slot to Tuesday. On Wednesday Shannon McDermott and Mark Carver will continue to alternate weeks. Then on Thursday, filling in for Zac Totah, who is on wedding/marriage sabbatical, is Travis Perry. We’ve had the privilege to host Travis a few times this past year, and he officially kicked off his stint as substitute writer this past Thursday. If by chance you missed his inaugural article, you may want to take a few moments to read it now since it is part 1 and will likely provide context for his article this coming Thursday. At any rate, our Friday slot will once again be split between a guest author and our Fiction Fix feature, an excerpt of a recently published work of speculative fiction authored by a Christian. This week we’re anticipating a guest article from Kat Heckenbach.

Another item of note. Spec Faith has conducted a semi-annual writing contest, called the Summer/Winter Writing Challenge that we plan to continue. Since Winter is officially upon us, look for the contest in the near future.

Mostly, I personally want to thank those of you who continue to be faithful visitors to the site. We’ve had various issues with spam and hackers and glitches, but through it all, we continue to see our traffic remain steady, sometimes soaring, sometimes dipping. We’ve had some news-breaking posts, some controversy, some humor, some wisdom, and some healthy discussion.

As you may have notice, we have another new subscription system for those of you who prefer to receive Spec Faith through email. Of course you will continue to find it on Facebook also. So whichever means you have used to find us, thank you. And don’t be shy about voicing your opinions, whether that means doing a review, adding a book to the library, or leaving a comment. We welcome your participation.

Welcome to the World of Christian Fantasy

You’re a Christian who loves (and maybe writes) fantastical stories? You’re not alone. Start here.
| Jan 5, 2018 | 2 comments |

So you’re a Christian. And you love fantasy, science-fiction, or other speculative stories.

You might even particularly like these stories if they’re written by Christians.1

And of course, you might be thrilled to find that, as a Christian yourself, you enjoy writing your own speculative stories—either as a hobby or with longterm publication goals.

If so, then we welcome you, using whatever “geeky” expressions or quotes you prefer from your favorite fandom. However, the leading quote in my mind is Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) caution to Tony Stark in the end-credits scene of Iron Man (2008):

You think you’re the only superhero in the world? …

You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.

Now that you’re here, we at Speculative Faith have some advice for you—to help you take a quick course on this “world” as you meet your new neighbors who’ve built it over decades.

World 1: Your local church

If you’re a Christian, you’re called to an amazing mission. You’re called to partner with other Christian sisters and brothers in a thing (even an “institution”) called the Church.

It’s an incredible idea: a network of organized and diverse separated communities. Their members train to learn about Jesus’s nature and mission, how to love Him, obey Him, heal and resist the shrapnel of sin, and remember Him with singing, sacraments, and fellowship.

Lately the idea of Church, and those distinct “churches,” gets some resistance. Some like to claim churches have been filled with such bad creative work, even opposition to fantasy stories because of legalistic reasons, and sometimes even abuse, that we can minimize organized churches’ importance. Or maybe we can just stop going. I mean, we don’t go to church anyway because Church Is More Than a Building™ and we are the Church, right?

Christians must surely be sensitive to our different harms at the hands of bad churches.

But the “you can skip the join-a-church part” reasoning won’t work for at least two reasons.

First, from Scripture: Jesus’s apostles organized churches. They gave specific commands about qualified teaching elders, deacons, money collection, singing, the Lord’s Supper and more. So the church is more than just “Christians hanging out doing Christian things.”

Second, from logical consistency: if we reject, say, buildings or organization because people misuse these, couldn’t other Christians be right to reject fantasy due to its misuse too?

Of course we can’t simply suggest “get a church!” as if it’s that easy. A decent local church can be hard to find. Many churches are so desperate for Methods to pack in Populations that they fail to appeal naturally to individuals (to say nothing of the Lord they need to please first anyway). But even if you’re stuck without a local church home for now, stay open in case God—perhaps through family or friends—leads you to the right local church.

World 2: Other Christian fantasy readers

Anecdotally, it seems fantasy fans like to write similar stories, more than fans of other book genres like biography or mystery novels. Chances are you’re a writer of some kind yourself.

But we can’t overstress the value of thinking first as a fan and reader of fantastical stories.

For fans who don’t care for writing, that’s easy. But if you’re a writer, you may need a little more coaxing—especially if you’re in “first day on the internet” kid mode, and everything looks so shiny, and you just can’t wait to reveal you’re a Christian! who writes! fantasy!

If you think as a fan first, you’ll help preserve your natural passion for stories whenever the writing proves frustrating (especially if you’re trying to do this professionally). You’ll resist becoming a fallen Writing White Wizard, who delved too deep into industry secrets and may have a mind of marketing metal and stylebook wheels. And you’ll connect with other non-writing Christian fantasy fans whose passion will help reinforce your passion.

Honestly, you’ll need  that fan-passion because right now, no Christian publishers are investing seriously in fantasy writers. It’s really not even their fault. It’s due to lack of readers. But if we grow this generation of fan enthusiasm … what could we do then?

For any such fans, we recommend SpecFaith’s sister project, Lorehaven. We’re exploring new Christian-made fantasy through book reviews and book clubs. Our first digital magazine releases in a matter of months. But we’ve already begun work to recruit readers to get involved and start book clubs (such as my own for Firebird in Austin, Texas).

World 3: Existing groups and websites

Finally, we recommend becoming a fan of the many communities throughout the real world and the internet, to encourage and equip Christian fans of fantasy.

We mentioned the new Lorehaven project—an affiliate of this website.

This ministry of Speculative Faith has been operating (with one interruption) since 2006.

And since 2013, Realm Makers has grown to power the craft side of Christian fantasy. Each year the conference draws authors, aspiring writers, agents, publishers, and more fiction professionals for three to four days event, such as this year’s event July 19-21 in St. Louis.

Realm Makers also announced a new membership program. It drops conference expense and comes with many more perks to help fantasy writers sharpen their skills.

What if you’re not a writer? You should still come to Realm Makers. You can geek out, meet authors, get stacks of books and collectibles, partake in the Nerf War, and join all the fans of Jesus and fantasy for a cosplay dinner during the book awards announcements.

Yet this world is far bigger than Speculative Faith, Lorehaven magazine, and Realm Makers. Many great resources exist for Christian fans (and writers). We can even add them below.

What’s your resource?

What stories do you love?

What stories might you write?

We’d love to know you, and join your world with all of ours’, for our own Author’s glory.

  1. For my part, whenever I say “Christian fiction,” I mean “fiction by a Christian.” This includes room for both overt Christian concepts and language, and more subtle expressions of these.

What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 1

Science fiction often shows aliens as an exaggerated form of human being, which can actually help us understand God.

Science fiction has no shortage of intelligent alien races.1

Star Wars and Star Trek have hundreds between them and they only scratch the surface of the aliens that exist in worlds of fiction.

I’m not commenting here on whether aliens actually do exist (or can exist). But I think the very concept of alien intelligence can teach important truths about the nature of the God of the Bible. Because in some very important ways, the Creator of the universe does not think the way a human being thinks.

Let’s start off by talking about aliens and the various ways they are seen in science fiction. The first and only way I’ll tackle in this post is:

Science fiction often shows aliens as an exaggerated form of human being

Klingons of Star Trek are my favorite example of this.

Bumps on the forehead aside (and some other anatomical differences occasionally mentioned in Star Trek), what really distinguishes Klingons from humans is the fact that Klingons are a warrior race. Have there ever been any warrior nations in Earth history who were like Klingons in their attitudes towards war? Of course. PLENTY. From Saxon warriors to Maori to Samurai and many, many more, groups of humans have studied war and have created cultures in which either entire nations or at least a warrior sub-sect were as devoted to war as the fictional Klingons themselves.

What marks the Klingons as different from human cultures is it’s the entire species of people who are otherwise very similar to humans who are marked by a love of warfare. So Klingons in effect distill out of our race one aspect of human culture and put it on display on its own, marking Klingons as aliens who are essentially exaggerated humans.

Vulcans are also (mostly) exaggerated humans.

Die-hard Star Trek fans know there are even more physical differences between Vulcans and humans than Klingons and humans. Vulcans not only have the obvious pointed-ears, they have greater strength and speed than humans, (much) longer lives, unusual mental abilities, copper-based blood (in case you didn’t know, our blood is iron-based), and among other things, a powerful urge to mate that comes every seven years on a regular schedule.

But most people would say that the distinguishing characteristic of Vulcans is their reliance on logic, strict mental discipline, and suppression of emotion. Has that every existed among human cultures? Of course. Numerous times, though never quite to the degree of being Vulcan, and not quite as often as human cultures have embraced warfare.

Vulcan philosophy is most like the ancient Stoicism practiced in Greek and Roman culture, but has bits of transcendental meditation (or at least the claims of the practitioners of such meditation) and even pieces of Eastern religion, including especially aspects of Zen Buddhism. Again, like the Klingons, Vulcans allowed Star Trek writers to in effect purify and isolate one aspect of human behavior that already existed and make it characterize an entire species of extraterrestrials.

I would suggest the anatomical differences between Vulcans and humans (and Klingons and humans) were mostly for the purpose of making the Vulcans seem a bit more realistic as a non-human species. But the essential and vital part of what Star Trek shows a Vulcan to be is nothing more than a human sub-culture exaggerated into its own alien race.

Jabba the Hut as an archetypal gangster.

Jabba the Hutt shows how Star Wars, in contrast to Star Trek, often creates a single alien whose physical characteristics reveal his (or her) character. Jabba is monstrously huge and physically revolting. His size and grotesque form speak to his power and corruption, showing in his physical body that he’s both dangerous and disgusting.

Of course, there are no humans who look like Jabba, but a human can be every bit as revolting and equally as much a gangster kingpin. So I’d say Jabba simply exaggerates in physical form internal characteristics that certain human individuals have.

Jabba is a member of an alien race, but you see very little of his race in Star Wars. The characteristics he has are his and his alone in the movies—making it hard to imagine a member of his race as a police officer, nurse, or florist. His entire race is an exaggerated form of a certain set of human characteristics, those of a gangster.

Likewise, Chewbacca looks big, hairy, and powerful and his character shows the loyalty of a pet with the strength of sasquatch. What he looks like is who he is. Likewise, Yoda looks like a wizened master of esoteric wisdom and that’s who he is (Maz Kanata is very similar to him, though her wisdom is different). Jar Jar Binks both looks goofy and is goofy.

Star Wars does not always present alien races simply as exaggerated forms of humans—sometimes aliens are window dressing, seen in the background as scenery, with very little revealed about their character. But in general, Star Wars employs the method of showing in the physical form of an alien his or her essential characteristics—and those characteristics are something you’d find in a human being, only in exaggerated form.

What do aliens who are essentially exaggerated humans teach us about the God of the Bible?

I will explain more in later installments why, but I would say “not much.” It’s actually the gods and goddesses of Pagan religions who are in effect exaggerated human beings, whereas Jehovah is in many ways fundamentally different from us.

Though it’s in fact true that believers often understand God by looking at characteristics we have and thinking of him as having more of the same. We experience love and imagine God has more. We see justice and think of God as expressing more justice and a more perfect justice. And these observations are not entirely wrong—but they are not entirely correct either, as I will explain coming up.

What do you think about this topic? Would you agree that aliens in science fiction are often not all that alien, but are really exaggerated humans? Any thoughts on how this relates to an understanding of God?

  1. Note: Travis Perry is a science fiction author and editor and owner of Bear Publications. He’s also an Army Reserve officer with five wartime deployments, a speaker of multiple foreign languages, a major history, theology, and science buff, and a generally interesting guy. He is also thrilled to take Zac Totah’s place at Speculative Faith for the short-term.