Are Theists Dumber Than Atheists, or More Intuitive?

Several recent studies attempt to explain why atheists are “smarter” than theists. But when it comes to intelligence, IQ is not the only thing that matters.
| Mar 22, 2018 | 4 comments |

This article is a reaction to several articles published within the past year that claim to have identified objective evidence that atheists are, in general, more intelligent than theists. One article (published by Big Think) claims that theists are less intelligent because they rely more on intuition. Another (by Live Science) claims that religion is an instinct and the IQ evolved to deal with situations which are not instinctual–so a person who is less intelligent relies more on instinct, while the more intelligent person is able to “rise above” that instinct (by becoming an atheist). (My thanks to Mike Duran, by the way, who posted the first of these articles on Facebook, drawing my attention to this topic and inspiring the comment that’s the basis for this post.)

To start off, these articles reference relatively small studies that probably do not definitively establish anything. I say that even though I do suspect there might be some truth behind the study which claims that religious believers are more intuitive than atheists.

Second, please note that both of these studies show bias right off by assuming that IQ equals intelligence. It’s a known fact that IQ tests only measure part of human intelligence. Creativity, for example, which most people (including experts) agree is a form of intelligence, cannot be measured by IQ. (There are other brain functions which are also not measured by IQ.) So any test presuming that higher IQ is an inherently superior or “more evolved” brain function is engaging in a presumption which cannot be proven.

Third, the right brain of a human being (speaking very generally here) is generally linked to pattern recognition. Recognizing patterns allows people to do things like recognize faces. While pattern recognition can contribute to IQ, in general, logical deductive reasoning is more associated with left brain activity and does not require much pattern recognition (again, speaking very generally–lots of specific details contradict what I just said, but very broadly speaking it’s true). I think pattern recognition contributes hugely to creativity, allowing people (for example) to imagine faces in clouds or to in other ways see the world differently than it objectively is, based on an exaggeration of patterns.

Fourth, intuition is also associated with pattern recognition. Note that pattern recognition is not something an intuitive person can always explain (explaining is in general a left brain function anyway)–you just know you have seen something before or know something to be true and you react accordingly. Though of course the reacting part of intuition goes beyond pattern recognition–so the two things are not exactly identical to one another.

Fifth, could it be that believers in general are more creative and better at pattern recognition than atheists? While atheists have higher IQs on average? I mean, could it be that the higher IQ that atheists are stated to demonstrate is coupled with them being weaker at pattern recognition? Or their higher IQ average is associated with being less creative?

In other words, maybe atheists develop their IQ more, playing to their natural strengths as it were, because they tend to have less of other forms of intelligence. Maybe most things in nature are a trade-off, so having more of one thing means having less of something else. Perhaps not in every case, but perhaps that’s true generally speaking (it certainly makes sense, anyway).

Since pattern recognition is at least partially independent from IQ and since creativity is not objectively measurable at all, perhaps atheists are not in fact more intelligent at all than theists. Perhaps they are, on average, simply intelligent in a different way.

Credit: patrice6000/Shutterstock

If what I just said is true (if), then this winds up creating a situation that perhaps makes a lot of sense. Perhaps believers, who may indeed be more intuitive and more creative than atheists, are inherently better at understanding the mind of a creative God than someone who has less of an urge to create. Perhaps also intuitive believers are better at pattern recognition than atheists–and perhaps we believers intuit very clearly the pattern of an intelligent being operating in the universe, a pattern atheist are in general less able to see.

Atheists, who perhaps may be stronger in logic because they are weaker in intuition, perhaps cannot as easily detect the pattern of God’s work in the cosmos. If that’s true, atheists would then be somewhat like color blind people, ones who are not only unable to see color themselves, who but have declared color to be a myth. And they are buoyed to confidence in this opinion by their personal certainty that they see more clearly than those who “claim” to see colors. (Please note that being color blind supposedly does offer some advantages in clarity of vision over color-based sight.)

Of course when I speak to atheists I make numerous logical arguments in favor of God. Usually atheists stop talking to me relatively quickly, apparently after discovering they cannot easily answer my points. Though that hasn’t always been the case. Sometimes atheists grudgingly admit what I say makes sense, even though they don’t agree.

I have known a few people who told me they came to faith in God based on logical argumentation, but only very few. Could it be that very, very few people are actually persuaded by rational arguments, no matter how high their IQ happens to be? While at the same time, what a person intuits to be true is very powerful and deeply influences everyone–even the atheists, even when their intuition may in fact be defective?

I’m speculating here, of course. I don’t really know if there is an inverse relationship between creativity/pattern recognition/intuition and IQ. But perhaps there is. And if so, it would completely change the discussion of who is more intelligent between theists and atheists. (Someone should conduct a study to try to find out–though it wouldn’t be easy. 🙂 )

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please share below!

There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Has technology lived up to its promise?
| Mar 21, 2018 | 2 comments |

In the “Tomorrowland” quadrant of Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, there is a curious attraction called “The Carousel of Progress.” The ride is a circular moving theater that takes audiences to five different stages where animatronic people sit in living rooms at various decades of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It’s very entertaining and humorous, and the robots’ movements are quite uncanny. There is also a catchy song that you probably started singing after you read the title if you’ve been on the ride.

Image copyright Walt Disney World Resorts

Lighthearted family fun aside, the ride highlights a disparity between the future in our entertainment and the future in real life. In the show, the animatronic father frequently announces that things are looking really modern and futuristic and that this is probably the highest technology will go. But does anyone say that in the real world? In my experience, the answer is quite the opposite. People are amazed at this invention or that innovation but I don’t know of anyone who would say we’re living “in the future.” I certainly don’t feel like we’re living in the future. I mean, yeah, my phone can video chat with anyone around the world for free and scientists can perform face transplants, but we still cook food on the stove instead of “Hydrate Level 4”, we have to rake our leaves every fall, people still get colds and fevers, and we’re only just now seriously talking about Mars exploration. We have some pretty spiffy gadgets and gizmos but a lot of life remains the same.

Personally, I don’t find that a bad thing. The older I get, the less impressed I am with high-tech wizardry and the less enamored I am with neon-illuminated mega-cities. Of course, I am grateful for the technological marvels that surround us and especially for the advances in science and medicine, but it’s also easy to romanticize the “good ol’ days” when life was simple and everyone lived in Mayberry.

Image copyright Warner Bros.

The whole purpose of new inventions and innovation is to make our lives better. Has technology lived up to its promise? Ready Player One, the new movie based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller, comes out next week, and it depicts a world where people have essentially given up on real life to spend as much time as possible in the OASIS, a virtual world where anything is possible. As our society has progressed past the Age of Machines and we are now in the Digital Age, the next technological era seems to be the melding of mind and machine and virtually fulfilling our impractical fantasies (realistic VR is an exploding frontier).

It’s a silly conundrum when you think about it. Stuff hasn’t made the human race happy, so the obvious answer must be better stuff. And when we reach the limit on what better stuff we can physically make, we’ll make virtual stuff! Surely the answer is just over the next hill of innovation. Ever notice how quickly the “I got the latest gadget!” euphoria fades? It’s all empty calories but don’t worry – your next high-tech snack is just one expo away.

It’s easy to quote back-to-nature philosophers like Thoreau or the Unabomber but that isn’t the answer, either. The human race wasn’t put on this planet to chase gold and jewels, nor iPhones and Instagram likes. Technology has made our lives better in many ways, but unlike animals, creature comforts are not enough to sustain us, because we a soul that yearns for communion with the Creator, and that’s something no VR experience could ever replicate.

Lorehaven Launch: Enter the Review Chief

Lorehaven issue 1 launches this spring. Get to know our crew, including review chief Austin Gunderson.
| Mar 20, 2018 | No comments |

This spring, we’ll release the first issue of Lorehaven magazine.

In this groundbreaking digital publication, we’ll review and help you find only the best Christian-made fantastical novels. We will also find truth in these fantastic stories, with cover stories, articles, Roundtable discussions about hot topics, and beyond.

Email subscribers keep rolling in. At first, they’ll get to read the magazine exclusively. You can join this fine quest party, and show your support for this new ministry.

Here at SpecFaith, I’ve been announcing the crew behind this launch. To date, we have:

Next comes a name familiar to SpecFaith readers. He’s written some of the most in-depth and popular reviews we’ve featured, including his reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the controversial film Noah, and author Kerry Nietz’s Darktrench Saga.

Name, role, and crew

Austin Gunderson is review chief of Lorehaven magazine.

Austin was born and raised in western Washington state, where the shining summers were for playing mock-war in the woods and the somber winters were for reading. He met Kay, his future wife, at a college swing dance. They married in 2013, and in 2017 welcomed a daughter, Marit.

Personal log

For Austin, storytelling is both passion and occupation. By day he works as a video editor for a Seattle-area ad agency; by night he writes high fantasy. He believes stories are vital to human life: it’s through them that we interpret the world, and by them that we become conscious of things greater than ourselves.

When he’s not crafting or ingesting a story, Austin enjoys board games, the wilderness, and the shooting sports.


Raised in a Christian home, Austin prayed the sinner’s prayer at age five. He has since been working out the implications of that simple declaration of trust. He believes the gospel is the ur-story, the ultimate hero’s journey, and the Champion who wrote it in his own blood is also a king who demands fealty.

Austin has alternately attended Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, and Baptist churches, and part of his experience in the Body of Christ has been the discovery of its potential for corruption. But by God’s grace he’s gotten back on the horse, so to speak. Both he and Kay were involved in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship in college, and are now members of a local CMA church.

New worlds

Epic fantasy is Austin’s first fiction love. He cut his teeth on Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, then encountered The Lord of the Rings at age twelve. As soon as he turned the last page, he began it again, in awe of a secondary world so vast and deep that it overspilled his memory.

Since then he’s devoured the works of Frank Peretti, Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, C.S. Lewis, Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Bernard Cornwell. He particularly loves fantasy that doesn’t attempt to out-Tolkien Tolkien (the old master can’t be beat). And his labor of love over the past decade has been his own as-of-yet-unpublished high fantasy series.

Home base

Austin wrote dozens of book and film reviews as well as many articles at Speculative Faith.

However, aside from these and the scattered vestiges of a few derelict blogs, Austin’s presence online is practically undetectable. (This bio will self-destruct in thirty seconds.)

Next week—enter the book club coordinator, Steve Rzasa.

Can We Read Just For Fun?

The point is simply: whether we intend to simply read to have fun and have no interest in letting the story change us, it still does exactly that.
| Mar 19, 2018 | 2 comments |

Is reading to escape OK? Is it all right to look for a reading experience that “won’t change you” but is enjoyable—in other words, to read just for fun? So asked a commenter on another post recently. In that particular article, our guest blogger said, “Reading books is a waste of time if you don’t let them change you.”

I don’t think we need to couch this discussion in a bunch of spiritual gobbledygook. Beyond the realm of Christendom, as we discussed here at Spec Faith some years ago, psychologists have done brain-imaging studies and have written books and articles to demonstrate that the emotive experience of reading may actually effect readers AS IF THEY THEMSELVES HAVE PARTICIPATED in the story and endured the events their protagonist did.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. (Anne Murphy Paul as reported in Psychology Today, “The Imagined And The Real.”

The point is simple: whether we intend to merely read to have fun, and we have no interest in letting the story change us, it still does exactly that.

Reading affects us. It can change us.

We “know” about things which the characters in the books we read, know. We “do” things the characters in the books we read, do. And above all, we feel things that the characters in the books we read, feel.

Of course, some books intend to prompt thought or reflection. Some introduce a controversy and guide readers by the choices the characters make and the decisions they come to, so that readers begin to see the controversy in a specific way. Still others preach. They are clear and directive and offer a choice for the reader to make, as an appeal from the author.

I don’t care, someone might say. I ignore all that and just read fun books, the ones that are “fluff,” that don’t deal with serious topics.

Sorry, but even those books affect us. There’s the way the story impacts our brains, as those psychological studies show, but there’s also the way that those books reinforce our choice to spend time reading them. If we think it’s OK to put our brain on hold and to engage in “harmless entertainment,” that in itself is a value, and the more we read and enjoy frivolous books, the more we are strengthening and giving nurture to that value.

We’re essentially finding a reward for the value we hold. That may not seem like a change, but it is an effect.

Then, too, there is the worldview of the author or the character who shows by his work, by his use of time, by his choice of entertainment, by his friends, by his lifestyle, what is important to him and what rules he’s living his life by.

Of course reading stories, does not mean we automatically accept for ourselves the worldview of the main character. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that we become like those we hang with. So the characters we respect, admire, cheer for, do have an influence on us, if for no other reason than that we are spending so much time with them.

We can counter the effect by thinking about their choices and by intentionally choosing to do what we think is right, not whatever the character might have chosen. But we are fooling ourselves, I think, if we say that reading for fun and entertainment has no affect on us.

As I see it, the person most affected by reading is the person who doesn’t think reading affects him. Clearly he doesn’t have to consciously evaluate the book to be effected.

And for the record: I do think reading should be fun. It should be an entertaining experience, one we look forward to, one we want to introduce others to. But we should also have our eyes wide open. Reading, and reading fiction in particular, influences us, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not.

Should Christian Fiction Genres Exist?

Some readers argue that having a genre specifically for Christians isolates us from the world. But is this really the case?
| Mar 16, 2018 | 21 comments |

“The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

– C. S. Lewis

This quote, from one of the literary greats of the twentieth century, is one I’ve heard often in Christian circles. It’s a quote I generally agree with. Christian fiction has historically had quality problems and we need to emphasize the production of good literature rather than just literature with the Christian brand slapped on it.

However, some Christians take this quote in another direction. Not only should we de-emphasize the Christian fiction genre, but according to some, we shouldn’t even have a genre for Christian fiction in the first place. In the minds of some, “Christian fiction” is a retreat from the world where we insulate ourselves in closed communities with sub-par fiction.

Which leads to a question: should we really be avidly reading works of Christian fiction if the genre insulates us from the rest of the world?

Or, to put it another way: what is the purpose of reading Christian fiction? And how can we defend the genre to those who believe it’s automatically sub-par?

Tolkien vs. Lewis: two approaches to fiction

Since Lewis’s quote often comes into play in these debates, it may be helpful to compare the books he wrote to the books his fellow Inkling Tolkien wrote. Lewis, in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, very much fell into the genre of Christian fiction as the books clearly displayed a rather explicit Christian worldview. Tolkien, on the other hand, in Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, shies away from an explicitly Christian worldview and doesn’t really fall into the Christian fiction genre.

While some readers may prefer one approach over another, neither is wrong—and it goes without saying how much these two works have shaped the speculative Christian genre. Indeed, few naysayers of Christian fiction that I know fault Lewis for his genre decisions. But why is that the case? What kept Lewis’ work from becoming escapist literature?

Let’s look at what Lewis did more closely. The Chronicles of Narnia don’t target Christians because Lewis wants Christians to become comfortable or insular in their subculture. He targets Christians because he wants to challenge and equip them to go out in the world and act like faithful Christians. In Prince Caspian, Lucy learns to follow Aslan and live out a life of faith even when no one else believes her. In The Horse and His Boy, Avery learns to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and simply do the right thing herself. In The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace learn to follow the right path and not be turned away from it.

In contrast to stories like God’s Not Dead which pat Christians on the back and vilify the other side, Lewis is far more concerned with challenging Christians for the flaws they fall into in his stories. As a result, far from isolating Christians from the world, Lewis equips Christians to engage the world.

One way to look at Christian genres

I frequently hear other Christian writers asking how explicitly they should tie their faith into the stories they write. The way I frame it for writers deciding between Christian and secular genres is to look at it between a choice between two options:

  1. General fiction (secular fiction) should explore what it means to live as a human in general.
  2. Christian fiction should explore what it means to live as a Christian in particular.

This principle has helped me understand the purpose of these genres as a reader. While a biblical perspective should influence everything that we do, God has revealed himself through general revelation and so general fiction can lean on that to showcase true aspects of the world we live in. But we need fiction that explores more than simply what general revelation reveals. We need stories that explore life as a Christian. These are stories that may not interest secular readers. And that’s fine.

We don’t need to feel guilty that secular readers may not enjoy works of Christian fiction. We shouldn’t fear that this means Christian fiction isn’t objectively good. Sometimes certain themes are much more applicable to one audience than another. Here’s what that can look like:

The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry looks at a man who returns to his hometown to try and steer a woman away from a potentially-disastrous marriage. In doing so, the book questions our ability to save others, specifically in the context of the Christian life. The moral quandaries the protagonist struggles with may not be quite as relevant to unbelievers, but they are exceptionally relevant for believers.

To give an example from the Christian speculative fiction genre, Echoes from the Edge by Bryan Davis explores the struggle of a young man to forgive and move past his girlfriend’s sexual past before conversion. An unbeliever may not care for or sympathize with this struggle. But Christians will—and Christians need this kind of story.

Finally, while this last one is a film, Believe Me by Riot Studios is one of my favorite Christian films because of its critique of American evangelicalism. Because half the film satirizes various elements of evangelical culture, many secular critics don’t understand its references or point. But for Christians, it’s a thought-provoking and engaging story.

None of these stories have much to appeal to secular readers. But they’re not supposed to because they’re aiming at issues particular to Christians. As long as they’re good stories which aim to challenge Christians, we shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying such stories. Far from isolating us from the world, they equip us to better engage as Christians with the outside world.

The purpose of Christian fiction

It’s certainly possible for works of Christian fiction to unhelpfully pander to readers rather than challenging them. God’s Not Dead would be one instance of this in the film realm. But bad apples shouldn’t cause us to write off the genre as a whole or bemoan the fact that there is a commercial genre targeting Christian readers. There are good reasons for enjoying and seeking out Christian fiction. We just need to make sure we’re finding works that actually challenge and equip us.

If you’ve largely written off the Christian fiction genre because in the past you’ve seen it as sub-par pandering, perhaps the problem is that you haven’t been reading the right works in the genre. There are many works of Christian fiction out there that are legitimately good stories and that challenge Christians in appropriate ways.

You don’t need to view Christian fiction as a sub-par genre. Some writers may treat it that way. But we can demand better as readers and seek out works that truly challenge and equip Christians to live more faithful lives for Christ.

The world may not need more Christian literature—but Christians do need Christian literature.

Read great Christian stories and even if the world may not care for them, that hardly makes a difference.

Stephen Hawking’s Death: One Christian’s Reaction

Stephen Hawking’s public atheism grew during his lifetime, but we can hope he knew the God he often wrote about.
| Mar 15, 2018 | 2 comments |

On the 14th of March, 2018, which ironically happens to have been Albert Einstein’s birthday (and Pi day), Stephen Hawking died.

As a theoretical physicist, most of his scientific contributions revolved around black holes (no irony intended), probably most significantly in that he noticed that quantum mechanics requires that over time a black hole would lose mass, something relativity would not have predicted (in something called Hawking Radiation). He also contributed to discussions of the origin of the universe, speculating that the entire universe may be essentially a singularity in reverse (something rather like a black hole vomiting up its guts)–though this idea is one some other physicists do not agree is viable based on observational data (notably Hawking’s past collaborator Roger Penrose).

Hawking was more than just a physicist who made some significant contributions to the understanding of the universe. He was the most famous physicist of my lifetime (though not anywhere close to being as important as Einstein was, to be honest) and a significant figure in popular culture. His long-term degenerative illness, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS), which restricted him to a wheelchair and a robotic voice, are well-known world-wide–or perhaps a better word would be “infamous.”

Stephen Hawking on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993 (with “Einstein,” Data, and “Newton”)

He was himself a science fiction fan, who appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I’ve seen, playing poker with Data, Einstein, and Newton. He also appeared The Big Bang Theory, Futurama, and The Simpsons (in episodes I haven’t seen).

He has been referenced in popular culture outside the shows he voluntarily cooperated with, including (believe it or not), Epic Rap Battles of History.

I imagine if you asked people prior to his death, “Who is the most intelligent person living today?” many would have put Hawking on their short list, perhaps in first place. His personal opinion concerning what if would mean for humanity to meet aliens made headlines worldwide. And he offered opinions on numerous other matters, such as Scottish independence (which he opposed).

I’ve read two of Hawking’s books in which he attempted to explain his ideas on the universe to a general audience. Not that I believe my opinions are hugely important (hey, I’m not a theoretical physicist), but I thought A Brief History of Time, first published in 1988,was interesting and informative. In contrast, I found The Grand Design, published in 2010, which went out of its way to say the idea of God is not needed to explain the universe, while at the same time saying that a unified theory linking quantum mechanics to relativity may not be possible, to be a massive cop-out. (My thinking: “You are both saying that maybe science may never understand a key and very basic feature of the universe and at the same time saying even though you don’t understand the universe you are sure God had nothing to do with it. Poor reasoning!”)

A Brief History of Time actually mentioned God on numerous occasions, though usually in the context of explaining how the universe does not work–that is, God could have made things work one way, but science things that isn’t correct, because etc. Hawking also stated at one point that he wanted “to know the mind of God” in his physics, which is something Einstein had said earlier, a statement he would later repudiate as a mere figure of speech.

While he made several prior statements questioning the idea of life after death and the existence of a personal God, it was not until 2014 that Hawking plainly stated he was an atheist and that he thought belief in God makes no sense. So it seems to me, as an outside and non-professional observer, that Hawking became increasingly hostile to the idea of God during his lifetime–while simultaneously adopting increasingly poorly-reasoned positions on the nature of the universe (in my opinion, of course). To me, the connection between the increased hostility towards God and deteriorated thinking seems obvious.

Perhaps there is also a connection to Dr. Hawking’s protracted suffering with ALS and his hostile attitude towards God. Though I don’t think so. In my observation, people who suffer usually find themselves feeling closer to God than those who do not.

I really cannot know what was in Dr. Hawking’s mind. I can hope that his increased support of atheism over time was merely a response to the atheism of his peers. Perhaps he actually might have wondered it God is real–perhaps he may have even secretly found personal faith. Perhaps he even was a “closeted” Christian. Though there’s no particular reason to believe that to be the case.

I hope Stephen Hawking finds a place in the eternity he publicly denied exists. Or perhaps, if God has allowed it, a Stephen Hawking from an alternate universe will find his place in eternity, in the presence of God.

I hope so.

Madeleine L’Engle on ‘Bad Religion’

The equation between bad religion and bad art is false.
| Mar 14, 2018 | 2 comments |

If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.

The release of A Wrinkle In Time has brought this quotation to the surface. It sounds profound and is, I think, deeply wrong, but I don’t want to attack a lone, disconnected sentence. It would be better to return the sentence to its proper context, attempt to understand it, and then attack it.

The statement is taken from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. After some meandering, L’Engle expands the idea:

Basically there can be no categories as “religious” art and “secular” art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore “religious”.

To understand what she means by incarnational, we must backtrack to an earlier passage, a sort of extended analogy that compares artists to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (it sounds less silly when L’Engle says it, but never doubt: It is really, in absolute and incontrovertible truth, just as silly):

[The] artist must be obedient to the work … I believe that each work of art … comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one.

The pithiest summation of all this is that art is religion. A more difficult, and perhaps truer, summation is that art is inherently religious because to create it is, consciously or unconsciously, a religious act – an act of obedience to the divine or, at least, to the transcendent. And this brings us back again to the original statement that to be guilty of bad art is to be guilty of bad religion.

Make no mistake: The guilt is real. L’Engle lightly comments in Walking on Water that the writer of a “shoddy novel” has “reject[ed] the obedience, tak[en] the easy way out.” So to write a shoddy novel is a moral failing. Your bad prose flows from your moral weakness and the holes in your plot darkly reflect the hole in your character.

The equation between bad religion and bad art, and between moral failure and artistic failure, is false. It is flat nonsense to believe that a bad story must come from disobedience to “the work” and never consider that it probably comes from the eternal gremlins of artistic endeavors, lack of time and lack of skill. I put great emphasis on skill, more than on any nebulously-rendered obedience; it’s real and practical and necessary. In art, as in sports, no emotion, belief, or effort is enough in itself. You must have the skill, too.

Art is not an obedient response to “the work” that, L’Engle imagines, somehow already exists and wants to be incarnated; it’s not a religious act. Art is work, in the same way that cooking a meal or building a bridge is work, and like all work, it can be done badly or it can be done well. Certainly the religion of the art can influence its quality. But to make the quality of a work’s religion synonymous with the quality of its art is as wrongheaded as judging love by its poetry. (And if we did judge love by its poetry, we would know from the greetings cards we have all given and received that the world is a cold, dark, loveless place.)

There is excellent art that is bad religion. There is bad art that is excellent religion. Religion and art are not so closely bound as to make one bad or good as the other is bad or good. To think they are is bad religion.

Lorehaven Launch: Enter the Editor

Lorehaven issue 1 launches this spring. Get to know our crew, including editor Elijah David.
| Mar 13, 2018 | 1 comment |

Lorehaven magazine releases in a matter of weeks.

We review the best Christian-made fantastical novels—and help you find truth in fantastic stories, with cover stories, articles, Roundtable discussions, and beyond.

This free magazine will release first to email subscribers. Sign up and read it early.

Meanwhile, we’re announcing the crew behind this particular launch, starting with:

Next up is a longtime friend and fantastical ally of mine. He goes back to the NarniaWeb online forum, where I first knew him as “Shastastwin.” Now I’m blessed to have his faith-fantasy-and-editing skills in service to the upcoming Lorehaven launch.

Elijah David

Name, role, and crew

Elijah David is editor of Lorehaven magazine.

Elijah and his wife, Jeana, have been married for almost 7 years. They have one active toddler who loves his cat, and a calico cat who tolerates her toddler.

Personal log

Elijah loves listening to new music, exploring stories in almost any medium, and creating (whether it be written, visual, dramatic, or needlework art). As an ambivert (sitting quite literally on the border between introvert and extrovert), he craves solitude and fellowship in fairly equal measure, and there’s nothing that satisfies his fellowship craving more than having people over to his house for dinner and games.


Elijah came to Christ at a very young age. He was raised in a church that, while Southern Baptist, had a formerly Pentecostal pastor. (They often joked that they were “Southern Bapticostal.”) In college, he met Jeana through their local church and the Baptist Campus Ministry. Nowadays, they worship and serve at White Oak Baptist Church a short way from home.

New worlds

Elijah loves just about anything fantastic in nature, along with a good mystery. He doesn’t mind horror as long as it’s hopeful rather than bleak. He is a fan of more franchises than he can count, but some of the big ones are Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and DC comics (mostly the animated and film versions), the Dresden Files, Once Upon a Time, and anything Arthurian legend-related.

Albion Academy, Elijah DavidHe writes a broad mix of fantasy subgenres, but his published stories are Albion Academy (the first of four books in a modern Arthurian-related series with plenty of other myths thrown in) and the John Valley short stories (magical realism/low fantasy stories set in the South). He draws and paints whatever comes to mind and is currently working on a drawing series of 100 mythical figures.

Home base

Elijah blogs at about the books he’s reading and writing, the visual art he creates, and anything else that begs to be blogged. He can be found on Facebook, at Goodreads, and on Pinterest.

Next week—enter the review chief, Austin Gunderson.

We Need More Christian Fiction

Half the battle is believing that Christian fiction should do more than “create art for art’s sake.” I don’t see that position in Scripture. Rather, I think a more accurate statement for the Christian is that we are to create art for God’s sake.
| Mar 12, 2018 | 3 comments |

I know we at Spec Faith have made a plea for Christian fiction (as opposed to simply fiction by Christians) before, but I want to voice my concerns again.

One school of thought is that Christians simply need to write well and God will be glorified and the job of the author is done. Another school of thought is that the gospel needs to be declared in every story, and an example of someone repenting and changing is most desirable.

The problem is that the world seems to be winning the story-telling battle. How many books and movies and manga and drama contain the prevailing concepts of a godless worldview? Well, perhaps not godless. Many replace God with a man-centric view. We simply need to look within. The power is in us. We can do all things.

There is an increase of books about transgender issues and challenging authority, about terrorism and domestic violence. We see stories that suggest intentional fraud in religion and others that promote a pantheistic worldview. The one thing we don’t see is a story with a positive Christian role model or someone who believes the Bible. More often than not a religious person is depicted as phony or greedy or not that serious about his beliefs.

Speculative fiction might lead the way in showing this march toward life lived without thought of God. Stories largely reflect the values of society, and the violence, the sexual perversion, the preoccupation with pleasure, the absence of an emphasis on integrity are symptoms of what fuels real life.

So, I wonder, how can a Christian write well in this environment?

I don’t think writing a “beautiful” story is enough. The most obvious reason is that a story isn’t actually beautiful unless it deals with a large truth, a universal need. So we may think some stories are wonderful because they have a great plot and such engaging characters, but if they don’t also address something vital to the human condition, they fall short.

At the same time, stories that offer the gospel message, while truthful and absolutely accurate, may fall on deaf ears simply because readers can’t relate.

Over and over critics of Christian fiction remind us that stories are different from sermons, and they are. That doesn’t mean that stories should be silent about the most important things in life. Rather, stories are vital because they involve a reader’s emotions. In addition, stories can say in fresh ways what readers may have missed in more didactic formats.

Why is Christian story-telling fighting to find a place in the market?

I love many books by Christians, and a short glimpse at the Spec Faith library will show you that there’s no lack of titles available. I’ve edited some of these authors, I’ve reviewed a number of the books, I’ve read far more for pure enjoyment. But none of the recent sci-fi or fantasy titles are reaching “across the aisle” to the general market. Oh, sure, some might in small numbers, but I don’t see anything like the Left Behind phenomenon or the way The Shake captured readers.

I don’t know why Christian fiction can’t regularly be read widely, not because it’s theology is controversial, but because it’s just that compelling that readers talk about it and recommend it and get excited about it.

Some of the best books I’ve read come up short in some significant way: I’ve read some with characters that are forgettable; I’ve read others with convoluted plots; I’ve also read some that seem little more than frivolous; and yes, I’ve read some that are preachy.

What this boils down to, I think, is writers focusing on some aspects of fiction, but not on all parts. So you have some stories that have wonderful characters, but the action is episodic and doesn’t lead to a climactic conclusion. You can read a chapter, put the book down, even stop reading all together, because nothing is driving you to know what happens next.

Other books are action packed, and I find myself staying up late at night because I just can’t put the book down. But when I’m finished, I feel a little like “so what?” I don’t see how the protagonist made a distinct change or made his world better.

Above all, in some stories, I have to wonder in what ways they differ from what a non-Christian might have written.

I may not have said this before, but I think writing Christian fiction is one of the hardest things there is to do. How do we write well and remain faithful to the gospel message? How do entertain, and communicate the life-changing truth?

Half the battle is believing that Christian fiction should do more than “create art for art’s sake.” I don’t see that position in Scripture. Rather, I think a more accurate statement for the Christian is that we are to create art for God’s sake.

What that looks like in the end won’t be the same for any two books, not if done well. There simply is no formula. But if we Christians don’t use fiction to further the kingdom of God, we are cutting off one important communication tool.

I know that’s controversial. Just recently I heard another pastor on the radio disparaging “the arts” as a means of communicating the gospel. Certainly stories don’t replace sermons, but they can accomplish something sermons cannot, including reaching people who will not visit a church.

Of course, they won’t accomplish anything unless writers try.

Why Rick Created Froopyland: Exploring ‘Rick and Morty’

In ‘Rick and Morty’, Rick’s and Beth’s dysfunctional relationship ultimately leads to a twisted kind of love.
| Mar 9, 2018 | No comments |

Last week I discussed the nihilistic view of the animated series, Rick and Morty. Through the use of a multiverse, the creators of the show attempt to tell us that humans are insignificant in the scheme of things. However, the creators state that instead of answering unanswerable questions, focus on the family.1

This article will discuss the dynamics of each member of the family and how they represent all of humanity. The way to show this is to understand one aspect of Rick’s self-importance: Rick believes he is god. As in, god of his own universe or any universe he comes across. Which, in the context of the show, may be true. All the Ricks of each universe did come together to form the Council of Ricks. As far as we know, no one else had done anything like this. There isn’t a Council of Beths, Jerrys (although there is a multiverse Jerry daycare) or Summer. As the god, everything is supposed to work according to the way he wants them to. This becomes important when we delve into his family and his relationships with each of them. In essence we’re asking, “How does Rick (the god) solve the problems of those living in his universe?

To really give context, we have to skip ahead to the third season. The third season of the show takes a weird turn, which, given the content of the show itself, says a lot.

In the episode entitled, “The ABC’s of Beth” we discover the world of Froopyland. Froopyland is an artificially generated world created by Rick Sanchez from a collapsed quantum tesseract sometime in the 1980s for his daughter, Beth. The weather is always perfectly sunny, the river is a literal rainbow of breathable water to prevent drowning, and all the ground surfaces are bouncy to protect against injury. There’s not a parent in the world who wouldn’t love a Froopyland for their own.

It goes downhill from there. Rick tells Beth he created it because Beth displayed psychotic tendencies as a child. Froopyland was not built out of love for his daughter but to protect the neighborhood from her. She asked Rick to create some devilish devices, including pink sentient pocket knife that talked and rainbow-colored duct tape.  More on that later.

A return visit to Froopyland is enacted when Beth hears about one of her childhood friend’s father is up for the death penalty because it was thought he ate his son Tommy. What had actually happened was that Beth had taken Tommy to Froopyland with her. Jealous of his loving relationship with his parents and that he had a Nintendo, she threw Tommy into a honey pit and left him there and he’s been all this time. Beth wants to right her wrong. When she and Rick arrive, they discover that Tommy has survived all these years by bestiality, incest, and cannibalism. (Trust me, that’s all you want to know.) Way to go, Froopyland.2

Tommy refuses to leave. Beth ends up killing Tommy, cloning him, and then using the clone as evidence to free his father from the death penalty at the last hour. She’d rather kill Tommy than say I’m sorry. Much like Rick refuses to admit his own failings.

In keeping with the analogy that Rick is god of his universe or any universe, then his relationship with each of his family members is affected by this thought. A deep look at these family members however, show they all embody the innate flaws of humanity.

Beth: Rick’s daughter, Morty’s and Summer’s mom, and Jerry’s wife

Rick abandoned her as a child. The abandonment a child feels from a parent, whether it’s a physical separation or mental distance, leaves deep scars on them. Beth wanted to be a doctor but when she got pregnant by Jerry with her daughter Summer, she felt as if she had to settle for less. She sees her occupation as a veterinarian who specializes in horse surgery as beneath her. For his part, Rick can’t stand Jerry. He sees him as a weak individual that people make excuses for. Yet, Beth ultimately still loves her husband. One has to wonder if Rick had been there in her life, would she had fallen for Jerry?

Summer: Beth and Jerry’s daughter, Morty’s sister, and Rick’s granddaughter

When she discovers she’s an unwanted pregnancy, it devastates her. Until that moment, she was like any other teenager (minus Rick Sanchez) who was concerned about her status with her peers, and seeking approval, liking boys and whatnot. She, just like her mom, adores her grandfather although he’s a sociopathic, alcoholic, brilliant scientist. Finding out an awful truth about yourself can be heart wrenching. In her case, she found her presence was never planned. Yet, due to Morty’s horrible advice, she just pushes it out the way.

Jerry: Beth’s husband, Morty and Summer’s dad, and Rick’s son-in-law

His insecurities abound in the series. He’s unemployed, his children don’t rely on them, his wife seems more obsessed with keeping her father in her life than him. Insecurity about one’s place in the world or where you fit in can cause its own chaotic, downward spin. Jerry is always trying to prove something to himself. Rick deliberately sabotages their marriage. When Jerry tells Beth to choose between her father or him, she ultimately chooses Rick and plans to divorce Jerry. Instead of standing up to the dominant force that is Rick, he bows out.

Morty: Jerry and Beth’s son, Summer’s brother and Rick’s grandson

He is influenced a lot by the people in his family but the one who affects him the most is his grandfather, Rick. In the presence of his grandfather, a larger than life figure, he is forced to go along with him on their adventures in the multiverse. According to Rick, the reason why they travel on their adventures together is because Morty is a ‘cloaking device’ in which ‘Morty waves’ cancel our Rick’s ‘genius waves’. So in other words, Rick is using Morty for his own purposes. Unlike the other members of the family, Morty accepts Rick’s flaws and understand how his grandfather’s mind works.

The god of this world

Now, we come to the heart of Rick, the god of this universe and any other he chooses to inhabit.

In the episode I mentioned earlier, Rick states:

A dad makes a toilet look like R2-D2, and it breaks the front page of Reddit, but I’m Charles Manson because I gave you your own world instead of an iPad.

This, of everything he has said and done, shows us the true heart of Rick Sanchez. He wants to fix everything. That’s why science appeals to him. The way he fixes things however, often leaves the family members more screwed up than before. (You should watch the episode of Morty’s Mind Blowers. When Morty does something completely devastating such as causing an innocent man to commit suicide, Rick simply removes the memory from Morty’s head. However, Morty never learns from his mistakes.)

For Beth, Rick doesn’t want to admit he screwed up her life by not being there. Instead, he wants to take over the family as the dominant member of the house. But when things get too emotional, he runs away.

For Morty, to get over his insecurity, Rick takes him along on his adventures. The kids at the school who seem cool can’t even begin to touch Morty’s experiences as he travels to different universes. However, Morty doesn’t get the chance to interact with his classmates. He can’t get a handle on his crush for pretty girl Jessica or learn how to just survive in his own world.

For Summer, Rick acknowledges her free will to be whoever she wants despite the fact she was an unwanted pregnancy. Yet, he tends to favor Morty over Summer.

For Jerry, he just wants to get rid of him. Despite Rick’s protestations and ridicule of marriage and commitment, he’s still ticked off Jerry got his daughter pregnant. To me, he’s never gotten over that. But he does admit Jerry loves Beth, even if it’s as a leech.

Fans of the show really believe that Rick created Froopyland to stave off Beth’s sociopathetic tendencies. I disagree. Rick created Froopyland because…he loves his daughter. He made it safe so that nothing could harm her. As a matter of fact, despite what the creators will tell you, Rick loves his family. Loves them insanely. Else, why would Rick and Morty go on adventures together? In every universe, Rick and Morty are together. Yet, when you adapt a nihilistic worldview, that love becomes a chain. Self-gratification cannot reign supreme when love is involved, even a twisted love like Rick Sanchez’s.

There’s one episode where Rick is being held captive by “Evil Rick” from the “evil dimension.” “Evil Rick” shows him glimpses of his Morty. As he taunts Rick with the images of Morty as an adolescent to a baby, Rick smiles. His eyes cease to have that blank stare or cynical expression. For a split second, Rick’s vulnerability is seen and the “Evil Rick” sees it, too.  In yet another episode, Rick and Morty go to a universe where they get “psychologically detoxed’ “In other words, the worst things about themselves – Rick’s coarse attitude and Morty’s low self-esteem – are stripped from them. These toxic entities become sentient. Morty’s low-esteem embodies his kindness. Rick’s arrogance embodies his attachments. When the detoxed Rick shoots the toxic Morty, toxic Rick jumps in the way to protect him. You don’t jump in the way of a person you hate. In anything, you throw them into the path of the bullet.

Unlike Rick’s godhood, the God of the Bible is not flawed. He does not run away from his responsibilities as Rick did with Beth. Instead of taking your mistakes from you, He gives you one life in order to learn along the way. Instead of trying to make you feel better that you’re not important, He gives you purpose. Your insecurities, He invites you to cast them onto His shoulders. Despite the fact I believe Rick created Froopyland out of love for Beth, at the end of the day, he only exacerbated the problem by simply putting a Band-aid on the lack of his presence.  The God of the Bible says that He will be with us always.

There’s a lot more to say about this show which appeals and repels me in equal parts. It’s a great way to study nihilism and what happens when you can’t escape your own shortcomings no matter how hard you try.

  1. Did anyone catch what I just did there? 😊 .
  2. As a side note, when the show gets into how the bestiality happened in Froopyland, you gotta give it up for Darwinism in this respect—it doesn’t need a rational explanation. You accept it by faith. How it could happen makes no sense at all by any stretch of the imagination.