In writing the kind of non-fiction that a Speculative Faith post is, good form comes from getting to the point right away. Tell them what you intend to tell them up front, tell them again in detail, and if necessary, summarize.
I’m not doing that with this post, but hope you will continue to read anyway to see what I’m talking about. I hope the images of young people having cut themselves that I’ve shared will catch your attention to the point you will want to know why I shared them. And you’ll keep reading to find out.
Note I’m still not continuing with the series I had planned, A Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to Warfare. I’m still working on collaboration with Travis Chapman, a situation which has not been worked out by any means…
To return to my indirect (“left-handed”) means to make a specific point, I once imagined writing a modernized version of Pilgrim’s Progress. If you aren’t familiar with that 1678 work by John Bunyan, it’s highly and obviously allegorical, with character names like Wordly Wiseman, Christian, Hopeful, Ignorance, and the Giant Despair, wherein the names of the characters sum up who the characters are.
In the version I pondered writing, the character names would be less obvious, but still sum up their nature. I thought of creating a knight named “Autotomy”–a word which comes from Greek roots meaning “self-cutting.” The knight, when first met and asked if his name is actually supposed to be “Autonomy” (since that’s a regular word in English and “autotomy” isn’t), he would answer, “Yes, you can call me that, too.” So “Autonomy” is what they’d call him most of the time.
The story would show the knight bleeding for unknown reasons over a good long while and eventually would reveal that he was cutting himself–the lesson in the name being that wandering from the Lord (via autonomy) is equivalent to doing harm to yourself directly, which I imagined as the knight slicing the inside of his arms and legs with his sword when he thought nobody was watching and then covering up what he was doing with his armor. By the way, this character idea was based on observations of my own life, believe it or not.
I think that idea for a character first crossed my mind around twenty years ago–even before my first short story was published circa 2002. I did not know of a single person cutting himself or herself in the late nineties–and it certainly was not the cultural phenomenon that it is now.
Let’s time travel (and who doesn’t like time travel?) to the present. I recently happened to meet a young person I originally planned to say more about, but I decided it’s better not to share too many details for the sake of her anonymity. This person had visible markings on the inside of her left arm where she has cut herself repeatedly in the past. I wound up talking to the girl on multiple occasions (in full view of other people, by the way).
I offered her an empathetic ear and found out that she believes she is actually male. She recently began living with family members who take her to church. She wasn’t that thrilled about church and wonders if she is an atheist. And she’s a science fiction and fantasy fan, an avid reader. She and I discussed the difference between reincarnation and resurrection and she actually didn’t even really understand what resurrection was, but understood reincarnation just fine. I wondered if stories she has read influenced her understanding. She also wondered why Christians hate “people like her.” I tried to explain that not all do.
You know something, when I was around 13, I didn’t cut myself, but I had a distant, alcoholic father, and a promiscuous mother who exposed me to things I should not have been exposed to (I could say what with more specificity, but don’t want to traumatize all the people reading this who had childhoods that did not feature abuse). I contemplated suicide. And I read science fiction. I read a lot of science fiction–it was my escape and comfort. And based on what I read in science fiction, I wondered if I really should be an atheist–like Isaac Asimov, science fiction writer extraordinaire, whom I admired.
I wondered who I was, I wondered what I was, and I certainly hated myself quite a lot. Intense loathing, in fact. I found a deliverance from all that in submitting myself to God and experienced God rescuing me, there’s no doubt in my mind on that point. Yet for many years, I would voluntarily wander away from God, in spite of what he had done for me, hurting myself again. Like Autonomy/Autotomy. (In fact, I still do this, but far less now.)
And with that background, there I was, talking to someone also rather like my character Autotomy, a character I hadn’t even put down in writing anywhere until crafting this post. This young person (quite young), who was born a female but now struggling with the idea she should be male–expressed interest when I told her about science fiction written from a Christian perspective. I gave her some books. She’s reading them. I don’t know now how that’s going to turn out. I hope what she reads helps reset her point of view, at least a little.
Let me be clear that I know that works of fiction are not primarily for the purpose of reaching a lost world for Christ. That’s what Christian believers are for, you and I. And let’s not forget the power of the words and images of the Bible.
Yet Bunyan’s work had a powerful influence in its day–and it was a work of fiction. A work of speculative (albeit allegorical) fiction.
Why would a young science fiction reader clearly know what reincarnation is but not resurrection? Why would the modern cultural trend of cutting and another cultural trend of a transgender self-concept be something fully understood, but basic concepts of Christianity seem foreign?
II Corinthians 10:5 and Proverbs 23:7a (“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he,” NKJV) are just two of many verses in the Bible that talk about the importance of what we think. And Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Let me submit to you that the fiction we write becomes the backdrop of the thoughts of human beings, a substance that pours into human hearts. At least sometimes. Especially for people who are young and impressionable.
Sure, I understand when Christians choose to write for the general market–I in fact publish some short stories that would fit in fine in the general market. But note that I felt, when talking to a younger, female version of Autonomy (er, I mean, “Autotomy”) and handing her a small stack of books, a strong sense that this is why I write what I write. To put ideas in the minds of people, especially young people, other than what our culture revels in–ideas that have a different vision of the world than one that leads people to cut themselves.
And that is my point, friends. Writing speculative fiction as Christians can be a simple act of creation, without regard to spiritual influence on the audience. Yes, true–but it also can have the capacity to offer at least a little shift in perspective, a view of reality unlike what the rest of the world has.
If that’s what God has led you to do, to write with spiritual truths permeating your story(ies), don’t let anything discourage you: There’s a need for it. A genuine and desperate need.