/ / Articles

Christian Speculative Fiction In A Postmodern World

On one hand, Christian speculative fiction authors believe, in contradiction to our culture, that there are absolutes, that belief is essential, that beauty is recognizable, and that now pales in comparison to one day.

Painting of Design Futura group on Piotrkowska Street in Łódź by Ralf Lotys

I recently read an interesting article, “PoMo: Everybody’s doing it,” critiquing the postmodern world in which we live. According to the author Jay Merrick, we have left the more ordered and restrained thought of modernism which found its basis in science. Instead we are now “profoundly immersed in the tortuous, commercially controlled currents of postmodern design and thought, and its weapons of mass psychic deconstruction.”

Merrick goes on to describe the early evidences of postmodernism in art as “deliberately indiscriminate weirdness: the ordinary was made to seem in some way excessively other, like stage props for a chaotic rather than reasoned reality. It was almost pose-modern.”

I have to admit, I couldn’t help but think of Lady Gaga when I read that, but of course “indiscriminate weirdness” isn’t all that defines postmodernism. Merrick adds this: “we seem to crave maximised senses of fractured movement, overlay, ennui and nowness.”

He continued by quoting Paul Greenhalgh, director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich: “We all confidently celebrated our lack of confidence about things: suddenly, it seemed, none of us knew exactly what was beautiful or everlasting; or if we thought we did, none of us were prepared to say so.”

Merrick further defines postmodernism by saying, “The and/but vibe now suffuses almost everything we think and do. Surface has become more important than depth. Style – or, more accurately, stylee – trumps coordinated articulation; disbelief is more acceptable than belief [emphasis added].”

What does all this mean for Christian speculative fiction? In some respects the genre is caught between two worlds, as many Christian speculative authors feel to be true about themselves.

On one hand, we believe, in contradiction to our culture, that there are absolutes, that belief is essential, that beauty is recognizable, and that now pales in comparison to one day.

And yet “indiscriminate weirdness” has an appeal, and the ordinary does in fact have the potential at least to be quite “other.”

If we’re honest, reality does seem rather chaotic, which is why some of us prefer to write fantasy or science fiction where we can order the world according to a set of rules and principles that have a consistency we desire.

Others of us, to be sure, write fantasy or science fiction or horror to express or examine the chaotic, to try to make sense of it, to try to tame it.

As I think about the culture, it seems to me that dystopian fiction or urban fantasy makes such sense for postmodern thought. Embrace the chaos, live for the now, disdain the ideas of beauty and truth.

But Christian speculative fiction, caught in the in-between as it is, seems like the perfect genre to bridge the gap — the generation gap, the cultural gap.

We embrace the idea of “other,” but we believe in beauty and truth. Rather than articulating these, however, we value showing them.

But here’s the thing. As I perceive the community of Christian speculative writers, many have felt marginalized — squeezed by both sides of who we are. I think that’s short-sighted. We above all others can draw from both camps. We can speak to both sides of the cultural divide. If not us, then who?

Consequently, rather than feeling squeezed out — displaced like lepers outside the city gates — by our place between two worlds, I think a more fitting response would be, YES! We are in the unique position where we can speak for Christ to our culture and at the same time show the culture to the Church.

What a challenge!

Similar articles

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
John Weaver
Guest
John Weaver

  I don’t know that postmodernism is the problem right now for Christians. The New Atheists, for instance, are much more favorably disposed to Enlightenment thinking than they are to postmodern relativism (indeed, Sam Harris just came out with a book that, in part, decried pomo relativism as just as bad as religious absolutism). And postmodernism offers up apologetic and artistic lanes that modernism (if we define modernism as the Enlightenment. Literary modernism is actually fairly similar to postmodernism in many respects) closes, by moving people away from empiricist rationalism to a greater focus on community and relationship. Not that the process is perfect. I find pomo writing infuriating and my natural tendency is to prefer the realists and naturalists of the beginning of the century (Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, etc.). But in postmodernism, Christianity is considerably less under attack than in modernism, which is why many New Atheists hate literary po-mos. Christians can always just answer po-mo’s with “Well, I have a right to see the world the way I want” and the po-mos have to respect that if they are to remain philosophically consistent. Modernists do not (granted I’m giving a very crude depiction of both postmodernism and modernism here). And, personally, I’m not particularly convinced that Reformed style presuppositionalist apologetics is particularly useful as a witnessing tool today, or as a logically thought philosophy. The logic behind many postmodern theories of thought is impeccable, though the conclusions seem unlivable and therefore self-contradictory. But then that’s just me.
 
Just please note, I’m not a po-mo. I believe in objective truths.

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

I’m too dumb for this kind of discussion. I finished reading the article and my brain exploded. :-p
 
To me,  Modernism is the bank downtown. All cold stone, sharp angles, marble pillars. Stately, grand, and absolutely heartless.
 
Post-modernism is the bank in the burbs. Low ceiling, wood paneling, carpet, potted plants, comfy chairs.
 
I have no idea how that applies to writing.

Jeremy McNabb
Guest
Jeremy McNabb

I think literature, especially with market trends and readability being the guiding principles that they are, is going to remain a stronghold of modernism. One of the hallmarks of postmodern art is its ability to break the fourth wall to interact with it’s audience. Literature, on the other hand, has done this for centuries through first-person perspective and narrator intrusion. Other aspects of postmodernism are usually what we would call sloppy writing. As a whole, I believe that literature is going to remain fairly rigid.

Modernism was thought to be dangerous in it’s day, and it’s easy to see why. Modernism gave us systematic theology, and the belief that we can observe and describe any aspect of God, religion, the afterlife, the soul, etc. It can tip into arrogance very easily. Post-modernism simply says that some things are too big to systematize, but the danger there is that it allows uneducated and uniformed would-be philosophers to discount proven, legitimate arguments, beliefs, and systems of belief, with the wave of the hand. Sometimes it’s good to question what we think we know, but unfortunately, post-modernism tends to question the things we don’t like. 

John Weaver
Guest
John Weaver

Actually, Stephen, no. My point is the deconstructionist would say concrete definitions for some terms, particularly ideological and non-material terms (God, ethics, I) is impossible. That’s hardly an illogical position, just because it does not agree with your worldview.

Maria Tatham
Guest

John, one problem with the view that says, that it’s impossible to formulate concrete definitions for ideological and non-material terms, is that such definitions have already been formulated. Not only that, but this was accomplished long before the modern era, let alone the postmodern. 

Becky, I liked your post–talk to you another time! Talk to you later, John and everyone! I didn’t mark everything I liked, didn’t even read everything. To me examining minds that think this way (that deconstruct language, believing we can’t know, define, communicate) is like looking into “an abyss of madness.” (These are the words of Irenaeus about Gnosticism.) The only thing that can help such minds is the Word of God illuminated by the Spirit of God. We can prepare the soil–right, Becky?–but the seed is eternal, not something we can fabricate.

Maria    

         

John Weaver
Guest
John Weaver

  Also, the poststructuralist’s tactic here is not much different from Christians who argue atheists are hypocritcal for judging the Bible on its own morality, saying how can the atheists have morality without the Bible. As soon as the atheist attempts a moral assertion, the Christian just changes the terms of the debate, till the atheist gets sick of talking to him (I’m not an atheist, but I get rather tired of seeing Christians use this tactic, instead of simply dealing with the hard passages of the Scriptures).
 
John
 
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Atheists might be sick of the argument because Christians make it obnoxiously and without winsome, gracious demeanors in the context of personal relationships.

Or they may be sick of it because it keeps whuppin’ ’em.

Making them think about things they’d rather ignore, starting with the fact that there is no such things as “neutral” philosophical or religious ground.

Your atheist may vary.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

This is why I subscribe to the “do not answer a fool according to his folly / answer a fool according to his folly” style of issue engagement.

In other words, I believe the Christian should respond to such moral-relativistic or atheistic assertions: I don’t accept your belief, and can prove so actively. However, if we do assume you’re right, that doesn’t fit with your own claimed assumptions; here’s how.

Here is different. Unless someone like that comes along, I can simply note an irony. 🙂

John Weaver
Guest
John Weaver

 They’re not fools, nor is their question foolish, simply because it does not conform to your worldview. Christians have asked the same questions as the postmodernists did, even deeply moral Christians. Indeed, the philosopher Wittgenstein, who though not a Christian, was deeply sympathetic to Christians, formulated the basic questions I posed at the beginning here, and those questions were later taken up by Catholic philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe, who was smart enough to beat even C.S. Lewis in a debate (to Lewis’s partial admission). That hardly sounds like folly to me. The word “believe” for instance, means ten million different things, even among just evangelical Christians. It is therefore hardly illogical for poststructuralists to ask whether the term can mean anything, when its numerous definitions are so varied.
I’m not saying I totally disagree with you Steve. I just think you’re discounting poststructuralist thought too easily. I think the questions Wittgenstein and early precursors to poststructuralism posed were deeply valid ones, but I do think when one gets to Derrida deconstructing an orange, it gets to be a bit much! (I hate Derrida by the way, or dislike him with a Christian dislike!).
 
John
 
 

Kaci Hill
Member

Most of my understanding of postmodernism comes from textbooks. My study of its influence in the church has been mostly one of reading everything I could on the subject and a Saturday Seminar series found here.
 
Anyway.
 
Becky said:
 

we have left the more ordered and restrained thought of modernism which found its basis in science. Instead we are now “profoundly immersed in the tortuous, commercially controlled currents of postmodern design and thought, and its weapons of mass psychic deconstruction.”

 
What postmodernism did do, however, was ask questions modernism didn’t.  Modernism had it’s own list of problems; it was hardly the pinnacle of wisdom. It just maintained its absolutes, be those absolutes good or bad. Modernism insisted the cosmos and the divine nature could be reduced to math problems and analytical processes.   The downside of rationalism, naturalism, and the Enlightenment is that they praised the prowess of Man’s mind rather than the glory of God’s wholly otherness.   Modernism is, at its core, severely humanistic and places the human will, nature, and mind above all else. It’s anthropocentric by nature. Postmodernism was born out of frustration, more or less. 

And, in that vein, so was the emergent/emerging church movement. Many of them may have wound up well off the deep end, but some of the fundamental questions are legitimate and deserve answers.   It’s like any other variant of rebellion: You can dismiss, punish, or blindly condemn the action/attitude, or you can slow and and address what’s really going on behind the scenes.  For most post-modernists, it’s a rejection of the cold, immovable mandates that didn’t answer their very real questions.  

 
And I had someone define and explain emerging v. emergent to me, so here’s what I got:

Emergent is a philosophy. It believes in a HEAVY blending of art and sermon. It’s very tactile,  illustrative, and postmodern.

The emerging church is more of an ideal. The emerging church is the church that’s rallying together in a positive move, to bring people back to God through worship and teaching. They’re what we should aspire to be. They tend to be charismatic, too.

 
Sorry for all the definitions. Six years as a mod taught me most arguments can be avoided if all terms are defined immediately.
 

What does all this mean for Christian speculative fiction? In some respects the genre is caught between two worlds, as many Christian speculative authors feel to be true about themselves.

On one hand, we believe, in contradiction to our culture, that there are absolutes, that belief is essential, that beauty is recognizable, and that now pales in comparison to one day.

 
Kick someone’s dog and you’ll see the true meaning of ‘absolute.’  Most people use that particular argument to deflect. The real question is what they’re deflecting…and why.
 

That said,while I’m not a fan of postmodern art myself (and I won’t try to get into music or art because I really only understand books), novels are more about questions than answers anyway.   There’s a difference between purposefully asking questions and asserting there are no answers (which is itself an answer).  

In the end, I think people really do have some sense of beauty or else an entire line of business would go bankrupt; and they appreciate beliefs but don’t tolerate proselytizing.  Without some kind of belief, we have no sense of identity, and Americans are very much about identity.
 
John  –  I have to say I agree with your first comment, just for the record. 
 
Kessie said-
 

To me,  Modernism is the bank downtown. All cold stone, sharp angles, marble pillars. Stately, grand, and absolutely heartless.
 
Post-modernism is the bank in the burbs. Low ceiling, wood paneling, carpet, potted plants, comfy chairs.

 
Great way to put it. I’d just add that your postmodern bank would have everything asymmetrical and not a thing in there would match. You’d probably mistake it for a hooka bar or something. 
 
Becky said:
 

Rather, I see stories more and more reflecting postmodern thought, not mimicking postmodern form. Consequently characters will have a more random approach to life — what they want will be all the motivation they need and their great epiphany might be that they realize there are no answers. These ideas not only reflect postmodern thought, they propagate postmodern thought.

Art reflects culture; culture reflects art. Real life people are frequently random, so I’m not sure what you mean there. Moreover, haven’t people been following their own desires since Adam and Eve? Just saying, it’s not really a postmodern thing. 

And sometimes…the true answer isn’t that there is no answer, but that we have no idea what that answer is. Even the Bible records God sometimes saying “Just trust me.”

Besides, have you seen/read modernistic fiction? Good lords, that is some of the most depressing, nihilistic junk I have ever been witness to.  And I read all kinds of madness for my lit classes. Yeesh. Makes Eeyore look chipper. 
 

And who’s going to stand up and say, wait a minute, there actually is a future and a hope; there actually is a constant; and love, beauty and truth really do exist. In fact, I’ve met Him. That’s the kind of “Other” the postmodernist can grasp.

But like John said, first you’ll have to define love, truth, and beauty and convince the person your version is the absolute.  That’s a long series of questions to go down. You know the saying, “Opinions are like noses; everyone’s got one.”

Most postmodernists are agnostic, not atheist, so you’re not up against “There is no God,” you’re up against “I have no tangible way of knowing if there’s a God or not, much less which one is the ‘correct’ one.”
 
John said:

My point is the deconstructionist would say concrete definitions for some terms, particularly ideological and non-material terms (God, ethics, I) is impossible. That’s hardly an illogical position, just because it does not agree with your worldview.

Well, I could probably argue the logic of it, just because it assumes “God” and “I” are not people. (Okay, so we could get into ‘what’s a person?’ but even if we’re going to say ‘people are bipedal, living lumps of bone, meat, and skin’ we’re still looking at something tangible. I’d give you God, but to do so assumes God is not a person and is incapable of revealing himself to the rest of us. ) As for ‘ethics,’ we might disagree on what actions fall under what categories, but most cultures, regardless of time and geography, believe murder is wrong, even if they don’t count honor killings as murder.
 
But hey, I’m also the person who insists that just because something is logical doesn’t mean it’s right, so….there you go. 😛

  Also, the poststructuralist’s tactic here is not much different from Christians who argue atheists are hypocritcal for judging the Bible on its own morality, saying how can the atheists have morality without the Bible. As soon as the atheist attempts a moral assertion, the Christian just changes the terms of the debate, till the atheist gets sick of talking to him (I’m not an atheist, but I get rather tired of seeing Christians use this tactic, instead of simply dealing with the hard passages of the Scriptures).

 
I think I know what you mean here, but would you mind giving me an example? (I’m really just curious on this point.) I’ll give you that an atheist can still have a set of morals, but those morals are grounded on…what? Himself? 

I dunno. I’m me, and there’s plenty of things I thought were okay five years ago that I don’t think are okay now. Know what I mean?

They’re not fools, nor is their question foolish, simply because it does not conform to your worldview.

Depends on the subject and the question. 😛
 

“The fool has said in his heart there is no god” (Psalm 14:1). It’s not the same idea as saying atheists are ignorant. But to arrive at the idea that there is no god, no matter how intelligent or logical or consistent, they’re missing a vital truth, I’d even say, willfully so, though I wouldn’t be adamant about that. Therefore, they can’t be called wise. And we can’t talk to them as if they are wise. Intelligent, yes, of course. But not wise.

I’ll be the first to admit I can’t find a logical mental process for atheism anymore than some atheists apparently can theism, but once you’ve done away with anything supernatural (which naturalism & nihilism did), it’s not much of a stretch to dismiss God’s existence, particularly if you’ve never seen him break the fourth wall, so to speak.
 
 

Paul
Guest
Paul

 
Really mind blowing. I would take the challenge. As a Christian I am proud to share stories about my culture.
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Picking up from Becky‘s comment, replying to John Weaver, above:

John, I’m thinking you may have misunderstood Stephen here, too. I took him to be referring to Scripture: “The fool has said in his heart there is no god” (Psalm 14:1).

That was in the back of my mind. Yet so were two verses from Proverbs:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:4-5

Here’s how that applies in this circumstance, I think. If a Christian assumes an atheist’s notions or presuppositions about the discussion — that is, that there is “neutral ground,” and the atheist either has it or is right to expect the Christian to assume his assumptions and then prove, say, something like God exists — that Christian would be foolish to go along with it. It would be “answer[ing] a fool according to his folly.” Just like the atheist.

As Becky went on to say:

To arrive at the idea that there is no god, no matter how intelligent or logical or consistent, they’re missing a vital truth, I’d even say, willfully so, though I wouldn’t be adamant about that. Therefore, they can’t be called wise. And we can’t talk to them as if they are wise. Intelligent, yes, of course. But not wise.

Moreover, even the most thoughtful, moral atheist considers the Christian a fool (even if a polite, generous, benevolent fool). So the discussion, while best handled under civil constraints, would not be between a “neutral” atheist and the partisan Christian, but between two people who are both convinced the other is a fool to some extent. But only the atheist must borrow just enough from the Christian’s worldview, not his own, to set up things like laws of logic or morality, which his foundation of naturalism can’t allow.

Still, I know there have been plenty of Christians who rudely, in un-Christlike ways condemn atheists as fools and not worth talking to — that is, the same “fool” that a Christian would be apart from Christ’s mercy and grace in saving him. I join you in rebuking those behaviors, and hope for God’s sake never to participate in them.

MS Quixote
Guest
MS Quixote

“Secondly, the deconstructionist would ask who is this “I” that you talk about.”

“Who” wants to know? 🙂