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Critiquing Critics Of Christian Fiction, Part 3

Many Christian readers have learned to put up with preachiness in secular stories, while some non-Christians (or even professing Christians) can’t stand hearing real Christianity repeated in a work of fiction, even with artistic excellence.

Subtitle: “Secular” stories can be just as preachy as Christians’ stuff.

Well, that was an interesting discussion, after our interview with Star Wars: The New Jedi Order and Firebird author Kathy Tyers. And though it has temporarily lapsed, it has ended up being (so far) the lengthiest exchange after a column in Speculative Faith 2.0’s history.

And by seeming coincidence it also helped to confirm something I’d suggested in last week’s column: that when some readers critique Christian fiction, there’s more behind their dislike than mere honest appraisal of a novel’s inappropriately preachy content. Rather, we have crucial disagreements over definitions: What is preachiness? What is Christianity?

My definition of poor fiction “preachiness”: inauthentic and hollow (even if true) spiritual content that has little to do with its actual story. (But should we correct bad “preachy” fiction only with even more preaching about how bad that is? The Gospel targets the deeper issues.)

Part 1 dealt with other objections to Christian fiction, which themselves may need clarifying.

Now we come to the end, returning to the “preachiness” subject — yet limited to addressing certain critics, who seem to fault only Christian novels for being “preachy” only because they do uphold and even advocate specific views about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

I wonder if these critics are fair enough to recognize preachiness elsewhere. Or would they, when pressed, admit to buying into this notion: All that Other Stuff is just Neutral, and it’s only some Christians who are preachy and need to stop? And other critics, while professing Christianity, would go so far as to say that Christians must only do Good Deeds and be like Jesus, rarely talk like Jesus, while everyone else gets a free pass to propagandize in public.

As with the other poorly clarified fiction criticisms, these beliefs are based on more wrong assumptions about Christianity itself, and who Christ was and how His people imitate Him. But it may not be necessary to delve into all that to show the inconsistencies. Secular stuff can be just as preachy — and sometimes it’s even worse than creative stuff by Christians.

Exhibit A: Avatar (the James Cameron CGI-and-mocap-blue-people one, not the much-better epic animated series)

There's paganism preaching behind that sparkly face. But how come Christians managed to enjoy "Avatar" despite its anti-Christian preachiness?

I haven’t yet seen Avatar. Yes, reviews praised its great landscapes and three-dimensional realism, but I can get those from a sunset. Other reviews said the story was shallow, and yes, preachy — and that made me lose interest. Secular preachiness often irks me, especially the clichéd stuff about how white wealthy industrialists are always Bad Guys (with very rare exceptions) and poor natives are always toned and sensuous and At One with Nature®.

Becky mentioned this in her column about who first “owns” a novel: its author or its reader: “Some movie-goers embraced the panentheistic movie Avatar as ‘Christian,’” she said.

So could I appreciate Avatar for its other merits? I suppose I could — and those merits could include the latent Christian-esque stuff that seeps into almost every story, including even the Greeks’ altar To The Unknown God, as told in Acts 17. And of course the patron saints of Christian visionary fiction — St. Lewis and St. Tolkien — wrote much about how all truth is God’s truth; ergo some truths, such as the Sacrificial Hero, may leak into pagan mythologies, even while the only sure source of truth is the “true myth” of Scripture and Christ’s coming.

But was that the intent of Avatar’s script author? Nah. Parts of it may have been splashed with a little Christianity-scented cologne — Essence of Vaguely Christlike Sacrificial Hero™. But he’s said he’s into the Be At One with Nature® thing, Resisting Greed, etc., and has oddly enough preached all that only with the help of high technology and big corporations. Ha ha!

Exhibit B: The Simpsons

From what I can tell, this show has dropped off most boycott-minded Christians’ radar.

Do preachy Christian characters offend readers more than “Christian” spoofs like Ned Flanders annoy actual Christians?

But it’s still out there, trying hard to be snarky, and often succeeding, and often at Christians’ expense. The popular — and well-liked! — Christian character, Ned Flanders, is still just as goofy-evangelical as ever, even while doing good deeds for the bumbling Homer Simpson.

And lest any of us assume that the program’s writers exaggerate Christians’ fundie fears — well, that’s what I thought too, after Flanders was shown having a mystical fear of any food labeled “devil’s” something. Then I read this (‘ware images), and unless pop star Katy Perry was also embellishing some Christians’ beliefs, I had to recall: yes, they’re still out there.

So Christians might learn from The Simpsons about how non-Christians perceive Christians.

But while Flanders can be funny, I am still wondering: why the devil is Christianity the only religion that gets spoofed in the show? So far, among the worst and least funny Simpsons episodes are those that refuse to have a little fun with other beliefs. I turned off the one about Wiccans, which not so much exalted them as absolutely refused to make any joke about their religion a la Flanders (instead opting for the highly original Salem Witch Trials, Oh Aren’t They Bad clichés). And I didn’t even try to get through the one that was meant to help us all have a little fun while knowing how not all Muslims are crazed radical terrorists.

Look. You Simpsons writers, you’re perfectly fine with spoofing Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy and other silly Christians. So how come spoofing other “spiritualities” never occurred to you?

One answer: Secular preachiness. Everybody does it. And some better than others.

And maybe it’s many Christians who’ve actually learned to put up with secular preachiness — while it’s some non-Christians (or even professing Christians?) who can’t stand hearing real Christianity repeated in a work of fiction, even authentically and with artistic excellence.

So perhaps non-Christians need to grow a thicker skin. Don’t recoil from “preachiness” as if you were a vampire who can’t stand the sight of sunlight (which, by the way, just reinforces that whole Christian idea of darkness hates light anyhow). You guys are adults; you can put up with it, just as easily as many Christians put up with Avatar and The Simpsons, and even great series like Star Trek and Doctor Who, with their frequent anti-Christian themes. Be open to learning at least about the millennia-old faith that has helped build Western culture. Try challenging your mind with the best creative stuff that Christians have put out, instead of stereotyping it all as shallow and poorly “preachy.” Yes, some of “our” stuff can indeed be preachy (and we complain about it). But so is “your” stuff. We can enjoy it anyway. Can you?

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Shawn Lamb
Guest

Oh, there is such a double-standard in regards to Christianity, it’s ridiculous! But of course, Jesus said not to marvel if the world hates you, it hated Me first.

Despite being frustrating for many, and especially Christian authors being pigeon-holed with the label, the double-standard about ‘preachiness’ is mild compared to what being a Christian can actually cost some people in other parts of the world.

Kaci Hill
Member

Oh, there is such a double-standard in regards to Christianity, it’s ridiculous!

I’ve noticed I don’t have the same definition, either. Preachiness to me just means you forgot you were writing fiction.

But of course, Jesus said not to marvel if the world hates you, it hated Me first.

Despite being frustrating for many, and especially Christian authors being pigeon-holed with the label, the double-standard about ‘preachiness’ is mild compared to what being a Christian can actually cost some people in other parts of the world.

I don’t even find it frustrating as much as silly.

And as you say, American Christians don’t even know what persecution is. We ‘have not suffered to the point of shedding blood.’ It’s a bit embarrassing.

But that’s another subject.

John Weaver
Guest

Dear Stephen,
Except that I admitted that there were many good Christian works which I might disagree with theologically that I do respect. For instance, I don’t particularly like Gideon Torch’s evil characters’s use of fetal baby parts to cure AIDS victims (with its implied slam against gays), but I’d be the first person to maintain it is a well written book. I don’t like Stowe’s racism, but I appreciate her desire to end slavery and do like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I also like Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River, Paul Patton’s Kurt Gerstein, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Amazing Grace, Stephen Lawhead, The Old Rugged Cross, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, Jack Chick, Johnny Cash, anything by C.S. Lewis (even when I disagree), anything by Tolkien (especially when I disagree), Charles Williams, and even much of Kathy’s own work, outside of Firebird. Critiquing a novel for its anti-Semitism does not mean one does not neccessarily enjoy the novel. I don’t like the racism in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but I enjoy the writing. I don’t like the fear of miscegnation in Lord of the Rings, but I think it’s one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. And I’ve said all this before, so frankly, I feel, not meaning to be offensive, that your mischaracterizing my position. I don’t like the anti-Semitism in Firebird, but if I thought it was a good novel, I would praise its aesthetic value at least, regardless of whether it was anti-Semitic or not. I simply do not think it is well written.

Furthermore, I hate mischaracterizations of Christians just as much: The Abstinence Teacher, The Devil and Daniel Silverman, Saved, Handmaid’s Tale, The God Delusion (for the most part), Inherit the Wind, etc. And I find it far harder to be objective about these attacks on Christian culture than I do about series like Firebird.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

John, thanks for your comment and clarification. I don’t know enough to put you in the same category as readers who don’t care about any Christian fiction just because it’s Christian at all. In fact, a better example of the type of critic to whom I refer is in part 2, the quote from another negative reviewer of Tyers’ novels. That reviewer didn’t state he had some issue with (what seemed to him to be) anti-Semitism, but categorized any Christian themes in the book as offensive and “preachy” — he seemed to take umbrage to any Christianity that made him feel “alienated” (pun unintended, I’m sure) or “uncomfortable.”

Of course, lots of things that make us uncomfortable are actually good for us. I daresay that even with its issues (hokiness being among them), Uncle Tom’s Cabin made people “uncomfortable.” Moreover, much of what Jesus said makes us uncomfortable, I’d assure that reviewer. Why expect less from His people?

You’d likely agree that many anti-Semitic professing Christians, or spiritual abusers or other actual fiends need to be told “uncomfortable” things about what they believe.

So my main goal is to encourage Christian readers and authors — mostly in the previous column, questioning the definition of “preachiness” altogether — not to take too seriously the critics out there who say “that’s preachy” when what they really would prefer is for a novel to stop being Christian at all. And again, this whole series got started before we had our lengthy discussion (which I also still hope to resume).

Sally Apokedak
Guest

Good post. People are so offended over Christian preachiness but has anyone read Pullman’s trilogy recently? Overt. But worse than that are the Disney movies that pretend not to preach but constantly tell people that they have some good inside themselves—some power to do good if they only believe in themselves. Or, as Obama said the other night, Americans can do anything they put their minds to. Or some such rot.

Jeremy McNabb
Guest

… The Old Rugged Cross, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer…

You know what song I think is preachy? “You’re so vain, you probably think this blog post…err…umm… song is about you…” But I guess the purpose of a song is to get a point across, so I don’t have a problem with “preachy” music. Even non-Christian preachy music.

But good Lord. Jack Chick? Mentioned along side Amazing Grace, That Old Rugged Cross, and Jane Eyre? That’s like ranking “nose-picking” as a sport at the grand level of fencing or polo.

I’ve noticed I don’t have the same definition, either. Preachiness to me just means you forgot you were writing fiction.

Yes! I’ve seen characters get preachy over whether or not Shakespeare was the genuine author of his works. I’ve seen characters get preachy over controversies that only exist between sub-types of evolutionists. The pulpit doesn’t have to have a cross on it to be called preachy.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Preachiness to me just means you forgot you were writing fiction.

Kaci: Perhaps we ought to come up with a more-complete multipart, yet simple, definition of the wrong kind of preachiness. I for one don’t mind a Christian saying “I want to say something about Christianity, and I’d like to do that through the medium of fiction.” It may not be exactly akin to how Lewis did it, but what if the work turns out to be good despite that goal, or even specifically because of it — like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? (Statistically, though, I wonder how often this happens.)

Within the definition for bad Christian preachiness, we might have two divisions:

1) Tossing on a veneer of “spirituality,” such as prayer talk or church attendance, when these things really have nothing to do with the story. Rather, they could be extracted easily without affecting the story at all; in fact, novelist Penelope Stokes once did this very thing with a “Christian” novel she had read and later wondered about.

2) Basing a story or extrapolated theology on shallow or bad ideas, not based on the Bible at all but based on “Churchianity” traditions. For example, Sally mentioned the whole “look within yourself to find inner goodness” or “you can do anything if you believe in yourself” as a secular idea; yet as many of you know, those ideas frequently occur within professing “Christianity” also — our churches, our songs, our fiction. It’s a foreign import, though, and not true Christianity (though Christians may buy into these and, despite that, be protected from falling away from the faith). I’d suggest that any Christian novel that includes this stuff will be obnoxiously “preachy” about it. Or, even if the story is done well, that novel will be guilty of containing bad “preachiness” — political correctness can’t help it.

The pulpit doesn’t have to have a cross on it to be called preachy.

Amen, Jeremy.

For example, James’ Cameron’s “pulpit” has a 3D-motion-captured blue person on it.

Jack Chick? Mentioned along side Amazing Grace, That Old Rugged Cross, and Jane Eyre? That’s like ranking “nose-picking” as a sport at the grand level of fencing or polo.

(Chuckles) About this, though, I might offer: Chick is a good comic artist. But his theology is way off. See also: claiming the King James Version is the only version of the Bible “Satan hasn’t messed with,” or claiming Harry Potter books endorse tarot cards and Ouija board use (that’s just incorrect), or preaching against perceived “worldliness” by way of very accurate comic-style drawings of scantily clad women and demonic creatures. Yeah …

Zoe
Guest

See also: claiming the King James Version is the only version of the Bible “Satan hasn’t messed with,” or claiming Harry Potter books endorse tarot cards and Ouija board use (that’s just incorrect), or preaching against perceived “worldliness” by way of very accurate comic-style drawings of scantily clad women and demonic creatures. Yeah …

You forgot the one about Satan appearing to an army general and telling him to found the Catholic Church in order to rule the world. He also makes blood pacts with rock musicians. 😀

I think “preachiness” happens when a writer gets lazy with theme. There’s a right way and a wrong way to get a message across. For instance, I believe Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is on the “preachy” side of racial discrimination and prejudice, while To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are extremely effective, each in different ways, at exposing this evil. Since you mentioned Avatar, yes, that was a preachy film. So were Bee Movie and Happy Feet, neither of which I liked at all. I believe WALL-E did a much better job of presenting a similar theme (the beauty of nature and the importance of caring for our planet), and even though the message was completely overt, I didn’t find it preachy at all.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I think we might be blurring the lines a bit between incorporating a theme and preaching. All fiction should have a theme — that’s one of its components. It’s amusing when people talk as if “good, artistic” fiction has nothing to say. In that regard, I suppose you could say they want to create “modern art fiction” that looks at the shapes and colors of fiction without having a purpose for its existence.

Themes can even be straightforward and clear. They don’t have to be circumspect or hidden. And still they aren’t preachy. See for example the PW article about George Bryan Polivka’s debut novel that mentions how religious it was without being preachy.

What, then, makes stories preachy? I think Kaci said it. The author forgets she is writing fiction. In other words, the author takes up the message and speaks to the readers rather than creating characters that speak in a manner and about subjects that are consistent with who the author has made them to be.

Consequently, Polivka’s failed seminary student could talk about theological issues because it was natural to him. On the other hand, the pirate point of view character in Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon could not (and did not) entertain theological discourse. His thoughts about God and eternity and right or wrong were befitting his character.

Now, back to your article, Stephen. I think critics of Christianity are apt to criticize Christian fiction if it has a discernible Christian theme. C. S. Lewis got a pass because a good number of his non-Christian fans weren’t familiar enough with Christianity to recognize the themes on their deeper level. Yes, they saw the idea of deep love demonstrated by self-sacrifice. They didn’t get that this was God’s deep love. That’s OK. God can use that level of understanding.

But therein lies part of the problem. Some Christians (I struggled with this myself) are too fearful that their readers will miss the deep themes, so they think they have to bring them to the surface and make them clear. Sort of a fictional version of author clarification: “In other words, what my character was saying …”

I think this is where writers need to trust that God will use our work as He sees fit. It’s not up to us to make sure readers “get it.”

Becky

Michelle R. Wood
Member

Becky, this notion gets back to one of the best Babylon 5 episodes ever, season 3’s “Interludes and Examinations.” Most speculative fiction with races besides humans has the “omniscient” one; you know, those who are so vastly above humanity that we are but “as flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,” (to quote Shakespeare). In the traditional hero’s journey or quest, there’s usually a representative of this race (or at least one who has studied under them to become “superhuman”) who guides the hero, but never reveals the full story.

In the aforementioned episode, Capt. Sheridan challenges that bit of tradition in the form of Kosh, the Vorlon who has been training him to fight the Shadows. After 3 seasons of enduring half hints and limited help from these beings, Sheridan point blank calls the race’s bluff, accusing Kosh of doing nothing more than Standing around being cryptic. In a way, Babylon 5’s writer is challenging the consistent plot device of completely obscuring the point, out of some fear that doing so will be bad writing, bad storytelling, or in some way “not artful.”

To a point, that’s true. The first chapter is hardly the point to say “Look at my Theme, oh stupid readers, and stand in awe of my Story!” However, the comes a point in time when for a story to be any good, you have to do the reveal. It has to mean something. Otherwise, I feel cheated after all that time and energy I’ve invested in you. There’s a fine line to walk in finding this balance, and it’s difficult to pull off. But no one said writing was supposed to be easy.

John Weaver
Guest

Hey guys,
Thought you might be interested in the following article:

http://www.usask.ca/relst/jrpc/art6-xianfiction.html

Cordero suggests that Christian novels should be judged on their own genre terms, as genre fiction, rather than holding them up to the light of secular literary aesthetics. Kind of like saying something may be a great science fiction novel, even if its not neccessarily smoothly written in one’s eyes. I could certainly buy that.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I could buy that too — especially if a Christian isn’t trying to write a long-lasting literary masterpiece. Similarly, no one compares Steve Ditko with Michelangelo or Stan Lee with Shakespeare. These are two completely different genres of art, yet all are recognized as those who became the best at what they chose to do.

So it’s an odd combination of subjective standards yet objective expectations. …

However, I think what more people argue is that more Christians should be expecting at least more better-written, classic-approaching novels. But first Christian readers need to desire them, so publishers can know there’s a market.

Erica
Guest

Ah, I agree here. When it comes to writing, the publishing, then marketing aspects-those are three separate but equal categories. However, if more Christian readers desire those books, publishers will heed the call.

This is why I review Christian Fiction on Examiner.com. I actually appreciate any feedback you have on those articles if you have a chance to review them. I try to stay up to date with Christian Fiction.

Thanks!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Well, I’m going to disagree with Stephen here. I understand that “Christian fiction” was considered a genre by editors, but I as a writer don’t accept that. I don’t think there should be particular “genre qualifications,” but more importantly, since that article was written seven years ago, the industry has changed. One of the telling paragraphs is this:

While booksellers have little control over the content of fiction, they do determine what books are made available to consumers.[7] As Ferre notes, “Bookstores can keep the gate of ideas closed [or open] just as effectively as can publishers. . . . [They] have every right to select what they will sell and to refuse titles antithetical to their professed mission”

Because of this booksellers’ power, the Christian arm of the industry became known as “CBA.” But once big box stores and the general market chain stores and Amazon started making Christian fiction available to everyone, not just the small market who went to Christian bookstores, their tight grip on what must be in a work of fiction for it to be considered “Christian” began to loosen.

What surprises me most about the trend I see in CBA stores — the strictures required for novels don’t seem to be the same for the DVDs they carry. A good, wholesome story put out by Hollywood or Hallmark is right next to ones produced by a Christian company. The same is not true about books.

Becky

John Weaver
Guest

Entirely possible, Becky, though I’ll remain skeptical of the CBA’s change until it makes different products. Ted Dekker, admittedly, has pushed the envelope a little bit, particularly with violence, and Lisa Sampson has too somewhat, but we need more like them.

I should add that Christian fiction would benefit from having internal debates about theology within the fiction . . . in otherwords, admit points where evangelicals disagree with each other (for instance, Reformed views versus typical Pentecostal theology). I think that would make the fiction a lot more complex and aesthetically appealing. We need a Steve Taylor of Christian fiction.

I heard the CBA changed its name or something recently (maybe even not so recently). Is that true? I can’t remember where I heard it.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

To date, Peretti’s excellent The Visitation remains one of the most Christ-exalting, boundary-pushing novels I’ve read from a Christian publisher — and it’s the only one, so far, I’ve read that includes actual mentions of denominations and doctrine disagreements.

John Weaver
Guest

And guys, you can laugh all you want about Jack Chick, but he’s the only contemporary evangelical artist to have a feature length documentary about him. Yes, it’s somewhat tongue-in cheek, lol, but many of the critics in the documentary do find some of Chick’s work genuinely moving.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

John, I have too. Chick tracts are at their best when they’re focusing on what the Bible actually teaches. Plus, I certainly wouldn’t call them “preachy” because — duh — they are tracts, that’s what they’re meant to do. But it’s when they include throwaway lines such as the KJV Bible is “the only one Satan hasn’t messed with,” or getting the facts wrong about Harry Potter and falling into pagan, anti-Biblical superstitions about Satan and his abilities — that’s when people, though maybe overdoing it, kinda wrinkle their noses.

Take this tract, for example, decrying the evils of rock music and in effect saying — though likely in a “fantasy,” even “speculative” (!) way — that the Devil is secretly in charge of promoting all music genres with drum backbeats, even the Christian bands. These are old arguments, long since discredited, and with no Biblical support. Some of them end up sounding racist — though I’m sure not all Christians who believe this intend that, so they’re personally innocent of it. But when you say that “African tribal music” is demonic, and by default only classical European music is okay (or else Southern Gospel music), it sounds a bit “off” …

Moreover, I like to consider this: if a pagan non-Christian says his “gods” own a Thing — like, say, rock music, or fiction genres such as SF and fantasy, or the nonspiritual physical-only parts of yoga — and Christian 1 believes the pagan’s claim, while Christian 2 thinks it’s hooey, which Christian has really compromised with paganism and believed what could be a lie? 🙂

Kaci Hill
Member

Stephen-Kaci: Perhaps we ought to come up with a more-complete multipart, yet simple, definition of the wrong kind of preachiness. I for one don’t mind a Christian saying “I want to say something about Christianity, and I’d like to do that through the medium of fiction.” It may not be exactly akin to how Lewis did it, but what if the work turns out to be good despite that goal, or even specifically because of it — like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? (Statistically, though, I wonder how often this happens.)

I was thinking more of this:

“I think we might be blurring the lines a bit between incorporating a theme and preaching. All fiction should have a theme — that’s one of its components…Themes can even be straightforward and clear. They don’t have to be circumspect or hidden. And still they aren’t preachy” -Becky

Anyway.

1) Tossing on a veneer of “spirituality,” such as prayer talk or church attendance, when these things really have nothing to do with the story.

I’d call a story with ‘nominal Christianity’ just that. A crude example might be the homosexual references in some of the Doctor Who episodes. Not that I really wanted it to be more direct than it was, but the randomness of said references were so thrown away and so irrelevant to everything else going on that it was simply silly and meaningless. It was too ridiculous for a shock value and too pointless to make a statement. (Though you might argue the treatment of the subject as ordinary was itself a statement.) Either way, the most direct reference is also the most random, and also contains the most random and out of place Christianity reference of all six seasons (Old Rugged Cross).

Similarly, having a smalltown where the characters go to church every Sunday, abide (mostly) by Christian morals, and are generally Good Church Folk winds up being more throw-away than preachy, I think. See The Andy Griffith Show. (I don’t remember if the Cosbys were Church Folk.)

2) Basing a story or extrapolated theology on shallow or bad ideas, not based on the Bible at all but based on “Churchianity” traditions.

See above. Huckleberry Finn had some very “Churchianity” ideas. Does that make it shallow or bad theology? Moreover, I think on this point we could debate if bad theology/ideas makes it Christian fiction or not, but I’m not sure bad theology immediately an artistically bad book makes. (Movie example: The Other Boelyn Girl is very well done. I absolutely detested the characters, plot, and theme. Most movies don’t make me angry in ten minutes and keep me angry for almost three hours.)

Rather, they could be extracted easily without affecting the story at all; in fact, novelist Penelope Stokes once did this very thing with a “Christian” novel she had read and later wondered about.,

Not sure who Stokes is.

Anyway. It’s not that I don’t think a Christian author should have good theology.
it’s that the logic of requiring all literature to have good theology requires all literature to be Christian.

Erica
Guest

E. Stephen Burnett
clichéd stuff about how white wealthy industrialists are always Bad Guys (with very rare exceptions) and poor natives are always toned and sensuous and At One with Nature®.

I will begin with my agreement that some literature can be preachy. In fact, I think any movie, book, or magazine, even television show has some preachiness in there. Why? Because the writer can only distance himself/herself but so far. A combination of experiences and research helps to make well rounded characters and plot. Even the Gospels in the bible are colored by each writer’s personality to some extent. Luke was a physician so he wrote with a doctor’s heart and focused more Jesus’s healings while the others were tax ollectors, regular Joes, and fishermen who also wrote with their heart and point of view.

Second, I liked Avatar. I will go so far as to say that many people did not take from it what I think they should have. I went with a friend from church and she told me: “Some christians need a good lesson from this but if all people can focus on is the “oneness” thing and the politics of the movie the discussion can go pretty bad”

I agree.

I went online and saw many people bashing Avatar based off of some other folk’s reviews. And as usual it was doled out by the Christians. So what the tale is about Rich white guys and Natives to Pandora. So what the Navi look sensuous. So what they speak with trees? It is just a movie and from that movie I got this:

1. Anyone with steely determination can cause change.

2. It does not matter what one looks like on the outside, it is the heart that matters. Remember, even the “sensuous blue girl” had issues.

3. Spirit rules over technology any day. The Navi had biology as their source of information super highway.

4. Worship in spirit and in truth-worship as a body. When it came down to it, the Navi were there for one another, including the White Man.

Thats what I learned from the movie. Was it Christian? Nope. Was it deep, provoking, aesthetically appealing? Yep.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

That’s likely why I still want to see the movie sometime — to consider it with more of a Daniel-1 style of learning. After all, in that chapter the Godly young man Daniel, for God’s glory and in a secular city, learned about astrology, pagan Babylonian myths, very likely “sorcery” and more, and out-soothsayed the soothsayers. No, he did not actually practice their paganism, I’m sure. But he beat them all on the final exams. And surely he wasn’t forbidden to appreciate, at least as art, the Babylonians’ stuff?

At the same time, a lot of those Themes just seem cliché to me — especially the “you can do anything if you believe in yourself”-type stuff.

I would prefer Spider-Man 2‘s twist on that theme: Sometimes to do what’s right, we have to be steady and give up the things we want the most — even our dreams. (That truth, incidentally [?] echoing what Scripture says, actually helped get me through a lot of rough times in my final college semester.)

However, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the “believe in your dreams” stuff certainly isn’t limited to non-Christian stories. But ultimately there’s not a whole lot of difference between “follow your dreams by believing in yourself” and “follow your dreams by believing in Jesus.” Yes, many Christians have indeed found that Jesus blesses them and glorifies Himself by fulfilling their dreams. But persecuted Christians (as Kaci) mentioned certainly couldn’t claim the same. And at the very least Christians have more themes to explore than clichéd dream-follow stuff.

Erica
Guest

Thanks for the reply!

I see here that we are comparing “deep themes” with themes highly treasured by Godly people and God or apples to apples-thats fine. I, too am a fan of Spider Man 2’s theme and it resonates with me personally as does plenty of comic book hero movies.

The theme I presented may seem cliche but it was presented in a way that many people can take it. Doesn’t happen very often but there you have it. I mentioned many more themes and concepts as well from the movie Avatar. Steely determination did not just change the person on the inside, it caused the whole race to change in some way. Just one person can effect change for a lifetime(i.e. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Thanks again for bringing this discussion to light.

Galadriel
Guest

I’m not sure what to say, but I agree with Kaci about, say, the homosexual references in Doctor Who (esp episode two of season six. ) A lot of it was just thrown it with no relevance to plot or setting–that’s a key componant of preachiness.

Kaci Hill
Member

You know, I had forgotten about the last episode till you said that. It probably didn’t stick out quite as much as the Season Three: Episode 2 (Gridlock) one because there was no pseudo-religious thing to distract me beyond comprehension. (And it didn’t have the ‘religious lesbian couple’ to boot.) But yeah, good grief. It’s ridiculous. Course, I’d probably say the same of the increasing amount of innuendo over the last few seasons, but hey. We’ll save that for later (as I’m going to comment in a post anyway).

That’s the long version of “I agree.” 0=)

Christian
Guest

Doctor Who reboot – Season 6, episode 2 was just on Aussie TV tonight. I thought the two-parter pilot was very good. What was up with Rory? He seemed very different in this episode. Far more confident and mature but less fun. Talking about alternative lifestyles – what about the bi-sexual Captain Jack from the earlier seasons? He was so annoying and arrogant. And his sexual preferences were rubbed in our faces. I don’t remember anything like that (homosexual references etc.) in Season 6, episode 2.

Kaci Hill
Member

On Rory – I think he’s just easily upstaged, is part of it, but I think he lets it happen on purpose. Someone has to be the sane one. 😛

I didn’t like Jack as a character. He was….yeah.

Per the last show, at the tail end Canton explains he wants to marry. Nixon figures out Canton must be in love with a black lady. I don’t remember what he said, but he seemed okay with it, I think. Then Canton corrects him by saying “he, sir.” Nixon gets a weird look on his face and says people might not be ready for that. Canton agrees. It was easy to miss, I thought. I had to back it up.

Galadriel
Guest

Jack…disgusting. Yeah. One reason I will never watch Torchwood. As for Rory, he just ends up being the butt monkey. But he does have his moments…the boy who waited, anyone?

Kaci Hill
Member

Aw, Rory could be so much more than he is if anyone would let him.

Jack, as a character, is about as random an addition as the innuendos he makes. I saw him as as superfluous character easily written out of the script (with perhaps *one* exception).

Galadriel
Guest

Let me guess…exception in Utopia?

Kaci Hill
Member

Hm?

Edit: Oh. I think there’s one episode where he actually does do something to further the plot. It’s a Martha episode late in season three, I think. I just can’t remember the name of it. If there’s another one, it escapes me.

John Weaver
Guest

I don’t know where to put this, Steve, but I think it would be great if the site started a discussion on James Herrick’s Science Fiction Mythologies. I saw Rebecca started a minor one. Also, perhaps Doug Phillips video presentation on science fiction, which was interesting if a little extreme. I think Herrick’s work, though it challenges the validity of Christian sci-fi, indeed all sci-fi, is undeniably excellent and would provoke a lot of discussion.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I’m not a Doug Phillips fan, based on his un-Biblical beliefs about families, fathers and children (especially daughters) resulting in chauvinism (and yes, I don’t use that word lightly, though I know it does get used lightly!). So yes, his (and his organization’s) views on how sci-fi could honor God would be interesting. And perhaps someone who knows more about Herrick’s work would indeed start that. …

John Weaver
Guest

Well, we do definitely agree on Doug Phillips then. His video is basically a Reconstructionist view of sci-fi. Very, very weird.

John

Marion
Guest

John,
I watched that Doug Phillips video of Christianity and Science-fiction.  I must admit I thought it was very interesting.
What do you mean about a Reconstructionist view of sci-fi.
 
Marion

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Reconstructionist, if I recall rightly, is a nice way of saying dominionist, or theocracy. I do not use the word theocracy lightly. Yes, non-Christians, some even with good intentions, often cry that they suspect Christians of trying to “establish theocracy,” as if trying to persuade others that Biblical ethics makes for even better “secular” law than otherwise is the same as imposing or forcing this view. I don’t refer to that. I refer to actual attempts to impose, by legal action or simply having lots of babies (the “quiverfull” notion) to establish select Old-Testament laws in society today.

More on Phillips, specifically the notions of “Biblical” “patriarchy” he has popularized, is at my nonfiction site, YeHaveHeard, in the Sins of the Patriarchs series.

(I also don’t use the term “patriarchy” lightly, nor would I say at all that feminism is the way to go or that any talk of husband/wife roles is bad “patriarchy.” However, the kind of “patriarchy” many, including Phillips, has advocated makes family roles and specific large-family lifestyles into idols; ignores Biblical grace; bypasses right reading of Scripture, despite their claims to follow the same, and substitutes reading descriptions in Old-Testament narrative as prescriptions for all Christians; and imposes specific family choices as supposed Biblical “norms” for all believers.)

Marion
Guest

Stephen,
Thank you for your definition of reconstructionist.
I must admit I have bought items from VF and thought his DVD about Darwin and the Galapagos Islands was pretty good.
But it’s nice to get a balanced view of any organization even you have supported it by buying their resources.
Marion

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Hey, thanks for your encouragement! The fact that pretty much anybody has been right about something, and that I don’t know anyone personally (and should not make things only about specific anyway) is one reason why it makes more sense to challenge patriocentrism as a professed Biblical view, rather than a specific organization or purpose. I haven’t seen the Galapogos DVD, but I do know that VF and the gang like Biblical-creation truth. Broken clocks and all that! 😀

Marion
Guest

Stephen,
You are welcome for the encouragement! 
I want to fair-minded about the people I follow in Christendom and learn as much as possible from who I have bought material or contribute to.
The DVD is called Mysterious Islands and I believe it’s at least worth watching once.
Marion

Alasdair Codona
Guest

In Doctor Who, “A Good Man Goes To War”, 4 June 2011, “the Church”, headed by a “papal mainframe”, is portrayed in the future as an evil entity and enemy of the Doctor.  The antipathy displayed between the Doctor and the said future “Church” was apparent in episodes last year.  However, the inimical relationship is now characterised as full-blown.  

This has all the appearance of a blatant attempt by a particular mindset operating within the BBC to affect children’s relationship to the Christian church (which in many cases includes their own parents) through setting it up in opposition to a much loved character.  Trying to explain why the Church should be evil in the future puts Christian adults in an impossible position.  This is not family viewing but an undermining of family cohesion.  
Parents should not be forced into the position of refusing to allow children to watch Doctor Who because “the Church” is portrayed as ultimately evil in the future.

Kaci Hill
Member

Alisdair – That episode hasn’t aired in the U.S. yet (or Australia & Canada, I think). I moved your comment into the Pending status for now. After it airs, I’ll put it back into the Posted status. Just so you know. It’s not deleted. 0=)

The subject can go on, but please try not to spoil episode six. Thanks!

Edit: Galadriel, I went ahead and moved ours, too, just to keep it all fair. 0=)

Kaci Hill
Member

Either way, I found these comments completely by accident:
 
 

steven_moffat Steven Moffat

@Paul_Cornell In fairness, baddies in Doctor Who are more often scientists. Not taking a moral stand on either, just having a laugh.

 
@steven_moffat Steven Moffat

@Paul_Cornell Last time the Clerics the good guys. And the resident scientist (the dr) was too much of a prat to notice. So nyer.

steven_moffat Steven Moffat

@

@Paul_Cornell Actually I agree – Evil Christians, alongside Stupid Prime Ministers and Corrupt Cops, are staples of fiction, not real life.

7 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Just sayin’.

Galadriel
Guest

I would agree. You can’t take just the one episode–which, in my opinion, was utterly mind-boggling, and take it out of context like that.

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