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No Story Is Safe

Any story can be used for evil, no matter how wholesome, artistic, gritty, fantastic, or historical.
| Jan 30, 2014 | 22 comments |

adam-eve-evil-007My favorite stories can be used for evil by cults, killers, sorcerers and manipulators.

So can your favorite stories.

No story is safe. No matter how wholesome, how “evangelical,” how values-based, how conservative, how artistically edgy, how moral-sentimentalized, or how “Biblical.”

Heard someone misuse verses to try to control people? Not even the Bible is safe.

Fantasy

I must spend the most time here.

A chap called Tyler Deaton used the “holy trio” of great fantasy to commit flagrant sin. According to The Rolling Stone1, Deaton — an active participant in the evangelical charismatic group “International House of Prayer” — was nuts about The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and especially the Harry Potter series.

Potter? Some would say that was the problem right there, but Narnia by C. S. Lewis is safe.

The group members began comparing themselves to the four Pevensie children in The Chronicles of Narnia, who enter a universe mastered by evil, win renown as soldiers in the army of a resurrected Messiah and finally assume their places as kings and queens of a renewed world.

poster_undesirableno1harrypotterSpecFaith readers know my stance on all three fantasy series. They are beautiful and truthful. At least two are by faithful Christians; the third is by an author (J.K. Rowling) who is clearly familiar and respectful of Biblical morality and Christ’s hero’s journey.2

But if we believe great fantasy is safe, this should petrificus totalus us.

“In the years I was with him, things were constantly happening that I had to shrug away as being ‘the work of the Holy Spirit,'” says [college friend Boze] Herrington. “Tyler would raise his voice and say, ‘Jesus!’ and the neighbor’s music would immediately stop. He would tell the birds to fly away and they would fly away. He would place curses on my appliances so they wouldn’t work.”

For every real-world equivalent to Harry Potter, who uses magical gifts for good, there is a Voldemort. And Voldemorts crave “real” magic — to manipulate their worlds and others.

Fantasy stories are not safe.

Romance

RomanceGood readers can enjoy romance as worship of God. In a story primarily about pre-marital3 love between a man and a woman, a reader can imagine, even subtly, the sacred love of Christ for His Church. Just as in real marriage. As in the committed and sensual love exulted by the Song of Solomon. As in his or (most likely) her own marriage.

Bad readers abuse fictional lovers. We’ve all heard of such cases. One is in my mind right now. They pine for people or situations that don’t exist. They use stories as an escape out of, and not to enjoy, the real world. They grow discontent. They endorse their own lusts.

Romance stories are not safe.

Mystery/suspense

Good readers can indulge in a well-done who-has-done-it. They can appreciate an author’s skill in planting clues, researching crime-scene investigation, delving into the darkness of sinful individuals and organizations. They can grip their pages or theater armrests during heart-pounding scenes. They can anticipate the capture of the guilty and justice being done.

Bad readers abuse the system. They obsess with society’s sins that have been dramatized — often too sanitized or too shallow — for the “safe” benefit of fans. They may become paranoid about serial killers or secret societies. Even craving feelings for their own ends is a “minor” sin.

Mystery and suspense stories are not safe.

Amish/historical

Good readers can appreciate the simple virtues of a bygone or contemporary society. They can explore a mostly-faithful recreation of a strange-seeming religious group from the perspective of a follower or ex-follower. They can let their minds time-travel to what is effectively a fantasy realm — an “elseworld” that’s simply closer to actual history. They can appreciate the research of a truer-to-life story.

Bad readers wish they could join that other existence. As with romance, they compare the “perfect” icons of the caricatured past or Amish to their own families and wistfully grieve the difference. Even “nonfiction” evangelical appeals to recover some lost era when men were men, women were women, and all learned on a farm can become twisted fantasies.

Amish and historical stories are not safe.

Children’s entertainment

Good readers know that evangelical books or discs are only a means to a greater end. Their promised Moral Values are only part of this complete breakfast that must include wise, customized training of children to learn God’s Law, their own sin, and above all, Christ.

Others presume that character instruction by wholesome characters is all that children need from stories to understand God’s love and righteousness.

Evangelical children’s entertainment stories are not safe.

  1. Love and Death in the House of Prayer, Jeff Tietz, Jan. 21, The Rolling Stone.
  2. Learn more at Why I Don’t Shut Up About ‘Harry Potter.’
  3. It’s always pre-marital, though. Have you noticed?
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Kessie Carroll
Member

I think your article is missing a conclusion. So anything can be twisted for evil. What then? Be careful not to do that?
 
My hubby and I are watching a playthrough of Bioshock Infinite right now. It takes place in the early 1900s on this floating city in the clouds, where a crazy prophet dude has constructed this society where the founding fathers are worshipped as saints and all things America are elevated to religious fervor. Of course, as with all Utopias, it has a dark side and there are parallel realities and powers involved. It’s just interesting to see something as basic as American history twisted like that.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I think the point is that Christians tend to assume some genres are safer than another, but any genre can be an occasion of sin, to use Catholic terminology. The argument against fantasy by many Christians tends to isolate that genre specifically as opening the door to Satan more than westerns or historical or other such realistic genres.
 
I don’t really like using safe in this context though. There’s too much focus on safety in artistic works, and I think this gives them much more power than they have while at the same time reducing our power as believers. That art can somehow make us believe something against our own will.

J. S. Bailey
Guest

Goodness, you’re going to make me afraid to write anything for fear of leading anyone astray!

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Ah, we’re being cynical today? I’m pretty awesome at that.
What exactly is “safe” supposed to look like in terms of stories? Something that doesn’t challenge us? Or just something that doesn’t challenge us in ways that threaten the tribal boundaries? What are the merits in being “safe” in this sense? Is there even any real danger to guard against, or it is just paranoia? What are we protecting? To repeat a question I asked earlier, what is the purpose of this separatism we feel obligated to maintain, as if Christians aren’t major players in plenty of this country? The vast majority of Congresscritters are Christian. Even if it’s only in appearance, the appearance appears to be necessary for them.
I’m in favor of chucking separatism out the window.

Paul Lee
Member

I’m in favor of chucking separatism out the window.

Me too. In fairness, I think we have to admit that separatism was more important in the old days of imperial state churches.
 
At the same time, I don’t think separatism is part of orthodox Christian faith — “Biblical” faith, whatever. Because it’s often impossible to tell the difference between a real Christian and a mere “Christian,” all sub-cultures based on Christianity and/or the Bible will be merely “Christian” by default. Scripture warns us not to love “the world,” and I believe that Christian sub-cultures are as much part of “the world” as secular culture is. Because there is no pure culture, separation is impossible, except on a personal and individual level.

Paul Lee
Member

I love the subversiveness in this post. It’s structured loosely like typical misinformed Christian paranoia, but it serves to critique both the scare-mongers’ extreme separationist tendencies and their blunt tactics. At the same time, it offers dash of self-critique, acknowledging the limitations of enjoying entertainment.
 
I wish the fiction that I’ve been reading lately could be half this subversive!
 
Subvert subversions! Then subvert subverted subversions!

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

Aslan is not a tame lion.

merechristian
Member
merechristian

I myself would like to see another piece with some specific ideas, brother. I believe I have an idea what you would say via reading your pieces on here, but some more discussion is always good.

I think that the major problem with me for any genre is to take “escapism” too far. It is so easy for me to want to be in the world of the book or comic I’m reading. I need to keep my eye on the eventual, perfect promise of the New Heaven/New Earth. Just some thoughts from my devotions the past few days, combined with my reading lately.