In a moment I’ll suggest solutions to the potential weirdness-idolatry I identified last week.
This comes after the conflict over some costume-wearers being kept from entering last month’s American Christian Fiction Writers awards banquet.
As before, I’m choosing to ignore who said what to whom, and whether some costumers were allowed at the banquet and others forbidden. What matters more is how we respond now, and how we may correct wrong assumptions.
- How come many readers insist on being “weird” and “counter-cultural” as their prime directive? Dare I say it, but forget for a moment the truth that man’s chief end is not to rebel against perceived majority culture, but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Even apart from that, what lasting joy is found in emphasizing a clichéd teenage attitude against The Establishment? Don’t we first love these stories for the joy they give?
- With “weird” stories firmly established in the mainstream, with everyone computer-literate and brandishing smartphones, with the “geeks inheriting the Earth” — why this old, traditional, backwards notion that fantastic stories are indeed narrow and niche, and that we want this? Why buy the (perceived) assumptions of our critics?
- As many of us enjoy saying, many “secular” novels and films do fine in reflecting Biblical truths and beauties. If that’s true (and it is), why do we even need Christians offering even more speculative stories? Non-Christian authors already have this covered, thank you very much — and they may freely and non-hypocritically behave like non-Christians. But especially if professing Christians react to conflict or slights in ways identical to non-Christians’ reactions, what exactly is the point of us?
- In many responses I’ve seen to the cosplay controversy, why do many (not all) critics operate on a purely secular level of discussion? Have we really mastered the truth of being like our Savior, not just writing about or for Him, so that now we can move on? And based on that secular level of reaction, why would anyone expect the books we want to market to be any more “Christian” or unique than our own behavior?
Now for cures. They will come in four parts, corresponding with each of those challenges:
1. See “weirdness” as the true Normal, a given element of God’s epic Story.
In April I argued this, in the swatting-off-a-nuisance column Please Quit Calling It ‘Weird.’
The Bible is the most incredible Book ever, full of incredible stories and themes: battles, miracles, the nastiness of sin, rising nations, fantastic creatures, and the central Story of God’s creation of man, man’s fall, and God’s plan to save His creation. Over all of that is the Story’s infinite Author and Hero. He’s infinite, incredible, creative, loving, and holy.
So I would ask why many Christian stories don’t better reflect these themes. At present, most Christian novels are from non-speculative genres that include God as a supporting character. That’s not evil, of course. But they do tend to be detached from the greatest Story of the Bible — the Gospel. They may be fun to read, but how do they help us in our fantastic reality, in which this incredible God is always working, even in small ways, to save sinners and redeem His creation? How do they remind us of the true Story?
This is a more-Biblical perspective than the usual — and, as Mike Duran notes, immature-sounding — approaches of complaining and glorying in any “weirdness” for its own sake. If we do that, why even call ourselves Christians? Not Christian readers, but Christians at all.
2. Recognize that fantasy and sci-fi are the dominant, default story genre.
Top-20 film lists constantly show fantasy/sci-fi at the top. The most-read books on Earth include the Bible (the first “fantasy” epic), and fiction such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. It is not fantasy stories, but non-fantasy ones, that are new and strange.
So if you pretend fantasy is still a niche, you have stuck your head in the sand. Might as well say a muffled hello to the supposed narrow-minded Christian publishers in there with you.
3. Ask God to help our friendships with spiritual family, not only our stories.
Let’s assume at this banquet, other people were dressing up in Amish or prairie-romance garb, and that the conference does have a double standard. Even if that were all true, do we respond with appeals to Rights, a persecution/victim complex, or secular reasoning that makes no gracious, winsome effort to present our favorite stories as Biblically based?
If not, then frankly we’re no better than unbelievers. We have no reason to read, ask for, or try to write and publish “Christian speculative” stories. Secular stories are all we need.
If we claim God as our Author and Christ as our Hero, then despite any actual dislike by others of Christian speculative stories, we should want to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, find common ground, and reach out to them. Demanding our rights (even if they are legitimate) to dress up in super-suits when we like is a far lesser need, if it’s a “need” at all.
4. Keep clarifying and remembering why we truly love fantastic stories.
I must admit this: much of Christian-speculative rhetoric is not persuasive. Many blogs and other materials advocating more fantasy/sci-fi/etc. in Christian fiction simply assume that need is self-evident. It’s not. There are very understandable, even good reasons against it:
- There aren’t enough active readers to make publishers choose a switch in emphasis.
- Readers (many of them evangelical women) evidently still want escapism that relates to their desires, including sheltered religious communities, shallow spiritual explorations, and idealized histories — not vast fantastic worlds, heroes, and epic mythologies.
- Many advocates seemingly favor promoting their own novels (or at best, preserving the niche market) above growing the genre.
Arguing against all these on secular worldly terms merely compounds the problem. We must prayerfully reject our own impulses to indulge in anti-Biblical “escapism.” Claims that banning books is “legalism” don’t cut it. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). If we want speculative stories apart from faith, we are sinning.
That’s the negative. Here’s the positive.
Unlike other genres, fantastic stories may more directly present God’s nature.
They better reflect the whole Gospel and Biblical worldview, that our “felt needs” are not all there is, and that even good gifts like human relationships and romance are secondary to the true myth of Christ rescuing His creation.
They remind us that this age is not our home. Rather, we await a true eternal fantasy world, the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21)!
If in conflicts we merely assume these truths, we are either poor communicators or haven’t seriously considered these truths ourselves. Let us saturate ourselves in them. Read and delight more in Scripture, God’s Story. And imitate its Author.
How can we better handle real (or perceived) slights against fantasy fans?
In what ways are you discerning your story-enjoyments in light of God’s Story?
What other “weirdness”-idolatry cures would you suggest?