“This world is not my home”; “When he dies he’ll go home”; “That body isn’t him, it’s just the shell”; “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul, you have a body” — if you’ve heard any of these lines, or read them in a Christian novel, you’ve just been attacked by a spiritoid.
I define “spiritoid” as that amorphous existence most Christians suspect will be our eternal final form in Heaven, as opposed to living on New Earth (Rev. 21) in resurrected bodies like Christ’s (Phil. 3:20-21). Like most spiritoids, this notion is hard to catch. Yet it’s one of the worst alien beliefs found among multiple species of Fiction Christians From Another Planet(!). In one novel I read, it took the form of a paraphrase of this “quote”:
You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.
Yes, C.S. Lewis absolutely said that, if you’re referencing The Book C.S. Lewis Didn’t Write, or the C.S. Lewis from the Mirror Universe who sports a goatee as scholar-in-residence at the First University of the Terran Empire. But! seriously, Lewis never wrote that line, and it’s perplexing why so many assume he did, because it doesn’t even make a lot of sense.
What do so many people find comforting about that phrase? Why else would they repeat it?
Maybe for the same reason many other FCFAP(!) tropes spread: they sound so spiritual.
Unlike other alien notions in Christian fiction and broad Christian-speculative genres, the spiritoid beliefs seem prevalent in particular genres. Here I will break my own series rules and, instead of vague allusions or parody fiction, refer to specific novels by name for these reasons: a) I enjoy these novels and heartily recommend them; b) these authors often include resurrection-body truths alongside spiritoid notions, proving that these beliefs are usually “caught” and not taught because they’ve long been default among us.
1. Spiritual-warfare fiction.
Frank Peretti is boss. This can’t be denied. Still, his pioneer spiritual-warfare-thriller novels from the 1980s also pioneered other notions, since established in spiritual-warfare genres:
- We must open our eyes to the Unseen Reality all around us.
- It turns out the Real Battle is not really what we see, but in the spiritual dimensions.
Absolutely there’s truth in that — after all, from where did Peretti get his most famous novel title but Ephesians 6:12? Yet in one sense the truth that “the real battle is unseen” can easily become a much more questionable notion, that “only unseen realities matter.”
Ah, but what are all those muscular fiery angelic warriors and goblin-like sulfur-spewing demons fighting over? The physical world. Who controls it. Who “possesses” it. (The Devil has previously claimed he owns the planet, as in Matt. 4:9, but “the Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,” as in Psalm 24:1, also quoted amidst applications in 1 Cor. 10:26.)
Earth and our bodies, not only “spiritual” realms, are the battleground. Spiritual-warfare fiction should explore this tension. Otherwise we miss exploring how people’s physical conditions interface with their spiritual states. For example, is that person easily diagnosed as “demon possessed” or mentally ill? I suggest fiction can’t give the answers, but it can explore them — explore beyond “that’s easy, this character is under demonic influence.”
2. End-times fiction.
This is fresher in my mind, thanks to my recent resumption of unapologetic Left Behind series fandom. Actually I’ve been re-listening to the fantastic dramatized audio series, and while I remain a fan — who recognizes how God worked in my life through this overall well-written pop thriller series — I also see some of the Gnostic, spiritoid impulses therein:
- Biblically, the Resurrection comes simultaneous with Christ’s return (1 Cor. 15, 1 Thess. 4:3-18). Splitting the two apart, separated by a seven-year Tribulation and perhaps even a 1,000-year kingdom on Earth before the New Earth, now seems odd.
- Left Behind could imply, likely counter to its own creators’ views, that the present-day Church and its work on Earth won’t really matter all that much. Rather, the real action begins when Jesus evacuates the Church in time for a seven-year Tribulation, during which it’s the Jews, not the Church, that do all the significant work, aided by Gentile “Tribulation saints” who are like Church II: The Much Improved Sequel.
- In the final prequel/“simulquel,” The Rapture, the narrative actually follows several characters on the way up at the titular apocryphal event. In Heaven, which is always hard to describe in fiction, characters are able to see the literal mansions where they will live forever. I’m not sure what to make of this, for it seems to reinforce the idea that Christians’ final eternal home is anywhere-else-but-a-resurrected-planet-Earth. Maybe the authors meant this as an advance vision? I do recall New Earth making a cameo appearance at the end of the otherwise plodding and plotless Kingdom Come.
God used Left Behind to change my life. I likely would not love speculative stories so much if not for that series. (Soon I’ll also begin a new blog series based on listening to Left Behind.) Yet I now wonder if even “pre-trib” end-times fiction could emphasize the Resurrection instead of evacuation-of-souls-from-an-inevitably-doomed-to-be-nuked-from-orbit-Earth.
Stories that emphasize the goodness of the physical world do exist. In fact, that’s the default view of great fantasy novels, which spend much of their time not only referring to spiritual realities, but taking characters on long journeys through wild lands where by day they find plants and animals, and by night campfires gaze up to the sky in wonder. As we’re learning more to anticipate our resurrected life after the afterlife, let’s find such stories, delight in them for God’s glory, recommend them to friends, and perhaps even write more ourselves.
What other ways might we swat away attacking spiritoids in Christian speculative stories?