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.
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.
SpecFaith 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.
Good 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.
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.
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.
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.