The point of this post is to build on what I already talked about concerning the spiritual war through culture in Bible times in a previous post and do a brief comparison and contrast. How is our world different from the past? And especially, what role has speculative fiction in particular played in the modern spiritual war through culture? What kind of spiritual influences are working their way through our culture in its entertainment especially? What should we be concerned about? (Note I use Star Trek as my primary example.)
Technology Has Made Entertainment Ubiquitous (of course)
Let’s state up front, as obvious as it is, that while human beings have always taken times of rest at various moments, have always played games (especially games that involve throwing or kicking objects or moving pieces on a board), and have always enjoyed music and hearing stories, our era is unique in human history. Sure, the lives of the elite in, say, ancient Rome (and many other places) could in fact consist of unending entertainment, from theater to chariot races to gladiatorial games and much more. But even in ancient Rome there was downtime where the games were not playing. And most people in the past did not live like the ancient elites. Most people spent most of their awake time working.
Labor-saving devices of the 20th Century changed the dynamic of most people working most of the day. Having time off became a normal, daily experience for most people. Though most people spent that time off with friends and family more than in formal entertainment. At least at first.
But now, on a small, portable device called by most people a “phone” for historic rather than descriptive reasons, this little pocket computer can provide you entertainment at any moment of the day. It can also provide you information at any moment–yes, a lot of the info is actually misinformation, but still, the access to media in our world is unprecedented. And is not limited to elites. Though of course access to media is by no means limited to cell phones or other mobile devices.
I’m in a unique position to have witnessed some of the effects of this transformation in technology through my military service. As a relatively young Private First Class during 1991’s Gulf War, I witnessed what a US Army Reserve hospital unit did during downtime. Some of the time was spent playing sports–volleyball in the sands of our isolated corner of the United Arab Emirates was popular. Other time was spent socializing with others. Some people like me read from the meager library of books the 311th Evacuation Hospital had. Lots of people played cards. A lot. Even me, sometimes.
In 2008 in Iraq for my second war, the world had changed. Most military members in rear areas had personal laptops and seeking relatively hard-to-come-by connections to the Internet had become the norm. Military members still socialized of course, but much less than in the past. You could always retreat to an isolated spot and try to contact the family back home via Skype. Or play on a gaming counsel or computer. Or, as many people did, you could binge watch TV or movies (though back then you’d need physical copies of DVDs to do so). (In theory binge-watching was possible in 1991 via VHS, but in practice it was not. Military members could not haul around their own TV, video player, and video cassette collection. But a laptop with DVDs was doable.)
The effect of the change of technology was obvious–people you know in person became less important, whereas entertainment in general, fictional stories in particular, became more important. And while a laptop was revolutionary in terms of access to information circa twelve years ago, having the same power to consume entertainment via a phone is even more portable–while simultaneously even more isolating.
What Would Satan Do (WWSD) With Ubiquitous Entertainment…?
So if people are spending a lot of time consuming entertainment, many more hours per week than almost all residents in ancient Rome would ever dream of doing, how would Satan react to that? Would he be lassiez-faire concerning what human beings do–let them do as they wish, and we’ll see how it all plays out? Or perhaps even an avoidance of the subject of entertainment, because it reflects God-given creativity and therefore the holy glow of sub-creation will cause Satan to avert his eyes from human imaginative endeavors?
Or did Satan actually think, “If I get in here, I’ll control every idea these people are exposed to!” (Uh huh–yeah–that there.)
Of course Satan doesn’t or can’t control everything, but the idea that he would try to influence human beings to insert messages that serve his purposes into entertainment is such an obvious idea that Satan would have to not be who the Bible portrays him to be to pass by such an opportunity.
Okay, so the Devil is messing with the elements of our culture, especially popular culture, as much as he can possibly influence human beings to perform on his behalf. What does that mean for us? What do we do about it?
The topic of what to do about this is the intended subject of my next post, the last one planned for this series. But let me give you a special showing of most of what I’m going to say right now: Be alert to the possibility and consume entertainment with prudence, deconstructing false messages. Also–fight for better entertainment. (I do not say to withdraw from everything that may be potentially bad–because that would include everything!)
So WWSD thinking reveals that every form of entertainment has numerous potential pitfalls, since human beings are so vulnerable to falling into sin and believing ideas that isolate them from God. Some forms of entertainment are blatantly promoting ideas Satan approves of–pornography, for instance. Basketball and other sports are not as obvious, even though the Devil would like to insert sinful pride and arrogance as a positive thing in sporting competition if possible. Most forms of entertainment are more like basketball–the potential to influence is there, so the Devil is definitely interested in affecting people–but the affects are not always as obvious as with the case of porn.
So what’s the Devil got to do with speculative fiction?
I’d like to focus on this topic a bit more for the next post, but let’s give an overview now. What general influences can we discern within speculative fiction that the Devil most likely has his hand in?
Probably the single most important thing that speculative fiction does that’s anti-God (thus pleasing to Satan) is to create imaginary worlds that systematically exclude God. So let’s look at a little case study here, deliberately picking a franchise that’s been one of my favorites since my childhood: Star Trek.
Star Trek, throughout all its manifestations, has never once portrayed a Christian in the future. Not a single one. In fact, none of the human characters in Star Trek have any clear religious belief at all. Sure, Star Trek explores religious belief through non-human races like Klingons and Bajorans and at times makes reference to Christian religious beliefs (for example, Captain Janeway once made a comparison to making an agreement with the Borg to “a deal with the Devil”). But not a single human character has had any religion at all that I know of. (And I’ve seen all forms of Star Trek, every episode, except for the Discovery series.)
Couple that with an imagined future history of Star Trek in which humanity has eliminated wars and poverty on Earth and live in a virtual paradise, only having troubles out in space when dealing with alien species–which means a strong message about the value of religion is buried within the culture of Star Trek. And that message is that religion is unnecessary. Bad even. That it’s part of the violent past of Earth.
Do you suppose Satan approves of that message? And perhaps had something to do with it becoming a part of Star Trek culture in the first place? (WWSD?) He certainly would approve and probably helped to prod the series in that direction when given the opportunity to influence human beings.
So how should we respond to this understanding that Star Trek has messages the Devil definitely loves? Let’s look at three approaches–how “pearl-clutchers” would react, how “anti-pearl-clutchers” would react, and how a sensible person of Christian faith should react.
What would “pearl-clutchers” think we should do about Star Trek?
Ironically I don’t think the “pearl-clutchers” that I mentioned in last week’s post worry about Star Trek all that much. Mostly because Star Trek is generally clean fiction without cussing beyond mild forms, with violence but not graphic, with sexuality but not nudity. It’s just not on their radar. But if I could share with them the facts that Star Trek in actuality (as much as I have enjoyed it) is profoundly atheistic, their response probably would be pretty straightforward: BAN IT! DON’T WATCH STAR TREK AGAIN!
What would “anti-pearl-clutchers” do about Star Trek?
Well, first, scoff that there’s any negative influence there at all. Second, focus in on the general morality of Star Trek and focus on the very real positive aspects of altruism that Star Trek applauds. Also, look for those exceptional episodes where a Bajoran or Klingon who is a good character has a religious moment that strongly parallels Christianity–then read the Gospel into the entire franchise based on the exceptional cases.
What’s a realistic take on Star Trek?
Recognize that it’s art, that art is inspired by human beings. Humans are created in the image of God and the act of creation is good at its base. But humans can be and generally are corrupted by their own sin and are also influenced by Satan. So we can enjoy Star Trek, but we should look for messages we know are wrong there, so we can acknowledge them and confront them in our minds. We can also look for things that are good in Star Trek and mention those, too.
We can enjoy it, but we shouldn’t dash in hog-wild and uncritically lap up every single thing about it because we love the entertainment. If we are personally incapable of controlling ourselves in regard to our understanding of, or viewing of, Star Trek, perhaps we should ban it for our own self for our own personal well-being. Because, for example, maybe the shots the writers take at belief in God through Q really bother you and cause you to question your faith–whereas I shrug them off or find them a useful tool for discussing God’s actual nature. If your viewing of Star Trek is deeply affecting you in a negative way, don’t watch it. (Don’t worry if your friends think abstaining makes you uncool.)
And as Christians who create speculative fiction, we might want to use of the of the cool things Star Trek does, but adapt them for our own purposes, into something better.
Let’s do this exercise one more time: Harry Potter.
Pearl-clutchers: SATAN WILL SUCK YOUR BRAIN OUT BECAUSE IT HAS THE WORD “MAGIC” IN IT! BAN IT!
Anti-pearl-clutchers: Scoff that there’s anything bad at all in HP. See Harry Potter as a type of Christ. Glory in the fact that in all the books there are two references to Scripture.
Realistic: The worst thing about Harry Potter the franchise is that like Star Trek, none of the characters are actually religious in the ordinary sense of the word. They may be moral, but God is essentially shut out of the story universe. Magic in the story is nothing like the practices that brought Elijah up Mount Carmel to confronting the prophets of Ba’al. But it’s nothing like prayer, either. Some small percentage of HP readers may seek to find out more about magic in real-world Paganism based on the series. A realistic response is to talk about what is good and also what is magic and that in the real world it’s bad to seek supernatural power apart from God. In other words, you can enjoy it, but back off a bit from being a full-out fan.
Literary Fiction Shuts Out God, Too
By portraying supposedly ordinary human beings as functioning in life with no evident need for God, literary fiction shuts God out as well. Usually. Mentioning that just in case you think I’m only picking on speculative fiction here. YEah and sports had negative influences. As does “reality” TV. Documentaries. Comedies. Well, lots and lots of things actually have negative influences.
Some things we ought to avoid altogether based on what personally causes problems for us. We also ought to be aware that other people can be affected by the things we do. But mostly, we can engage at times, but we should not do so uncritically. We can be fans, but admit not everything is perfect.
Shutting Out God is Just the First Thing
We also see in fiction and other forms of entertainment quite a lot of incentive to sin. Lust, envy, pride, wrath, particular sexual sins–you name it, these things are littered throughout entertainment and are in speculative fiction as well.
Entertainment is also littered with false ideas. Just one example would be Dan Brown suggesting Jesus was just a human being who got married and had kids in The Da Vinci Code. Those ideas are part of the spiritual war we are in, means by which Satan is trying to influence our world.
So overall, in parallel with how the cultural war reflected spiritual war in Bible times, we also need to be aware that Satan is active in influencing modern culture. If something creates major problems for us personally in our relationship with God, we should avoid it. If we can enjoy the creative aspect while still pointing out messages that are wrong, we are permitted to do that. But if we can use the same artistic forms, such as the literary genres of speculative fiction, and make our own versions of them with the intent to honor God as much as possible–all the better.
Of course, God is not honored by us ignoring quality of art, including quality of speculative fiction stories. He as the Creator expects our best work…
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think my views on the Star Trek and Harry Potter franchises are fair? Can you give your own examples of realistic analysis of a speculative fiction franchise that acknowledges both good and bad?