Monday, May 5, 2008

Of Theology and Writing

(Note: I promised to post this a couple of weeks ago, but then got ill. So, I'm posting this now in conjunction with some musings I made concerning the theology in The Begotten.)

When I was in high school, like many creative types, I didn't fit in well, was bullied, face verbal and physical attacks from my "peers." Let's just put it this way, I get a real warm feeling in my heart when I see the prom scene from Carrie.

So, what does this have to do with theology and writing? Well, at one point in my life I considered writing a story for publication venting all that pent up anger from high school. In this story, the main character would return to her high school reunion and methodically punish each of her tormenters in increasingly clever and painful ways. However, while this exercise might have been personally cathartic, I could not reconcile being a Christian and writing a story which basically excuses revenge killings.

Now, some would say, it's just fiction. That is true, but when a sympathetic main character is shown as being justified sinning, then I as an author have crossed a theological line. I am in essence endorsing that sin. Now, does this mean that my main characters are all goody-two shoes who never sin. Of course not. However, if that person is a Christian, then that sin needs to be recognized as sin, addressed, and if not repented produce a deterioration in that person's spiritual walk.

This is relatively easy to do with "realistic" fiction. However, the problem of theology becomes more complex when dealing with speculative fiction. We often write about creatures, powers and activities not addressed in the Bible and which have no existence in real life. The reader grants us a willing suspension of disbelief in return for an entertaining story. So, where do we draw the line? How do we write about the fantastic or speculative and remain true to Christian theology.

I don't know that I have all the answers, but maybe some of the following thoughts can jump start the conversation.

The reality continuum

One of my concerns about The Begotten was that the story was set in a real time and place, dealt with human beings (not aliens, vampires, or dragons), and involved people making reference to real world matters including the Christian Bible. This is not an other worldly story. In other words this was set as a story that could happen without changing the reality that we know. We are not dealing with an alien theology based on a unique relationship God had with that species. Nor is it place in an alternate, fantasy universe. This is a story that could have happened. Of course, we know that the writer is not writing about real happenings, but when the setting is real, then the theology needs to closely match that of how God had dealt with humanity in this reality.

Justification of Sin

We live in a world where the only morality is practicality. Ends justifies the means dominates politics, the legal system, business, even sad to say, sometimes the ministry. This has crept into our popular culture. Books, movies and television shows have glamorized the "clever, passionate" hero willing to do anything to win. As long as the hero fights for the right side, it doesn't matter how he fights.

This even creeps into Christian fiction. A few years ago, I was editing a Christian e-zine. A woman sent me a mystery story set at a Christian woman's retreat. I forget the details of the story, but at one point the amateur sleuth wanted to get into a suspect's room, so she lied to a room clerk about losing her key to that room. When I suggested to the author that maybe this "Christian" woman should at least feel some guilt about being dishonest or find some other way to get into the room, she admitted that she had seen this done so many times in secular movies that she didn't even think about it.

In our fiction we should be careful that our main characters whom we set forth as heroes and role models do not easily sin. Note, that I didn't say "do not sin." If we are honest, we know that as long as we walk this earth we will fail God at some time. However, there is a difference between a character failing in his or her morality and justifying that failing as a "necessary" evil. Evil is not necessary. It may be expedient. It may be temporarily profitable, but never necessary. If a Christian hero begins to believe that in a story, then it must be clear to the reader that s/he is heading down a dangerous path.


From the days of Christ onward, pure theology has been about more than just sound doctrine and right living, it also had to do with attitude. The Law gave us a set of rules to follow. Grace sets a harder task to let right living flow from right attitudes. "Christian" heroes who seem to have no problem killing other sentient beings bother me greatly. Certainly there are times when a violent response may be required to protect life, but there should be no joy or "bloodlust" accompanying the killing. I had a Christian friend who was a police officer. He had to kill a man in the line of duty. He suffered greatly over that. He had nightmares for years. He didn't blow the smoke away from the gun barrel and quip something about "taking out the garbage."

I am reading a secular novel now about a man with special powers, but every time he uses them to create destruction he suffers headaches and sharp pains in his eyes. He can even go blind for awhile afterwards. He needs to stop the evil, but he suffers for it. I would like to see Christian heroes like that.

So, these are a few thoughts about theology and writing. I'm sure others may have their own ideas. Feel free to blog them below.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home