Christianity and science fiction

In his latest “Books Besides the Bible” column, Christ and Pop Culture’s Ethan Bartlett discusses the way that many Christians, in his experience, have expressed skepticism of or displeasure with science fiction as a genre.  Both the column itself and the discussion in the comments are well worth reading.  My own experience has included Christian scoffers and fanboys in relation to SF.  As Bartlett and the commenters make clear, there are plenty of Christian SF fans and creators out there.  One of my favorite blogs is James McGrath’s Exploring Our Matrix, not least because he has spent considerable time exploring the theological implications of my beloved Doctor Who.  By the same token, as commenter Geoffrey R. said, there are many SF enthusiasts who champion the aspects of the genre that celebrate or endorse an explicitly atheistic worldview.  Another of my favorite sites, io9, covers the intersection between religion and science in our culture, and while the bent of the staff overall can’t be characterized as “anti-religion,” I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that the stance of most writers is unsympathetic.  Bartlett locates the tension in the relationship of Christianity to SF in the collision between religious eschatology (which anticipates the End Times and God’s judgment) and scientific humanism (which anticipates a progressive evolution of the species).  That is certainly a component to it.  The column also mentions that there may be a generational gap between older folks who grew up with SF as a pulpy, inconsequential waste of time and a younger generation that has grown up with SF as a legitimate, dramatic form in which social issues and interpersonal dynamics can be dealt with seriously.  That is also a component.  There’s another one that I didn’t see mentioned, though.

In America, evangelical Christianity frequently emphasizes reading the Bible literally: that is, understanding the events depicted as accurate, historical narratives.  A related aspect of evangelical hermeneutics is the premise that God’s Word is inerrant: there are no inconsistencies, corruptions, or failures of communication contained within the Scripture.  I.e. It means what it says it means, and what it means must be the unreconstructed, absolutely True dictates of the Author.  The result is that while many episodes in the Bible can be used to illustrate nuggets of wisdom, or demonstrate correct, ethical behavior, these are more or less inseparable from the purpose of the Word to reveal unalterable, inarguable Truth directly from God to his people.  I’m not going to debate the merits of these theological positions, but I will simply observe a consequence of its emphasis in American Christian teaching:

A lot of American Christians have no imagination.

Yeah, yeah, hyperbole, gross generalization, etcetera.  I perceive a direct link between the fact that a lot of evangelicals take the Word primarily at face value and the fact that a lot of evangelicals cannot conceive of genre fiction (especially SF) in terms other than a series of plot points and expressed character traits.  If a protagonist in a science fiction tale says that he’s an atheist and that everything in the universe has a rational explanation, you could take that as the viewpoint of the author.  You could also take it as the viewpoint of that character.  And even if the structure of the story aligns itself more closely with that viewpoint, there may still exist other interpretive possibilities within the paradigm of the story.  What a literalist Christian might get out of the story is that the main character is an atheist and therefore the story is atheist claptrap, which means it’s bad, period.  Is this wrong?  Probably.  Ignorant? Almost definitely.  But it’s not simply that this understanding and interpretation of a science fiction story is shallow and unimaginative.  Its lack of imagination is a key part of the training that many Christians receive as they’re taught how to understand the most important book in their lives: the Bible.

To clarify: I’m not arguing here that literalist interpretations of Scripture are shallow and unimaginative.  What I’m arguing is that what may be a theologically valid approach to Scripture is not an intellectually valid approach to literature.  It seems to me, though, that the way a lot of Christian readers understand the “Truth” of a fictional narrative is consonant with how they understand the “Truth” of the Scriptures.

I think this is a big reason why a lot of Christians get hung up on “objectionable content” in narratives.  The mere presence of something unchristian is tantamount to an indulgence in sinful conduct.  God’s Word may contain vile behavior and troubling implications, but that’s okay, because most Christians think of God as ultimately good and holy and incapable of doing anything — including depicting sin — that could possibly be ascribed to sinful motives.  If he inspired it, it must be worthwhile.  Not so with human authors.  Human authors, by virtue of being human, are sinful, fallen beings.  Representations of sinful behavior have their origins in the mind of the author, and, unlike God, the motives of humans who spend their time imagining and depicting this behavior are deeply suspect.  An icon depicting the violent crucifixion of Christ is holy; a motion picture depicting anarchists shooting up an building lobby is sinful.  Both representations might have spiritually noble motives, but because one is not a literal re-presentation of a Scriptural Truth, it is to be distrusted or condemned.

Setting aside conventionally objectionable content, the literalness of words and images remains the emphasis of so much “Christian” criticism.  If the words and images in themselves do not reveal a Truth that can be immediately, unambiguously connected with received doctrine, then it must not be valid.  This is how science fiction remains problematic for so many Christians.  Science itself is based upon the consistent application of human reason; science fiction is most often concerned with the ways in which the advances of human knowledge (whether in the form of technology, biological evolution, or analysis of behavior) impact and potentially alter the dynamics of human drama.  Rather than dealing with mystical or inexplicable phenomena (as horror and fantasy do), science fiction can tend to demystify the observable universe or offer explanations for previously inexplicable phenomena.  Even if the characters are inveterately “human” in their capacity to surprise, change, or remain enigmatically isolated from easy interpretation, there is associated with SF in the minds of many people a sense of “naturalism.”  Even if they use words like “fantastic” or “weird” or “unbelievable” to describe the genre, a lot of people intuitively grasp that SF tends to lean more heavily on rationality and possible iterations of this world rather than irrationality and worlds that do not operate according to the laws of this universe.  These generalizations are not always true, and there is considerable crossover, but consider how the quasi-metaphysical Star Wars series holds to these assumptions about SF, because even before the Force was explained in terms of midichlorians, it was understood as a natural, though oft-unobserved, part of the universe.  It may be mysterious to the non-Jedi characters, but it is presented as nothing more than an integral component of the other natural, lower-case-f forces of the universe.  In short, it falls under the purview of scientific investigation, and it is governed by a sense of rationality.

That’s why it’s not surprising that a lot of Christian leaders cautioned parents that allowing their children to watch the Star Wars films might be harmful — the idea of the Force was obviously influenced by Eastern religion, and they were very concerned that kids might internalize it as Truth.  In this incredibly literalist reading of the Star Wars films, the Force isn’t a sign of higher, spiritual Truths that can be playfully interpreted as dovetailing with Christian theology; it’s nothing more or less than what it appears to be: a non-Christian religion, which is therefore suspect and potentially harmful.

This line of reasoning does impact other speculative genres as well, of course.  Not too long ago, hypersensitive Christian parents threw themselves into hysterics over Harry Potter, because Harry Potter might lead kids to dabble in witchcraft.  Again, this is an incredibly literalist reading of the series.  J.K. Rowling, though she openly acknowledged her Christianity, did not make it a selling point of herself as an author, whereas fantasists like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein are known — the former especially — as apologists.  It’s much easier to grasp the Christian elements of The Chronicles of Narnia when the author is known for writing Mere Christianity than it is to grasp the Christian elements of Harry Potter, whose author is known for writing… Harry Potter.

None of this is to say that superficial elements of storytelling can’t be correctly read as endorsements of an anti-Christian worldview.  Philip Pullman is an aggressive apologist for atheism, and his Dark Materials trilogy is known for articulating that viewpoint.  Similarly, the work of Stephen King is rife with Christian hypocrites and violent, right-wing evangelicals, and anyone familiar with his expressed personal opinions will recognize that he writes those characters into his fiction because he personally despises them and wants his readers to share his contempt and horror at their beliefs.  Yet even these works can be reclaimed and creatively interpreted by doctrinally conservative Christians who are willing to engage imaginatively with them.  But that would require setting aside the tools used for their Scriptural hermeneutics and developing a much more sophisticated approach that is appropriate for the stories at hand.  Literalist readings won’t cut it.

As established earlier, this is not the only factor at work in the enmity between some Christians and science fiction.  Yet it’s pervasive.  What can be done?  Should churches simply stop teaching literalist doctrine so that their members can fully appreciate the possibilities of science fiction?  That would be silly.  Instead, what I think might be beneficial is that Christians whose literalist tendencies do bleed over into their relationship with fiction develop the tools necessary to understand literature (and narratives in other media) on a deeper level.  A consequence of this arts-driven re-alignment in perspective might be that the theological conversation shifts as well.  This might be another, much more covert reason for resisting science fiction narratives.

If Christians recognize that correctly or deeply understanding non-Biblical narratives requires them to adopt a more critical, non-literalist approach, and if this approach reveals Truths to which they were previously blind, it may be that the same or similar approaches to the Scripture could reveal Biblical Truths to which they were previously blind.  This may not threaten Scripture itself — after all, if it’s inerrant, then what harm can an individual reader do to it? — but it may create a wedge between the “obvious,” literal meaning and larger Truth that readers may begin to grasp.  Notice that embracing non-literalist interpretations doesn’t negate the existence of what is literally evident on the page; instead, it frees the reader to consider different perspectives on what is in front of them.  Developing non-literalist approaches won’t necessarily change the literal, unalterable Truth, but it may allow readers to approach the Truth from different angles.  I don’t think a lot of Christians are comfortable with this arrangement, because they may think it creates an inherent instability, as if the Truth is somehow being undermined.  A straight-laced, literalist reading of anything will essentially be a one-to-one ratio of meaning-to-truth.  Though this is doesn’t allow much flexibility, at least you always know where you stand.   But engaging different meanings doesn’t necessarily change the Truth; maybe standing in one place breeds atrophy, not stability.  Requiring the reader to move around a bit in order to see the Truth from different perspectives isn’t necessarily unstable; it just requires a bit more exercise.☕

About these ads

About mjschneider

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by mjschneider

14 responses to “Christianity and science fiction

  • dbfurches

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. A couple of things that come to mind in reading this:

    I think Bartlett attributes the optimism of Science Fiction to a faith in scientific progress, not to an expectation of the progressive evolution of the species. Certainly, there is no basis in science for such an expectation. I’m sure most science fiction authors nowadays understand that evolution by natural selection just promises increasing fitness, as defined by successful reproduction, not improvement as people would define it. Earlier writers, like George Bernard Shaw, did not.

    I think there is indeed a generational component to the phenomenon you’re describing. I literally do not know anyone my age or younger (and I am not that young) who has an objection to science fiction in general, though I have known people who objected to Star Wars because of its eastern religious influences.

    • mjschneider

      I didn’t mean to attribute to Bartlett an inaccurate understanding of evolution. Looking back at my first graph, I see how I muddled that. By saying “progressive evolution of the species,” I meant to conflate technological, behavioral, and political progress — a la Roddenberry — rather than to suggest a fundamental biological “ascent.” I know that most contemporary SF writers understand fitness correctly, and it’s my fault for not drawing that distinction clearly in my opening paragraph.

      I don’t know anyone who flat-out objects to SF in general, either, but I know a few who deem it to be a “lesser” genre, or who might describe SF as “stupid, dumb,” etc. And I know a few who are skeptical of sci-fi as a vehicle for spiritual dialogue. But this is not the majority. Part of that might be that most Christians are cool with genre stuff now; part of it might be that I just tend to associate with people who share my interests. As far as concerns over the impact of the Force goes, that was actually a fairly significant part of my childhood.

      I really appreciate the comment; thanks for reading!

  • jubilare

    Taking the Bible as wholly literal has never sat well with me, but that just tells you where I am coming from. I also do not like the bible being dismissed as wholly allegorical. I think the truth of the matter lies somewhere in-between, but where one draws the line is important.

    That said, I suspect that the inflexibility you describe is part of Western Thought more than it is in Christian theology. This trend in theology comes out of the Age of Reason, and is still held by many non-Christians as well. There is a need to categorize everything into fact or fiction, without recognizing both fact and fiction as a vehicle for Truth. I even think that Christians are, for the most part, more flexible in this regard than a lot of people. The bible is a sticking point, certainly, but most of the Christians I know (and I know a good variety) have a love and a respect for fiction as a vehicle for truth.

    I think, actually, that it is this flexibility that backfires to cause the problem you describe, though perhaps I am wrong. It seems to me that, for those of us who think Fiction matters, that it can speak truth or lies and that it can influence us, the Agenda of a writer becomes more of a problem. A strict literal reading of most fiction is quite “safe,” but a deeper reading is not.

    I think that the real problem (or at least part of it) is fear of Doubt. Fear of doubt is quite reasonable, as doubt hurts and can divide and cause strife. Doubt is scary. It is also supposed to be part of the process of faith, and it is that fact that Christians often forget because they fear either losing their own faith, or they fear those around them defecting away from Christianity. So when a Christian who fears doubt comes across something that is troubling or can potentially create doubt, they react in the manner you describe. They could put aside the fear and face the doubt, and they would likely be better for it.

    My mother is a Christian and my father is an atheist. My parents raised my brother and I by introducing us to ideas and the world at a slow but steady pace. The younger we were, the more shielded we were, but by the time we left our parents’ house we had both been exposed to a wide world of thought. I think this is a good thing, because we had the tools to ingest and digest new information and form ideas. My parents had the guts to teach us to think and then let us go. They will discuss and argue with us, but they do not try to control us. I have seen many situations where parents’ love of and fear for their children creates the opposite of what our parents did for us. It either creates people who are either so fragile and rigid of thought that they break, or it creates people so frustrated with the limits placed on them that they rebel. Both are very messy outcomes.

    So when a parent rails against Harry Potter, I listen to their reasons. If they are afraid their child will turn to witchcraft because of the books, I take that as a sign that they do not trust their child to think, they do not want to engage and discuss matters with their child, they fear doubt and risk (two things that create character!). This does not make them a bad person at all, but it is a dangerous track to take. If the parent, on the other hand, objects to the scary nature of the books and wants their children to be older before they read them, I tend to think that it is not the book they fear, but the impact of the timing. That, to my mind, is more logical.

    Obviously I am quite biased, as I think everyone must be on this subject. I wonder, even, if my above essay even makes sense. I hope it does. I do not wholly disagree with you, I simply take a different angle on the question.

  • jubilare

    Now on to your actual article.

    #These generalizations are not always true, and there is considerable crossover, but consider how the quasi-metaphysical Star Wars series holds to these assumptions about SF, because even before the Force was explained in terms of midichlorians, it was understood as a natural, though oft-unobserved, part of the universe. It may be mysterious to the non-Jedi characters, but it is presented as nothing more than an integral component of the other natural, lower-case-f forces of the universe. In short, it falls under the purview of scientific investigation, and it is governed by a sense of rationality.#

    It’s funny, but I always got a mystical vibe from The Force, never a scientific one. That is why the midichlorian explanation didn’t wash for me. Several times the Jedi (and Sith) are referred to as adherents to an ancient and irrelevant religion. …and I love the original Star-Wars movies. :)

    Also, you mention Tolkien as being accepted along side Lewis. I have run across some Christians who have deep objections to Tolkien. I even converted one friend to a love of LOTR though she had never read them because “a male witch is a Christ-figure.” I even know someone who, when she was younger, burned a set of the Chronicles of Narnia because a pastor condemned them. So I do agree with you that there is a problem in some segments of Christianity. There is certainly inflexibility, fear and over-sensitive judgements, I am just not sure if I agree with your assessment of a cause. You could be right, though. I must mull it over for a while and see what I think.

    One last thought, and then I will have done. There is also the alcoholic-principle (or that’s what I call it). I.e., that it may be fine and holy for someone who is not an alcoholic to drink wine, but for an alcoholic, drinking may be a sin because of where it leads. This is why I object to people telling others what is ok to read/watch/play and what isn’t, but I think it is right and natural for people to say “I believe it is not right for Me to read/watch/play such-and-such.” I also support parents making such decisions for their young children, though as their children grow I think it is beneficial to start loosening one’s grip. So I can say “It is bad for me to watch horror films because of how they effect me” but I will not say “no one should watch horror films because horror films are bad!”

  • mjschneider

    These are great comments, jubilare. Thank you for contributing to the discussion. I’m replying to them both en masse. Hope you don’t mind.

    Taking the Bible as wholly literal has never sat well with me, but that just tells you where I am coming from. I also do not like the bible being dismissed as wholly allegorical. I think the truth of the matter lies somewhere in-between, but where one draws the line is important.

    That said, I suspect that the inflexibility you describe is part of Western Thought more than it is in Christian theology. This trend in theology comes out of the Age of Reason, and is still held by many non-Christians as well. There is a need to categorize everything into fact or fiction, without recognizing both fact and fiction as a vehicle for Truth. I even think that Christians are, for the most part, more flexible in this regard than a lot of people. The bible is a sticking point, certainly, but most of the Christians I know (and I know a good variety) have a love and a respect for fiction as a vehicle for truth.

    I think, actually, that it is this flexibility that backfires to cause the problem you describe, though perhaps I am wrong. It seems to me that, for those of us who think Fiction matters, that it can speak truth or lies and that it can influence us, the Agenda of a writer becomes more of a problem. A strict literal reading of most fiction is quite “safe,” but a deeper reading is not.

    The need to categorize fact and fiction is a big part of the development of the novel itself. I’m not sure if Christians are or aren’t more flexible in this regard than others, but I do know that the controversies over the accuracy of early novels weren’t necessarily at the specific instigation of Christians. You have articulated quite well, though, something I tried (and apparently failed) to get at in my post, which is that deeper readings can be more dangerous than literal readings. It’s possible — even probable! — that this is part of Western culture’s heritage from the Enlightenment. But within a specifically Christian context, and speaking from personal experience, a lot of strict Biblical literalists see “deeper” readings of Scripture as inherently dubious and/or heterodox, because they feel that it “twists” the Word. So the issue isn’t necessarily that Christians don’t view fiction as a vehicle for truth, but that they fear “twisting” that truth by practicing a deeper reading. With that mindset, it’s easy to see how genre fiction can be problematic for Christians.

    I think that the real problem (or at least part of it) is fear of Doubt. Fear of doubt is quite reasonable, as doubt hurts and can divide and cause strife. Doubt is scary. It is also supposed to be part of the process of faith, and it is that fact that Christians often forget because they fear either losing their own faith, or they fear those around them defecting away from Christianity. So when a Christian who fears doubt comes across something that is troubling or can potentially create doubt, they react in the manner you describe. They could put aside the fear and face the doubt, and they would likely be better for it.

    Well put.

    My mother is a Christian and my father is an atheist. My parents raised my brother and I by introducing us to ideas and the world at a slow but steady pace. The younger we were, the more shielded we were, but by the time we left our parents’ house we had both been exposed to a wide world of thought. I think this is a good thing, because we had the tools to ingest and digest new information and form ideas. My parents had the guts to teach us to think and then let us go. They will discuss and argue with us, but they do not try to control us. I have seen many situations where parents’ love of and fear for their children creates the opposite of what our parents did for us. It either creates people who are either so fragile and rigid of thought that they break, or it creates people so frustrated with the limits placed on them that they rebel. Both are very messy outcomes.

    So when a parent rails against Harry Potter, I listen to their reasons. If they are afraid their child will turn to witchcraft because of the books, I take that as a sign that they do not trust their child to think, they do not want to engage and discuss matters with their child, they fear doubt and risk (two things that create character!). This does not make them a bad person at all, but it is a dangerous track to take. If the parent, on the other hand, objects to the scary nature of the books and wants their children to be older before they read them, I tend to think that it is not the book they fear, but the impact of the timing. That, to my mind, is more logical.

    Obviously I am quite biased, as I think everyone must be on this subject. I wonder, even, if my above essay even makes sense. I hope it does. I do not wholly disagree with you, I simply take a different angle on the question.

    And it’s a valuable angle. I didn’t grow up in a faith culture that encouraged us (as Christian children and teens) to consider all the options and make the best decision for ourselves. As an adult, I respect the approach your parents took. Your analysis of the reasons parents might object to Harry Potter is sensible; I didn’t mean to take people to task who were simply concerned about the darker elements or what might be age-appropriate for their individual children. I was criticizing those who see that witches and wizards are the protagonists of the book and automatically assume that the book is a tool for brainwashing kiddies into joining the local Wicca chapter. The former approach is sensitive to the emotional needs and maturity of children as they develop; the latter approach is an ignorant assumption that children can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Not to mention that it smacks of the fear of doubt you discussed earlier.

    Now on to your actual article.

    It’s funny, but I always got a mystical vibe from The Force, never a scientific one. That is why the midichlorian explanation didn’t wash for me. Several times the Jedi (and Sith) are referred to as adherents to an ancient and irrelevant religion. …and I love the original Star-Wars movies. :)

    The Force was clearly meant to be mystical in the original movies. What I was trying to get at is that it behaved according to certain rules and laws, and that these were consistent; it was also presented in a way that made it seem to be a natural part of the universe. So it may be mystical, but not supernatural, if that makes sense. That’s why a “naturalist” might be able to classify and study the effects of the force in a more or less scientific fashion, whereas the capricious ways of magic and the supernatural defy any sort of logic at all.

    Also, you mention Tolkien as being accepted along side Lewis. I have run across some Christians who have deep objections to Tolkien. I even converted one friend to a love of LOTR though she had never read them because “a male witch is a Christ-figure.” I even know someone who, when she was younger, burned a set of the Chronicles of Narnia because a pastor condemned them. So I do agree with you that there is a problem in some segments of Christianity. There is certainly inflexibility, fear and over-sensitive judgements, I am just not sure if I agree with your assessment of a cause. You could be right, though. I must mull it over for a while and see what I think.

    I don’t recall ever meeting in person a Christian that objected to Tolkien or Narnia, though I have met quite a few who didn’t know that Tolkein was a Christian. I’d also like to clarify that I don’t think literalist Biblical hermeneutics are the sole cause for all the inflexibility, fear, and over-sensitivity in Christianity. I’m merely suggesting that it is a significant contributing factor to the way Christians deal with fictional narratives, especially SF or similar genres.

    One last thought, and then I will have done. There is also the alcoholic-principle (or that’s what I call it). I.e., that it may be fine and holy for someone who is not an alcoholic to drink wine, but for an alcoholic, drinking may be a sin because of where it leads. This is why I object to people telling others what is ok to read/watch/play and what isn’t, but I think it is right and natural for people to say “I believe it is not right for Me to read/watch/play such-and-such.” I also support parents making such decisions for their young children, though as their children grow I think it is beneficial to start loosening one’s grip. So I can say “It is bad for me to watch horror films because of how they effect me” but I will not say “no one should watch horror films because horror films are bad!”

    That’s very sensible, and I like the way you’ve categorized that principle! I will point out, though, that a lot of people who condemn or decry certain things — like Harry Potter, or horror films, etc. — are people who have never actually sampled them. I wouldn’t advocate that someone do something that is absolutely wrong for him/her, but I also think that a lot of people who are preoccupied with the fear of doubt (as you put it) use the alcoholic principle as a shields so they don’t have to grapple with anything challenging. Someone who has watched a variety of horror films and decides that they’re bad for him is entitled to that opinion. Someone who maintains that horror films are bad for him simply because he wants to avoid ever having to watch one… is still entitled to that opinion, but it doesn’t carry the same weight. I can leave that person alone, so long as they don’t offer any further opinions on the very thing they’ve deliberately avoided engaging. If it’s not my prerogative to tell them what’s OK for them to enjoy, then it’s not their prerogative to tell me how good/bad it is. And I’ve been on both sides of that one, much to my embarrassment.

  • jubilare

    Friend, it is your blog, you may reply to comments however you wish! I broke them up for readability’s sake.

    Genre fiction may be problematic for some Christians, but as it does not seem to be problematic for the majority of Christians (unless I am mistaken) I am unsure about linking cause and effect. I could easily be wrong, though, it all seems to hinge on who we know and what we have observed around us.

    My parent’s were groping in the dark, as I think most parents (maybe all parents!) do, but I am thankful for most of the choices they made. It is telling, though not conclusive, that both my brother and I are Christians. I believe that the fear of doubt that causes people to avoid hard questions and strange thoughts, and to shield their children too completely from such things, is, in itself, a doubt of the Truth of their own beliefs. The more I believe Christianity to be Truth, the less afraid I am of any other ideas in the world. There is no need to fear fiction, or science, or history, or anything else.
    If what we believe to be True is actually True, then in the end, when it is rightly understood, everything in existence simply points to and proves the same Truth. If what we believe is not True, then we need a wakeup call. Either way, information and exploration are not the enemy. Fear, though, is so powerful, and fear of doubt ties into a fear of lacking control… which spirals into all kinds of rash and block-headed behaviors (because the truth is that we are never in control, and we want to be).

    I know someone who doesn’t believe that Tolkien was a “real” Christian because he was Catholic. I know a wide variety of people.

    “I was criticizing those who see that witches and wizards are the protagonists of the book and automatically assume that the book is a tool for brainwashing kiddies into joining the local Wicca chapter.”
    “I will point out, though, that a lot of people who condemn or decry certain things — like Harry Potter, or horror films, etc. — are people who have never actually sampled them.”

    You have hit the nail on the head. I am not sure who said it, but I ran into a quote once (was it Lewis? I think it may have been) that expressed exactly this. That people are often the most vocal and vehement about the things they understand/have experienced the least. The more I understand science, the less threatening it is (I like science!), but people who take it as threatening and never explore it, will react when a rogue scientist tries to “threaten” their faith by “disproving” some part of the bible.
    I’ve been on both sides of this too, much to my shame. I think it is something inherent in human nature, stemming from our fears.

  • technicolorlilypond

    This is such a great discussion. I shall jump in with more thoughts when I’m more awake but the following passages struck me as particularly in keeping with my own thoughts:

    “I think that the real problem (or at least part of it) is fear of Doubt. Fear of doubt is quite reasonable, as doubt hurts and can divide and cause strife. Doubt is scary. It is also supposed to be part of the process of faith, and it is that fact that Christians often forget because they fear either losing their own faith, or they fear those around them defecting away from Christianity. So when a Christian who fears doubt comes across something that is troubling or can potentially create doubt, they react in the manner you describe. They could put aside the fear and face the doubt, and they would likely be better for it.”

    This is very eloquently put and I think it applies to human nature in general, not just Christians in specific. I think it is especially relevant to people who want to ban things using legislative means, regardless of their spiritual identity all such people fear any seed of doubt.

    ““I was criticizing those who see that witches and wizards are the protagonists of the book and automatically assume that the book is a tool for brainwashing kiddies into joining the local Wicca chapter.”
    “I will point out, though, that a lot of people who condemn or decry certain things — like Harry Potter, or horror films, etc. — are people who have never actually sampled them.”

    You have hit the nail on the head. I am not sure who said it, but I ran into a quote once (was it Lewis? I think it may have been) that expressed exactly this. That people are often the most vocal and vehement about the things they understand/have experienced the least. The more I understand science, the less threatening it is (I like science!), but people who take it as threatening and never explore it, will react when a rogue scientist tries to “threaten” their faith by “disproving” some part of the bible.
    I’ve been on both sides of this too, much to my shame. I think it is something inherent in human nature, stemming from our fears.”

    Well put both of you. Yes, Jubilare, I believe Lewis did express that sentiment in an essay included in his collection entitled “Of This And Other Worlds,” but I cannot recall which essay in specific. I’m probably ripping off someone very smart when I paraphrase: “The expert knows how much he/she does not know, the novice is too ignorant to know how much they have to learn.”

  • jubilare

    “This is very eloquently put and I think it applies to human nature in general, not just Christians in specific. I think it is especially relevant to people who want to ban things using legislative means, regardless of their spiritual identity all such people fear any seed of doubt. ”

    Oh so painfully true! Being a librarian, such things are very much on my radar. It seems as if everywhere we turn someone is trying to ban something for some reason. -_-

    “The expert knows how much he/she does not know, the novice is too ignorant to know how much they have to learn.”

    Aye.

  • mjschneider

    Genre fiction may be problematic for some Christians, but as it does not seem to be problematic for the majority of Christians (unless I am mistaken) I am unsure about linking cause and effect. I could easily be wrong, though, it all seems to hinge on who we know and what we have observed around us.

    True enough. Perhaps rather than a simple cause-and-effect, maybe the framework I offer in terms of literalist interpretations could be a useful theoretical starting point for further discussion.

    My parent’s were groping in the dark, as I think most parents (maybe all parents!) do, but I am thankful for most of the choices they made. It is telling, though not conclusive, that both my brother and I are Christians. I believe that the fear of doubt that causes people to avoid hard questions and strange thoughts, and to shield their children too completely from such things, is, in itself, a doubt of the Truth of their own beliefs. The more I believe Christianity to be Truth, the less afraid I am of any other ideas in the world. There is no need to fear fiction, or science, or history, or anything else.

    I agree with that. There are many people in my life who believe the exact opposite. Some of them may claim otherwise, but, well… if what one says and what one does are consistently opposed in form and focus, then I think it’s fair to say that the proof is in the pudding. (Which is, coincidentally, an axiom I’ve never understood. Nor have I researched the etymology of it, because it’s more fun to wonder how the hell such a senseless phase became so commonplace.)

    If what we believe to be True is actually True, then in the end, when it is rightly understood, everything in existence simply points to and proves the same Truth. If what we believe is not True, then we need a wakeup call. Either way, information and exploration are not the enemy. Fear, though, is so powerful, and fear of doubt ties into a fear of lacking control… which spirals into all kinds of rash and block-headed behaviors (because the truth is that we are never in control, and we want to be).

    Well said. In addition, I think that a lot of people don’t recognize that nobody controls genuine Truth. If something is True, then it ought to be True regardless of the source. And yet I think when people say things like, “We’re the only ones who know/speak the truth!” what they’re really saying is, “We are the ones controlling the Truth!” It’s possible to be the only ones who know and speak the Truth, but I suspect that’s not actually what motivates people to make such proclamations. I can’t prove that at all; it’s just a hypothesis.

    I know someone who doesn’t believe that Tolkien was a “real” Christian because he was Catholic. I know a wide variety of people.

    Your acquaintance is probably a Lutheran.

    You have hit the nail on the head. I am not sure who said it, but I ran into a quote once (was it Lewis? I think it may have been) that expressed exactly this. That people are often the most vocal and vehement about the things they understand/have experienced the least. The more I understand science, the less threatening it is (I like science!), but people who take it as threatening and never explore it, will react when a rogue scientist tries to “threaten” their faith by “disproving” some part of the bible.

    I’ve been on both sides of this too, much to my shame. I think it is something inherent in human nature, stemming from our fears.

    As Ellen said, I think it was Lewis, though I’ll have to reference my copy of the book to find the precise quote. (An excuse to re-read Lewis: oh darn!)

  • jubilare

    I bet “proof is in the pudding” is a reference of some kind, and all the more delightful for that. I may research it for fun. I, too, know a lot of people who disagree with my standpoint on thought, at least in action. Most of the time the reasoning comes from being careful what you put into your mind, because what you put in can come back out. It is a valid argument to some extent, but it is too often used as an excuse to avoid things that are just different or scary.

    “Well said. In addition, I think that a lot of people don’t recognize that nobody controls genuine Truth. If something is True, then it ought to be True regardless of the source. And yet I think when people say things like, “We’re the only ones who know/speak the truth!” what they’re really saying is, “We are the ones controlling the Truth!” It’s possible to be the only ones who know and speak the Truth, but I suspect that’s not actually what motivates people to make such proclamations. I can’t prove that at all; it’s just a hypothesis.”

    It is a good and likely hypothesis.

    I think she identified as non-denominational, as I do, which makes me all the more sad because to me, non-denominational is a recognition that christians are christians across the lines we’ve created to differentiate ourselves, including the lines of protestant, catholic and orthodox.

    :)

  • mjschneider

    I, too, know a lot of people who disagree with my standpoint on thought, at least in action. Most of the time the reasoning comes from being careful what you put into your mind, because what you put in can come back out. It is a valid argument to some extent, but it is too often used as an excuse to avoid things that are just different or scary.

    Yep. Which is too bad, in my opinion, because a lot of those people are gifted with incredible intellects and emotional insight.

    I think she identified as non-denominational, as I do, which makes me all the more sad because to me, non-denominational is a recognition that christians are christians across the lines we’ve created to differentiate ourselves, including the lines of protestant, catholic and orthodox.

    I suppose I’m technically non-denomination, though I identify as “recovering Lutheran.” What that means is that I’m still basically Lutheran, only with three times as much latent guilt.

    • jubilare

      “Yep. Which is too bad, in my opinion, because a lot of those people are gifted with incredible intellects and emotional insight.”

      There’s a lot in all of us that seems to go to waste… a sad and sobering thought.

      That sounds like a lot of latent guilt. Take care that guilt does not have a paralyzing effect on you.

  • mjschneider

    My guilt doesn’t paralyze me. It gives me something to exorcize through my creative work. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 47 other followers

%d bloggers like this: