In the beginning, creation was all “good” … until God announced Adam’s situation was “not good.” Join the rhyming romp as Adam’s search for a compatible companion leads him beyond scales, fur, and feathers, back into the hands of his more-than-capable Creator.
A blend of Scripture and smiles, Adam Plus One gently portrays God’s perfect plan—the partnership of woman and man.
G. K. Chesterton: “Looking back on a worldly and wasted life, I realize that I have especially sinned in neglecting to read novels.“
That’s an interesting comment from a man who penned some great fiction, including creating the priestly detective, Father Brown.
I cannot—will not—compare myself with Chesterton, but as one who has worked in journalism and public relations all my career, I am well versed in the non-fiction field. I have covered major stories from air crashes, to Royal Tours, to the return of Vietnam POW’s and (peripherally) the US moon landings. I know non-fiction. I understand that writing it is critical for the knowledge and understanding of people today, despite the naysayers who prefer to stick their heads in the sand, ostrich-like.
But I have learned to love and appreciate good fiction. The great writers have used stories as a teaching tool as much as an entertainment vehicle. The essence of their work is to show human beings in settings that test their internal drivers as well as their external circumstances. Well written stories offer hope even in the worst situations; they provide well rounded protagonists who show character flaws in the midst of their struggles. Good fiction also provides the most evil antagonists with good attributes and show that, from the evil-doers perspective—his or her actions are internally justified.
Let me give an example. In my second thriller, The Lucifer Scroll, I introduce a thoroughly despicable and power-mad killer as the main protagonist. From his ‘religious’ perspective, ordering his followers to massacre people is justified because his intention is to bring what he believes is a better form of leadership to society. After a hard day ‘at the office’ doing sacrifices and the like, he relaxes by sitting at the piano and playing some jazz. He epitomizes the authoritarian who has no problem with believing the ends justify the means, no matter what moral or judicial laws are destroyed. But hey, jazz is cool! Little things, but I think it brings a dash of reality to the table as readers assess this character. We all know someone like this in our workplaces or in our political landscape.
It’s the same with protagonists. One of my main heroes is a workaholic who pushes people away. He doesn’t allow people inside the armour plate that envelops his psyche. He ranges from pride in his work mixed with depression and insecurity. He struggles with his insecurities but he has a determination to do his best; he too likes music, but only as a consumer. And, in contrast with the antagonist in question, he prefers classical. In short, just like all of us he has his ups and downs, his good points and his bad.
All this applies whether you are reading modern fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, westerns, romances, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries or avant garde literature. Well written stories in any of those genres will have the same impact. Bottom line, it will make you a better, more well founded person.
To me, reading fiction is important to my understanding of people and why and how they do the things they do. In fact, researchers in the United States and Britain have shown that fiction contributes incredibly to the reader’s growth as a human. Here are some of their findings:
1. Reading fiction helps develop empathy. Living through a character’s situation vicariously, stirs empathy for the characters and those impacted by the story’s plot line. Developing that trait is then easily extended to real life.
2. Reading fiction develops vocabulary. All of us have a general vocabulary for everyday use. Fiction exposes us to new words, their meaning, their implications and their usage. We then incorporate those words into our own vocabulary.
3. Reading fiction helps relieve stress. Nothing is better to relieve stress in a doctor’s office, for example, than reading a good story while you wait. Your own worries and needs diminish as you get caught up in the story.
4. Reading fiction is a ‘reality simulator’. Pilots learn to fly their planes in times of crisis by training in a simulator. They learn about all kinds of scenarios and how to handle them. Same with reading fiction. We see how the characters deal with their situations and we adapt that for our own all too real lives.
5. Reading fiction keeps us mentally sharp. New worlds, new images, new techniques, new knowledge can be absorbed through fiction. You can read a step-by-step DIY non-fiction of course, but fiction can make learning fun as well as keeping our minds sharp.
There are many other benefits to reading fiction in addition to these.
All in all, reading fiction is nothing more than a technological update from the times our ancestors sat around fires at night and listened to the bards tell tales of great derring-do. We learn about heroes to emulate as our forebears did. Tales of goodness and courage stimulate us now as they did then. Our society was built on the skeleton of story-telling. Jesus spends much of his teaching time telling his followers stories—we call them parables—that taught them how to relate to others and to help strangers and outcasts (remember the good Samaritan?),
My Welsh ancestry tells tales of bards going from village to village, earning their living by singing and telling stories. Such stories related the history, showed how justice should be applied, how people should treat others, and nurtured a bond that pulled people together, linking them with both the past and the future.
I write fiction now. I read fiction all the time. I am richer for it.
As the old cereal ad said: “Try it, you’ll like it!”
The Bible says that in the last days, humanity will have lost their sense of direction and be seeking but never finding, “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:7.
There is no doubt that today’s post truth culture has no way of knowing left from right or forward from back, denying any wrongdoing, canceling history, conflating genders, believing critical race theory will heal racial tension and claiming morality is subjective. This generation is witnessing the complete self-destruction of any responsibility or ownership for its actions. From the absurdity of government leaders who facilitate abortion to the tune of 73 million abortions per year worldwide, to the social acceptance of the sex trade and pornography, society’s moral compass is badly broken and is beyond repair.
We must acknowledge that child trafficking, prostitution and pornography would not be viable businesses if there weren’t a massive consuming clientele. Its basic supply and demand economics. We live in an age where the tail wags the dog and any concept of God is treated as superstition infused with mysticism. Religion is vilified as the worst evil known to civilization with extreme religious terrorism captivating the fears of society. Those that do believe in God attempt to reduce him to some all-accepting, fluid, spirit that tolerates all things, and is in all things and evolves with all things, in order to distance themselves from anything perceived to be fundamentalist groups.
Without absolute truth there can be no absolute morality. Without absolute morality there can be no right or wrong. Without right or wrong there is no meaning and no purpose. And with no meaning and no purpose, sadly we become disillusioned and confused. It is an exercise in futility to think we can debate the existence of an objective moral code when our ability to debate is a result of that same moral code. C.S. Lewis said, “When you are arguing with God, you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all. It’s like cutting off the very branch you are sitting on.”
As our culture walks on eggshells in the name of political correctness, terrified of offending racial groups or genders, values have become blurred and revolution is touted as a catalyst for change without accountability. Religion is a soupy mess that is viewed as intolerant and restricting so it must be adapted to the times, replacing priests and pastors with life coaches and motivational speakers as woke churches try to keep pace with the shifting sands of society. Afraid to offend, the gospel has been replaced by the establishment of the all-inclusive genre of the progressives and prosperity preachers who attempt to shift the blame for sin from man to God.
In a classic knee jerk reaction to the fire and brimstone sermons that used to make religion like getting cleaned up to take a bath, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme where anything and everything goes. There is no city on a hill, no salt of the earth, no being chosen out of the world to be citizens of heaven. In fact, blending in with the world seems to be the plan by reverse engineering the church, sin and all, to include heaven. We are making God in our own image.
So what of the Christian Church? The Pope has a political agenda of melding the theologies of Christianity, Islam and Judaism into one church of Abrahamic faith, an amalgamation that would comprise of over 4.1 billion people. Will the watered down, lukewarm church of Revelation 3:14-16, so prevalent in western culture even notice? Will the drowsy half asleep believers in the land of plenty remain silent thereby forcing the rocks to cry out in defense of the true gospel of Jesus Christ? Or will Christianity cower in the face of radical climate activists and critical race theory? Has the life been drained from the Body of Christ?
While traveling through Samaria, Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well near the village of Sychar. As he was resting, a Samaritan woman came to draw water in the heat of the day. Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4:8. In early first century Judea, Samaritans and Jews despised each other, and a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman was considered a societal taboo.
“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ ‘Sir, the woman said, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’
Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4:9-14.
Jesus never backed down from sharing the good news. He never shied away political opposition, religious piety and in the case of the Samaritan woman, racial tension. Christ never compromised the truth of God. As our mentor, he was a faithful servant of the Most-High God. Faithful to death, even death on a cross.
Will today’s Church rise to the occasion when its hour of testing arrives? Will springs of living water well up into eternal life in the face of great tribulation? The hour is late and the signs are everywhere that we are living in the last days. When the Shofar sounds will the body of Christ be ready? So many believers today are placing their hope in a pre-tribulation rapture to escape the unpleasantries of the Great Tribulation and the rule of the antichrist. What if the bridegroom is delayed? Will they have enough oil in their lamps? Will they have the religious fortitude to stand and be faithful to the end?
The bible tells us the rapture will not happen until the seventh trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16, Mathew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 15:52, Revelation 11:15-19) after the antichrist takes power of the earth. Is the true Church prepared to go the distance? No one knows the day nor the hour however, Jesus warned us with the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids to be ready to persevere. We all ought to pay attention to the full gospel rather than cherry picking the most promising parts.
Jesus Christ held nothing back when he laid his life down for us, while we were still enemies of God. The Christian Church today must be of the mindset that we are prepared to do the same for him. We must not conform to worldly values, be uncompromising in our conviction and loyalty to our Redeemer, and without doubt as we stand ready to defend the faith in the face of a generation that cannot discern good from evil, dark from light or bitter from sweet (Isaiah 5:20).
The Bible is the absolute truth and only moral standard. Apart from God’s truth there is no truth. Apart from God’s morality there is no morality. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35.
It is time to put on the full armor of God and prepare to defend the faith as a warrior on the day of battle. The harvest is ready. There are more people alive at this moment than have lived in all of human history combined. “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” Revelation 14:15.
Thanks for checking out this series! If this is the first blog you’re reading on ‘Writing Speculative Fiction as a Christian’ then please see my intro on post #1 for context on the reason I’ve put this series together.
We’ve just about covered every topic by now, but there are a couple of subjects that Christian writers tend to struggle with most frequently when writing speculative fiction, and I’ve saved them both for last.
What about magic?
Christians who are also fans of fantasy tend to fall into two categories when it comes to the use of magic in stories, there are those who see no problem whatsoever, and those who panic at the first sign of anything feeling even remotely occult. Very few find themselves in a balanced place in between. I myself lean very heavily toward panic, and that’s why my advice on this subject is going to be more on the play-it-safe side and perhaps not as balanced as it should be. Keep that in mind and take everything with a grain of salt. I’m coming from a position of greater caution, but I also recognize the importance of proper balance.
The tension between the cautious and the carefree exploded with the rising popularity of the Harry Potter books. It has settled a lot since then but hasn’t entirely gone away, and the simultaneous re-popularization of the Lord of the Rings franchise raised a fair question that we don’t all know how to answer…
Harry Potter is a wizard. Gandalf is a wizard. What’s the difference?
Most Christians on the cautious side (or even the balanced side) will say that the difference is between magic as a make-believe power (Gandalf) and magic as a real-world occult power such as witchcraft (Harry Potter). Gandalf’s powers are endowed to him as a natural result of his being since he is actually a Maya in disguise, a privilege not everyone can access. Harry’s powers are learned through lessons and texts on witchcraft, something anyone can actually do.
There is a defense that can be used, a strategic approach to implying “magic” into your story, even in a real-world context, while getting the panicking Christians off your back, and that’s to avoid direct references to actual occult research. A lot of the Christian outcry over Harry Potter came from the assumption that what was being taught in the books was actual witchcraft.
Having not read the books myself, I cannot give an educated confirmation on that one way or another. I can say that as far as the films I did not see much that set off my own personal alarms (apart from one scene on divination in one of the films). The only question left in my mind as far as the material in the films is the words (or incantations) spoken by characters in order to perform spells. I’ve avoided learning any actual spells myself, so again, I can’t confirm if the spells spoken in Harry Potter are real or made-up incantations.
Which brings us to the specific subject of spoken words. As far as I am aware, there is nothing wrong with making up your own words and having characters speak them out, if you’re using a fictional language made up for your story. The only remaining issue is that some members of your audience may still be uncomfortable. I myself get uncomfortable if I don’t know what language is being spoken or what a character is saying. In Chronomancer, my counter to this issue was to include an appendix at the end that includes language origins and meanings for every fictional word in the book. That way, if a reader was uncomfortable with not knowing what a character had said, they could look it up in the appendix.
Keep in mind that heading to the end for an appendix isn’t an option in films or television, and that some members of your audience may still be uncomfortable with a character chanting something in a foreign language, even if it’s a made-up language, because made-up languages are not always immediately apparent. It’s safe to say though that any incantation-like chants that sound Latin will raise red flags.
Back to the primary subject though – is it okay to have magic in your story if you’re a Christian writer? I would say yes with an Asterix. As long as the type of magic you’re using is purely fantasy-based in nature, and not based on anything resembling witchcraft or other occult powers, then you’re good to go. A big question that arises, and that you’ll have to address for the sake of your Christian readers, is what is the source of the power?
Again, Gandalf was essentially “born” with his power because of the kind of being that he is. The same could be said of elves and other fantasy races. In Chronomancer it is mentioned (or implied?) that magic ability was something bestowed on a few select creatures and individuals in the early days of that world for the purpose of helping to shape it, and that inborn power has been passed on to even previously non-magical races like humans through cross-breeding.
It gets trickier when you make magic into something that can be taught or given to individuals who don’t already have it inborn, because that’s where it gets dangerously close to sorcery. My recommendation would be something like suggesting that magic can be contained in substances like potions, and that characters can gain the potential for it that way, rather than it being something that can be gained purely through study.
It gets especially tricky if your story is set in the real world. In fact, to avoid confusion I would avoid using the term “magic” at all if your story is set in the real world, unless you plan on specifically taking the time to show or explain the distinction between the power being used in your story and real-world witchcraft. Otherwise, I suspect many Christians would start to feel uncomfortable with the content.
What about references to various mythologies?
It’s common for writers of both science fiction and fantasy to make references to old-world mythological figures, particularly from Greco-Roman and Norse mythologies, in order to add meaning to something using names that most educated audience members are familiar with. For example, if I call something “The Eye of the Basilisk” people would generally know that it’s a reference to death, and if I talk about rising like a Phoenix then people generally know that it’s a reference of new life coming out of death.
Where some Christian writers and audiences draw the line though is references to entities which in those mythologies were worshipped as gods. We are told in scripture to not even have such names on our lips (a figure of speech, since the scripture itself mentions many of these entities by name, but the clear implication is that we should not be praising or celebrating these things).
What are referred to as “gods” in these mythologies are what Christians would refer to as idols, and sometimes we would leave it at that and say that these are purely fictional things not even worth talking about. Paul says as much, in part, (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) but he goes a bit deeper (10:19-20) to explain that these things are representations inspired by demons, and that these idols are the demons’ way of being worshipped. This is why God is against it.
There are ways around this issue. If you’re writing fantasy then your own world may have its own completely different set of entities with different levels of power. I think this is okay as long as the entities are not referred to as gods or worshipped as such.
This was Tolkien’s approach when it came to Middle-earth. (Apparently not in his earlier works, because when Christopher Tolkien published them more or less as-is they used the term “gods” even though those terms had been abandoned in his primary works prior to publication.) I think he understood the issues his widely Christian audience would have with such terms and understood how to work around it. This has been my own approach as well.
There are benefits and drawbacks to such an approach. On the one hand, if the things in your story have nicknames based on your own invented mythos, then you don’t have the benefit of the audience knowing right away the meaning behind these names.
On the other hand, more hardcore fans may delve into side information like appendices (if you include them) and look up the meanings for themselves. Seeing that you have an entire mythos built into your fictional world really reels in deep-thinking audiences who are drawn to that kind of depth of world-building, as long as your story is interesting enough to be worth investing in in the first place.
Also, I would say that not all names and creatures in various mythologies are named after the deities of those cultures. I mentioned the Basilisk and Phoenix creatures earlier, neither of which are worshipped, they are simply creatures that inhabit those worlds. If you’re not sure, then I would recommend looking up info on such creatures online, particularly name meanings and etymology, since that can give you an idea of whether or not a creature’s very name is something to be avoided.
You can also stick with Bible references and use popular names from those stories instead of mythologies. Many Biblical names are well-known and have recognizable meanings when mentioned. The risk on that side is accidentally saying something sacrilegious, so be careful to give respect where it’s due.
This is the final post in this series, at least for now. After this I will have covered every topic that comes to my mind at the moment in terms of the aspects of speculative fiction writing that Christians sometimes wrestle with. I am absolutely open to doing more posts along these lines though if more subjects are brought to my attention. Are there any topics you feel I haven’t covered in this series? Leave a comment and let me know – I may do some additional posts in the future. But for now, thanks for checking out this series, and stay safe out there!
In the last post, we talked about how different sentient species might struggle with sin and evil in ways different from humans, and what that might mean for those species in the long run. Which leads into some other interesting questions when it comes to non-human characters who are still similar to humans in most regards…
What about the afterlife?
For some fantasy worlds I’ve invented an afterlife as well. For the world of Chronomancer I invented quite a few different places a soul could go depending on species and lifestyle. And since they’re fictional, I could also invent different reasons and qualifications for a soul ending up in one place or another.
Since I tend to view my fictional worlds as a lesser reality, with God’s reality above all, the way I look at it is that wherever souls go in my stories (whether darkness, paradise or somewhere in between) they are only there for as long as those worlds endure. Everything eventually returns to God, and on the day of final judgement, every soul will find itself where God deems it should go.
On the science-fiction spectrum, you may be wondering about aliens. Well, in reality it would be debatable whether or not aliens have souls – and it may depend on the species, or they may have something entirely different that we could only possibly understand as being “soul-like.” But as creatures of your own invention, you can decide for yourself whether they have souls or not.
It would be assumed that if God created these creatures in the first place, then He has a purpose and a home in mind for them somewhere in His new heavens and new earth, so whether purely spirit, purely body, or both together, they would likely have some experience of an afterlife upon death.
As for what measures any individual alien would have to meet in order to be on the heavenly side of that, that’ll depend on how that species struggles with evil and sin and how they deal with it. You can read some thoughts on that in the previous post.
What about half-human cross-breeds?
If humans alone are the image bearers of God, and we have relationships and even children with other races, then are we diluting the image of God? It almost seems a weird question to ask in today’s progressive-oriented world. But it’s a question you may be faced with if aliens or orcs suddenly turned out to be real.
One work around for this, if you don’t even want to address the question, is to just make different species to be relationally incompatible. That’s already pheasible with centaurs and mermaids, but it’s less believable with elves whose only obvious genetic difference is pointy ears.
There’s different ways around this depending on what makes you comfortable. With some races that are actually quite similar to humans, like elves and dwarves, you could make the argument that they are all in fact human, and that they simply have different gene pools. Considering the genetic diversity found within mankind, and how long mankind has been around, and how many ethnic groups have likely (and unfortunately) been wiped out long before recorded history, I would not consider it the least bit strange if there were once humans with pointed ears.
If you do want to go the route of them being entirely different species however, yet still genetically compatible, then consider God choosing different sentient races to represent Him in different ways. If humans are made in God’s image, perhaps elves were made to reflect other aspects of God, maybe something related to sound since elves are often musically oriented. Perhaps dwarves reflect something related to strength.
Since we are dealing with fictional races and hypothetical scenarios, I’m reluctant to imply that any specific race is God’s chosen representative of any particular trait by name. I am only trying to present a general idea. If mankind reflects one aspect of God, and other races reflect others, then interracial coupling would not so much dilute God’s image as it would reflect His traits in new ways.
There is a line however when it comes to aliens or races that come off as significantly animalistic, or at least more beast than man. The Bible is against bestiality. Where to draw the line when it comes to fictitious species is up to you as the writer (if you stretch it too far then just be aware that some of your audience may not be comfortable).
Personally, I would advise against any species that are animal from the waist down, or that have animal faces, since those are the two areas most associated with intimacy.
There is still the paramount question of the role of Jesus in the salvation of other sentient species. A question I touched on in the previous post, but that is also a big enough question to deserve a post of its own, and we’ll dive deeper into that topic next time…
So what of the American dream? What of the purpose driven life, and the best life now? We are constantly bombarded with advertising that dangles digital carrots in front of our noses to coerce our hard earned dollars out of our grasp and into theirs. Materialism has become the god of today’s societies and even China’s new generation’s pursuit of wealth rivals that of anywhere in the world.
So what of it? What is life’s purpose? Co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was worth $7 billion when he passed away, yet on his death bed he lamented, “At this moment, lying on the bed, sick and remembering all my life, I realize that all my recognition and wealth that I have is meaningless in the face of imminent death.”
Today we ride in a car or truck, tomorrow we ride in a hearse. Today we sleep in a comfortable bed, tomorrow we sleep in a casket. Today we are sheltered by a roof, tomorrow we are covered with dirt. Everything on the earth is temporal.
We all belong to God. “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Psalm 103:15-16. The late Reverend Billy Graham said that the one thing that surprised him about life was the brevity of it. The Psalmist wrote, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:4.
In the short span of time we have upon this earth, it is prudent to consider all that we are and the realization that our Creator has provided wisdom through his word, so that we can make the most of our lives. The words of Jesus resonate through the ages and captivate the focus of the wise, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for their soul?” Mathew 16:26.
The apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, what I believe is good advice for those who wish to live as Christians ought to live. In the fourth chapter, he wrote, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable,” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4. He goes on to say that we should not take advantage of each other, but be honest in our dealings, treating each other with love. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
We must clean our hearts and minds of ungodly things that lead to sin. Don’t let things occupy your heart that lead to evil. Pornography, internet images, advertising, greed and lust. Fill your mind with the word of God by spending time in scripture daily. Displace carnal thoughts with spiritual wisdom. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8.
The finitude of life is a reality we all sooner or later must come to terms with. When we contemplate life, we simply cannot escape how fleeting and fragile it is and how quickly it passes by. The apostle James aptly put it this way, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14.
Our time on earth may be short but it doesn’t have to be meaningless. We have a brief window of opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, to lift up the downtrodden, to feed the hungry, comfort the weak and clothe the poor. Christ calls upon us to serve him and do his work in the world, and blessed are those who do that work!
Eternal life in heaven is the reward for those who believe in Jesus Christ and his resurrection. He is the eternal God. If he wasn’t, he could not offer eternal life. Then the gospel would not be good news since, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:9.
Yes, our life on earth is brief. Yes, our life on earth is fragile. Yes, our life on earth is frail. But it is just the beginning of our existence. It is but a drop in an ocean of eternity.
Clinton Bezan is a compelling and authentic Christian voice and published author proclaiming the truth of the Bible as God’s word and the gospel of Jesus Christ. His unique appreciation and passion for Christ are evident in his answer to God’s call to write.
‘Salvation for Other Species’ by Benjaimn T. Collier
Thanks for checking out this series! If this is the first blog you’re reading on ‘Writing Speculative Fiction as a Christian’ then please see my intro on post #1 for context on the reason I’ve put this series together.
Last time we discussed what it means to be human in inter-planetary and even inter-worldly contexts. But writing as a Christian there is one subject that inevitably comes up, and that many Christian writers struggle with…
Has Jesus been to these other worlds?
As with many of these questions, the answer is up to you as the writer of the story. In trying to keep in line with my own theology, I have to ask the question of whether or not Jesus would have a reason to. As a child, fascinated with the idea of aliens, I often wondered if the Christian view of salvation was something that was also available to aliens since they’re not human but are presumably sentient beings who (I would assume) also struggle with evil.
In my younger years I assumed that, if necessary, Jesus would have also incarnated as each alien race and died for their sins as well, just so that everyone was included. When I was a little older I concluded instead that aliens need only hear about Jesus as a human, because most aliens have a low opinion of humans, and so the idea of God humbling Himself enough to take on such a weak form would have caught the attention of every other race regardless.
Now that I’m even older, the idea of Jesus manifesting as other sentient races feels less comfortable with my doctrine, but that still leaves me with the problem of how aliens or beings in fantasy realms could avoid damnation if they haven’t directly encountered Jesus, which leads into the next question.
Is sin and evil a multiversal problem?
To write epic stories, it is pretty much a given that your world will contain some form of struggle between forces of good and forces of evil. At least from a fictional standpoint, evil itself is a pretty multiversal problem. What might not be multiversal though, is the problem of sin. That may sound confusing. The two words are practically synonymous, but there is a subtle difference.
Evil is wrong action, and so is sin, but evil is an issue of choice whereas sin is an issue of nature. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not good and sin, but that act of disobedience was sin, and through that, sin entered the world and became a part of mankind.
There’s a reason it was in the form of food, because food becomes a part of you. Even more fitting, it was fruit, which typically bears seeds. The seed of sin has been in mankind since that day. It is the inclination toward evil. It’s a vessel for evil. A kind of corruption or disease. Do you get the picture?
The reason I want to get that distinction across is that it’s possible that evil is a multiversal issue without sin being a multiversal issue. The word ‘sin’ means ‘missing the mark.’ It means ‘imperfection.’ The world as a whole fell into sin when those in charge (mankind) allowed sin to enter.
We know it’s possible for angels to fall from grace and commit acts of evil. There is even a passage referring to angels committing sin (2 Peter: 2:4), but no reference to Jesus dying for the sins of angels. Perhaps God has a different solution when it comes to angels, or maybe only the fallen angels sin and so their fate is already sealed. I don’t think the scriptures go into detail on that. We don’t hear about animals ‘sinning’ even though nature itself is in a fallen state.
But other sentient races, though they still face moral dilemmas, may not necessarily have the same problem with sin as humans do. The reason why is also part of what makes us unique compared to other sentient races. As the uniquely assigned bearers of the image of God, there are very specific things at stake when it comes to our living up to our potential or falling from it.
Other races don’t have this problem. The way that evil became a part of us was also very specific in that it set us up for having generational issues and for sin to become a part of the nature of mankind. This means that we as humans struggle with evil differently, in a unique way, compared to how other sentient races might struggle.
Without struggling with sin, can other races still struggle with evil in relatable ways?
Absolutely. In fact I would argue that most writers have already provided plenty of examples of how to do this in your stories. The idea of generational, inherited sin, from a Judeo-Christian perspective is actually a bit complicated to think about. Most writers provide simpler, more universally understandable examples of evil, such as temptation and old, bad habits.
It might feel a bit preschool, but it’s relatable in a way that is understandable to a broader audience. As long as you’re not writing your evil characters as Moustache-Twirling Villains then you’re okay.
There are plenty of other questions that arise for Christian writers when dealing with the idea of other worlds and other sentient races. Next time we’ll go over the questions of afterlives in these other worlds, and inter-species coupling.
Thanks for checking out this series by fantasy writer BENJAMIN T. COLLIER! If this is the first blog you’re reading on ‘Writing Speculative Fiction as a Christian’ then please see Ben’s intro on post #1 for context on the reason he’s put this series together.
By Benjamin T Collier
Last time we discussed the idea of a multiverse and the possibility of people living in these other worlds, so the subject to jump into next is…
Are humans still unique?
Yes. Humans have the unique characteristic of being made in the image of God. What exactly that means is up for debate (to the best of my knowledge). One parallel I see is that God is a Trinity and we humans are a kind of trinity ourselves (body, soul and spirit but one being) though not the same kind of trinity as God. I assume that humans are the only beings in known creation to have this three-fold nature since angels may have soul and/or spirit but no body, and animals have bodies but not souls or spirits.
Another common interpretation is that God has free will and so do humans, and that is the sense in which we are made in God’s image. However, this position seems to suggest that angels lack the faculty of free will, in which case the rebellion of the fallen angels makes no sense.
When writing a story that contains both humans and other sentient races, whether they be aliens in a space story or mythical creatures in a fantasy tale, one of the features I attribute to humans more than other races is in fact their capacity for free will. Other sentient beings may still have free will, but not at the same measure as humans. It’s what gives mankind the capacity to produce strong leaders, but also makes us potentially more devious, and is the reason many races simply don’t trust us.
What about humans in fantasy worlds?
Although it can be assumed that in most space adventures the human characters are all descended from humans that once lived on earth, and therefore have inherited the same problems we all inherited from Adam & Eve (except probably Star Wars), the same assumption may not make sense when applied to a fantasy world. It depends if your world has its own creation mythos, and what it says about the origin of Man in that world. With some fantasy worlds, you can get away with implying that the first human settlers had traveled there from another realm. You could also assume that what your characters refer to as ‘humans’ are not actually humans but just creatures that are very similar to humans.
You run into a problem if you both suggest that these characters are human in the same way that we are human, and imply that they were created by a being other than God, because then how could they have been made in God’s image and therefore possess one of the most defining traits of being human? It may be useful in such circumstances to take the approach of recreate over create, and suppose that these creative entities are making new people from materials already given to them by another.
You may still run into a question of how to make your human characters relatable if their struggle with evil is not the same as our own struggle with sin, if their ancesters had never eaten from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Since the initial problem of the fruit is disobedience, I find it easy to come up with fantasy-based parralels when needed, to show that these humans faced a similar test and also failed. But depending on when your fantasy story takes place, in relation to events occuring on earth, it’s possible that your humans had traveled into this new fantasy world sometime after Eden, or that they were made using materials from Adam & Eve’s descendants.
Next time we’ll discuss how people of other worlds might deal differently with the issues of sin and evil…
All works of fiction ask ‘what if’ questions. ‘If there was a universe where this was going on, what would happen?’ The same is true whether you’re writing science-fiction or fantasy, or some other genre with hypothetical scenarios. And all ‘what if’ stories assume that the ‘what if’ is something not actually happening in reality, but something that arguably could. So as a Christian who wants to write in the fantasy and science-fiction genres, it is not necessarily required that the stories I write would be able to occur within realities that adhere to my theology and general world-view.
But if I’m asking a ‘what if’ question, and the events of the story don’t flow in a way that I think they actually would, given what I believe about the nature of people and spirituality and other things, then am I being authentic to what I think would actually occur in these scenarios?
There’s a lot of freedom when writing speculative fiction. It’s one of the things about it that draws creative thinkers. We get to explore possibilities, even purely hypothetical ones, without having to disregard our core beliefs. So where each writer stands on this line is a matter of personal balance.
Myself, I try for the most part to keep my works of fiction in accordance with how I believe things actually work in a grander, potentially multiversal scenario that is reality, while also acknowledging that, ultimately, God still gets to do whatever He wants. I like the idea that, if these stories turned out to be real, they could fit together with our reality in a cohesive manner without me having to rework my theology, but if I take that approach then I have to make sure that these stories are adhering to my theology in the first place.
There are other Christian writers who feel the same way I do, and take a similar approach, but it is not without its challenges. In this series I’ll try to address some of the tougher issues I run into when trying to write fantasy and science-fiction stories in a way that doesn’t contradict my personal beliefs.
Now, before we dive deep into any of these topics, there is something I need to confess to you guys about myself, and that is that I personally am somewhat up-tight about this stuff. Sensitivity is a spectrum, and on that spectrum I land hard on the side of being cautious rather than flippant. There’s a couple of things that means for this series.
First, you can be sure that the topics I’ve covered, and the way that I’ve covered them, is coming from a place of an abundance of caution, and there are probably few things worth covering that won’t be addressed in this series (though I am open to ideas for new topics if any come to mind). So if you too land somewhere on the cautious side of the spectrum and just want to make sure you have covered everything that needs covering, then this is probably the series for you.
Second, since sensitivity is a spectrum, and I’m on the extreme end of cautious, it is quite likely that some of these topics did not even need addressing, at least for most audiences. So if you find yourself thinking “does that really even matter?” the answer may be no, at least not for you. And a person’s level of sensitivity is neither right nor wrong, it’s just what it is for that person.
Case in point, say it turns out that aliens are real – does mating with an alien count as bestiality? How many people have asked that question or even thought about it? (Personally, I’d say it depends very heavily on the type of alien. But we’ll go over that subject in detail in a future post. And by “in detail” I mean we’ll discuss the social and spiritual ramifications of it, not draw up a diagram.)
I should also point out that I am well aware that even within Christian circles there are many different doctrinal beliefs about some of the things I’m going to talk about, and I do not mean to diminish any of those beliefs by neglecting to address them here. I can only speak on behalf of my own theological stances.
Now on to it
To start off, the existence of a fantasy world itself implies a universe other than our own (a multiverse) so the first question to address is…
Why would God bother to make a multiverse in the first place?
Considering how creative God is, and how many entire universes have been imagined by some of our best fiction writers alone, it seems a bit limiting to assume that God spent the entirety of His creative juices on just one universe. But that’s not to say that He didn’t still make just one. It’s possible He had countless other ideas and considered them all not worth it. The traditional way of thinking about it, though, is that as God’s children and image-bearers, anything not directly affecting us or under our rule would be unnecessary and therefore must not exist.
I’ll address some of that later, but for now, I would first point out the stars and planets across all of the galaxies in our own universe that we do not have any kind of rulership over and that do not directly affect us (to the best of my knowledge). Also, since we are dealing with hypothetical universes, how do we know that we were not originally destined to rule over these other universes as well before we fell from grace? Perhaps these other universes are still there waiting for us.
But as Rick Warren pointed out in The Purpose-Driven Life – it’s not all about us. Everything exists for God’s pleasure. If it pleases God for something to exist, He will bring it into being.
Who created these worlds?
The easy answer in most cases is God. This answer gets a bit tricky though in fantasy stories where you wish to build a mythos with god-like entities that represent God. This has certainly been done, by very well-known Christian writers, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in particular, with no apparent issues of conscience. I could stop right there, but I press the matter a bit more just because of my own personal level of sensitivity.
The problem is, whenever you have a fictional character representing God, especially in a creator role, you run the risk of said character becoming an idol, even if only a fictional one. And my problem with saying that a character is God is, what if said character does not accurately portray the way that God works, or what His priorities are? Then I’m misrepresenting God.
The way that I personally have chosen to handle this is, whenever a story of mine has a creation mythos, mentioning certain entities by name, I treat them as spiritual entities endowed with the capacity to create (or recreate using already existing materials, in some cases). But they are individual characters that, if real, are themselves created by God. They are neither small ‘g’ gods, nor are they aspects of God, but they are very powerful entities endowed with the ability to create.
A possible protest to this is the argument that only God can create, but hasn’t God endowed mankind with the ability to create as well? We make babies. That is something we do using materials that already exist. Writers create, only in the sense that we are imagining these worlds and putting them on paper. I cannot call them into physical existence. Relatively speaking, who’s to say that the worlds created by these entities are not themselves purely imaginary? And that by reading these books you are not simply looking into the mind of one of one of these entities? We cannot call into existence something that does not exist, only God can do that, but He has endowed us with the ability to make things using materials He has provided us.
In my efforts to avoid any of my fictional entities being viewed as idols, I’ve taken great care to make sure that there are no examples of them being worshipped. People may talk about them. People may even be grateful for something the entity has done, but there are no references of worship. At the very most, depending on how much the book talks about them, these entities may be made to reflect God in terms of character and priorities, to the best of my ability to know how to accurately reflect Him, but I remember that my own perceptions are flawed and that, ultimately, the same could be said of many fictional characters.
Jesus Himself told certain parables where a character was only reflective of certain aspects of God, but not reflective as a whole. Even if a character of mine has a degree of symbolic meaning, I still need to allow them the room to be individuals. I also view all of these beings as answerable to God and therefore surrendered to him (unless they are villainous).
The premise of a multiverse raises many other questions, particularly regarding mankind’s place amidst such a vast plethora of possibilities. I’ll address some more of these topics and how I’ve chosen to handle them in the next post…
Seeking Truth is the title of my soon to be published exploration of the tension between religion and faith. Between ritual and relationship. Ceremony and servitude. We have one life to live which constitutes a short window of opportunity to discern truth and apply it in a meaningful and lasting way.
In his poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”, William Wordsworth describes how the innocence of youth is lost as we grow up and our connection with our Creator is forgotten. In our youth we long to be adults and act out our aspirations. Wordsworth asks, “Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke / The years to bring the inevitable yoke, / Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?” As adults, we desire to gain material wealth and become more distanced from nature and the memories of our childhood. And even though we can still appreciate the beauty of a rainbow, a rose, or the moon, something is missing. “Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” The callouses that build up with time and experience, desensitize our emotions and deep connections with both the simplicity and complexity of the natural world. We lament the loss of the spontaneous joy of marveling at the wonders of nature as children and the imagination that went with it. As we age, and cling to our childhood memories, the insight we have gained through observing nature fuels our belief that our soul is immortal. We must cherish our memories since they are what binds us to the magic of infancy and the allure of heaven.
To many of us, our childhood memories remind us of a simpler more luxurious time, when the restrictions of career, finances and family responsibilities were not yet on our radar. Summer seemed to drag on as one day of wonder morphed into another and our thirty-year-old parents were “old”. Our self-esteem was not yet crippled by the disappointment and setbacks of life and our dreams of one day being our envisioned hero were vibrant and full of promise.
I remember as a young teenager, wondering what my future wife would be like. My romanticism would carry me away across time where I was free to imagine the beauty and chastity of a maiden so fair and pure that even the birds would land to marvel at her purity. Those days are a lifetime ago and reality never quite measured up to the lofty thoughts of my youth. Divorce has a strange way of jading your outlook. The brokenness of my life is only outflanked by the saving grace I have in Christ.
Life leaves scars and time strips away our innocence and wonder. When you think about the savage and harsh realities of two world wars, the great depression of the 1930’s, famine in Africa, the vacant stares of ISIS victims just before they die, visions of destitute children, or just about any news story today, they shatter even the enchanted dreams of childhood. Where has hope fled to? The cruelty of existence can seem insurmountable at times and I myself have struggled with serious depression in my life. The failure of humanity to live in harmony combined with the indiscrimination of natural disasters can become overwhelming to the point of suicide and I have stood upon that ledge, looking down. In our lost and fallen state, we have proven our incapability to achieve true happiness and holiness through our actions and our desperate need of redemption.
Co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, in many ways lived the American dream. However, on his death bed he had time to reflect as he lay dying of pancreatic cancer. He wrote, “At this moment, lying on the bed, sick and remembering all my life, I realize that all my recognition and wealth that I have is meaningless in the face of imminent death.” At the age of 56, Steve Jobs was worth $7 billion when he passed away. He went on to pen, “Your true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world. Whether you’re flying first class, or economy class – if the plane crashes, you crash with it.”
This summer, after numerous discussions about how COVID-19 has forced many people to work at home—people who never intended to work from home and possibly still hate doing so—three freelance writer friends and I decided to write an ebook covering all the ins and outs—and ups and downs—of telecommuting.
The Joy of Working at Home is a practical manual that covers, among several other topics:
Best practices for a useful workspace
Tools for managing time and tasks
Advice on staying healthy, professional and productive
Tips for setting boundaries
Help for blending work and family
At only $2.99 US from Amazon, you can download a copy for yourself and give one as a gift to a family member or friend who is also puzzling over how to deal with the challenges of working and living in the same space.
Choose Joy: A Coloring Book of Gratitude and Wonder
I was thrilled when, early in 2020, Ink & Willow asked me to participate, for the third time, in a multi-artist colouring book. (I had previously contributed five drawings each to Whatever Is Lovely and Everything Beautiful.)
This time, I not only got to draw seven of the pages in this gorgeous book, but one of my designs was chosen for the cover and I lettered the quotes on eight other illustrations. Five years into illustrating colouring books, this is my best work yet. I hope you’ll get a copy! Click here to find it on Amazon.
I’m working on several new creative projects that I look forward to sharing with you in 2021. Thanks for stopping by! I’ll share a Christmas reflection this weekend, so please make sure you’re signed up to be notified of new posts.
A musical masterpiece becomes the central focus of a novel
What sparks an author to write a book? Especially a novel-cum true story like Musick for the King.
Is there something the author wants the reader to know? Is it that we yearn to tell a story?
In my case, my entire career in journalism, broadcasting and public relations has been spent telling other peoples’ stories. I began my novel-writing career so I could tell my stories; the ones I wanted to tell and, more specifically, the ones I wanted to read.
After writing three all-fictional suspense thrillers, I knew I had to tell the story of the musical genius who’d fallen from the heights of fame and fortune to the depths of illness, poverty and despair and how he struggled, fighting internal and external demons to climb back to the zenith and public adulation once again. It was a combination of both telling my story and telling someone else’s story.
Musick for the King is the dramatic tale of George Frederick Handel one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time. He was the King’s favourite (King George II) and his rise from the pits back to the zenith is the story of his greatest composition and masterpiece, Messiah.
Messiah is one of the most famous and beloved classical music pieces. People who don’t know or appreciate classical music, still are familiar with the Hallelujah Chorus and some of the other powerful numbers in the oratorio. It is performed by choirs and orchestras around the world. It has become a Christmas staple. For many, Christmas would not be Christmas without mistletoe and Messiah!
There are so many interesting pieces to the incredible true story. A very dysfunctional Royal family, a huge public sex scandal, obstinate opposition from the official church, treacherous attempts to destroy his reputation and so much more. I wonder if it doesn’t reflect our own society—stars created, destroyed and then restored, shunning those you disapprove of and trying to undermine them, a fickle public that bounces from one “like” to another. It’s all there.
When such a dramatic story is handed to you, it is difficult to create a fictional piece around it. The old saying that truth is stranger than fiction is most certainly true in this case. So the fiction in this story is the byplay around the central characters; the juicy real people as well as the supplemental—but equally juicy—fictional individuals who populate Musick for the King.
I wanted to create a book that takes you back in time not just with words, but with a feel. Thus, like Messiah, the book is broken into three parts. Each part and chapter follows the old-fashioned approach of previewing (as I did in the header to this blog).
It created an interesting challenge for me as an author. I had to be true to the known facts, to deal with historic people, situations and times. I had to tell a compelling story with real and fictional characters, that would interest and hopefully move and inspire the reader.
From reader responses so far, it seems I have achieved that, and I am pleased and grateful.
The trouble is that with research, writing, re-writing and editing, Musick for the King took several years, crammed as it all was between my other writing projects.
Handel however, took only 24 days to compose his masterpiece.