Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Shadow and Night 2: The Horror We SHOULD Feel

A while back I got involved in a discussion about the place of sex and violence in Christian fiction. I never really understood the viewpoint of the one who started the thread, but he asserted that a writer has to go into gory details about violence in particular (and perhaps sex). Otherwise, the reader wouldn't have the full impact of the evil.

Now, I've seen a lot of stories about serial killers and other sensational objects, and my question is, how relevant is that? How many serial killers do you actually know? C. S. Lewis said that the horrors of the Nazi death camps originated in clean, modern offices staffed by ordinary people. It's a diversion to point people toward horror-movie psychos, because we can shudder and say, "But I'm not like that." We are then turned away from the horrible creature in the mirror.

So I replied that it would take more skill and better serve the cause of Christ to reveal the full horror of a white lie than to titillate readers with sensational gore. Don't pursue the uncommon evil; portray the vileness of commonplace sin!

But it's one thing to say that and another to do it. Chris Walley does it in The Shadow and Night.

Do you know what the book's first unimaginable act of wickedness is?

It's a lie--a silly, trivial untruth that most of us would forget immediately. But here, it is an unthinkable breach of God's peace. It's followed closely by another departure that most of us wouldn't think wrong at all, though Walley's case against it is sound. Is it any wonder that in losing our horror of the small sins, it takes more and more sensational ones to stir us?

This is why, personal theology aside, Walley needed the postmill setting. Only after millennia of righteousness could there be enough innocence to show us the proper response to sin.

I hope I'm wrong, but I expect many to disagree with and dismiss the idea of forbidding certain types of research and development. Some of the things banned under the story's Technology Protocols are common in sci-fi, and many Christians will see nothing wrong with them. They will even demonize opponents of such technology as medievals and Luddites. But while Walley doesn't present a full argument against such things as human-level artificial intelligence or genetic tinkering to create new people or species, such arguments exist. (I take a similar view in my upcoming series "The League of Superheroes.") We tend to assume that "inevitable" technologies are good or at least neutral. If The Shadow and Night helps dispell that illusion and restore a proper judgment of good and evil to the Church, it will have proved itself more worthy than most Christian fiction of the last few decades.

Other blogs on the CSFF tour:
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Rebecca Grabill
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Heather R. Hunt
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Valerie Comer said...

Enjoyed both your posts. Mine tomorrow will look at perfect versus imperfect characters and you definitely hit on some of the same themes in this post.

Interesting discussion on millenialism too!

Kait said...

Interesting points. You're right about the sins that start it all being the ones that we are most likely to gloss over and think are not all that bad. It will be interesting to see where Walley takes it in the next book and beyond, whether he continues on the path he's started, or choses to delve into the "darker" aspects of sin (murder, sex, etc)

John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

I agree, the postmill setting was essential to make the book work.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

it will have proved itself more worthy than most Christian fiction of the last few decades.

I'm seeing more of these kinds of comments from this book from any other we've toured, I think. It's apparent that this one is Significant. A great thing to see.


John said...

You know, I hadn't thought of the small sins that way in terms of the book. As I said in my blog entry today, I would have thought Satan's return would have been with a bang, not a whisper. But that is an excellent point. Thanks for the food for thought!

pixydust said...

Interesting look at the book. I think the whole violence thing has to be weighed against what is your story about? What are you trying to say. Violence for violence's sake is wrong. We are meant to edify the body--not bring it down. But when you show a world of pain, there will be...well, pain. Cris went the opposite rout, showing evil through the back window rather than right between the eyes. There is a place for both, but there always has to be balance.

Great thoughts! I love how this tour has got us all stretching our minds! So fun!


ForstRose said...

The whole trivializing "minor" sins seems to be a common trap or worse overlooking them. However I do believe somewhere in scripture it addresses this specifically - saying something to the effect of there's no hierarchy with sin although that is exactly how we as humans try to justify our own shortcomings (oh its not such a big deal its just a lie or a minor trip up). According to word studies I have seen and heard of the original language for sin comes from an archery term meaning to miss the mark - in other words anything not a bullseye is baaaad news distance from the mark makes no difference.

Ok so whats the point - I agree with you in terms of even the minor stuff is important and can create an opening for things to degenerate as Walley very clearly portrays in this book.


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