Wednesday, May 21, 2008

MindFlights 3: Neutrality is not an option

So roughly half of the available stories for MindFlights are worthwhile, in my opinion, but only one or two are noticeably Christian. That's fairly common these days, which is a solid-gold clue that something's wrong.

Historically, we have been the counter-culture. Even Balaam figured that out concerning Israel: "From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations." (Num 23:9).

Compare Paul:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Cor 6:14-7:1)

That doesn't mean abandoning the field entirely, but we should stop playing catch-up with the world. We should innovate and let them copy if they can. And one of our standards should be Php 4:8--"Finally, brothers, 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." (That would probably clear out even a Christian bookstore pretty fast.) I should mention that the Greek does not refer to thinking about such things from time to time but constantly--these are the things we are to dwell on. You are what you read.

Does that mean we should read only Christian work? No; there is worthwhile material even in pagan sources. Paul quoted pagan writers on various occasions.

Does it mean that we should only write tracts on getting saved? Again, no. Read the New Testament carefully: how many "Steps to Salvation" pieces do you find?

And the Christian nature of a spec fic story is far more important than for any other type. Why? Because even if a mystery or romance is filled with atheists and Satanists, it still takes place (more or less) in the real world, so whatever the characters' opinions, we know that God is there.

But in spec fic, we are dealing with another world, perhaps one without God. Many writers turn to spec fic precisely so they can have a godless universe. And while it was possible in Lewis' day and Tolkien's to let the writer's mindset do the work, that was a different world too. Back then people were more likely to get a biblical reference or take a hint. At this point we are so muddled with soundbites about cultures and religions we have no deep knowledge of any of them--not even our own. Indirection and subtlety no longer work.

So what's the alternative? Some publishers think that if you pursue unabashed Christianity, people will tune you out. Some will. But I think you'll find that most people are curious about what we believe, and our spin-sick world longs for someone who is candid about his beliefs. If you can mention those beliefs naturally in the course of a story--not forcing them in for no good reason, but letting them occur naturally--I doubt most people will object.

But neutrality is impossible. One of the things that bothered me about Wayfarer's Journal was a remark on the site about the desirability of writing fiction where one's faith was no more central than the color of one's eyes. In other words, it shouldn't matter at all. This is an increasingly common view: the attempt to sink to the lowest common denominator, to put the lamp under the basket. Jesus said, "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Rev 3:16)

Pick a side!

Other CSFF Blogs on the tour:
Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Kameron M. Franklin
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Pamela Morrisson
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Rachelle Sperling
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Linda Wichman
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Andrea Graham said...

Thanks for this, Steve. I had an experience that I hadn't encountered in a while when I visited mindflights: blaring warning signals going off in my spirit, and I wasn't able to figure out why, other than a few things in the about page that hinted at a post-modern world view. My inner abused child was wondering if I was just having a panic attack.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I can't say I disagree with your conclusion, Steve. Yes, we should pick a side. But does that mean we are to ... what? Retreat within our own enclaves?

I tend to think MindFlights is making the effort to invite readers and writers where we are as opposed to us going where they are. It's an interesting concept, something Ray Gun Revival is aiming for as well.

The thing is, Christians who purpose to glorify God in and through their stories need not push faith on the back burner.

Where I disagree with you is this idea that "subtle" is no longer viable. (And for the record, I don't think subtle and barely existent are the same thing.) I think ground still needs to be readied and seeds still need to be planted.

It is very possible a non-Christian won't "get" a story with the subtle message of Christ, but so what? God can explain it. Jesus had to explain the Law and the prophets to His disciples even though He had been very plain about His suffering, dying and rising.

My point is, the spiritual is spiritually discerned. We can write as plain as the sun is, shining in a clear sky, but readers can "miss" the power and purpose of our stories for all kinds of reasons. Or we can write with subtly and readers can bow in repentance. It really has less to do with us and more to do with what God does with our writing, don't you think?


Kim said...

A-men!! No wonder Becky put double stars by your name on the tour! Well said!! A hearty a-men from this reader!


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