Morality In Fiction

Prager-ZachariasIn my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

Later I added

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons–all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place–theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Interestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation–reason; (2) art–the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”–the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral–a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art–and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters break the Ten Commandments, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I always think we must move people toward the tree of life in some way…instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We must show them the love and purity of God without making them feel they must depend on legalism to get there. It’s very difficult because from Lamech on down to the Corinthians people have had trouble with grace and if we aren’t careful we fall either into legalism or into licentiousness. We just have to trust Holy Spirit to work in us.

    • Carole, I love this–moving people toward the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in some way. And I agree that the only way to walk the balance between licentiousness and legalism is to trust the Holy Spirit. Amen and Amen!

      Becky

  2. Well said, Becky! You put a finger on something that has been bothering me off and on for a long time!

    Even my issues with the typical Christian romance novel can mostly be traced back to theology.

    I think I’d find them more satisfying to read if they were accurately portraying real, flawed people wrestling with finding God’s best for their lives in a way that accurately reflected what that really is without dumbing it down, and then sugar-coating it.

    • Krysti, I think we struggle because we think theology is a list of propositions or belief statements rather thanbeliefs. And as Ravi Zacharias said, art communicates our philosophy (theology) by showing it.

      For example, I learned a lot about what it means to trust God by reading about George Mueller (real person, not fiction) and his dependence on God to provide for the orphans in his care. It might be harder in fiction to show God’s faithfulness because He rescues in such impossible ways–marching around a city, shutting the mouth of lions, 300 men against 100,000. Ridiculous. Who would believe such impossible things? But I think we should write stories that show faith, and the struggle to hold onto it; and forgiveness in the face of great loss; and sacrifice; and a willingness to put others first. It’s these kinds of things that point to Christ. We don’t need to preach in our fiction; we simply need to paint illustrations.

      Becky


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