Fiction Isn’t Lying . . . Until It Is

booksSome Christians, apparently, don’t think it’s OK to read fiction because fiction is all about made up characters, places, and events. In other words, it’s all lies.

I had never heard that point of view until I got on the Internet, and then mostly other writers said they’d been confronted by others who chastised them for their lies. I did read a post once by someone who took that extreme position, but it was new to me.

For one thing, appealing to the definition of lie explodes that view, the key being the intention of deception. No one who writes fiction pretends their story is factual. No one who reads fiction is unaware that the story is pretend. So no one is deceiving or being deceived. So fiction isn’t lying.

In addition, authors of fiction use the pretend to make statements about reality. In all my literature classes throughout college, we analyzed stories to determine, among other things, what the author was saying, what he wanted readers to take away or to believe about humankind or the world or God. Thomas Hardy, for example, wrote stories to show that humankind is pushed and pulled by fate. On the other hand, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol which showed that a person can change his ways and isn’t locked into beliefs by chance circumstances.

Those two views which are in opposition to one another can hardly both be true. One might be truthful or they both might be false, but they both can’t be true.

It’s still probably incorrect to say that one which is not truthful is therefore a lie. I’m certain Thomas Hardy believed he was truthfully showing readers the way the world worked, but he was wrong. In his made up stories Hardy revealed his own belief system, one that replaced God with the ‘unconscious will of the Universe’ (see Wikipedia).

My question is this: ought not a Christian writer who knows the truth, reflect truth in any story he or she writes? I want to be clear: I do not think any story can tell ALL truth. For one thing, we don’t have all truth. The Bible, though complete, doesn’t show us all there is to know about God. It is our view of the world through that dark mirror I Corinthians 13 mentions. Second, ALL truth would not fit into one story, even one the size of The Grapes of Wrath or Gone With The Wind.

So what “truth” is a novelist supposed to show in his or her story?

That’s the beauty of writing. An author can open the door for readers regarding all kinds of important truths.

I’m thinking of one novel, for instance, a fantasy, in which the God of that world was worshiped by both factions in an owner/slave society. Both believe this God figure provides for them. Which brings up all kinds of interesting questions: does God provide for the wicked as well as for the victimized? Are those enslaved believing in this God in vain? Is the ruling class worshiping in hypocrisy? Is there anything similar going on in our world?

I could go on to discuss ways in which a novelist can show truth by developing their theme, but the point I want to make is this: a Christian writer, while not burdened to show all truth (an impossibility, but an attempt at such would clearly necessitate the entire plan of salvation), should show truth.

Of course it’s possible to leave out any direct reference to God and still show truth. J. R. R. Tolkien did that. He had Christ figures, but not a direct reference to God or to Jesus.

What Tolkien did not do was mislead people about those Christ figures. He did not have Gandalf decide to take the One Ring for himself. He did not have Aragon desert the forces of Gondor. The one who would sacrifice himself for the fellowship did not turn evil. The returning king did not forsake those who trusted him.

Thus, what an author chooses to show about truth is really up to him, but he must do so faithfully. He would be lying to portray God or a God figure in his world to be selfish or greedy or blood-thirsty or immoral or weak. Any of those would be a lie. A Christian who knows God must portray some truth about Him if He or a representative figure shows up in the story.

Non-Christians who turn God into an it with an unconscious will or who make Him out to be evil, as I understand Phillip Pullman did in his fantasy series, aren’t lying about God in the same way a Christian who knows the truth would be. Rather, they have rejected God and are trying to make sense of the world without Him. They are more to be pitied, though readers must beware so they see the ways their views deviate from the truth.

In short, the Christian is really the only one who can lie in fiction. We know the truth. If we purposely misrepresent God, how can that be thought of as anything but a lie?

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12 Comments

  1. Great post. I am always reminded of the verse on John that the light came to the world, and darkness could not comprehend it.
    Have a blessed weekend!
    Dajena 🙂

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    • Ooooohh, how appropriate, Dajena. Not only the concept but the fact that right there the Holy Spirit inspired John to use picture language. Thanks so much for passing along this insight.

      Becky

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  2. I love this post, especially your last paragraph. That’s exactly why I love writing fiction. If I can create a beautiful story that a reader can fall in love with, and weave in the message of the Gospel to it, I think that can be so powerful. The people who think Christians shouldn’t read fiction frustrate me, honestly. Christians should absolutely read fiction. Even more than that – they should write it.

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  3. I loved this post. I also love reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love fiction! I too have encountered some Christians who believe all fiction is a lie, which makes me wonder what they would say about all the parables Jesus told us in the bible? The metaphors, the allegory? Everyone understands that the Song of Solomon is not really a factual account about gazelles, right?

    Sigh, I don’t get it. I guess there have been a lot of attacks on the bible in recent history, so the “literal word of God” has taken on a whole new dimension in response. The problem being the bible is a beautiful piece of literature designed to speak to us in different ways, using different styles. It is not an IRS manual, thank God.

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    • Great insight here, IB. Yes, I’ve wondered about people who can’t seem to discern the pretend from the real. But you make an excellent point about the Bible—the parables, metaphors, and allegories. Yes, this idea that the Bible must be taken literally at every point is a form of attack, though I’d not thought of it that way before. It’s Satan’s attack, of course, because the people who hold to it believe they are defending God’s word. Too sad.

      Becky

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  5. As a Christian I love fiction, I watch alien movies and science fiction movies. A person who uses common sense can tell the difference between lies, made up stories, and truth. I don’t read fiction to hear truths. I may look for a moral to the story or what the author is trying to relay to the readers but if I want the truth I will read books like the Bible or Biography’s or non-fiction books. I very much enjoyed your article.

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    • Thanks for your feedback, Karen. The thing about fiction, and something C.S. Lewis identified, is that truth statements can be smuggled into our thinking without our realizing it. That’s why I think Christians need to tell the truth in our themes and why readers need to read with an eye toward what the author is saying through his story.

      Becky

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      • That is true, it would be difficult of one to be completely removed from their own personal belief system. I do believe a Christian writer would be hard pressed to not have the truth written into their stories.

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