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?

The Christmas Spirit

Christmas treesChristmas is a cherished holiday with any number of traditions. Consequently, the “Christmas spirit” has been fashioned out of the best of the season. In fact, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his well-loved story about this season, takes to task those who disparage the qualities we most associate with the Christmas spirit—generosity, love, and joy.

Noticeably missing is fear. Odd, since fear played a great part in the first Christmas. Joseph was afraid to go through with his planned marriage because Mary turned up pregnant. He and she both were afraid, at separate times, when an angel visited them. So were the shepherds. Joseph again, having moved his new family to Egypt to keep Herod from killing their baby, was afraid to move back to Judea.

In other words, the first Christmas wasn’t about the warm and fuzzy, the beautiful lights and winter-scene cards or a warm fire with stockings all hung by the chimney with care. In fact, no presents showed up that first night. Some gawking strangers smelling like sheep did, parroting something about good tidings of great joy. All Mary could do was to file their words away to think about later. After all, she had a baby to feed—her first born, and what did she know about being a mother? Might she have been just a little fearful?

Appropriate to this topic are words Jonathan Rogers quoted in his blog some years ago:

I love Andrew Peterson’s song “Labor of Love,” sung like an angel by Jill Phillips on Behold the Lamb of God, my favorite Christmas album ever. Here’s the first stanza and chorus:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love.

But not without fear.

In fact, fear followed Jesus throughout His life. He provided a miraculous catch of fish for Peter and he was afraid. He healed the guy who couldn’t walk, and the whole group of witnesses were afraid. He walked on water and His disciples were afraid. He raised a young man from the dead and the whole crowd was afraid. He kicked out the demons from a possessed man, and everyone in the entire district was afraid.

Actually Jesus seemed to validate their fear. At one point He said, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). As it turns out, Jesus is that One.

Yes, He is the Judge. Granted, His first appearance as a baby wasn’t to bring judgment. That will come when He returns. Isaiah says the government is on His shoulders. In Revelation it is the Lamb Himself who breaks the seals issuing in the final judgment of the world.

What’s my point. Only that the true Christmas spirit should include reverence. Love, sure. Generosity, joy, gladness, definitely. But worship—the bowing down part of Christmas—shouldn’t be neglected. The events surrounding Jesus’s birth created awe in those who witnessed them. In the same way, I’d do well to look with awe on our Savior. After all, fear is part of the Christmas spirit.

Published in: on December 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm  Comments (4)  
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Christmas Presents

christmas-gifts-2-1121740-mChristmas presents have been the bane of my existence. When I was a kid, I looked forward to Christmas morning like every other kid, but I hated that first day back to school when the most popular question was, “What did you get for Christmas?” My family wasn’t rich or upper middle class or really not very middle, middle class. Consequently, Christmas presents were often things like socks or underwear or pajamas.

I remember a puzzle or two and a few books, maybe a board game. There were probably other toys that have slipped off my radar because they were not particularly to my liking. This, you see, was in the days before kids told parents what to buy them for Christmas.

I had an Aunt Mary who I didn’t know. She and my uncle had divorced and I don’t remember ever meeting Aunt Mary, but with regularity she sent a box of Christmas gifts—usually strange things, to my way of thinking. But once she hit a homerun, as far as I was concerned. She gave me a pair of “lounging pajamas.” That’s what the packaging called them. In reality they were a kind of silk sweats—more comfortable than I’d ever enjoyed before. I’d have worn them all day, every day if my mom had let me.

But I was talking about how Christmas presents having been the bane of my existence. As an adult I discovered that giving the right present was a lot harder than it seemed. With my siblings moving away and my nieces and nephews growing up outside my presence, it was my turn to guess at what they might like. The fact that I can only remember one present that hit the sweet spot and was really right, shows how often I missed the mark.

All that being said, I went Christmas shopping today and had fun doing it. But the present I bought isn’t for someone in my family or even for someone I know. It isn’t even going to be from me. In essence, I’m standing in the gap for a parent, an adult who is incarcerated and unable to buy her child a gift.

My church is involved in a program called Angel Tree which gives us the opportunity to give a gift to a child who would otherwise have little at Christmas. And we do so in the name of the parent. In that way, the child/parent bond is strengthened, and the kid gets to open something special on Christmas.

The thing I noticed most about this gift is that it feels more like giving than anything I’ve experienced with Christmas presents before. I mean, I’m not getting a present back, and I’m not getting a thank you card the day after or a hug and smile on Christmas morning. In reality, more than any other Christmas present, this one is not about me. It’s purely about a little guy away from him mom, getting a little something that can give him a glimmer of hope.

And I love it. I get why Santa Claus does what he does. 😉

Sorry if I horrified anyone not expecting to read the words “Santa Claus” on a Christian worldview blog. But think about it for a second. If you could afford it and had the means to pull it off, wouldn’t it be a blast to give unexpected, and perfectly fitted, gifts to a bunch of children who were in need?

Of course Santa Claus isn’t real, but the idea of him—the generous spirit this fictitious character embodies—is something that is appealing. Who doesn’t love being a secret pal or an anonymous donor? There’s something special about that unadulterated, no-strings-attached giving.

I think we love Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in part because Scrooge at last embraced a generous spirit and found joy in doing so. It’s not just that his giving met the needs of many others. It’s that Scrooge himself relished the giving, not the getting or hording.

Is that the “true meaning of Christmas”? Not by a long shot. But let’s face it, Christmas presents occupy a lot of our time, thought, and effort this time of year. It’s not a bad thing to think about how we can do them better.

Perhaps that includes giving a gift to an unsuspecting individual without signing your name.

Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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