Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fantasy Makes Christianity More Real by R.L. Copple

“Really?” you may ask. “How can that which is not real make reality more real?” A good question that I will seek to answer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I write Christian-based science fiction and fantasy. I have two fantasy books out from Splashdown Books with one more book to follow next year. Reality’s Dawn is a novel-sized set of stories about Sisko, who is given a task to “be his brother’s keeper” and the power to do so through a miracle enabling-ring. Through his experiences, his relationship with God is tested as he works to avoid the ring’s curse. Reality’s Ascent follows Sisko twenty years after the first book, now married with children, but a demon seeks out his ring, imprisons Sisko’s wife in a crystal that can only be unlocked by finding seven keys by people exhibiting a virtue, which sends Sisko and his two children, Kaylee and Nathan, on a quest that tests their character and souls.

I know there is a segment of Christians out there who automatically dismiss anything in those genres, either because they distrust anything that comes from imagination, or they have labeled such as a “lie,” or simply fear that giving credence to fantasy elements linked with God will make people feel God is a fantasy as well. Others see no value in what appears to be pure entertainment.

So what has moved me to write fantasy like the above books despite those objections?

If you’ve read much science fiction or fantasy, you’ll see a lot of secular influence, or in fantasy’s case, often some pagan influence. Fantasy specifically used to be dominated by Christians. Whether we’re talking about “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Lord of the Rings,” or many other such examples, the Church has had a history of writing good Christian-based fantasy, sometimes more overt, sometimes more subtle. But in recent decades, it seems due to the aversion many Christians have taken to such works, there has been a dearth of good Christian writers. Some of that is changing, I believe, but during the last century we left those genres of fiction to the secularist and the pagans.

And I believe this has resulted from the acceptance in the Church of a secular way of looking at life: over here is the sacred, and over there is the secular, and we can’t allow the two sides to intersect with each other or the sacred will be tainted and no longer sacred. But the problem is, this creates a realm where God cannot have influence, lest He become “unholy,” as if that could ever happen. Yet, isn’t that what we’re saying? Traditionally the Church has seen God as the source of all, and the only one who can make anything holy and sanctified for His purpose. God was understood to be involved in all areas of our life, so even the Israelites when it didn’t rain for a long time and their crops failed, didn’t look to any scientific explanation to explain that, because they weren’t interested in the “how.” They were interested in the “why.” And the “why” usually involved God.

Today, we label such things as “superstitions.” And sometimes for sure God wasn’t trying to say anything to people just because of the weather or a disaster. Such Jesus pointed out concerning the tower that fell upon people, that it wasn’t due to their sins that such a tragedy befell them, but just chance due to a fallen world. But sometimes God is using such things to speak to us, as when He had Elijah pray to prevent it from raining in Israel until Ahab gave into God’s demands. While I’m not promoting that we spiritualize everything, it is obvious that our secular culture has influenced us to the point that there are areas that are now off limits to God. And for many Christians, one of those areas if fantasy.

But fantasy goes against the secular grain. It posits worlds where miracles happen, where God influences everything, is Lord over everything, including “magic” or “wizards.” It expands the realm of “what’s possible” to include God’s miracles, because if we can’t imagine the supernatural to happen, it blocks God’s power in our own lives, keeps us locked in the secular vs. sacred box, unable to experience God because such fantastical things as we read about in the Bible just don’t happen today. Why? Is it because those stories are really fantasy, as many secularist would believe? Or is because we are so locked into a scientific mindset that if we can’t see it, measure it, touch it, break down its components in a test tube, it must not be real?
So one reason I write fantasy is because I believe it brings back the Christian understanding of a God who is not limited by our secular mindset, nor even really my imagination. He is so much more amazing than anything I could ever dream up on a written page. He will surprise us all once we see Him face to face. Writing and reading fantasy actually helps us to accept His “beyond our wildest imaginations” reality as real, instead of just some stories someone told us about that happened a long time ago, but nothing like that happens today. It makes His reality more real to us.

Is fiction’s primary purpose to entertain? Sure. When someone picks up a fantasy or science fiction book, they mostly want a fun and cool story they can escape into. But here’s the catch. It’s not the fact that they are escaping from real life that is the issue. We can all use some time to do that, to rest from the real word issues. That’s the definition of going on a retreat, which is so popular in many Christian circles.

But the real question is what are they escaping into? Into a secular based world, where God doesn’t exist except as some fallible beings with a lot of power that’s corrupted them? Or into a world that God controls? Are they escaping into literature which supports and promotes a secular world, where God is only relegated to church services for the purpose of keeping the uneducated masses in check, but shut out of anything really important, like creation of the world? Or is He working with the sinner, the harlot, and the murder as He shows us He does in the Scriptures?

One goal I have in my stories is to leave the reader pondering a new point of view. That is something fantasy stories, and other genres of fiction can do best. Not beating anyone over the head with Christianity, but help people see reality from a new perspective, leave them thinking, whether they are Christian or not, and hopefully move some one step closer to God in the process. That is what a good Christian-based fantasy story can do, in a way that no devotional, sermon, self-help book, or non-fiction can do. Once someone gets sucked into a good story, they experience things from that character’s view point. And if it is Christian-based, then it will ultimately support, promote, and “make real” God’s reality, even in the midst of failure, sin, and death. Because all good fantasy touches on the realities we all face, only in a different world and unique characters.

What are some benefits of fantasy that you see for the Christian life?

As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. After years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy, along with numerous short stories in various magazines. In his Texas Hill Country residence, he continues to create and give wings to new realities so that others might enjoy and be inspired by them.

If you’d like to be entered to win the ebook of either Reality's Dawn or Reality's Ascent, just leave a comment on this blog. I’ll pick a winner at random on Monday, June 27th. Please leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner. (To prevent spammers from trolling for your email, please use this format with the brackets--you [at] yourmail [dot] com--or something similar.) E-book in the winner’s choice of format (nook, Kindle, PDF) can be downloaded from Smashwords (with free coupon code) or emailed.


Kacy Barnett-Gramckow said...

Great insights, Rick--I enjoyed reading your column!
Thanks, Jennifer!

UtM, SherryT said...

Nice post, Rick!
I've certainly run into the mindset that speculative fiction--especially fantasy-- is "lies". I wish I had thought of your rejoinder about "Pilgrim's Progress".

You wrote, "What are some benefits of fantasy that you see for the Christian life?"

Well, of course, my first reading of Lewis' "Narnia" turned me to Christ when nothing else had. That is an example of your claim that fantasy has a role amongst the doubting and the agnostic.

According to Tolkien, we are made on God's image and one aspect of God Himself is being the Creator supreme. If we are made in His image, then we were meant to be creators as well. Or, as Tolkien designates are authors, artists and composers, we are Sub-creators who are mimicking our Father with love and careful respect. Just as any children does its parents.

Quoting Lewis--or perhaps Tolkien--"Who is most concerned about Escape? Jailors." Any one who tries to say that the non-spiritual world is all there is & that we should focus on it alone is one kind of jailor.

I hardly dare say it, but very strict if good-hearted Christians are jailors at the other extreme. We need to be able to use our imaginations in order to anticipate real instances of spiritual warfare here and now and also to give us hope when fantasy paints of picture of what is to come--of what all Christians await.

Only by being Sub-creators can we pass on these aspects of reality.