All works of fiction ask ‘what if’ questions. ‘If there was a universe where this was going on, what would happen?’ The same is true whether you’re writing science-fiction or fantasy, or some other genre with hypothetical scenarios. And all ‘what if’ stories assume that the ‘what if’ is something not actually happening in reality, but something that arguably could. So as a Christian who wants to write in the fantasy and science-fiction genres, it is not necessarily required that the stories I write would be able to occur within realities that adhere to my theology and general world-view.
But if I’m asking a ‘what if’ question, and the events of the story don’t flow in a way that I think they actually would, given what I believe about the nature of people and spirituality and other things, then am I being authentic to what I think would actually occur in these scenarios?
There’s a lot of freedom when writing speculative fiction. It’s one of the things about it that draws creative thinkers. We get to explore possibilities, even purely hypothetical ones, without having to disregard our core beliefs. So where each writer stands on this line is a matter of personal balance.
Myself, I try for the most part to keep my works of fiction in accordance with how I believe things actually work in a grander, potentially multiversal scenario that is reality, while also acknowledging that, ultimately, God still gets to do whatever He wants. I like the idea that, if these stories turned out to be real, they could fit together with our reality in a cohesive manner without me having to rework my theology, but if I take that approach then I have to make sure that these stories are adhering to my theology in the first place.
There are other Christian writers who feel the same way I do, and take a similar approach, but it is not without its challenges. In this series I’ll try to address some of the tougher issues I run into when trying to write fantasy and science-fiction stories in a way that doesn’t contradict my personal beliefs.
Now, before we dive deep into any of these topics, there is something I need to confess to you guys about myself, and that is that I personally am somewhat up-tight about this stuff. Sensitivity is a spectrum, and on that spectrum I land hard on the side of being cautious rather than flippant. There’s a couple of things that means for this series.
First, you can be sure that the topics I’ve covered, and the way that I’ve covered them, is coming from a place of an abundance of caution, and there are probably few things worth covering that won’t be addressed in this series (though I am open to ideas for new topics if any come to mind). So if you too land somewhere on the cautious side of the spectrum and just want to make sure you have covered everything that needs covering, then this is probably the series for you.
Second, since sensitivity is a spectrum, and I’m on the extreme end of cautious, it is quite likely that some of these topics did not even need addressing, at least for most audiences. So if you find yourself thinking “does that really even matter?” the answer may be no, at least not for you. And a person’s level of sensitivity is neither right nor wrong, it’s just what it is for that person.
Case in point, say it turns out that aliens are real – does mating with an alien count as bestiality? How many people have asked that question or even thought about it? (Personally, I’d say it depends very heavily on the type of alien. But we’ll go over that subject in detail in a future post. And by “in detail” I mean we’ll discuss the social and spiritual ramifications of it, not draw up a diagram.)
I should also point out that I am well aware that even within Christian circles there are many different doctrinal beliefs about some of the things I’m going to talk about, and I do not mean to diminish any of those beliefs by neglecting to address them here. I can only speak on behalf of my own theological stances.
Now on to it
To start off, the existence of a fantasy world itself implies a universe other than our own (a multiverse) so the first question to address is…
Why would God bother to make a multiverse in the first place?
Considering how creative God is, and how many entire universes have been imagined by some of our best fiction writers alone, it seems a bit limiting to assume that God spent the entirety of His creative juices on just one universe. But that’s not to say that He didn’t still make just one. It’s possible He had countless other ideas and considered them all not worth it. The traditional way of thinking about it, though, is that as God’s children and image-bearers, anything not directly affecting us or under our rule would be unnecessary and therefore must not exist.
I’ll address some of that later, but for now, I would first point out the stars and planets across all of the galaxies in our own universe that we do not have any kind of rulership over and that do not directly affect us (to the best of my knowledge). Also, since we are dealing with hypothetical universes, how do we know that we were not originally destined to rule over these other universes as well before we fell from grace? Perhaps these other universes are still there waiting for us.
But as Rick Warren pointed out in The Purpose-Driven Life – it’s not all about us. Everything exists for God’s pleasure. If it pleases God for something to exist, He will bring it into being.
Who created these worlds?
The easy answer in most cases is God. This answer gets a bit tricky though in fantasy stories where you wish to build a mythos with god-like entities that represent God. This has certainly been done, by very well-known Christian writers, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in particular, with no apparent issues of conscience. I could stop right there, but I press the matter a bit more just because of my own personal level of sensitivity.
The problem is, whenever you have a fictional character representing God, especially in a creator role, you run the risk of said character becoming an idol, even if only a fictional one. And my problem with saying that a character is God is, what if said character does not accurately portray the way that God works, or what His priorities are? Then I’m misrepresenting God.
The way that I personally have chosen to handle this is, whenever a story of mine has a creation mythos, mentioning certain entities by name, I treat them as spiritual entities endowed with the capacity to create (or recreate using already existing materials, in some cases). But they are individual characters that, if real, are themselves created by God. They are neither small ‘g’ gods, nor are they aspects of God, but they are very powerful entities endowed with the ability to create.
A possible protest to this is the argument that only God can create, but hasn’t God endowed mankind with the ability to create as well? We make babies. That is something we do using materials that already exist. Writers create, only in the sense that we are imagining these worlds and putting them on paper. I cannot call them into physical existence. Relatively speaking, who’s to say that the worlds created by these entities are not themselves purely imaginary? And that by reading these books you are not simply looking into the mind of one of one of these entities? We cannot call into existence something that does not exist, only God can do that, but He has endowed us with the ability to make things using materials He has provided us.
In my efforts to avoid any of my fictional entities being viewed as idols, I’ve taken great care to make sure that there are no examples of them being worshipped. People may talk about them. People may even be grateful for something the entity has done, but there are no references of worship. At the very most, depending on how much the book talks about them, these entities may be made to reflect God in terms of character and priorities, to the best of my ability to know how to accurately reflect Him, but I remember that my own perceptions are flawed and that, ultimately, the same could be said of many fictional characters.
Jesus Himself told certain parables where a character was only reflective of certain aspects of God, but not reflective as a whole. Even if a character of mine has a degree of symbolic meaning, I still need to allow them the room to be individuals. I also view all of these beings as answerable to God and therefore surrendered to him (unless they are villainous).
The premise of a multiverse raises many other questions, particularly regarding mankind’s place amidst such a vast plethora of possibilities. I’ll address some more of these topics and how I’ve chosen to handle them in the next post…