Letter to a Worship Leader (version 1)

Dear D___,

 I am a concerned fellow worshiper just writing to let you know of my experience at the recent worship event you led. I am certain that as a worship leader you are curious as to how the regular worshipers felt.

 First, I found it difficult to join in the singing. I was not provided with even the lyrics, never mind any kind of musical notation. Furthermore, I think you sang all new music, maybe even written by you. I have not heard any of those songs before. Couldn’t you have thrown in a more traditional song or two for people like me?

 Second, I could not understand the purpose of the worship band. It was a lot of loud instruments and percussion. It sometimes drowned out the singers. Isn’t the important thing the human voices and the lyrics? Couldn’t we just have a few accompanying instruments – just enough to support and carry the singing?

 Third, speaking of singing, that was quite a worship team you assembled. It was a very impressive group of singers – almost professional. In fact, maybe it was a bit too professional? At least to me, it came off as something of a performance. Was your goal to encourage us to join in, or to make an impression? Who were you trying to impress anyway?

 Fourth, speaking of impressions, I am not certain why you felt the need to dance in front of everyone. Don’t get me wrong. Those were some pretty sweet dance moves. I’m just not sure what you were trying to accomplish by that display. It might be great for a party or celebration, but was this the appropriate occasion?

 Fifth, speaking of appropriate, what were you doing taking off your clothes? It seemed to me to be a total lack of propriety on any public occasion, especially a worship event. Were you trying to turn this into some kind of exhibition? Were you trying to make a total fool of yourself? Who were you trying to draw attention to – yourself? I know I certainly noticed you.

 Anyway, those are just some thoughts from a conscientious observer. I know you will appreciate hearing my opinion. I have tried to be objective, and I hope you will try to bring your public worship into conformity with accepted, proven, best practices.

 Sincerely,

 M_____

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Sherlock Holmes and the Current Trinitarian Debate (The Sign of the Three-In-One?)

One of the most quoted lines ever penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the immortal axiom of Sherlock Holmes: “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” In other words, in your investigations into truth, you may begin with the hypotheses that appear most reasonable, but once such possibilities are demonstrated to be impossible, you must go where the evidence leads you, even if the evidence leads you in an improbable direction.

 

Although Doyle lived and wrote long after the Council of Nicea, the principle voiced by Holmes in The Sign of the Four was a foundational guiding principle of the formulation of Trinitarian theology. Many (most? all?) non-orthodox formulations of theology proper initially appear more reasonable and sensible than the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, but views like modalism have been eliminated by the biblical evidence. We are left with “whatever remains, however improbable” – that God is simultaneously both one and three.

 

We need to apply Holmes’ principle to the current debate concerning the possibility of submission being an integral element in the eternal, internal relationships between the Persons of the Trinity. Initially it appears nonsensical that the Persons of the Trinity can be equal and yet relate in relationships of authority and submission. But Trinitarian debates have never really been resolved by what appears most reasonable. Trinitarian debates have been beholden to the biblical evidence – even when such evidence takes us in improbable directions.

 

Isn’t it odd that theologians defending God as both One and Three will in the same breath declare equality and submission to be irreconcilable?sherlockholmes

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Is Fantasy Inherently Sinful Part 2 (Of Idolatry and Child Molestation)

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/). This post is a continuation of the post here: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/is-fantasy-inherently-sinful/. In this last post I suggested that idolatry in fantasy be compared to child molestation. If we can tolerate idolatry in fantasy, then why can’t we tolerate child molestation? Here are some further thoughts on that question:

 

The idea of child molestation – even in fiction – should cause an immediate negative reaction in any normal, well-adjusted human being – a reaction of revulsion felt on many different levels.

 

First, there is the primal level. We are driven by instinct to preserve the species, which means the protection of the vulnerable young. In a fallen world, this is often just an extension of selfish, self-preservation, but in the pre-fallen state it would have been noble, rather than selfish.

 

Second, the primal level is – in the ideal – ennobled by the reality that it is part of the larger created order. It is not pure animal instinct. It is our hearts and minds acknowledging and responding to the way God has ordered the world. God has ordered things so that the adults protect the children. For the adults to prey on the children is an intolerable perversion of God’s created order.

 

Third, there is the innate recognition in most human beings that the molestation of children is just morally wrong, and it is so horribly wrong as to make it disgusting to read or write a story in which child molestation is considered good.

 

Fourth, the immorality of child molestation is tied to the character of God himself. God has given children value as bearers of his image. Furthermore, God is a God who protects the helpless and vulnerable, and Jesus made it quite clear during his time on earth that children have a special place in the heart of God.

 

On all of these levels (and probably others), whether consciously or subconsciously, the human heart revolts at the idea of child molestation being a good thing, so we have a hard time swallowing it even within the confines of a fictional secondary world. Therefore, we cannot see such a secondary world as beautiful. Instead we see it as ugly.

 

The comparison of fictional child molestation with fictional idolatry yields three alternatives:

 

1)      You can justify child molestation just as a reader of fantasy might justify the existence of other gods within a secondary fantasy world. Child molestation can be good in a secondary world in the same way that other gods can exist and be worshiped in a secondary world. Fantasy featuring child molestation can be good art in the same way that fantasy featuring other gods can be good art. The problem with this view is that most people would find it intolerable, since the degree of analytical detachment and lack of empathy (or just outright perversion) necessary to appreciate child molestation fantasy would approach psychopathic levels.

2)      You can declare child molestation in fantasy to be wrong and ugly, but seek to justify other gods in fantasy as being in some way “different.” Such a tactic will ring hollow to most people, and furthermore, it fails to fully understand the nature of Beauty, Goodness, Truth, and Joy – as I shall discuss below.

3)      You can see both child molestation and other gods in fantasy as being wrong and ugly – a view which I think is the most biblically supportable.

 

The connection between Beauty, Goodness, Truth, and Joy is not weak. Beauty, Goodness, Truth, and Joy are inextricably and powerfully linked as interdependent facets of a single whole. Beauty must also be Good in order to be en-Joy-ably Beautiful. This principle may be hard to recognize in a tree or a flower, but it still is present. In other words, you cannot truly en-Joy something as Beautiful if it is evil, and the extent to which something is evil is the extent to which any Beauty it might have is tarnished and perverted – along with your en-Joy-ment thereof.

 

I believe that, biblically, God is the paragon, archetype, and epitome of Beauty. Beyond that, God is the effulgent, overflowing fountainhead of all Beauty, such that all Beauty finds its ultimate source in him. Even the Beauty found in the secondary creations of human beings is a reflection of his Beauty and an outpouring of his Beauty as it is channeled through the human beings he has made. Any spark of creativity in human beings is a spark placed there by God and taken from the inferno of his own creative self.

 

The Beauty of God can be seen in every corner of his being and every aspect of his character – all of God’s infinite perfections existing and acting in perfect harmony. One aspect that Scripture emphasizes as being Beautiful is God’s moral perfection – his holiness. In the nature of God, his Beauty is inseparable from his holiness, and this fact colors all that God is and does and has made.

 

The Beauty of God’s holiness is what explains the four levels of the human reaction to child molestation in fantasy I explained above. The fourth level is the foundation and source for all the others. God himself abhors child molestation. Morality is tied to the character of God. God laid out his pre-fallen created order in line with his character and moral nature. So even the primal instincts of the pre-fallen human would be the natural outflowing of God’s character.

 

This entire interrelated package is Beautiful, and it all begins with God. Beauty, Order, Goodness, etc. all find their ultimate source in God. Without God it all ceases to exist, and even if it could exist, it would all unravel into ugly chaos.

 

In fact, that is what happened to a certain extent at the Fall. Human beings rebelled against God. They cut ties with God. They divorced creation from the source of Beauty, Order, and Goodness. They could not completely do so, of course, but as far as they have done so, the world has descended into ugly chaos.

 

The Bible does not see a sin like child molestation as ultimately a sin against the child. Primarily, all sin is an offense directly against God – which makes sense, considering the interconnections between God, morality, and the created order. Therefore, ultimately, child molestation is not ugly because of the disruption of relationship with children, but rather the disruption of relationship with God.

 

The two relationships are, of course, inextricably connected.  The two Great Commandments are to love God and love one’s neighbor. However, Scripture is VERY clear as to which is the Greatest Commandment: love for God. Our love for others should be an outflowing and expression of our love for God. If our love for others ever trumps our love for God, it has become sinful idolatry.

 

The proper ordering of the two loves is not automatic. Having a semblance of love for others does not guarantee that we love God. Yet, loving others and feeling empathy for others is in many ways easier for us than it is to love and “feel for” an unseen, inhuman, transcendent spirit, even if he is God. The difficulty of loving God is not a “natural,” pre-Fall consequence of being a finite human. It is the consequence of the fallen order.

 

Considering all of these things, it becomes apparent why alternative 2 above (condemning child molestation and yet justifying other gods) is hollow and insupportable, for two main reasons:

 

First, the idea that there could be Beauty and Goodness without God is a fundamental rejection of what Beauty and Goodness are. It is impossible to even imagine a world of Beauty without God being its god. Such a world would be rendered ugly not only by its God-lessness, but also by its inevitable ultimate internal inconsistency and chaos. This God, upon whom hinges all of reality, is a jealous God, whether we like it or not. Would such a jealous God see fantasy gods as Beautiful or even as harmless fun? Or would such a jealous God see fantasy gods in literature as more analogous to a married man fantasizing about committing adultery with an imaginary woman?

 

Second, the idea that child molestation could be ugly and wrong, but other gods could be acceptable, is a failure to recognize the tendency of sinful human beings to divorce “morality” from God and a love for others from love for God. Child molestation “feels” worse than the presence of other gods in fantasy. This is not because the former is wrong and the latter is right. It is because we, as rebels against God, have a tendency to value people more than we value God. The fact is we should also have a similar visceral reaction to the presence of other gods in fantasy.

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Stories As Communicating Truth

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).

                Stories clearly have a role in the communication of truth. The Bible is full of stories. Even Jesus taught with stories. Can we justify fantasy from the storytelling of Scripture?

                Before we go any further, I must point out that the vast majority of stories in Scripture are true and historical. When God seeks to teach us using stories, he most often uses non-fiction stories. These historical stories are told honestly, briefly, and selectively. Human beings are neither glorified nor excused. God is at the center of the action from the beginning to the end.

                However, there are quite a few fictional stories in the Bible. Again, these stories are brief. Jesus employs parables – which mostly fall into the categories of allegory or extended metaphor. The parable of the prodigal son is perhaps his most complex story. It is still pretty simple, and it is allegorical.

                There are other fables and allegories. Jotham tells a fable in Judges 9 – complete with talking plants. Nathan accuses David by means of an allegory about neighbors and sheep. The opening of Proverbs makes use of some extended metaphors for Folly and Wisdom.

                The book of Job is probably best categorized as a type of fictionalized history. I believe that the opening and closing of the book recount historical events, but the meat of the book is a poetical disputation between Job and his friends. Although the general ideas of their arguments may be historical, the poetic retelling is probably retold with considerable license. The genre of Job would be closer to the dialogues of Plato than to any fictional genre today.

                So the Bible selects the most didactic fictional genres to communicate truth. These genres are usually avoided by anyone seeking to write “great” literature. Fantasy authors especially will studiously avoid employing any obvious allegory. Allegory can break the spell of secondary belief (a/k/a, suspension of disbelief).

                Perhaps it is helpful to think of fantasy authors on a spectrum from Tolkien to Bunyan. In the middle of the spectrum is Lewis. Most readers and critics of fantasy tend towards approving of the Tolkien end of the spectrum. Lewis might be tolerated, but he is often considered to be poor art. Bunyan is another matter. I think most people today would not consider Bunyan to be much of writer of fiction. It is interesting that the storytelling of the Bible resembles Bunyan far more than the other two.

                The New Testament especially focuses on the clarity of communication. Paul declares clarity and openness to be a foundational principle of God-honoring communication (2 Cor. 4:1-5). Therefore, the New Testament emphasizes direct verbal communication: preaching, teaching, personal testimony, etc. The New Testament also employs genres that strongly embed truth within historical reality: gospel, history, and epistle. Even the book of Revelation includes epistles.

                So as a Christian, when seeking a proper vehicle for the communication of truth, is a fantasy novel a legitimate or profitable choice? I wonder if Jesus or Paul would ever have written a fantasy novel. Somehow I doubt it. Sure a fantasy novel can convey themes, but there is usually a more effective means to convey the same truths.

                And as a Christian seeking truth, is a fantasy novel the best place to find it? Why drink from a murky cesspool when there is a clean, untainted well available?

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Is Fantasy Inherently Sinful?

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).

                It is difficult to write off an entire genre as sinful, but there are certain inherently sinful components generally characteristic of works of fantasy. The two most common are idolatry and magic.

                The majority of fantasy worlds assume the existence of other gods within the secondary reality of the story world. Within the secondary world these gods rule and are worshiped. The books by Rick Riordan are the most obvious contemporary example. Riordan writes books in which the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods still exist today. These are some of the very gods the authors of the Bible had in mind when condemning idolatry.

                There are fantasy worlds in which there is no god, but atheism is hardly an improvement over outright idolatry. Also, there are fantasy worlds in which there is a god who bears great resemblance to the biblical God. In Tolkien’s world the god is Eru Ilúvatar. However, Tolkien’s god is rarely directly active in the world, and he is surrounded by a pantheon of lesser gods. Even Lewis’ Aslan fails to live up to his resemblance to Jesus – at times appearing weak or ignorant of some fact. And Aslan apparently rules over a variety of alternate universes.

                The majority of fantasy worlds also assume some form of magic or supernatural power. In some works of fantasy the type of magic depicted is very similar to pagan magical practices throughout history. In others fantasy worlds, the magic is unique. In Tolkien’s world, for instance, Gandalf’s use of magic is very limited. At times he even seems hesitant to apply the use of the term “magic.” It could be Gandalf is one of the lesser beings in the hierarchical pantheon of supernatural beings. His power at times appears more similar to that of angels than that of a magician. However, Gandalf does speak of knowing magical spells and runes. Even more disturbing is the way Aragorn in an act of necromancy summons an army of the dead.

                At this point in my discussion, many people would think, Give me a break! It’s just fiction! It’s a flight of fancy! None of these authors (except L. Ron Hubbard) are claiming that the false gods in their books are real or that the magic in their books are real.

                 I am not certain how fiction gives anyone an excuse for glorifying idolatry and the practice of magic. It is difficult to find two sins for which God expresses more abhorrence in Scripture. God hates idolatry. God hates the practice of magic. In the Old Testament law, both were punishable by death. If God hates these sins so much, then why would we want to create secondary worlds in which these sins are OK?

                To put it in perspective, let me use an example of a sin that we find particularly abhorrent in our culture today: child molestation. Let’s say that I wrote a fantasy novel in which child molestation is assumed to be normal, legitimate, and morally good. Would such a novel be tolerated in Christian circles? I think not. Do you think God would approve of such a novel? I think not. Do you think God would give more of his approval to a novel which assumes idolatry? I doubt it. From a divine perspective, idolatry is about the worst thing there is. Shouldn’t we share God’s perspective on it?

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Is Fantasy Justified By Good Themes?

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).

                Many Christian fans of fantasy are well aware of the many dangers of the genre. However, they feel that as long as they enter into the experience of fantasy with their eyes wide open, the imaginative journey is worth the risks for the benefits fantasy provides. Besides pure entertainment value, people often point to the value of good themes.

                Because fantasy takes place in an alternate reality, the reader is consciously or subconsciously drawn into comparing and contrasting the secondary world with our primary world. On the surface the differences between the secondary and primary worlds immediately stand out. However, in the long run it is the similarities that have the greatest impact.

                The strongest similarities between the secondary and primary worlds are often found in the areas of characters and personalities, morality, choices, etc. These areas are the stuff of theme, so often the themes of fantasy can be drawn to the forefront far more powerfully than in other genres.

                This principle is very evident in science fiction, fantasy’s sister genre. In science fiction the author often constructs a version of the future (or a science-based fantasy world) which focuses in on the elements that make up the author’s intended themes. Just think Hunger Games or Divergent – both sci-fi worlds that are oversimplified in order to highlight certain themes.

                Fantasy and science fiction can play the role of a thought experiment – dealing with questions and issues that are hard to grapple with in our primary world. Or fantasy and science fiction can be used just to make a point more clearly.

                Initially, the thematic emphasis of fantasy sounds attractive, but does it work well in practice?

                First of all, I must remark that fantasy, like all fiction, is almost always less clear than direct, didactic prose. Like poetry, fantasy looks at reality slantwise. As a result, it can be hard to draw the proper conclusions from a fantasy novel – in fact, one could make a case that the concept of “proper conclusions” should not be applied to a fantasy novel.

                Not surprisingly, the hermeneutics of fantasy bears greater resemblance to eisegesis than to exegesis. I find it amusing how Christians approach fantasy with the kind of reader-response, pick-and-choose hermeneutic that so horrifies them when applied to the Bible. Christians have a tendency to overlook the parts of the story that they disagree with and focus in on the parts with which they are in agreement. Or they will re-interpret a book because they think they see something symbolic of a biblical truth.

                It is inevitable that fantasy, like all fiction, is full of error – by which I mean ideas in opposition to biblical truth. Much of the error in fantasy is merely the side-effect of fictionalization. It is impossible to represent truth perfectly in fiction. Some error is the fault of reader misunderstanding. And some error is intentional by the author – the author is propagating false ideas.

                To find examples of error in fantasy, the easiest place to look is Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. One famous supposed error is a ransom theory of the atonement. Aslan appears to pay a ransom to the White Witch in order to save Edmund. Lewis has Aslan say to the White Witch that the debt is not owed to the White Witch herself. It is a debt owed to the old magic. Unfortunately, it is hard for that one statement to overcome the impression given by the scene at the Stone Table.

                Another error is in Lewis’ character the White Witch. He identifies her as Lilith – the first wife of Adam. Lilith is a character from fringe, cultic Jewish mythology. I do not think that Lewis actually believes in the myth of Lilith. He must be using Lilith as some kind of symbol to convey some kind of idea. However, when reading the book, one is hard-pressed to find any evidence that Lewis does not take the myth of Lilith seriously.

                What is perhaps the most famous error in the Chronicles of Narnia is what happens to the figure of the antichrist in the Last Battle (a donkey who wears a lion skin). The antichrist goes to heaven! Most Christian readers have a tendency to gloss over this appalling outcome and completely ignore that this was an intentional statement by Lewis. It is my understanding that Lewis believed all sincere, well-meaning pagans will go to heaven.

                Granted, most works of fantasy do not attempt such strict one-to-one correspondence with doctrinal truth. With most works of fantasy we are dealing with more general themes, but even here I think many Christian readers are led astray. Let us look at some examples of popular “good” themes that Christians like to find in literature, movies, etc.

                First, Christians like to talk about “redemptive” themes. This is a broad category that covers a lot of different concepts. There is no way I could cover everything that falls under the rubric of “redemptive,” especially since little of the content is linked to a biblical definition of “redemption” (purchase of freedom from slavery).

                I would like to simply point out that I have never found a single example of redemption in a fantasy novel or movie. In fact, except for blatantly Christian stories like Fireproof, I have never encountered redemption in any work of fiction.

                Let me give a single example to illustrate my point. The TV show Once Upon a Time uses the word “redemption” with surprising frequency. In the world of Once, any significant act of evil creates a visible black mark on the magical heart of an individual (which magic-wielders are able to extract and examine). Several of the characters intentionally seek redemption (their word). However, by “redemption,” they mean they are going to do enough significant good works to cleanse the black marks from their hearts. They are saving themselves by a type of expiation. I hope I do not have to explain all of the ways in which this image of “redemption” is horribly wrong.

                There are other stories which offer a version of redemption that is closer to the truth, but in our idea of biblical redemption, approximation is not sufficient. Pick your story of “redemption” – Shawshank Redemption, Les Miserables, anything – you will find serious flaws in the image of redemption. The areas of difference are significant, and if they were suggested by a theologian, he would be declared heretical. For some reason when indulging in fantasy, we put on our reader-response hermeneutical glasses and gloss over the things we disagree with. “Kind of the gospel” is not the gospel. It is false teaching, even if it is fiction.

                A second thematic element that Christians love to look for is a messiah figure. In Tolkien there are two main ones: Gandalf and Aragorn. In the Matrix there is Neo. Of course there are many others. Again, as with the redemptive themes, a “sort of messiah” is not the messiah. It probably borders on the blasphemous to liken Jesus to Neo. Neo is an amoral hacker who doesn’t mind sticking it to the man. He engages in premarital intercourse. He is almost evenly balanced with his nemesis. And he eventually dies without succeeding in bringing about full salvation. Both Gandalf and Aragorn have their own failings. I am not sure what is to be gained by identifying such characters as messiah figures. It seems to only do insult to Jesus.

                A third big theme Christians harp on is a clear struggle between good and evil or light and dark. OK, think many Christians, this story may have a lot of not-so-great stuff in it, but at least it depicts a struggle between good and evil. But so do a lot of false religions and cults. A cosmic struggle between good and evil is a common theme in a lot of pagan religions. A work of fiction or fantasy cannot be justified by an appeal to a struggle between good and evil.

                Besides, it is questionable how best to represent such a struggle in fiction. If the author oversimplifies the depiction, it can lead to an oversimplified black-and-white view of the world. If the author tries to be more nuanced in his depiction, then it can blur the lines between good and evil, leading the reader to wonder if perhaps there is no black or white, but only gray. Furthermore, the struggle between good and evil is generally depicted in military terms, as an actual physical battle between the military forces of good and the military forces of evil. In our phase of salvation-history, it questionable whether such a military depiction is advisable.

                Finally, a lot of Christians will just settle for a book that promotes good moral values. Right is shown to be right, and wrong is shown to be wrong. But is it really helpful to depict good morality apart from a relationship with the biblical God? Is it helpful to use fiction to promote legalism? And how often have you really found yourself in 100% agreement with the morality of any work of fiction?

                I have some thoughts on the proper use of stories for the communication of truth, but first I want to briefly discuss some outright sinfulness inherent in the fantasy genre.

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Should We Visit Secondary Worlds?

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).

                A necessary companion to the idea of secondary creation is the concept of secondary worlds. In all fiction, but in fantasy in particular, the author creates a secondary world which the reader, by means of imagination, visits for a time. There are some elements required to make the visit possible.

First, the secondary world must be attractive to the reader, so that the reader will initially want to embark on the imaginative journey.

Second, the secondary world makes certain counterfactual assumptions about the reality within the secondary world. The author must be up front with those assumptions, and the reader must accept them without question. For instance, in fantasy the reality of magic and imaginary beasts is generally assumed. The reader must accept that assumption in order to enjoy the book. This acceptance is not a true belief. Tolkien called it “secondary belief,” and most other people call it the “suspension of disbelief.”

Third, the secondary world must be internally consistent. In other words, the secondary world must follow its own rules. It must make sense internally. If an author breaks his own rules, it snaps the reader out of their state of secondary belief, breaking the spell.

Many people falsely think that a fantasy world replete with magic has no need to follow any kind of logical rules, but the truth is that in the fantasy genre internal consistency is even more vital than in any other genre. A fantasy author is already asking the reader to assume so many counterfactual secondary realities that the author cannot afford to then shatter those secondary realities.

It takes a lot of work to develop a fantasy world that maintains a high degree of internal consistency – much more work than most authors (and especially filmmakers) are willing to invest. Tolkien devoted a lot of his imaginative efforts to maintaining the internal consistency of his world. The fact that he only published a few stories is a testament to the fact that he was never able to resolve all of the details of his secondary world to his satisfaction.

The high standard of internal consistency hints at a troubling and unspoken presupposition of fantasy – that it is possible to conceive of an internally consistent and coherent reality devoid of the biblical God. My belief is that an internally consistent and coherent reality is only possible based on the presumption of the biblical God. The biblical God is the only proper and possible starting point for reality and existence.

Of course, there are fantasy worlds developed by self-professing Christians which have as their foundation some god who bears great resemblance to the biblical God. However, besides the question of the propriety of inserting God into a secondary world made by a human being, there is the even more foundational problem that any god in a fantasy world cannot possibly be the biblical God. We know what the biblical God is like. More importantly, we know what the biblical God would do: he would make the reality that we all live in – the primary world. It is doubtful that the biblical God would ever make a reality with any slight deviation from this one, and he certainly would not make a world as startlingly different as the typical fantasy world.

Our culture’s obsession with virtual realities is indicative of a basic truth: we live in a cursed world. According to Romans 8:19-23, all of creation is groaning and suffering. It is enslaved to corruption. Futility is the natural end of everything in this world. As part of this creation, we too share in the deep unsettling feeling that this world is very, very wrong. We too share in the groaning of creation. It is only natural that we want to escape this reality into a more palatable reality – a reality that is controlled and is conformed to our comfort.

However, is escaping to a fantasy world the proper way to face the problems and evils of this world? When our stress level is too high, when the pain is too great, when the world is too much to handle, is the proper response to escape into a more pleasant world of the imagination?

Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. No one has ever faced greater pressure. No one has ever been more aware of the corruption of this world. Jesus did not try to distract himself with empty entertainment. He confronted his personal problems and all of the problems of the world on his knees in prayer. He brought his cares and anxieties before the throne of God. Like David, he comforted and strengthened himself in the Lord.

The corruption of the world is not something that can be sidestepped or avoided. It must be fought. We are to go to battle against the powers of darkness. One of our main instruments of warfare is the weapon of prayer. Prayer is also how we handle our own personal cares and worries.

Of course, the Bible does have a lot to say on the subject of rest (even leisure), and in places the book of Proverbs appears to recommend a certain level of escapism. For instance, honey is a gift from God for our enjoyment. Wine, likewise. In fact, wine is recommended to the poor man to help him forget his troubles.

There are at least three main differences between biblical principles for rest/leisure/distraction and escapist fantasy. First, the biblical sources of joy, pleasure, rest, etc. are grounded in the real world. Honey and wine are real and even tangible. Family, the pleasures of the marriage bed, etc. are all experienced within the primary world.

Second, I would describe the biblical, real-world joys as wholesome food as opposed to junk food. It is the difference between honey and Twinkies. In fact, it is even the difference between baklava and Twinkies. Escaping to a fantasy world can often (always) be like eating a box of Twinkies. It may taste good, and it may even have some minimal nutritional value. But in the end, your body will wish that you ate an apple instead.

Third, the biblical, real-world joys are much more God-focused. It is much easier to see honey as a gift from God than a fantasy novel. When consuming honey, it is much easier to say, “Wow! Isn’t it amazing how God made bees! Thank you God for honey!” When visiting a secondary world – the product of a secondary creator – it is much easier to say, “Wow! Isn’t it amazing how creative Tolkien is!” Sure, it is possible to thank God for the work of an author, but the connection is harder to make. So often reading a novel ends up being a God-less pleasure.

Ultimately, even the joys and pleasures of the primary world will disappoint. The corruption of this world taints all of our experiences. Hence the conclusion made back in Romans 8: all creation and all of God’s children are awaiting the new creation. There is a longing inherent in all creation. It is a longing felt by all human beings. We long for a world that is better than this one. That is what the Bible says we should be feeling. That is exactly the way it should be.

However, the answer to that longing is not found in the feeble secondary creations of human authors. The answer to all of our longings will only be found when Christ returns and remakes reality. We have to wait. Our hearts and minds and our whole lives are to be oriented towards that future re-creation. Why, then, would we want to replace that future, perfect reality with a flawed, present substitute?

I have a deep suspicion that escapism is our generation’s version of the great exchange of Romans 1. Since the fall human beings have exchanged the Creator for the created thing. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We have erected in place of God idols of our own invention.

What I see now is not just a tendency to exchange the God of reality for a false God. What I see is a tendency to exchange the entirety of the God-based reality for a fictional God-less reality. We are giving up on the present joys given us by God and the future joys promised by God. We are spurning those wholesome, satisfying gifts, and in their place we are digging broken cisterns of fantasy.

Secondary worlds are subtly addictive. Have you ever binge-watched a TV show? It happens partly because you are loath to leave the secondary world and return to reality. Have you ever read one more chapter than you intended even when you had more pressing responsibilities? Have you ever caved to your child’s request to keep reading (or watching) past their bedtime?

And secondary worlds are deeply unsatisfying. Why do we shift from one book to the next, from one movie to the next, from one TV show to the next? We will even tire of a series before we have completed it. These human-constructed secondary worlds are not as satisfying as reality – especially reality as it was intended to be and as it will be when it is re-created.

Yet, we keep returning to the land of our imaginations to try one more secondary world after another. And over time in spite of our lack of satisfaction with secondary worlds, we allow the secondary worlds to subconsciously color our expectations of the primary world. For instance, after our fantasies of how romance ought to be, our real-life marriages begin to irk us.

Addictive and unsatisfying fantasies that lead us to grow more unsatisfied with our real-life experiences…It sounds disturbingly like pornography.

So when considering whether or not we should visit secondary worlds, we need to recognize their addictive and unsatisfying nature. We need to take into account their inherent God-lessness. And we need to purpose to face the problems of the world through prayer, to seek the God-given joys of the real world, and to bank on the hope of a future perfect reality.

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