[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).
When Christian write about fiction in general and fantasy in particular, more and more they use the idea of secondary creation. This idea was essential to Tolkien’s understanding of what he was doing as a fantasy author. He viewed himself as the creator of his fantasy world. He is a secondary creator because he is only a reflecting what God has done as the primary creator of the primary world. Tolkien and other believers justify their action of secondary creation by claiming that creativity is a core component of the image of God.
Although it is certainly true that human beings are creative and that in this creativity we are more like unto God than to a potted plant, is it true that creativity is what is meant by the image of God? The image of God is a notoriously debated doctrine. It is nowhere given a straightforward description in Scripture. Any definition of the image of God is assembled by inference – which is shaky ground for developing a Christian theology of fantasy.
Furthermore, just because an activity makes us like God, it does not mean that the activity is good, profitable, or justifiable. Certainly setting up yourself as the all-powerful creator of a secondary world of your own devising does make you more like God, but that does not mean such an endeavor is justifiably good.
A quick review of Genesis 3 will make the point quite clear. The serpent tempts Eve with the fruit by telling her that eating of the fruit will make her more like God (verse 5). In verse 6, the Bible tells us the temptation to greater (God-like) wisdom was part of the attraction for Eve. Verse 7 describes how the additional (God-like) knowledge was not a good thing. Finally, in verse 22, God himself remarks that Adam and Eve are now more like God, and apparently for reason of their increased God-likeness, God punishes the human race with death.
The theme is picked up again in Genesis 11 with the story of the Tower of Babel. The human civilization is engaged in creating/building a structure of incredible grandeur. Verse 4 indicates that the motives of humankind were that of pride, self-glorification, and rebellion against God. The language hints at perhaps an underlying motive of wanting to set themselves up in the place of God. There is a sense in which the construction of the Tower of Babel was an act that was very much like unto God, but it was also evil – for the very reason that it was like unto God.
There are a couple of subtler ways in which the construction of the Tower was evil. First, there is the underlying sense in Genesis 11 that the human race was seeking to create something separate from and independent of God. It is the very fact that they were seeking to accomplish something great apart from (and even against) God that made it wrong.
Second, what about the building of the Tower had God most concerned? According to verse 6, it was the magnitude of the project that was most concerning. It was the sheer size of the Tower that made it so wrong and so worthy of God’s judgmental intervention. It was not just the heart motivations of the people that brought down the judgment of God. It was the actual size of the Tower itself. God acted to prevent the human race from ever engaging in a project on such a scale ever again.
So at what point does a building become a Tower of Babel? At what point does an act of secondary creation cross the line? These questions are difficult to answer, but they need to be asked.
Take the secondary world which Tolkien created. What is most striking is the sheer magnitude of his creation in both extent and in detail. Is Tolkien’s world a harmless flight of the imagination, or is it a Tower? Think of the effort, time, and thought that Tolkien expended in his project of secondary creation. Was his project on proper scale, or was Middle Earth his personal Babel?
And I do not need to pick just on Tolkien. Think even of the effort, time, and thought required to write the simplest of novels. Writing a work of fiction is a monumental task. Certainly it is a task of secondary creation, but is it the kind of way in which God intended for us to reflect his glory? Or is it the type of God-like task taken on in response to the voice of the serpent and the call of Babel?
Saying that writing fantasy is like God does not automatically make it a good thing. In fact, many actions are evil for the very reason that they are an attempt to be like God. There needs to be a far better justification for fantasy.