[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.