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: This post is a continuation of the post here: 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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10 Responses to Is Fantasy Inherently Sinful Part 2 (Of Idolatry and Child Molestation)

  1. billhoard says:

    Right so I though I was going to have this theologically and ethically nuanced response to this post but after re-reading it, I agree with a fair amount of what you have here. Instead I think the mistake you are making is really straightforward:
    I (probably) agree with you that #3 is generally the best response. The issue is that what is happening, or at least presented as positive, in Fantasy novels generally isn’t idolatry. The characters in those novels worship the real god (or gods) of those fictional worlds. However if someone were to write a novel in which child molestation were taking place, the children and the sex would still be children and sex, so the child molestation would still be taking place.
    So it is bad for novels to condone both/either child molestation and idolatry, incredibly few do either of those things.

    • I am not sure that you have entirely reckoned with the vertical aspect of virtue. According to Psalm 51:4, when David committed adultery and murder, he saw his sin as primarily a sin against God. By committing acts against other human beings, David was primarily transgressing against and offending God. What made what David did so evil was its vertical aspect. Removing the vertical aspect of morality cheapens it significantly.

      Part of how this enters into the question of child molestation is that the child has value as an image-bearer. The child is made in the image of God, and that is why harming a child (or any human being) is so wrong. If you put that child in a fantasy world with different gods, then the child is no longer made in the image of God. The fictional child is NOT the same as the real child. This is why it is an either/or. If you want the child to have value such that child molestation is evil, then the child has to be made in the image of God. If you want the child to live in a fantasy world with other gods, then the child ceases to have the same value, and morality breaks down.

      • Bill says:

        OK now I’m not sure I’m tracking you. Are you saying that child molestation in a novel is not sinful? I don’t think you are saying that so on what grounds would you say it is? You don’t seem to think that the child is real so I can hardly see you saying that the fictional child is in the image of god…
        I won’t deny the vertical aspect of virtue but neither do I deny the horizontal.

      • What I am saying is that it is either meaningless or meaningful. Either the child is so fictitious and fake and unlike us that the story no longer matters or communicates to us, or the child is meaningful — in which case the child has (imaginary) value gained from being imagined as a human being like us, implying that the child is imagined as an image-bearer of God. Both options are a complete package. Take away the image-bearing value, and the child is no longer imagined as truly human, and morality regarding the child no longer makes sense.

  2. Hero_and_the_villian says:

    You have absolutely lost your mind!! Are you kidding me!??! Reading this has made me sick to think you would even write this trash..its ironic you would talk about fantasy, yet you believe in a fantasy book. You are on another planet and the most delusional human i have ever met. PEOPLE ARE NOT LIKE YOU!!! Why can’t you accept that? I am shaking writing this. I can’t put into words how I’m feeling at this moment. IT’S A WORK OF FICTION!!!! FIIICCTIIOONNNNN!! Ok but incest is cool, giving away your daughters to strangers, rape, sacrifice of your children, and the slaughtering of thousands of people who didn’t believe in the same religion as you do. Sound familiar?? Why not just join ISIS? You both believe in the same ideals. Are you really that upset over a character in a fantasy novel having a god that isn’t your god? I can’t do have finally gone over the edge. FYI I don’t care if you respond to this..I won’t be reading anymore of this ignorant and sophomoric garbage.

    • I agree that this is a lot of discussion over something that on the surface appears rather silly. I am sorry that you have found the discussion so infuriating. You probably do not fall within the discussion’s target audience, so your reaction is entirely understandable.

      I have made it my life to study the Bible, and I do not believe that the Bible is fantasy. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that incest, rape, etc. is OK. I do not believe that the Bible teaches the same values as ISIS. I think all of that would be clear to anyone who took the time to understand the Bible from start to finish instead of pulling passages out of context. We have discussed some of these matters before, but I am not sure that you have ever really listened to the answers I have given you. I would be willing to discuss them again, but I have the impression that you have already made up your mind and become agitated when your own ideas are challenged.

      There is a lot more to the Bible then I think you realize. You have a pretty narrow view of Christianity, and I think you often react to ideas that I (along with most Christians) do not hold to. I am not the same person as whomever got you so upset with Christians to begin with. The Bible does not teach the same things that made you so upset to begin with. I think it all deserves a second look if you will give it an open mind.

  3. billhoard says:

    “What I am saying is that it is either meaningless or meaningful. Either the child is so fictitious and fake and unlike us that the story no longer matters or communicates to us, or the child is meaningful — in which case the child has (imaginary) value gained from being imagined as a human being like us, implying that the child is imagined as an image-bearer of God. Both options are a complete package. Take away the image-bearing value, and the child is no longer imagined as truly human, and morality regarding the child no longer makes sense.”

    I’m still not following you here. Maybe it will help to shift to another example in order to clarify things. Would you say it is immoral for Bugs Bunny to blow up Elmer Fudd? If so, then on what basis? If not then why not? By your reasoning is it true that Elmer Fudd either does or does not bear some value gained from being imagined as a human being like us? Or is it possible that Elmer Fudd, being fictional, must operate within a consistent moral framework which much be sufficiently similar to ours that we are able to retain a degree of connection to the story, but has sufficiently different particulars (Fudd’s apparent indestructibility for instance) to allow us to enjoy the humor and appreciate certain themes within the Loony Tunes universe?

    • Elmer Fudd makes an interesting example. I can actually remember as a child being surprised to realize that Elmer Fudd might actually be human. The realization came after having seen many hours of Looney Tunes. The character is so ridiculous and indestructible that he had little similarity to a human being. It was only when contrasting his appearance with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc. that I realized that he was supposed to be human. In a sense, I agree with you that Elmer Fudd is so different from us that perhaps different moral rules apply within the story world. The story world of Looney Tunes is so nonsensical, that no one expects it to follow any rules. The older I get, though, the less I can appreciate the humor of blowing things up. It is only the conditioning I received as a child watching cartoons that would lead me to think that it is funny. Why would they pick doing bodily harm to others as the foundation for their humor? It seems a tasteless choice to me. It is the glorification of humiliating others rather than the elevation of love.

      But the question of Elmer Fudd is shifting ground. You yourself have agreed that the child in the story world is a child, and so an immoral act against that child should be depicted as immoral — or else the story becomes a kind of nonsense. The reason that Looney Tunes can perhaps get away with blowing Elmer Fudd up is that the world is intentionally nonsensical.

  4. billhoard says:

    Hmmm maybe I miscommunicated a bit there. I actually never thought of Fudd as anything but human. I would still say that we need to make a distinction between those things which must remain recognizable in the shift from the real world to any compelling fantasy world (morality and basic psychology as well as fundamental logic) and the particulars in which those principles will play out. Thus it is the fact that Fudd is indestructible that makes the violence against him viable (and funny – nobody would laugh if he died) but the moral constant is against killing. What I have been saying is that in a fictional world, God is a particular, while morality is a constant. That doesn’t make God “less” in any way, it is merely a reference to the function of our minds and mental structure. I think if we pushed any fantasy universe far enough, the willing suspension of disbelief would fail as the cracks of even the best became visible since only God can make a fully coherent cosmos. But within the limited scope of a story, it is not problematic to postulate a world with a different god (or gods) and within the context of that postulated world, postulated characters worshiping that postulated god (or gods) would not be idolatry.

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