Fantasy and Christianity

Blog | | Tuesday, September 30, 2014
The rejection of fantasy causes one to limit God.

Today I’m offering a reprint of an article I wrote back in 2007. It first appeared as an appendix to my first published book, a novella published in November of 2007, Infinite Realities by Double-Edged Publishing. That novella was later expanded to a full novel and published as Reality’s Dawn by Splashdown Books in 2011, sans this article.

I wrote it in part to offer an explanation of why I, as a Christian, wrote a fantasy book filled with magic and mythical creatures. I thought this article dovetailed nicely with some recent thoughts here. They are still relevant today.

————-

“Why would a Christian write speculative fiction, like fantasy? Aren’t they antithetical?”

There are two types of people who might ask that. One group is those who don’t bother with reading speculative fiction. After all, it isn’t real life, now is it? It isn’t about real issues, religious or otherwise. It’s just escapism.

Lord of the Rings coverIf you think that, you’re thinking too surface level. The greatest works of fantasy usually touch on real life issues and problems. Consider J. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings book. It is set in a totally made-up land with magic and elves, but full of real-life events that change the way we look at one another. Whether it is the loyalty of Sam in the face of insurmountable odds and certain death, or the heroism of Aaragorn or Boromir, each in their own way says volumes about humanity in how they face life when difficult times call out the hero in us all.

The beautiful quality to fantasy, and the speculative genre in general, is the ability to highlight the real issues of our daily life when contrasted against an other-world backdrop.

Often the analogies and character relationships hit home in a striking way within that context.

The story in this book [Infinite Realities] is a good example of that very fact. How many of us struggle to find our place in life and then turn it into a means for self-fulfillment rather than a real ministry to others? I could preach on that and write great logical articles that would no doubt move some to greater zeal. But to go on that journey with Sisko, through the events he did, you experience the struggle as he deals with his own failures. It has an emotional impact that an article on the topic could rarely accomplish.

Don’t get me wrong. Non-fiction articles, both doctrinal and how-tos, have their place. I’ve written plenty of those as well. However, for me it is not a matter of either-or, but why not both? I don’t expect to never write non-fiction again. I look forward to doing so, but speculative fiction has a place in my heart and imagination. It can serve as a wonderful vehicle, through the time-honored craft of good story telling (which even Jesus used), to help us experience the truth and not merely read about it.

The other type who might ask this question is those who feel that relating Christianity to such things as “magic” and other elements of many fantasy stories, either links Christianity with that which is evil, or if taken as un-real, that Christianity is fantasy too.

Both of these fears arise from false views of reality itself.

harrypotterandtheorderofthephoenix_prophecyFirst, the “magic” issue, which has been stirred up at the time of this writing by the release of the last “Harry Potter” book by J. K. Rowling. Many Christians perceive “magic” as evil, and in real life, what we would tend to call “magic” (not card trick types), generally is, but not for the reasons people tend to think. The problem is, this view results from a worldview divided between the secular and God. So, it becomes an “us vs. them” issue, and we should stay away from it because that is “their” domain, and we don’t want to be equated with it.

However, in the truly Christian worldview, there is no such thing as a purely secular reality. Every breath, every ability, every accomplishment is ultimately derived from God’s great bounty—even if it appears on the surface to be coming from ourselves.

Pharaoh’s magicians experienced this. They did great feats of magic. Moses matched it. Then at some point the magicians couldn’t keep up with Moses. Why? Not because they themselves could no longer do it, but because God no longer allowed them to while He did allow Moses to continue with even greater miracles.

When Jesus was accused by the Pharisees that his power came from Satan, what did He say? “Oh, wow, you’re right. This does look like satanic magic. I had better stop.” No, He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Meaning, if He did His “magic” from Satan but was casting out demons and healing people of diseases, Satan is a very poor strategist.

Rather, the issue for Christ was from whom the power came to do amazing and great things, and (this is the big point) our acknowledgement of that.

The sin isn’t that someone is doing something supernatural, but their attempts to attribute what properly belongs to God for themselves.

That is a constant theme throughout the Bible, from Adam and Eve wanting to “be like God” to Simon Magnus trying to buy the power from St. Peter. One of the evilest sins listed in the Bible is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit by attributing His work to someone or something else.

Our failure to recognize from whom the power comes is the sin, not the fact that it is done. Since all comes from God, for the Christian, there is no magic that is evil. Only evil people who attempt to control God’s power for their own purposes, whether that is a witch or a name-it-claim-it preacher/healer.

Therefore, on the issue of magic and fantasy, which on the surface can appear to be pagan, an attempt to apply the faulty logic of “guilty by association” derives from a view of the world where some elements are not from God and so should be avoided at all cost, even the appearance of a relationship. But this very division is not a Christian worldview.

“But are we not luring souls into Satan’s hands by blurring this distinction?”

No, because while skewing God’s reality by separating Him from part of it, you in effect fail to notice the real tactic of Satan: to take whatever it is you are doing and, like Sikso’s temptation, to make it yours and fail to acknowledge from whom it really comes. That is the distinction which must not be blurred but is when we hand part of God’s creation over as inherently evil. The result is God’s own miracles become suspect.

So, one characteristic of good Christian fantasy is the underlying reality that all comes from God, whether the characters realize that or not. If the reality is there, it maintains a Christian vision of the world, just as in our world, even pagan elements are simply perversions of God’s truth due to selfish appropriation of it.

For the same reasons, I do not follow the idea that equating made-up worlds, stories, and the like with Christianity will make Christianity seem unreal.

No more than any other reality that might appear in a fantasy story. Not everything in a fantasy story is fantasy. Only certain parts of it will be. However, most people recognize this fact and can separate what is real from what is speculative.

The real concern, I think, is that some might feel by equating amazing abilities as fantasy, that some will see Biblical miracles in the same light, or even God Himself, as fiction. They will equate them with myths in an attempt to “explain” the unexplainable.

The only problem is, a truly Christian worldview doesn’t rest in explaining the unexplainable. It is a way of life, an organic part of reality. All is from God, whether it can be explained in terms of science or not. Real Christianity is not a “God of the gaps” theory but a whole life reality.

Some people fear that equating God’s power with a wizard casting a spell will somehow make God’s power seem less real. Because, everyone knows that the wizard and his spell are fiction. But the converse is true. While the wizard and his spell are made up, the fact is God could have created and used such a creature if He so desired. What God conceives isn’t fantasy but becomes reality. What I conceive is fantasy, and I know it.

The reality is what I’m speculating could have happened. If God had chosen to, it would be the current reality now. But that is why we call it speculative fiction. It is the author’s conception of what life would be like if such and such were true. But we know it isn’t, and God is not any more lessened due to my speculating than if I said, “What if the sun blew up?” Well, one day it might. And God has done some very unexpected and amazing things through the years, both recorded in the Bible and through Christian history. Where are we going to draw the line of what is off limits to God?

I would even go so far as to say, the rejection of fantasy causes one to limit God.

By not allowing the supernatural, current day miracles and events are not seen as coming from Him but due to some explained phenomena or scientific theory. For if all comes from God, and there is no division between a reality from God and all of reality—if we don’t base what God gets on what we can’t explain—then fantasy cannot take away from God. Such views are a result of a divided worldview or purely secular worldview, not Christian.

At the root of all these issues is what one’s worldview is. For a truly Christian worldview, where God is the source of all, even if it has been perverted by evil people, fantasy cannot corrupt or lessen the reality of Christianity. Nor does it serve only as a form of escapism, but becomes a very rich commentary on our everyday life and goals as humans. For when you put those realities in an unreal world, they stand out all the more to our experience.

A good fantasy or speculative story will leave you changed. A good, Christian one will leave you changed for the better.

————

Originally published in the novella, “Infinite Realities,” by Double-Edged Publishing, November 2007. Also appeared online in Resident Aliens magazine in December of 2008.

If It’s Fiction . . .

Blog | | Monday, September 29, 2014
Truth in stories is a tricky thing. On the story-telling level, often referred to as realism, readers need to believe in what’s taking place.

RebelscoverThe CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Rebels by Jill Williamson, the third book in her dystopian Safe Lands trilogy. I’ve not read a lot of books in this niche of speculative fiction, but I admit, I was thoroughly captivated.

I think one of the most important aspects of futuristic novels is to establish a believable world, so one of the first things a writer would have to consider is, What might the world look like a hundred years from now, or two hundred, or five hundred?

I know some people don’t want to read futuristic stories—science fiction or various types of fantasy set in the future—because they believe Jesus Christ’s return is imminent and there will be no dystopian world or space travel or post-apocalyptic future.

It seems to me that this approach to fiction is needlessly limiting. All novels are make-believe.

Writers imagine and create a world based on what they think it would be like to be Eve after she and Adam have been removed from the Garden of Eden or an Englishman traveling via ley lines to different places in different times or a Swiss national during World War II or a Dalit caste member in India during the mid-twentieth century or a contemporary homicide detective who’s fallen out of favor with his commander or a twenty-first century mom who’s decided vaccinating her children may cause them harm.

Still other writers imagine what the world would be like if elves existed or if animals could talk or if there were life in space, more advanced than ours.

I grew up with books about trains that thought they could, and toads that went on wild rides, and rabbits that out-maneuvered bears, or foxes that plotted how to escape the local farm hound.

Imagination. Pretend. Make-believe. That’s what I discovered inside books. And yet, there was also truth. The pig who built his house of bricks was wiser than those who built using straw or sticks. In the end, wicked step-sisters didn’t profit by their wickedness, and the prideful emperor was foolish for walking around without any clothes.

What, then, is different about a story set on Mars in 2237 when earth has built colonies there? Or set on earth in 2183 after most of the population has been wiped out by a pandemic? These utilize the same principle as other stories—make-believe.

Alice_in_WonderlandTruth in stories is a tricky thing. On the story-telling level, often referred to as realism, readers need to believe in what’s taking place. When they accept the “what if” premise—what if Alice fell down a hole into a strange land with talking beasts and other strange phenomena—the events that follow should be believable. In addition, the characters should act in a way that is consistent with the motives and personality traits the author has given them.

In addition, there needs to be internal consistency. If the story is set in a real place and time, then it should adhere to the known truths of that location and age. If it takes place in a fanciful location or time—Oz or Wonderland or Deep Space Nine or Perelandra—the rules of that world should become clear and should have coherence.

There’s a second level of truth, however. Stories need to tell the truth about the way the world works, either in the physical realm or in the spiritual or both. Consequently, a story should accurately reflect humankind’s nature, the existence of good and of evil, a person’s search for purpose or belonging, the truth that life is precious and has meaning, that God exists and rules over all, or any number of other eternal, universal truths.

My guess is, readers who don’t believe Christians should write or read dystopian fiction or science fiction set in the distant future, do not understand the nature of fiction. Some, at least, want to limit stories to that which could happen. Consequently, since animals could not talk, stories should not be about talking animals. Since toys could not animate, stories should not be about animated toys. Since (in their thinking) Christ will come back before some far distant time, stories in a far distant time could not happen.

Harry Potter book coverAs I think about speculative stories, I realize what a double-whammy the Harry Potter books endured. First were readers who thought writing about wizards and witches was sinful because of the Bible’s condemnation of divination and spiritism and sorcery. When the Harry Potter apologists pointed out that the witches and wizards were pretend and not intended to reflect actual belief in wizardry, they came up against those who expected fiction only to express that which could happen.

Stories can be sinful from my perspective—they can lie about God or about the way our world works (that life is meaningless, for example, or that evil wins in the end). They can also fail on the story-telling level. But I don’t see a way that an entire genre could be written off as “untruthful.” An understanding of what fiction really is would challenge such a position.

Christian Parents, Please Stop Practicing White Magic

Blog | | Friday, September 26, 2014
Parents who fear mystical objects and symbols should compare this “white magic” with actual Scripture.

white magic

Many Christians, including many parents, are practicing “white magic” whenever they fear and shun objects, symbols, and Things more than they fear Jesus Christ and hate inner sin.

Just this morning I saw this mystical perspective on display yet again.

With Halloween on the way, it’s time to explore this topic again (more on this next month). And yes, calling parents’ fears and reactions “white magic” seems harsh. But I’ve come close to this before, and novelist Mike Duran provided further helpful reflections.1 And I don’t know what else to call it when parents repeat these beliefs:

  • The Devil can own objects, symbols, visual motifs, and Things, and use these things to “get to” your innocent children and to you.
  • Therefore to protect yourself you must fear these objects, shun them, and perform spiritual measures (including rule-following and verse recitations) to stay safe.

Folks, this is too close to the kind of divination God condemned in Deuteronomy 18.2

So what brought this back to my attention? A concerned parent being fearful on Facebook.

Plugged In takes a step

Yesterday PluggedIn.org posted part 2 of an excellent interview with hip-hop artist Lecrae.

If you don’t know Lecrae, he happens to be successful breakout hip-artist and a Christian with a very biblical view of art, culture, and vocation. You can see that expressed here:

“I believe the reason why the church typically doesn’t engage culture is because we are scared of it. … We’re scared it’s going to somehow jump on us and corrupt us. We’re scared it’s going to somehow mess up our good thing. So we consistently move further and further away from the corruption, further and further away from the crime, further and further away from the postmodernity, further and further away from the relativism and secular humanism, and we want to go to a safe place with people just like you. We want to be comfortable.”

So I like it that Plugged In is interviewing Lecrae. Often Plugged In is seen as one of those websites that evangelical parents use to “outsource” discernment to staff rather than to help them explore popular culture.3

I also like it that Plugged In is trying something a little different with their “Movie Nights” feature. To me it appears the writers are exploring a radical concept of treating teens like junior adults rather than innocent children who need to have bad words screened for them:

This whole issue of good movies/bad movies has been a point of tension for me ever since I began working for Plugged In—and, really, I think it’s a paradox that Plugged In has always dealt with. After all, most movies aren’t altogether good or bad. Most fall somewhere in between.

[…] Our Movie Nights are never to be treated as a seal of approval. We’ve said that for years. And I personally like that, because I think that sometimes more content-laden movies—particularly popular ones—deserve a Movie Night treatment more than the squeaky-clean ones.

[…] In essence, we want to help jumpstart conversation in the world you actually live in, not the world in which we’d ideally like you to be.

It’s a small step, at least for Christians who years ago started hollering about how we need to stop creating our own often-delusional popular cultures and shine light into the actual world. But Christians with conservative backgrounds, let’s not be trolls. We can empathize.

Plugged In steps too far?

But if Plugged In hopes to encourage parents to think beyond inspection of a film’s outward appearance — so they can be sure the film is “safe” for Message delivery — they face a long hard journey. Many parents still hold the views or the default posture of one commentator. This concerned dad saw Plugged In’s image of Lecrae with a triangle over his eye and said:

Perhaps he should not portray the Illuminati pyramid with the all-seeing eye emphasized. This is exactly the type of Luciferian propaganda used by the secular musicians.

Please don’t just laugh (as some commentators did). This father is genuinely concerned that Plugged In’s graphic designer intentionally used an “evil” symbol, or at best was ignorant of the “secret knowledge” that this symbol is used to transmit evil intentions on behalf of a “Luciferian” secret society or “the Illuminati.”4

In response you can laugh (perhaps if you’re one of Them: a member of the evil society or an ignorant compromiser). Or you can issue a challenge to someone like that. This is what I did. I think it’s the only way to combat such beliefs: to say that they’re the mystics, they’re the ones who are attempting “white magic” contra Deut. 18 and contra Colossians 2:20-23.

BG, I challenge you to prove from the sufficient Scripture alone that certain symbols, visual motifs, etc. are intrinsically evil and to be feared.

By accident, you’re actually advocating a “white magic” approach to evil — as if avoiding certain sights, sounds, and presumably objects will keep out sin. The apostle Paul challenges such notions in Colossians 2. Jesus Christ the Savior of His people, who made a public spectacle of demonic powers (Col. 2:15), warns against such attempts to act as if the evil is “out there” in the world or things we bring from the world into ourselves, rather than our own sinful hearts (Mark 7). Here you have slandered Plugged In and its graphic designer(s) in a way that has not shown Christlike love for them.56

If Plugged In’s writers or other Christians aim to “jumpstart conversation [using popular culture] in the world you actually live in, not the world in which we’d ideally like you to be,” then what will we do when people react like this? Ignore them? That’s not loving. Laugh at them? It’s hard to avoid this, but that’s also limited and/or not loving. Challenge them? Yes, I think we should. We must challenge Christians, starting with ourselves, to reject such “white magic” notions about the world. We must see that actual sin-corruption comes not from evil objects, symbols, or Things, but from our own hearts (Mark 7). And we must find the solution not in worthless and pagan worldly rules (Col. 2), but in our holy loving Savior.

  1. See “‘Clean Fiction’ as White Magic,” Mike Duran.
  2. See “Winners Don’t Do Witchcraft,” E. Stephen Burnett at Speculative Faith, Oct. 31, 2013.
  3. E.g., many parents want to fetch trained “ministry” staff to provide a tally of cusswords, violence and Messages. This supports the view that art is a containment Vehicle for entertainment or Messages, rather than an expression of man’s imitation of the Creator that reflects truths, beauties, lies and ugliness in messy mixtures.
  4. If you believe that sort of thing, please note that my argument here works even if such secret evil groups actually exist.
  5. Comment at Plugged In’s Facebook page, E. Stephen Burnett, Sept. 26, 2014. That last part is especially revealing, for the original commentator is not only expressing fear about the Plugged In designer’s accidental “sin” but accusing them as if it’s a sin for which they must be “held accountable” and ashamed! So in that case, what is the actual offense that could be happening here?
  6. Sept. 29 edit: Some readers are unable to find the original conversation at Plugged In’s Facebook page. As of this writing, readers can find the conversation by clicking this link and then expanding comments after the comment by BG Sawyer. I’ve also provided a screencap of the whole conversation here.

Twelve Reasons the ‘Left Behind’ Series is Actually Awesome, part 1

Blog | | Thursday, September 25, 2014
Behind questionable end-times views and style, the “Left Behind” series is fine pulp-thriller fantasy.
Series:
Left Behind

Behind questionable end-times views and style, the “Left Behind” series is fine pulp-thriller fantasy.

In just one week the new Left Behind film1 comes to theaters.

I’ve already explored my complex relationship with the novel series and my old fandom of the whole franchise. I do recognize that many Left Behind fans take the fantastical fiction far too seriously, maybe because they don’t understand the limits of Bible-based speculation. And lately I’m also among the first to disclaim the series’ view of the end times. I no longer believe the “pre-tribulation” view of “the rapture” is the only available option. And in fact I see severe problems with the Christian belief that Jesus Christ will snatch his people out of the world before his actual Second Coming.2

All that aside, this time I’m here to say: Actually the series is still kind of awesome.

Disclaimer: Not just the novels

Of note: I have a unique perspective on Left Behind (hereinafter LB to describe the whole series). I haven’t read the books in several years. And in fact I may have only read the final volumes only once apiece. After Armageddon and Glorious Appearing released, I switched to enjoying repeats of the LB story by listening to the dramatic audio series by GapDigital, a group of chaps in Chicago — I actually once toured the studio — who arrange epic sound mixes for thriller movies, only without the movies. The dramatic audio (DA) series was adapted by Chris Fabry (who’s now a radio host), and director/engineer/producer Todd Busteed (who’s now a race/marathon announcer, though GapDigital is still around).

So thanks to the DA series I can likely ignore the flaws that I’ve also seen in the LB novels.

Yes, the LB novel series writing style has been described as dull, sparse, and surprisingly unexciting even about subjects such as potentially planet-splitting comets. For example, Jerry B. Jenkins was the brain behind the fiction, and he would sometimes write things like, “Bullets riddled the fuselage” and end with a period. Yes, I know authors should supposedly avoid using exclamation points, and if you believe that, then read period as a metaphor, not a punctuation mark. Bullets would riddle the fuselage — quite often because there was a lot of flying and thus a lot of fuselages — and the characters would react in period-like fashion.

Left Behind

Audio actor Tom McElroy > Nicolas Cage.

But in the DA series you didn’t “hear” “bullets riddled the fuselage.” Instead you heard “PAPWING-PWING-PWING-PWING,” often in surround sound, then your heroes would be yelling and scrambling and firing off Whedon-esque snappy dialogue.3 The LB books mentioned almost in passing that demon locusts from the pit chanted the name of their evil master, Abaddon. The DA has them snarling it aloud by the thousands: “AH-BAD-ONN!” It’s exciting stuff, worthier of the scale and suspense of a pre-trib, post-rapture apocalypse.

So sometimes when I wax nostalgic about the LB series, I’m not seeing words on a page; I’m hearing actors’ voices (the DA actors were amazing) and sound effects and synth score.

This brings me to my first praiseworthy point of three. (I’ll continue the series next week.)

1. The story is fantastical

I said this at CAPC and I’ll say it again: “I just wish more evangelicals realized Left Behind is still just end times fantasy and could have fun with it anyway, rather than taking it all so seriously.” Now that sounds more negative, as if I’m a critic who derisively claims, “Well, that’s just fantasy.” Not my intent. LB is cool fantastical, and has all the hallmarks of such.

  1. Millions of people vanish from the world. (This is a wholly original evangelical notion.)
  2. “The most evil of all Evil Overlords”4 rises to power.
  3. A secret society opposes him.5
  4. They join with other secret societies from diverse nations all over the world.
  5. World War III. Four horsemen. Plagues galore. Miracle-workers.
  6. Counterfeit resurrection. Satan. More Satan. Then full-on mid-dystopia. Yes, the LB series was exploring pre–, mid–, and post-dystopian storytelling before it was cool.
  7. All keep fighting until the return of the King to set everything right and bring paradise.

2. Characters are vivid

Here’s where I defend Jenkins a little bit, because you can’t really fault a creator for doing something he absolutely intended to do. Some people want to write something brilliant and then accidentally write a pathetic parody of their own grandiose idea. Others know exactly what will sell, who they are writing for, and what they’re doing. I would put LB in the latter category. Its authors wanted to make potboiler thrillers with Bible verses and that’s just what they made. If you open the books expecting otherwise, you’re gonna have a bad time.

But more often than you expect — after my recommended lower expectations — even the books rise up and surprise you (without the benefit of actors, synth score and soundscape).

"Not your momma's Christian fiction" since 1999.

“Not your momma’s Christian fiction” since 1999.

I’m still benefiting from pilot Rayford Steele’s honest exploration of how a godly Christian should behave when he’s recruited to fly the Antichrist’s super-plane. The Beast hasn’t yet been Satan-ized, but what should Rayford do? The answer: He acts as the professional that he is. Even while serving the Antichrist, he can glorify God in his vocation. (Later he also finds a chance to use a bug on the plane, giving readers a sneak peak at the evil goings-on.)

Rayford gets his own excellent story arc between books 5 and 7 when the story raises some intriguing questions: Can a faithful believer assassinate the Antichrist if he can justifiably claim “the prophecy made me do it”? Slight spoiler here, but folks who complain about (or applaud) the cleaned-up world of Christian fiction should take note of how Jenkins explores and ultimately resolves this question. Rayford, the professional pilot and “good” Christian, sinks into depression, fits of outrage against his allies, and assassination plotting. Spoiler: the story does get him off the hook for Antichrist-murder. But he is forced to be a fugitive and face his own deep-seated sins — even though he did end up contributing to the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (as the authors understand it).

Some character may seem flat, especially given the writing style. But overall they sound and act different, have their own agendas, and do have color, even if the reader must fill in the lines. That’s more than I’d expect from simplistic thrillers. And for critics sick of uniformly white Christian novel characters: later I’ll explore diversity.

3. Worldbuilding is decent

The TVTropes people offer one understandable criticism about the series: that it presents a “cozy catastrophe.” Well, some of that was only in the first book, and here I have to grade on a curve: up until then previous attempts to fictionalize “the Rapture” were even worse. It’s not like Christians often fictionalize real-world consequences of massive catastrophes. And if it was only Christians who did this poorly, there wouldn’t be a trope for it.

But overall LB successfully conveys that sweeping sense of flying about the whole planet and landing in strange airports with passports and hotels and disasters and bad guys and the whole caboodle. Folks laughed at the Americanized version of Israel in earlier novels. yet I think the author(s) took this criticism to heart and put more research into the later installments.6 Israel got more Israeli, African nations got more African, European chase scenes got that Bourne Identity vibe, and all of them got worse as the story became mid-dystopian.

Personally I wished for more worldbuilding in the novel series. In the DA when you went to New Babylon, capital of the Antichrist’s evil world-empire, you could “hear” more fancy city and bureaucracy thanks to all the little atmosphere tricks and background tracks in the soundscape. In the book series you only heard, I think once, that the evil capital has golden spires like those Sunday-school pictures of heaven (in America, that is). But again I think this was a conscious choice of the author(s). They didn’t want lots of description anyway.

(Next week: exploring the fairly awesome action, “preachiness,” and secular fanbase of LB.)

  1. The one with Nicolas Cage.
  2. In short: The “rapture” belief, whether it’s pre-trib or any other –trib, takes Scripture passages about the final bodily resurrection of believers such as 1 Cor. 15 — the “last trumpet” — snatches them from context, and applies them to an event that is not the final bodily resurrection of believers. The Bible only speaks of a single event when “the mortal puts on immortality” and death’s sting is forever over (1 Cor. 15:53-54). The “Left Behind” view of “the rapture” is forced to read this text non-literally — or ignore it — to suggest some time of death and suffering after the “last trumpet.”
  3. In some ways the DA for “The Kids: Left Behind” pushed the snappy dialogue even further.
  4. As the LB TVTropes page calls him. You won’t believe the scholarship that went into classifying all the tropes in LB.
  5. If this sounds like the Order of the Phoenix, see here.
  6. We’ll touch on this again when exploring characters’ ethnic diversity.

Is Capitalism Distorting Christianity?

Blog | | Tuesday, September 23, 2014
If culture is redeemable, it is because the people that make it up are redeemable.
Pyramid of Capitalist System

A 1911 Industrial Worker (IWW newspaper) publication advocating industrial unionism that shows the critique of capitalism. It is based on a flyer of the “Union of Russian Socialists” spread in 1900 and 1901.

Whether we are talking about Occupy Wall Street or unions, capitalistic corporations have often been a target of politicians and pundits attempting to identify what is wrong with the world.

While certainly such people often reduce the complexities of our problems into simplistic diagnosis and solutions instead of getting to the heart of the problem, there can be no doubt that without boundaries, pure capitalism tends to devolve into a means to satisfy the greed of the most powerful at the expense of those lacking power. It is because of that reality that laws were passed against the abuse of such power and unions formed to give the workers a measure of power to counter the company’s.

But I’m not intending to promote or decry capitalism. It has its benefits and negatives, and like any other economic system, is only as benevolent or not as those people in power are or not. Because someone has to be in power, any system will be filled with sinful humans with selfish goals.

As Christian enterprises like music, film, and books have grown over the years, they have become more profitable enterprises.

Many of the traditional Christian publishers are now owned by a handful of non-Christian conglomerates.

Those companies have consolidated most all media—newspapers, publishing companies, cable companies, TV networks, movie companies—into a small elite group.

It is the catch 22 of Christian entertainment. We want the biggest possible audience for our media, to reach the most people with the gospel, but when we start to succeed at that task, the money flows into the bank accounts. Companies are evaluated upon a profit and loss statement rather than the effectiveness of the ministry. Even more so when the head of that Christian media organization has to answer to a non-Christian parent company who has no patience with ministry goals.

Christian authors encounter this dynamic as well.

We want our books to sell well, so our ministry will have the largest impact. For those who find that success, it is easy to look at writing more as a means to obtain money than a ministry, and focus our writing on what will produce the biggest return financially rather than spiritually.

Even for those authors who don’t find that success, the desire for it can become more important than simply writing the story that will glorify God. Coveting needs no fulfillment to hurt us.

Writing and publishing requires treating them like a business if it is to be sustainable.

The challenge for the Christian has always been how to balance the demands of good business decisions with the need of good ministry decisions.

It takes a spiritually mature person in each of these cases to avoid the temptation to allow money to guide their decisions and life. Some people will be guilty of falling into that trap. Good Christian authors will allow capitalistic concerns to trump God’s goals for them.

When we see that happen or sense that it has in a certain case, as a Christian reader we can grow disillusioned. Give up on the task of influencing the world by shinning our little light of Christ in the darkness. Throw in the towel on promoting Christian fiction in whatever venue we have been given. Or as an author, pull into an enclave rather than continue to reach out.

As Jesus said, we are in the world but not of it.

If we keep an eternal perspective, whatever our ministry God has given us, the concerns for paying the bills and whether our book will earn out, will not override touching lives for God and making our lives a testament to His glory.

Has capitalism tainted Christianity? As much as the Fall has, yes. The good news is God can still redeem our efforts, still work though our bad decisions. He still doesn’t give up on us or our stories.

We should not give up on shining the light of Christ in the distorted culture of the world either. We should not let imperfections keep us from using stories to point people to God.

If culture is redeemable, it is because the people that make it up are redeemable.

Culture is, after all, a tool, an expression of who we are as a people. We can let culture influence us, including capitalistic concerns, or we can influence the culture for Christ.

How do you respond to the tug-of-war between Christianity and the world, between the eternal and the temporal in our entertainment decisions?

Christianity, Diversity, And Speculative Fiction

Blog | | Monday, September 22, 2014
Diversity marked Christ’s ministry and has been a hallmark of the Church from early on. Today Christianity encompasses any number of people groups, largely because believers take seriously God’s commission to make disciples of those at home, nearby, and far away.

With_His_Disciples004Unlike its antecedent, Judaism, Christianity is culturally diverse. Jesus Himself turned the notions of the Jewish elite on their heads in any number of ways.

He targeted simple fishermen to be his disciples, for example, instead of going after the more learned scholars. He showed no political bias, either, including among his disciples a zealot and a tax collector. Simon, as a zealot, would have been focused on the overthrow of Roman rule. Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been bent on cooperating with Rome and serving their interests (as well as his own).

Jesus showed no favoritism toward the rich or powerful, though he did not refuse to engage them, challenge them, and invite them to be His followers (see Nicodemus and the rich young ruler). At the same time, He included the most marginalized in society as those He singled out—a leper, a blind man, a woman with a hemorrhage, a group of children, a prostitute, a Samaritan woman, a lame man, a demon-possessed outcast.

The_Widows_Mites004Finally, Jesus showed no gender bias. He commended the poor widow for her generous giving, for instance, but chastised the men in the temple who were turning God’s house into a “den of thieves.” In addition, he gave no preference to men over women when it came to meeting people’s needs. While He didn’t name any women as His disciples, clearly a group of women were among those who followed Him, supported Him financially, and who He encouraged to learn from Him, as evidenced by His telling Martha that Mary, in choosing to listen to His teaching had chosen the better activity.

Christ’s example is expanded in the early Church, both by experience and by instruction. First, through the Holy Spirit’s work, Peter came to understand that God’s grace extends to Gentiles as well as to Jews. After a vision from God, he preached to a group of Gentile seekers who God led to him. When the Holy Spirit manifested Himself in the same way He had at Pentecost to those Gentiles who believed, Peter understood that there was no difference between Greek and Jew.

Consequently, Paul’s work among Gentiles received the approval of the leadership of the Jerusalem church; Philip, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, preached to an Ethiopian eunuch; Timothy, with mixed parentage, became a pastor.

Women were also prominent in the early church. Lydia, a significant person in her community, was one of Paul’s first converts in Europe. Timothy learned about God from his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois. Paul referred to two Philippian women, Euodia and Syntyche (who he admonished to live in harmony), as fellow workers. In Colossians he greeted Nympha who apparently hosted a church in her house. John and Paul both addressed letters (3 John and Philemon, respectively), at least in part, to women.

The rich/poor divide was also something the early church disregarded. Paul declared that slave and free were equal in Christ. James taught that believers were not to give the rich special considerations or to treat the poor as second class.

Paul’s traveling companions included people like Secundus—Second; the book of Romans was penned by an amanuensis, or secretary, named Tertius—third. These are possibly designations given to slaves. Paul wrote the book of Philemon on behalf of a runaway slave who had become a believer, referring to him as his “child” and “beloved brother.”

These examples are buoyed by Paul’s clear teaching:

there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (Col. 3:11)

Diversity marked Christ’s ministry and has been a hallmark of the Church from early on. Today Christianity encompasses any number of people groups, largely because believers take seriously God’s commission to make disciples of those at home, nearby, and far away. Bible translation efforts have been fueled by Scripture which says in heaven there will be members of every tribe and tongue, coupled with Paul’s question, How can they believe unless they hear?

Lord of the Rings coverSo here’s my question. In what way does Christian speculative fiction reflect the diversity of the faith? Among the great things J. R. R. Tolkien accomplished in his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy was a reflection of Christian diversity. The Fellowship included a dwarf, hobbits, an elf, a wizard, and two men.

As some have liked to point out, Tolkien’s weakness was his inclusion, or near lack thereof, of women. C. S. Lewis did a better job in that regard, though he also has his critics because of his treatment of Susan in the end of the Narnia series.

Apart from the masters, how diverse is today’s Christian speculative fiction? Does it reflect the diversity of the Christian faith? How can those of us who are writers do so without appearing to have nothing more than a token “other race” character?

I’d love to hear of examples of either fantasy or science fiction that get it right and how, in your opinion, they pulled it off.

‘The Maze Runner’ Chases a Hope Unseen

Reviews | | Friday, September 19, 2014 at 4:00 am
“The Maze Runner” is not a mere special-effects extravaganza but an intimate exploration of human choices and survival.
Bird's-eye view not available in any locations.

Bird’s-eye view not available in any locations. Many limitations apply.

One of the strengths of post-apocalyptic fiction is that it provides villains with a playground in which nearly any curtailment of liberty can be reasonably justified. No longer a merely theoretical specter, the next End of the World (because the apocalypse never runs an effective mop-up operation) now looms as the ultimate bogyman — the de facto raison d’être for whichever institution manages to consolidate humanity’s remnant under a totalitarian thumb. As storytelling formulas go, it’s an efficient means by which societal tensions between liberty and security can be extrapolated into a spectacle stripped of mitigating factors and dislocated from the incrementalism that tends to gum up contemporary political thought.

The Maze Runner (2014), based on the 2007 YA novel by James Dashner, stands out from this genre in part because of its layering. The parameters of its setting and mechanics of its plot work to trap its characters inside a restrictive world-within-a-world, allowing them to play out their own petty doomsday politics in microcosm of whoever it was that marooned them in the Maze. Any community, no matter how small, will be tempted to squelch individual freedom for the sake of the greater good. And, as the heroes and villains within the film’s ensemble cast demonstrate, the battle between comfortable security and dangerous liberty is one waged within every human soul.

The Maze itself dominates this story. It’s a compelling milieu and a titanic feat of engineering: an ever-changing labyrinth of sheer, several-hundred-foot-high concrete walls which ring the Glade, an oasis of relative normalcy. No one trapped within the Maze knows who built it or why, or even what’s outside. Their memories have been wiped. All they know is that to remain in its shadowed canyons after its door shuts at nightfall means certain death in the jaws of its ravenous guardians, the Greavers. Inscrutable, omnipresent, ever-brooding — the Maze chews scenery from beginning to end. It functions like a character and gets treated like one by first-time feature director Wes Ball. You’ll find yourself eyeing it warily over characters’ shoulders, wondering whether you trust it enough to look away.

Curfew strictly enforced.

Curfew strictly enforced.

With that said, however, this film isn’t about the setting; it’s about a teenager named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien channelling a young Christian Bale) through whose eyes the story is told, and whose coming is “like the falling of a small stone that starts an avalanche in the mountains.” He awakens in a speeding elevator with no memory and no possessions beyond the shirt on his back. When the grate slams open onto the floor of the Glade, he’s welcomed as a “Greenie” into a self-sustaining community of young male survivors whose existence is defined by their boundaries and for whom curiosity constitutes a crime. No sheeple these: they’re intelligent, resourceful, industrious, and very afraid — likely due to natural selection more than anything else. Whatever escape plan you’re imagining at this moment, they’ve already tried. Whatever brilliant notion just occurred to you, they thought up and discarded long ago. And they’ll do whatever it takes to protect their community from repeating past mistakes.

Threshold of the Glade.

Threshold of the Glade.

Enter Thomas, a guy who wants out. He’s unimpressed with time-honored tradition, uninterested in playing by the rules, and unafraid of well-meant warnings. One of the great joys of this story is found in the competency of its characters: such a high baseline allows the focus to shift from mere personality-conflict to the ideas that drive characters to act. Thomas is just as competent as the others, but he’s far more compelled by the mental echo of a freedom he can’t quite remember than by the prospect of eking out a guaranteed survival within his new confines. He’s drawn by hope, not driven by fear. And it is this essential optimism, this irrepressible desire to apprehend an unseen expectation long since despaired of by others, that carries both him and his companions beyond the limitations imposed by conventional wisdom and into a perilous new world.

Thomas wakes up to a bad dream.

Thomas wakes up to a bad dream.

This film works on so many levels precisely because it feels so personal, so intimate. The cinematography, editing, and sound design force the viewer into Thomas’ headspace. We see what he sees, hear what he hears, feel what he feels. Every beat is played out for all it’s worth. At its heart, The Maze Runner is less special-effects extravaganza than tautly-constructed character study. The precipitous ramparts that circumscribe the world simply aren’t imposing enough to overshadow Thomas’ perseverance, Alby’s (Aml Ameen) solemnity, Newt’s (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) humility, Minho’s (Ki Hong Lee) courage, or Chuck’s (Blake Cooper) friendship. The plot is so solid that the characters, unneeded as devices, are freed up to breathe and behave like real people in defiance of Hollywood convention — from key moments of surprising-competency-that-really-shouldn’t-have-been-so-surprising, to subtle little expectation-subversions like timely communication between characters (gasp!), or a character’s abortive attempt to start a chant in an uptight crowd. As viewers, we’re given more than a destination; we’re given companions for our journey. And we’ll need them, for this journey’s no stroll in a glade. Together, these young men, along with a mysterious young woman — Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) — must confront both the inertial weight of tradition and those nightmares which stalk the unknown.

And they are nightmarish.

Runners for their lives.

Runners for their lives.

The Maze Runner pushes the limits of the PG-13 rating. Targeted at children it is not. The violence is brutal, unrelenting, and often freakish, the tension neigh unbearable. What begins as an intriguing amalgam of Lost, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games has by the end become a terrifying cat-and-mouse struggle of man-versus-nature and man-versus-man. The convictions of its characters will be put to the ultimate test. The certainty of Thomas that there is more to life than walls may lead everyone he loves straight down a dead end. And, in the uncertainty of the Maze, those who choose to run its courses will come face-to-face with the kind of liberty that walks hand-in-hand with death.

Whether the risk is warranted depends entirely upon the nature of a world beyond their sight.

‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and the Subversion of Human Nature

Blog | | Thursday, September 18, 2014
Marvel’s thematic twist of its “optimistic” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series proves humans don’t believe our own good press.

agentsofshield_hailhydra

Sept. 23 brings the season 2 premiere of the superhero/spy television series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Here’s how I explored the finale of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first season.1

Thanks to the May 13, 2014 season 1 finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, I feel vindicated about my hopes for the series and encouraged by its honest look at human nature.

In February 2013 Joss Whedon previewed The Avengers TV spinoff that would follow back-from-the-dead S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and his new team of spies in a series of stories set in the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whedon said “S.H.I.E.L.D.” would be “a very hopeful show” and even seemed to promise something remarkably angst-free, even G-rated. “It’s not about murder, and it’s not about crime, and it’s not people looking into their own belly buttons,” Whedon said. “It’s about people who are trying to help each other.”

This sounds swell, but in practice the premise came off unremarkable. Stories such as episode 7, “The Hub,” followed a slow “mystery of the week” formula. You didn’t need to be clairvoyant to predict how stock-brilliant-hacker-with-a-past Skye would get caught breaking into “S.H.I.E.L.D.” files or how sleek professional-fighter Agent Ward would start respecting young tech-brainy Agent Fitz.

Some fans were discouraged by the season’s first stories and viewership dropped. But I was sure the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” folks knew what they were doing. After all, other classic series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation took three seasons to get really good. And what happened to that other sci-fi series by Joss Whedon whose 14 episodes front-loaded the snappiest dialogue and deepest character development? Maybe “S.H.I.E.L.D.” started off slow to avoid raising expectations too high for the inevitably lower-budget series and is saving the best for last.

The midseason finale “The Bridge” blew things up real well but felt like a cliffhanger-by-committee. Hulu quit giving away “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and I was reluctant to buy more on Amazon.

marvelsagentsofshield_turnturnturn

‘Turn, Turn, Turn’

Then came Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and all the pundits who said “S.H.I.E.L.D.”  needed some shakeup got their wish times ten in episode 17, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Beware spoilers: all along, the benevolent agency “S.H.I.E.L.D.” was infiltrated by double agents of Hydra, a society of Captain America’s gallery of neo-Nazi rogues. By the pivotal episode’s last seconds, viewers were shocked to find that one of “S.H.I.E.L.D.”’s stars, Agent Ward — the handsome-yet-kinda-boring one — was also a Hydra agent.

This leads me to wonder whether some of “S.H.I.E.L.D.”’s advance promotion ends up an act of stage patter. What about that promise of a family-friendly show about decent, heroic secret agents simply trying to make a difference? If I didn’t know better I’d say the TV suits shelved that idea real fast and ordered from the top down: “Needs more double-crossing. Make one cast member evil. Add blood.” Instead, this was the Marvel story plan all along.

Fans realized this planned plot twist was why they couldn’t get attached to Ward. Despite Ward’s sacrifices for others and good-guy behavior in 16 episodes, the detachment was by design. Unlike other stunt plot twists that come out of nowhere (I’m looking at you, Frozen) writers had all along planned Ward’s bent toward evil and made sure that it made sense.

“S.H.I.E.L.D.” feels more truthful now that its stories explore such truths of human evil — and by name. In “Ragtag” we meet Ward’s teenage arson-prone self and watch him become recruited by Agent Garrett, who poses as a new father/mentor figure. We see Ward kill more agents, including attempted assassinations of his former friends, Agents Fitz and Simmons. Ward even commits visual media’s unpardonable sin: he shoots the dog.

Other thoughtful superhero stories such as The Dark Knight (2008) assume their villains are irredeemably evil, but “S.H.I.E.L.D.” directly asks its heroes and fans: Is Ward born evil? Does he have the will to choose otherwise? Even before Ward’s shoot-the-dog sin the story has (so far) answered exactly according to a Reformed Christian catechism: Ward was born in sin and is totally depraved, and only an act of supernatural regeneration can save him.

But if you prefer emphasizing the human-free-will concept or seeing more reflections of redeemed man, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” still has your back. After all, Agent Coulson and his allies must confront the total-depravity question on an organizational level. The “basically good” big-government spy agency to which Coulson dedicated his life to help others turned out to be rotten to the core with Hydra worms. Can the agency be redeemed? In The Winter Soldier, Captain America answered with a flat no: the whole agency must go down. “S.H.I.E.L.D.” takes another step. In the season finale “Beginning of the End,” head spy Nick Fury (lengthy cameo by Samuel L. Jackson) charges Coulson to—as I suspected—forge a new S.H.I.E.L.D. The old evil-infested agency may be finished. But Coulson has a chance to redeem it.

‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ of shattered faith

Marvel, when given a chance to take its unprecedented shared-universe superhero films to the small screen, chose to write stories that subvert naïve optimism about basically-decent government agencies and even human beings themselves.

What does this say about humans?

Clearly we do not believe our own press.

We may vote for real-life political leaders who promise basically-decent bureaucracies that only want to do some good. But we don’t trust big-government agencies in our fiction.

We may cheer for real-life heroes as if they’re beyond evil. But we understand completely when poser heroes in our fiction reveal their evil nature—and we favor their punishment.

Make no mistake: “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is still optimistic, still a series about true heroes, and still relatively family-friendly (but hide the children’s eyes or perhaps your own in moments such as in the season finale when evil Agent John Garrett lunges at the military general). But its subversion of human nature reflects the Scripture’s truth: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” By the season finale even the “resurrected” Agent Phil Coulson reveals lingering potential for unwitting evil. “None is righteous, no, not one.”

“S.H.I.E.L.D.” offers hope that evil agents are punished and good agents can restrain evil and manage to be a force for good.

Into the Hands of Amateurs

Blog | | Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Through Amazon and Goodreads, through blogs and a multitude of outlets, book reviewing has gotten out of the hands of professionals. Now a good deal of reviewing, especially of novels, is done by unpaid amateurs. But why did we take on the job?
Series:

The great majority of reviews give an inadequate or misleading account of the book that is dealt with. … [P]eople sometimes suggest that the solution lies in getting book reviewing out of the hands of hacks. Books on specialised subjects ought to be dealt with by experts, and on theother hand a good deal of reviewing, especially of novels, might well be done by amateurs. Nearly every book is capable of arousing passionate feeling, if it is only a passionate dislike, in some or other reader, whose ideas about it would surely be worth more than those of a bored professional. But, unfortunately, as every editor knows, that kind of thing is very difficult to organise. George Orwell, “Confessions of a Book Reviewer”

George Orwell had no presentiment of the Internet, so he had no idea “that kind of thing” would become easy to organize. Through Amazon and Goodreads, through blogs and blog tours, through a multitude of outlets, book reviewing has gotten out of the hands of professionals. Now a good deal of reviewing really is done by amateurs – especially of novels, as Orwell so discerningly said.

The “down-trodden, nerve-racked creature” that was Orwell’s professional book reviewer had one motivation: money. As he summed it up, “In much more than nine cases out of ten … the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be ‘This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.’ ”

But we amateurs are not being paid. Money is an understandable motive for nearly every human action, but what motivation do we have?

There is, of course, one noble reason to review books, one that is near to the heart of every book-lover: to get more books. If you review books, publishers and authors will give you books to review. And being unpaid, you can accept only the books you actually want to read. And keep them.

Sometimes reviews are simply a way to talk about books. (There are people who like to talk about books, and people who like to talk generally.) Sometimes there’s more calculation than that – or perhaps I should say more purpose, lest this observation be mistaken for what they call a value judgment: Some people review books with an eye toward a whole genre, or an industry, or culture in general.

A social, and perhaps a community, side of it has developed as well. The genius of Goodreads is that it’s a social site that revolves around books, and blog tours provide opportunities to find and connect with people who share your interests. In a community of readers, reviewing books becomes social.

Another reason to review books is, of course, that one enjoys writing reviews. Probably all amateur reviewers do enjoy it, but I think that most people who review regularly need more motivation to invest so much time, not to mention the effort of sitting in front of a blank screen and trying to muster a series of coherent thoughts.

When we are, as Christians, conscious of the two greatest commandments, our reviewing will also be shadowed by a hope, however modest, that we will be useful to readers, to the author, and to God.

But whatever purpose or motivation anyone has for reviewing a book, the way to go about it is always the same. First, read the book (and pay attention). Second, think about the book, what stood out as different or made an impression on you, how it felt and how it sounded, what it was and what it was meant to be. Think about what was said and done, and take a stab at the meaning of it.

And then say something about the book worth saying.

Sinful Reviews

Blog | | Tuesday, September 16, 2014
When a Christian reader writes a review, should it not be for the glory of God just as much as the Christian novel writer?
Rome Sistine Chapel Last Judgment

Rome Sistine Chapel Last Judgment

Christian writers often debate and discuss what it means, and strive to write, for the glory of God. We fret and discuss over whether a certain genre, choice of words, or depicted scenes are sinful or not—whether it is sinful to even read them.

Few have discussed whether reviews can be sinful.

Shouldn’t the same standard apply? When a Christian reader writes a review, should it not be for the glory of God just as much as the Christian novel writer?

If you answered “yes” as I expect you did, how can a reviewer sin in writing a review? Here is my top three.

Disclaimer: I’ve not recently read any reviews nor do I have any specific reviews/reviewers in mind in stating the following. So if you’re wondering, “Is he talking about my review?”—no. If the shoe fits, wear it, but I’ve not seen and measured your feet lately. After all, then I would have already committed the first and most common sin in writing this . . .

1. Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

“But wait!” I hear you say. “The whole point of doing a review is to judge a book. Are all reviews sinful then?”

Nay, they are not. The key difference is this: we are called to judge the morality of an action for our own instruction; we are not called to judge a specific person’s relationship with God based on those actions. Only God knows the heart.

There are several verses that speak to this matter: Matt 7:1, Luke 6:37, Rom 2:1, 1 Cor 4:5, 11:31, and Jam 4:11-12. But the clearest example of this is Rom 14:4 where Paul discusses the issue of eating meat offered to an idol.

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Paul had no problem stating it is not righteous to knowingly eat meat offered to idols.

What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.
2 Cor 10:19-21

But when it came to someone judging another over it, Paul declared it out of line. We can judge a certain action to be immoral and sinful; we cannot say a specific person is destined to Hell because of it.

A review can fall into this sin when it goes beyond discussing the pros and cons of a book into speculating on the morality or immorality of the author. Even speculating on the intellectual capacity of the author. It can happen through sarcasm or snarkiness, spoofing or elitism.

The sins listed in Scripture are intended for us to judge ourselves with, not to judge one another.

2. Dishonest Reviews

I’m not saying it is necessary to pick a book apart with a fine-toothed comb and list every error, but one has the obligation to give their honest opinion about a book. Don’t write that it was a page-turner when you fell asleep reading it. Don’t skip over the plot hole sticking out like a sore thumb. Don’t say you enjoyed it when three-fourths of it you struggled with boredom.

Remember, a review is not written for the author or the reviewer, but to the potential reader deciding whether this particular title is worth their time and money or not. Hiding important flaws or not stating your honest opinion does that potential reader no favors. That is a dishonest review and potentially sinful.

3. Revenge

Sometimes a review is written because an author said or did something the reviewer deemed offensive, and they want to get back at them. One way is to create “sock puppet” reviews.

A sock puppet review is when a person creates a fake account on Amazon or other online review sites, for the purpose to write reviews on a product secretly. Authors are sometimes guilty of this, creating a list of glowing reviews for their books.

Some sock puppet reviews, however, are so an author or reader can anonymously write one-star reviews on a competitor’s book, or on an author who has rubbed them the wrong way. Aside from the dishonesty of such a practice (see #2 above), the motivation to write it is personal hate and a disregard for the truth. All of that can lead to a sinful review that does not glorify God.

Those are my top three sources of sinful reviews that do not glorify God. Agree? Have any of your own to add?