Legalism and Fences

Last week, I talked about magic systems in Christian fiction and how the inclusion of magic in fiction makes some Christians very uncomfortable. And, while I wholeheartedly disagree that it’s “sinful,” I understand and respect each person’s Christian liberty to either view or avoid something that isn’t overtly sinful.

See, all Christians have sensitivities to certain things. For some it might be watching violence or gore, for others it might be sensuality or substance abuse or any number of things. And those people are right to stay away from things that are stumbling blocks for them.

Where people go wrong is by taking their sensitivities and making gospel out of them. “I’m sensitive to such-and-such, therefore it is a grievous sin.”

Each person should listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and avoid the things that are sensitivities to them. There are fences that they can and should put up for themselves to keep themselves pure based on their own weaknesses.

However, just because it’s an issue for one person doesn’t mean it’s an issue for someone else. The fences that I put up to guard my own heart are right and good for my own heart, but when I try to put those fences around other people, it’s legalistic.

If someone has a problem with alcohol, it’s not legalistic for them to say “I’ll never touch a drop.” That’s right and good and exactly what they should do to keep themselves from temptation.

If someone has a problem with lust they might make a covenant with their eyes and never watch anything with more than a PGI-13 rating for sexual content, and that is exactly as they should do to keep themselves pure. But if they say, “All R-rated movies are sinful,” they’re putting their fences around others, and that is legalism.

Ironically, it can even turn into a sin for that person. In some ways, it can even be a form of idolatry for that person, taking pharisaical pride in how they never drink alcohol or never watch an R-rated movie or never wear yoga pants.

Bottom line, especially as it relates to fiction, if something is a stumbling block for you, you shouldn’t read it. If you’re sensitive to violence and sex, Game of Thrones is not for you. If you’re sensitive to magic, The Amulet Saga isn’t the best thing for you to read. If you’re sensitive about dishonesty or subterfuge, then spy thrillers may be something you need to avoid. If you’re sensitive to coveting, then maybe even clean romances are going to be a stumbling block for you, because they entice you to want something (or someone) that isn’t realistic.

The point is, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your own life. But don’t paint with a broad brush as sin all the things that are personal stumbling blocks for you.

 

 

 

 

Magic Systems in Fiction

One of the hard things about writing Christian speculative fiction is that it’s really easy to make people uncomfortable.

Unless it’s really overt allegory, speculative worlds tend to make some Christians twitchy, especially if those worlds contain magic.

Magic.

For many Christians, the term “magic” implicitly implies witchcraft, which the Bible specifically speaks against. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy all speak out against the dangers of necromancers, sorcerers, and mediums. In the New Testament, some lists of sins include sorcery.

Given the fairly clear stance the Bible takes on witchcraft and sorcery, it’s easy to see why magic in fiction is looked upon askance, and even causes some to worry that reading or writing stories with magic systems opens up doors to the occult.

So, if magic is wrong, is it ever okay for it to be in Christian stories? And if not, what about the heroes of Christian speculative fiction, like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien? Fans of Spec Fic use them as role models, while more conservative readers are uncomfortable even with the magic in those worlds.

I think part of the answer is in the term “magic” itself. What is “magic,” and how do you know if it’s wrong? The word “magic” is used for a lot of things that often have no relation to each other.

If you go to a magic show, is it sinful? It’s called “magic.” Things appear and disappear. But if it’s just illusion, is it okay?

And when it’s in a book, because it’s fiction, does that make it okay?

Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery in the Bible are defined as deriving power from spirits other than God and as trying to communicate with the dead.

The primary difference between sinful magic in our world and magic systems in fictional worlds is in the way they’re set up.

Magic in fictional worlds is often like electricity. It’s a natural resource that can be used, but has no inherent moral value. It is something that can be wielded, but it is neither good nor evil of itself.

In the world of The Amulet Saga, magic is intrinsically tied to nature. It is an element that is in a symbiotic relationship with the earth. Ideally, they balance each other out. The magic enhances nature, and nature supplies magic. In my story, there is an overuse of magic by evil sorcerers, and they are drawing too much magical energy, which is draining the land of its resources. Plants are dying, food is becoming scarce, and the people are suffering. It is a natural element.

In contrast, sorcery in the Bible is derived from beings that have a will of their own. It is drawing upon another entity. Satan, demons, spirits, the dead—those are all entities that are in opposition to God, at enmity with Him. They are beings with intrinsic power, not a tool or an element that can be used. That is the primary difference.

Some feedback I’ve gotten regarding this storyworld has been concern that I am opening myself up to the occult by including magic in my story.

Concerned parties suggest that, while they’re sure I would never intentionally do anything against my conscience, everyone makes mistakes. They worry that my conscience has been tainted. They say that my story is not glorifying to God. They believe that by including magic in my world, I am glorifying witchcraft.

I disagree.

My world is a self-contained world, with different rules than those that apply in our world. The magic in my world is a natural resource, a tool that can be used for good or evil. It is passive, without a will of its own, used only as the wielder chooses, and good or evil is in the heart of the person who uses it. Yes, I use the word “sorcerer” to describe someone who uses the magic in my world, but each one is an individual character, and those characters make choices about whether they’re going to use magic to help or hurt, to derive personal power or deliver peace.

I believe God gave me a gift and a passion to write. And I believe that everything I write has a point. It might not be obvious, and it might touch on some things that others are sensitive to and disagree with, but I believe that what makes it “Christian” fiction is me. My worldview colors everything I write. My beliefs that Good will triumph, that there are consequences for our actions, that there is always hope even when things are dark, and that love and self-sacrifice are virtues without parallel, are my testimony. Those are the things that will shine through, no matter what world I put them in.

 

What if Books were Rated like TV and Movies?

I read an interesting article awhile back about the impact 50 Shades of Grey had upon the erotica genre as a whole. Now, I don’t write erotica, but I thought the author made some good points. One of the things she mentioned was that erotica, as a genre, gets really scoffed at by the literary world, and many really talented authors are lost in erotica because erotica caters to a very specific type of readership, and oftentimes, those readers are just as happy with something poorly written, (like 50 Shades) and don’t care about the actual quality of the writing, because that’s not why they’re reading it.

Her suggestion was that since sex is a strong motivator and a regular part of most people’s lives, it should be incorporated into literature as such.

Now, I’m not defending erotica or suggesting sex scenes should be part of every book. But I think her suggestion had merit. One problem, though, is that we as consumers would need some way of knowing what’s what.

The author on the article pointed out that erotica is labeled with a big red X (or an Adult Content warning) and so it’s an automatic turn-off for some people, yet millions of people read Game of Thrones, which contains plenty of sex and violence, yet is not considered erotica.

I’ve been reading an ARC of Steven R. Fairchild’s book, Living Ashes, Parts One and Two. I’m enjoying it. It’s a great concept and the it’s very gritty and real. But I wouldn’t want my kids reading it. There’s a mature content warning at the front, which I think is a good idea. It lets readers know what they’re in for, and then readers can’t say they weren’t warned if they’re offended by what they read.

Then I thought about how this works on TV. With Hulu and Netflix and Amazon Prime and all the other online viewing options, finding shows with mature content is easy. It’s accessible. We have a “kids” setting on our Netflix account that won’t allow anything above a certain rating on the kids account. (Granted, it’s easy to get around–they can just log in on the parent account–but for they’re pretty obedient and trustworthy, and we keep a close eye on what they’re watching.)

TV shows have different ratings (you can click here for a breakdown of what they are), and you can determine whether a particular show has content you don’t want to see based on the rating and the qualifiers for why it’s rated that way.

We need that for books.

50 Shades of Grey would be AO, Adults Only. Game of Thrones would be MA, Mature. Harry Potter would be T, Teen.

This way, you could have a really good, classic sci-fi, but rate it G for General Audiences, if it was clean but not a children’s story, or you could have some New Adult content that is a little more edgy, but still not inappropriate, and rate it T or R, for Teen or Restricted, and so on. It would make finding books that fit what you’re looking for much, much easier.

What do you think? Should books have ratings like TV and movies?

If books had ratings, what would yours be rated?