I was a good kid. Most of the time. I had a pretty good reputation with my teachers during my school days. (Since a few of my past teachers might read this blog post, I will qualify that statement by saying there were exceptions. And there’s no need for any teacher to publicly point out those exceptions here. Ahem. Moving on… 🙂 ).
Since I was generally a good kid and didn’t get into trouble much, I was puzzled when my third grade teacher pulled me aside one day and told me not to bring my Star Wars comic book back to school any more. I had been proudly showing it around to my friends. I was a huge Star Wars fan. And this was the 1970s, so the Star Wars craze was just catching on! When I asked him why, he replied with words I’ve never forgotten…
“It’s of the devil.”
The devil? As in Satan!? Satan is behind Star Wars?
To put this into context, I was a student at a private Christian school in Fairfax, Virginia. I would attend this school from third grade all the way through my senior year of high school. Lest I be misunderstood, I have many fond memories of this school and I deeply respect this third grade teacher, who was a big influence in my life. The fact that I disagree (very strongly) with him on this particular issue doesn’t change the fact that I think he is a wonderful man. And I will forever be grateful to him.
My third grade teacher’s opinion (which, admittedly, may have changed in the decades since) was consistent with the strict, conservative Baptist culture of which our Christian school and church was a part. And to this day, there are many Christians who would agree with him. Many Christians today condemn any forms of science fiction or fantasy that involve make-believe magical or supernatural powers, whether we’re talking about Star Wars or Harry Potter. And while many Christians will stop short of condemning science fiction and fantasy books or movies, they are nevertheless uncomfortable with them. And this includes some Christians who enjoy fantasy and science fiction. They enjoy it, but feel guilty for enjoying it. This blog post is written for them.
As a side note…if you are not a Christian, you will probably find this entire subject laughable. If you don’t believe in God, I would encourage you to skip this article and instead watch this video where Dr. William Lane Craig lays out the evidence for God. For the rest of you, I welcome you to read on…
The Bible and Witchcraft
Virtually all Christians have a deep respect for the Bible, and evangelical Christians largely agree that the Bible is the word of God. Bible-believing Christians hold that to disagree with the Bible is to disagree with God. So when the Bible says we are to avoid “mediums” and “necromancers” (Leviticus 19:31) and that “sorcerers” will ultimately be sent to the “lake that burns with fire and sulfur” for all eternity (Revelation 21:8), they take that seriously! And since the Bible also tells us to “avoid the appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22), many Christians conclude, while others at least sense or feel, that even fictional depictions of sorcery and magic should be avoided.
Let’s pause here and make something very clear: Christians believe God is real and that He has spoken through the Scriptures (i.e., the Bible). Devout Christians believe in heaven, hell, angels, and demons. They believe the supernatural is as real as the natural, and they believe we should take seriously the Bible’s teachings and warnings on the subject. If you’re not a Christian, you may find this entire discussion odd, but please understand that Christians (including yours truly) take God and the Bible very seriously.
In her book Spellbound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids, former astrologer Marcia Montenegro warns that we should not take the occult lightly. She defines the occult as “the set of practices related to contacting spirits or false gods, seeking supernatural power, and claiming ways to uncover hidden or secret knowledge.” In other words, the occult constitutes those practices that the Israelites (in the Old Testament) and Christians (in the New Testament) are told to avoid. Unfortunately, in Montenegro’s view, fantasy and paranormal fiction authors present “the occult arts” as “fun” or “as natural abilities, or worse, as advanced wisdom.” And, in some cases, she says fantasy fiction depicts occult practices as “merely imaginary,” when the reality is quite different.
In his foreword for Montenegro’s book, renowned theologian Norman Geisler writes: “The problem in recognizing the ugly nature of the occult and the paranormal is that it is craftily packaged in such beautiful cultural forms. We laughed at witchcraft in the I Dream of Jaennie TV series in the sixties. We were entertained by it in an exciting space drama in Star Wars beginning in the seventies. Now our teens are spellbound by a charming young wizard, Harry Potter.”
While I deeply respect both Montenegro and Geisler, they aren’t providing the full picture of the Bible’s teachings on this subject. For one thing, the Bible talks about actual sorcery and necromancy. The Bible is silent on the topic of whether it’s okay to tell or listen to stories about sorcerers and magic users.
Author Kersley Fitzgerald explains, “Real supernatural power is either from God or demons – period. Fantasy magic isn’t so straight forward.” Take Christian author Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles series. Magic is represented as a gift granted by God (or, in her world, Wulder). In Ms. Paul’s fantasy world, God gives some of His followers the gift of magic in the same way He gave some the gift of tongues or the gift of prophecy in our world (see I Corinthians). The DragonKeeper stories are definitely fiction, but the protagonist isn’t tapping into demonic power. Quite the contrary, in fact. Thus, the biblical warnings which Montenegro and Geisler cite simply do not apply to the kind of fantasy literature authored by Donita Paul and others like her.
When it comes to how Christians should approach fantasy and science fiction, I believe it’s instructive to consider the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the subject of meat being offered to idols. (Some of what I’m about to say appeared in my review of Montenegro’s book, so if you read that, this will be a little repetitive). In the first century A.D., it was common in the Greco-Roman world for meat sold in the marketplace to have been set aside as a sacrifice to false gods prior to its sale. Jewish converts to Christ would have nothing to do with this meat. They believed no Christian should ever eat meat that had been offered to or dedicated to false gods. This became a source of contention when more Gentiles joined the church — Gentiles who saw no problem with buying and eating such meat. Paul addressed this controversial issue in I Corinthians 8:
1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.
4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.
5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.
10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?
11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Now go back and re-read, only this time, replace the references to eating meat offered to idols with references to reading fiction or watching movies or TV programs with fantasy or paranormal elements. I believe that’s what Paul would say on this subject today.
Can Christians Enjoy Science Fiction and Fantasy?
It depends on the book, movie, or TV program.
To completely dismiss all science fiction and fantasy entertainment reflects an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction that’s more based on fear than discernment. Some fantasy stories, like C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, are perfectly fine for anyone to enjoy. Other fantasy literature, like the hugely popular Game of Thrones, is in a different category altogether. Martin incorporates elements into his stories that can only be considered perversion. It’s difficult for me to understand how any Christian can enjoy that series (either in book form or on HBO) with a clear conscience.
Christians need to exercise the same amount of discretion when it comes to fantasy as they do when it comes to any literature. Some fantasy stories are clean, fun, and perfectly harmless. Others should be avoided. And the same is true for any genre of literature, including science fiction, historical fiction, romance, westerns, thrillers, mysteries, and so forth. Some books are fine to read; others, not so much.
This question isn’t simply academic for me. As a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, I am now moving from consumer to producer. In the coming months, I’ll be self-publishing some fantasy stories on Amazon Kindle. I do this, even though I’m a devout, Bible-believing Christian and a pastor. I see no inherent conflict between Christianity and fantasy. As I said before, some fantasy stories are perfectly fine. Others, not so much. I plan to write stories obviously in the former category, and not the latter.
Stay tuned to this blog as I will soon be making a FREE SHORT STORY available for those who subscribe to my email notification list. Those on my list will receive advance notice of upcoming books, including a chance to pick up copies for free. I’ll also include some information on books written by friends and colleagues.
When it comes to what you read and what you watch, the key word is… Discernment.
If any of you have any questions about this topic or about my plans to dive into the realm of fantasy fiction, feel free to send me a note through the contact page.
God bless you!