Christian and Fiction

     It is of no surprise that in the Christian realm, many debates have occurred and erupted over the topic of fiction, fantasy, and science fiction! Should a Christian participate in such things? Should a Christian watch these movies? Read these books? Play these games? Many are against a Christian being engaged in such! However, why? Is it wrong from a Christian to be enjoy these things?

     Before I start discussing this topic in length I’d like to take a moment to give my background on this issue. Growing up I loved many different fictional pieces of literary and cinematic art. Star Wars was my absolute favorite! I loved the story, the characters, the designs, the battles etc. (What can I say? I was a boy after all) Also growing up, I loved the 1990’s Batman show, The Amazing Spider-Man, Beast Wars, and of course the X-Men! I loved them all for different reasons, but I would ask my mom to wake me up early on Saturday mornings so I could binge watch these shows!

     Later on we moved to the greater Lansing area and started attending a church in that area. This is where these things got hairy. My family never had problem with Star Wars or such things. However, as franchises such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Poke’mon, and Chronicles of Narnia started getting some major attention by the populace, people started speaking against it in the church and our extended family. The family would often hear many different statements in protest to these things such as “Bible says to stay away from witchcraft” or “that stuff has demonic undertones and should be avoided, lest it corrupt the minds of your children.” This caused my parents to jump on the same band wagon as everyone else at the church and we were forbidden to watch any of those things. With the exception of the things we loved growing up (not the case for most kids my age) and Chronicles of Narnia (because its obvious symbolism of Christianity) this seemed to be the case a lot in Christian circles. Everything in the sci-fi/fantasy realm was condemned besides the writing of C.S. Lewis which I always found curious…

     So obviously, if such things are sinful then Christians need to stay away from them! For we shouldn’t dishonor the Lord, nor break His commandments. However, if there’s nothing there but empty or ignorant accusations then Christians can enjoy their liberty to enjoy such things. So let’s talk Bible shall we?

Textual and Cultural Clarification.

One of the many reasons Christians preach against such fiction is due to verses like this.

Galatians 5:20-21 Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

(See also, Isaiah 47:9, Exodus 7:22, Exodus 8:18, Revelation 9:21)

     I strongly believe when studying anything in the Bible in depth it’s important to check the Greek and cultural context of what’s being spoken lest leading to possible misinterpretation. The Greek word used here for “witchcraft” is “pharmakeia.” (far-mak-aya) This is the root word where we get our English words “pharmacy” or “pharmaceuticals”. This is extremely important to recognize because witchcraft back then was never what we think of it today. It was never ugly old ladies running amok, wand in hand, and turning people into toads. Also, it wasn’t even summoning evil spirits to kill enemies or rivals. In fact, no one has ever succeeded in shooting a fireball out of their hand, a bolt of lightning out of a wand, cursing someone with the proper ingredients in a caldron, or sacrificing a virgin to grant magical powers. Witchcraft has always been a large amount of trickery and mind altering drugs.

     Pharmakeia (φαρμακεία) is often defined as “use medicine, drugs, or spells.” This makes perfect sense when you think of cultures that used such things. (including Romans, Canaanites etc.) The most well-known example would be witchdoctors. Witchdoctors, depending on the different situations, would create different concoctions. Most often these mixes would be ignited and then the fumes would be inhaled by the participant, causing a mind-altering state. These “highs” would create different hallucinations amongst other sensory issues. These acts are expressly forbidden by God. This makes sense seeing as the Bible tells us to be “sober-minded.”

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

     Also, these drug induced states were often a form of pagan worship, or in participation of false worship. Which is also forbidden by God. (II Kings 17:12, Hos 4:12) Therefore, this is obviously a sin to participate in this. I don’t believe any Christian would even argue that statement. (for obvious reasons)

     With this in mind it’s important to note that whenever the Bible is talking about witchcraft it's dealing with idol worship, mind alteration, or other pagan/satanic rituals. It’s not referring to parts of fiction. It’s not talking about anything like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or anything else similar to it.

     Also, it’s important to note that mankind has never been able to utilize the power of the supernatural. The only beings that have ever been depicted with supernatural powers are God and the angels. In fact, we see that paganism is completely fake! These spells are complete shams. In I Kings 18 we see Elijah challenging pagan worshipers, and they failed where Jehovah succeeded! Really the only place in the Bible we see anyone succeed at casting spells is when Moses challenged the Pharaoh and his priests mimicked the miracle. There’s much speculation as to how this occurred . Did they perform some sort of sleight of hand? Did a fallen angel/Satan intervene? No one can be sure, but it definitely wasn’t because of any spell the Egyptians cast themselves. Because obviously if such magic were real, we’d see a lot more of it today! Since we don’t, it must be assumed that this was either trickery or an intervention of a fallen angel.

Tales of Fiction

     It’s also important to recognize the fact that fictional works are not prohibited in scripture. Nor are far-fetched tales that never occurred or will occur. Jews had their own stories, legends, proverbs etc. All with different morals in mind. In fact, there are many cases of this in the Bible with parables. Jesus told many fictional stories all with a moral in mind. So clearly telling fictional stories with a moral in mind can’t be wrong. What about stories that can “infect the minds of our young ones with false truths? Talking animals? Super powers?” It just so happens that there’s a Biblical example of a story that serves as a good example:

Judges 9:8-15 The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’

     In this story the trees represent the men of Schechem and the bramble is Abimelech. The moral of the story is: The useful and productive have better things to do than play at being king. Obviously trees don’t talk, nor vines, or brambles. It’s simply giving a picture. A story to help teach a moral. This isn’t something that’d confuse children or the minds of men. Likewise, much fiction written would be easily understood by the masses. (more information regarding this Here)

     In every people group there has always been stories, legends, parables, short proverbs, and a number of other depictions that though they take place in a fictional world, teach real morals. So often we forget that a number of these fictional stories today teach strong morals and have many themes in them that are good! To see characters, develop and become better than who they were!

Understanding Fiction

      With this in mind it’s important to note that works of fiction aren’t evil. There might be evil in them, but most works of fiction paint evil as simply that: evil. Also, it has been argued that even the “good guys” do evil/wrong things! One man once told me “Everybody Loves Lucy was evil! Especially her because she was disrespectful, a liar, and mischievous." Let me be clear, although doing those things is obviously wrong, that was part of the charm of the show. She was relatable! So many of us could see ourselves in the same situation. We’d watch and laugh as we see her trying to wiggle out of the pickle she found herself in. Plus, at the end of the show she always realized her mistakes and would reconcile. This little tidbit is called: character development.

     When reading fiction, it’s important to pick up on the elements being presented. Every good story starts with multiple flawed characters, as the story progresses and the characters experience more, they develop and become more mature. They recognize previous mistakes while pushing on to rectify their wrongs. Yes, once in a while a main character will fall to evil and betray the others! But this doesn’t make it anymore evil. If anything it makes the story more relatable because this sort of things happens in real life. There are evil people who do evil things in this world. So if you want to tell a compelling story you must have conflict and realistic character development. Every good story in literature (even the Bible) builds a relatable character, realistic situations, and how people respond to those actions eventually dictate who they become in the future. In fact, many of the stories I hear bashed the most have great themes and morals throughout them.

Lord of the Rings: good vs. evil/the importance of friendship/standing for what’s right/self-sacrifice/having only one spouse/fulfilling your vows/the power of guilt/the power of redemption (and many other biblical themes due to Tolkien being a professing Christian.)

Star Wars: Redemption/selfless sacrifice/not compromising that which is good/resisting temptation/destructive nature of evil/power of friendship/the pain of betrayal/having one spouse. George Lucas was a professing Methodist, but over the years has become more wishy washy on his stance. However, many elements can be found in the films.

Harry Potter: Good vs. Evil/love of family and friends/faith and love can overcome a multitude of evil/murder and evil tears apart at the “soul”/the importance of learning/selflessness/forgiveness/ many biblical morals. JK Rowling is a professing Christian and thus there is a lot of allegorical biblical principles taught throughout.

Chronicles of Narnia: Good vs. Evil/self-sacrifice/resisting temptation/the hurt of betrayal/redemption/standing for righteousness, and an entirely allegorical parallel to the Bible.

Batman: Good vs. Evil/uncompromising with justice/killing is unacceptable/friendship is powerful/the importance of family/discipleship/mentorship/resisting evil/never compromising the truth.

Spiderman: Good vs. Evil/With great power comes great responsibility/don’t just go with the crowd/having power doesn’t mean your life will be perfect/love sometimes means self-sacrifice

X-Men: Good vs. Evil/prejudice is the child of ignorance/even if people wrongfully dislike you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing/protect those you can.

     This list could seriously be endless, but I thought I’d park on some of my favorites! See, understanding fiction and story-telling is vital to understanding this topic. Many times people express themselves, political situations, social problems, wars, etc. by telling a story that more easily communicates the message. When I was a child I was never confused by Star Wars. My parents made it very clear to me that these things weren’t real! I understood the difference between reality and fantasy! I always participated in the comics, shows, or movies with an understanding that this was fake. I was grounded enough to recognize the evil that was depicted in the villains, the flaws in the heroes, and the moral that was being taught. I believe if parents are wise on when to expose their children to these things, teach them at an early age the truth of righteousness and God’s Word, then there should never be any confusion with your children and these fictional adventures.

Don’t Be a Hypocrite

     The Bible obviously instructs us to not be hypocrites (Matt. 7:5) so there are a few things that should be addressed here. If a Christian says Chronicles of Narnia is okay, but Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter is not, then that’s hypocritical. Just because Narnia symbolizes biblical events shouldn’t change the fact that the villain is still a witch and Aslan still uses magic. If witchcraft is evil no matter what, then so should Narnia be. (to avoid contradiction) Same concept should even apply to children’s stories such as Dragon Tales, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast etc. If all fictional magical fantasy is evil so should these, right?

     The next is that often times I hear Christian men and women say statements like, “These fantasy/fiction/sci-fi novels/movies give children and young people unrealistic expectations of reality. We shouldn’t feed such lies and fantasy to children.” Yet, often these parents will encourage their children to read “Christian Literature” (which is also fictional) examples such as Love Comes Softly, A Father’s Promise, The Wish, My One Regret, Lady Maybe, Left Behind, or pretty much anything written by Frank Peretti etc. Other big names include Christian media like Fireproof, Facing the Giants, Courageous, or even War Room. These are all works of fiction and the same accusation could be thrown at them. Let me give this a whirl:

“Fireproof gives married couples unrealistic expectations that if they follow a love dare, and do everything God says to do, that they can recover their marriages and win their spouses back no matter what they’ve done in the past.” (this is obviously satire)

      Someone with little to no discernment might make an ignorant statement like the one above. The movie doesn’t mean to convey the whole “love can conquer anything” moral. The point of the movie was to show the power of Christ! I doubt few people watched that movie and said “If I do everything he/she did then I can save my marriage!” No, only a person fully rooted in Christ, with humility, and a willing spouse, can recover a broken marriage (it takes effort on both sides, which the movie does convey briefly)

     Also, I’ve known many Christian women who read Christian soap-operas/romances (Love Comes Softly as an example) and often times they can fall into a trap of desiring that kind of life or desiring the man in the book and not the man she’s married to. However, does this make it the book’s fault that the woman can’t make proper discernment? That she can’t discern from reality to fiction? No. Such arguments seem silly to accuse a piece of fiction/literature/media for being evil/vain due to the lack of discernment and wisdom on the receiving end. Ultimately, this is what this issue comes down to: discernment and being grounded in truth.

Being Grounded in Truth

     Whenever questionable issues come up, or a Christian is worried about some things, it’s important that they are first grounded in the truth. The truth, of course, is Jesus Christ (John 14:6) If you’re grounded in truth then you will not be swayed by a simple work of fiction. If you’ve properly equipped and grounded your children, they too won’t be swayed by a fun story. We are made in the image of God. Christians day dream, have goals and aspirations, and we also learn to have fun! There’s nothing wrong with these things, so it’s wrong to condemn the enjoyment of the work of someone else’s imagination! Unless, of course, the work truly is praising that which is evil. Generally speaking though these works are not evil. They’re simply enjoyable with many great lessons, morals, and experiences that we can all glean from. In fact, one could argue that many of these stories help teach “critical thinking” in children. Because they see the protagonist in these stories confront situations and how their decisions can either reap reward or consequence!

Proverbs 15:21 Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.

John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

     Christians, be discerning obviously. Don’t let your young children watch something that is inappropriate for their age. Judge/discern righteously for your lives. If a certain thing causes you or someone to stumble, maybe you should consider staying away from it, but you ought to trust your God given discernment to be able to tell the difference of bad entertainment and good entertainment. However, most of these things are quite harmless. Like anything else there are exceptions.

      Music is a good example of this. Most music is fine and harmless. There’s lots of enjoyment in many styles of music, but once in a while you’ll come across a song that is straight vulgarity. Likewise, the same principle applies here. The ultimate point here is that you can be a strong believer, enjoy some base level entertainment, root for a hero, use it as a tool to teach your children morality through them, and still honor the Lord and discern between right and wrong. Many children/young people/adults can discern this.

For example: my nephew when watching some shows (his favorite is TMNT: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) Whenever Shredder (the bad guy) comes on screen. My nephew will say, “He’s the bad guy!” then Shredder will do something sinister and again he repeats, “He lied! He hurt them! That was bad!” and then the turtles will come in, save the day! He then will go on and on about how they save people from the bad guys! How bad guys need to be stopped! How lying hurts people etc. etc.

     Granted, I’m aware that the Bible is the core of the moral teaching and where we should bring our children to see truth…but children (or other people) seeing these morals play out? This could only serve to help ground them even further in some basic moral truths! Some can serve to even push them more toward a lifestyle of faith in God (Preacher from Firefly, or Captain America from Marvel Comics)

     So Christian, don’t be fooled into thinking that the magic in these books is anything more than fictional imagination playing out on a page/screen. This isn’t the type of witchcraft the Bible was talking about. Plus, not all of these things are bad (or the people that enjoy them) in fact there are many great things in these pieces of fiction. Lastly, it’s not something to cause division over. Be grounded in the Lord, be grounded in truth, be grounded in God’s Word, and be grounded in Jesus Christ! Also, learn to enjoy (or let others enjoy) some good, innocent, fun entertainment that doesn’t contradict or compromise the Lord’s teaching. This is my most basic breakdown of this topic. I hope that it may be used to help clarify some thoughts, and serve as a beacon of truth. Thank you all and God bless.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

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