12 Comments

Screwtape Sounds Off on “Christian Fiction”

By guest blogger John Wheeler
(With apologies—up to a point—to C.S. Lewis)

My dear Wormwood,

It is always heartwarming to read your occasional reports on how that Human author, Lewis, posthumously transmits the disinformation about us which we so subtly put into his hands. Even more heartwarming—down to the very Pit of the Lowerarchy—is that Lewis’ fellow Humans believe so much of that disinformation. Most Humans still don’t realize that we will speak a thousand truths to sell one lie. Imagine it, Wormwood: your lamentable failure to snare an English “patient” (snerk) during what they call World War II supposedly leading you to be absorbed by me, as if you were a smear of caviar on a cracker! And our alleged belief that “to be” means “to be in competition!” Oh, what laughter such statements bring when I recite them around the office lava heater. Oh, how much they lighten our work in Cubicle Hell.

Illustration © 1979 by Papas, from The Screwtape Letters; Special Illustrated Edition

Illustration © 1979 by Papas, from The Screwtape Letters; Special Illustrated Edition

No, my dear “nephew” (chuckle), not even you were ever that stupid. We know all too well that “to be” means “to be an individual,” it can also mean “to be organized in a group,” and that it can also mean, most regrettably, “to be in cooperation” and also “to be a unity of parts.” We have the Ineffable Presence staring us in the face from afar as absolute and undeniable proof of all of the above. We simply prefer “to be in competition,” for reasons which Our Father Below and all his minions hold as a matter of first principles. And wasting field personnel by absorbing them after failure, without letting them learn from their mistakes, is not something our Almighty Enemy would allow even were we inclined to promote such gross inefficiency.

And now for the main point of your letter. You need not fear—at least in this age of the world—that a certain less-than-minor Human writer, Rakkav, will ever have the outreach Lewis had, or even an infinitesimal amount of it. But I will give Rakkav this: he is as pointed an ENFP (look up the term in your manual on models of Human cognition, if need be) as we have ever run across. Get past his peculiar use of systemic logic and his useful (to us) need to be liked, and it’s not at all hard to know where he stands. And such authenticity is never good for our cause.

You brought to my attention last time two other Human writers, Jerome and Steiffel, who wrote coupled discussions on that strange phenomenon called “Christian fiction,” and especially on the subset “Christian speculative fiction.” You noted this time that Rakkav wrote a long essay—even for him—in response to the other two, and after reading it I am rather alarmed. It is a good thing Rakkav’s outreach is so limited because he virtually takes some words right out of my mouth, even if he then perverts them according to the Enemy’s perspective.

The most alarming thing about Rakkav’s perspective is that he cares so little about the role Mammon plays in the whole question of what “Christian fiction” is or should be. His focus is very much like something I said when I famously proposed a toast at the Tempters’ Training College, which point we allowed Lewis to receive verbatim. With regard to “democracy,” I warned, Humans must never “be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether ‘democratic behavior’ means the behavior that democracies like or the behavior that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.” Yes, I also spoke then of the destruction of individuality by the group. But Lewis did not foresee, because we did not allow him to foresee, that rampant individuality is as useful to us and as destructive to Humans as is rampant groupthink, and not just in the way a ram might lead a whole flock of sheep to the destruction of all. Our specific disinformation about the text of my toast involved this point. But Rakkav has inferred—thanks to that often-troublesome Human named Jung—what even Lewis saw less clearly: our real aim is to keep Humans unconscious, whether as individuals or as groups, and we change our emphasis according to the need of the hour.

Meanwhile, Rakkav’s peculiar turn of mind allows him to see something else we see: Aristotle’s question applies not just to all other forms of government, but to all human institutions and activities whatever, including creative writing. So for Rakkav, quite simply, is “Christian fiction” what Christians like to write and read, or what will glorify the Enemy and edify Christians? He is so used to leaving Mammon out of his calculations entirely that for him, the questions Jerome and Steiffel raise about “Christian speculative fiction” would be off his personal radar screen, were it not for other metaphysical concerns he has.

Now we have kept Rakkav himself boxing the air for most of his life regarding the use of his own capacity for speculative imagination. On that subject, his greatest fear is trying to please both us and the Enemy and in the end pleasing neither. But then, his essay discusses the matter and I need not belabor that point or his other points.

Clearly, you must keep me fully informed of further developments. If Rakkav ever comes to terms—or to the Enemy’s terms rather—with his own speculative imagination, then one of the greatest potential holds we have on him will be lost. Be careful, Wormwood. The lessons you have learned from your mistakes with others who shared his drive for change must be kept clearly in mind with him.

Your “affectionate” (chuckle) “uncle” (another chuckle),
Undersecretary Screwtape

 

John Wheeler (who writes on the Web as Johanan Rakkav) is a very busy Ne’fi (ENFP on the Myers-Briggs grid). Besides being a consultant in Christian apologetics, he is the editor and co-publisher of the book THE MUSIC OF THE BIBLE REVEALED by the late Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura (rakkav.com/biblemusic), a singer-songwriter who plays the piano, synthesizer, Celtic harp and ten-stringed Hebrew lyre (kinnor), a lifelong lover of the natural sciences (especially astronomy) and of speculative fiction, an enthusiast of personality type models, and (writing with E.V. Medina as Jack Shepherd) the co-author of the medieval fantasy/allegorical SF book REALMWALKERS (tiaera.blogspot.com). His fictional Metacosmos is now featured at undyingsinger.wordpress.com and rakkav.blogspot.com, as well as at the page TALES OF THE UNDYING SINGER on Facebook.

 

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12 comments on “Screwtape Sounds Off on “Christian Fiction”

  1. I’m not sure I would include a demon evaluating myself in a piece I wrote about them looking at the world of Christian Speculative Fiction. The effect of so doing was…odd…and I honestly don’t know if that part was edifying to others or not.

    However, hearing the enemy’s point of view on the subject was a clever device, an interesting approach to the problem. An interesting read.

  2. So I actually have now read the essay you have Wormwood referring back to. I really should have done that first before commenting on the cleverness of you using Wormwood as a literary device. After reading the essay, my doubt about whether it was a good idea for you to refer to yourself clarifies. It wasn’t a good idea–you refer to yourself far too often. It makes you sound like a narcissist.

    But as to the content of what you had to say instead of the style, I’ve considered the matter of the fundamental nature of science fiction and fantasy and my conclusions are not the same as yours. Fantasy draws inspiration from the legendary past, as a general rule. Science fiction draws nature from the imagined future, again generally speaking. Neither genre are based strictly on reality–but then again, ALL fiction as entertainment is based on a worldview that isn’t strictly true, since by definition, fiction isn’t the things that have actually happened.

    The view that Christians should never write stories for entertainment is actually a defensible one. Not one I agree with, mind you, but one that can be defended.

    Your notion that fantasy and science fiction are fundamentally anti-God and any attempt to make a Christian version thereof must be syncretism is a MUCH weaker proposition. The reality is that these genres are dominated by non-believers. But if Larry Niven writes science fiction that is wrapped around evolution, that’s because evolution is what he believes in. He doesn’t define the fundamental nature of science fiction per se–even if people who think like him dominate it. This could degenerate into a disagreement about what “is” IS (i.e. what does it mean what sci fi IS?) but I’d like to avoid such pointless navel-gazing. The fact is if I write science fiction in which a universe is created by God and littered with signs of His creative design, then when I write sci fi, it is no longer the same thing that Niven writes–no syncretism necessary. If a subtly different genre idea didn’t exist before I wrote, it certainly existed afterwards. Likewise with fantasy–it is fully possible for a Christian to put God and the redemptive work of Christ in the center of a story’s legendary mythos and write a “Christian fantasy.”

    That you say all such attempts are syncretism by nature doesn’t make it so–your opinions do not in fact mark what these things really ARE. They are just one point of view about them, one that isn’t in any way authoritative. In fact, I imagine Wormwood would be delighted to see Christians not even trying to express themselves in the context of these genres.

    Fantasy is replacing the idea of the past for this lost world, replacing the ideas of God as the world’s originator. Science fiction is filling their notions of what the future will be. The last thing Satan wants is Christians giving an alternative view under the same general circumstances.

  3. John, I think you make some valid points, both in this post and in your original essay, that deserve careful consideration. Are we, as Christians, “allowed” to play with reality? Can we create worlds that don’t align with Scripture or the Truth of the world as it is and the future as God has said it will play out?
    As to that, while I think the question needs to be asked and every writer needs to follow their own conscience, wherever it leads, I fundamentally disagree with your conclusion.
    No spec-fic writer that I know is claiming that their books are on par with Scripture. They are not claiming that their books are True or that there is even a possibility that the world or the future will pan out as it does in their stories. Rather, by its very definition, it is quite the opposite. It is Fiction based on Speculation. As such, it is not heresy pointing away from God, but a vehicle that can point to Him. It asks “what if”.
    Even in your own example of The Screwtape Letters, you start from an assumption that it is supposed to be literal, and that Satan is laughing at us because we take it literally.
    It isn’t literal. Lewis used a literary device to make a point. I seriously doubt Lewis truly believed this was an actual conversation that really could happen between a demon and its underling, so the story isn’t even pretending to be true, and yet it contains many Truths.
    This is what great Christian spec-fic can and should do. We can create worlds in which there are races, including elves and trolls and fairies, or worlds that take place in a post-apocalyptic future or on other planets and still point to God, because we are not pretending the world is true. We are using the world as a vehicle in which to portray other Truths. We can have stories that paint a picture of God’s grace or of the power of forgiveness or of the consequences of sin or any number of other Truths and point to God without adhering to a strict interpretation of the world as it is or the future as it will be.
    And, as I said in my original post, God’s Truth transcends the vehicle. I believe God has gifted me with a creative mind and I believe He wants me to use that for His glory, and when I write, if that is my central purpose, I believe He is glorified and people will see Him through my words.

  4. That, of course, does not touch on the point you made about money being a central concern.
    Again, I have to disagree with you. For some, writing may be a hobby, and so book sales may never be an issue for them, but for many, writing is a source of supplemental income or even their whole income.
    I assume you have a day job? While at your job, do you let it be known that you are a Christian? If a coworker comes to you for counsel, do you turn off any reference to God? Do you draw from strictly secular sources when giving advice? When forming relationships with your coworkers or clients?
    Or, do you work heartily, as to the Lord and not men? Do you let God’s presence in your life influence how you interact with people and how you do your job? Are you striving to honor God in the workplace?
    And if you do allow your faith and your relationship with God to influence you at your job, do you then expect that you won’t get paid?
    What about pastors and church secretaries and others whose full-time vocation is in service to God? Should they not be paid for their efforts?
    Why, then, is it wrong for a writer to strive for financial success? This is their job. This is how they provide for their families. Of course book sales and money is a consideration. Just because they’re striving also to honor God with their words does not mean money is not a factor. It is a factor, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Making money from writing and selling your books doesn’t make less of a godly pursuit, and to insinuate that anyone who writes for money is somehow pleasing the devil is unfair and untrue.

  5. Thank you all for your comments. I am glad to have given you all food for thought, as this will be my last post or comment here. I’m also pleased that so many of you have gone to my own blog and read the associated essay (at least 32 of you to date).

    Just to make myself clear to everyone: this and my other essay comprise my “swansong” concerning speculative-fiction writing, “Christian” or otherwise. For my own welfare, I’m sending the “form of consciousness” required to do such things in an entirely different direction: toward one of my other great loves in my life, musical composition and performance.

    The Earthlight Orchestra project (just for the record, on CDBaby and iTunes, among other e-sources) ironically came out of my fiction, and IMO its best song to date (“Hey, Christopher Alain”) out of my thoughts concerning my alter ego.

    Am I a narcissist? That’s amusing and telling to me at the same time. We of ENFP cognitive preferences are often accused of being such, and when we’re immature (and/or in immature moods), we actually can be so (consider Calvin in CALVIN AND HOBBES). In my published fiction, I used that fact to what was received as good advantage regarding my ENFP alter ego – as Alain Harper said with a blush, “it *does seem to be an occupational hazard, milady”. 🙂

    But what you may not understand is that through my mock-narcissism, I’m giving myself the most blistering critique I can possibly give. For me, enough… is enough… is ENOUGH. I can’t do spec-fic of any kind any more – not and be consistent with my religious conscience *and with what I know about my human psyche. Yes, it’s fun. But yes, for me it is also addicting, and now I know why.

    Fare thee well.

    • John, we’ll miss you, but you gotta do what you’re called to do. I pray your musical endeavors will be successful.

    • John–since you are into personality types, please allow me to mention that my dominant personality type is INTP, followed by INFP. As an INTP, nothing concerns me more than knowledge and what is and is not true.

      If you are speaking for yourself when you say that you can’t write Speculative Fiction without crossing a line, that is something that only your conscience can verify (or not). As per the instructions given in Romans 14 and 15, it is my duty to respect your conscience and not to provide an occasion for stumbling to you. If that is in fact your position. Not knowing for certain, I will assume that it is. If you must depart spec-fic, I will graciously allow you to do so with no condemnation whatsoever–and I will not tempt you to stumble by doing things like sending copies of my writing your way…

      However, if you wish to maintain that it is OBJECTIVELY true that speculative fiction ALWAYS involves syncretism in a way that dishonors God, and you pull some of the authority for you saying so from your ENFP personality, please be advised that in matters of what is and is not true, INTP trumps ENFP. INTP is the personality type of people who want to know more than anything else “what is true.”

      And I’m telling you, John, it is NOT objectively true that speculative fiction + Christianity MUST = syncretism. Yes, it CAN equal that. But the “must” is not an objective truth. Perhaps it is a personal reality for you–but I do not agree it is for everyone on Planet Earth. Please be advised.

      I would also like to apologize about reacting to your use of self-reference. For the record, in was actually worse in my estimation in your original essay than in the Screwtape bit…which I still believe was a clever way to make your case. Even though I see your as fatally flawed–the literary device was nonetheless clever. And interesting.

    • I do greatly admire your willingness to follow your own conscience and God’s leading in your life. Best wishes to you on your journey and best of luck in your other pursuits!

  6. Reblogged this on Tales of the Undying Singer and commented:
    While I may say so in another post directly, I have come to the end of the road as a spec-fic writer. This guest essay points out indirectly some of the reasons.

  7. I reacquainted myself with this again. I recall the intellectual intrigue of my own conversations with satan over my life time. Knowing scripturally his traits it’s easier to imagine fictionally such a conversation.
    It led me to reexamine my own issues and find it realistically plausible that certain kinds of beliefs I have convict my own spirit as well. Not because I’m so great, but I have to be sure.. Travis I’m an INFJ and my life has been in all things the pursuit of truth. Nothing is more important .,
    Well John you went out not to please man but God in what is important to you. Your new life will have unimaginable conquests and creativity . You won’t lack.
    Good job and my prayers for your success as always. 💝 yisraela

    • INFJ are supposed to be ultimate planners, not ultimate seeks of truth–even though a quest for knowledge and a desire to always be rational are supposed to be parts of the INFJ personality.

      I used “supposed to be” above because I don’t believe there are just 16 personalities. Myers Briggs is a useful tool to narrow down the region in which a personality may generally lie, but it isn’t the final word and it isn’t destiny. I actually found John’s emphasis on it beside the point. But if that was the language he was going to insist on speaking, I was willing to speak it back to him…hence why I reminded him the implications of the personality types in context of the discussion…

  8. I’d promised above that I’d make no more comments here. Obviously, I made my points, and just as obviously, I got quite a few of you thinking pretty hard about them. That’s exactly what I’d hoped. But a funny thing happened to me on the way to Hard Reality…

    One thing I’ll say in passing first: Don’t confuse any particular psychological test (the MBTI, for example) with the theory behind it. Most people who encounter the first, and some who administer the first, have never really been taught deeply in the second. I was, by some of the best in the field (this is honesty, not boasting – their work is self-authenticating and I thank God for leading me their way). The MBTI may be no more than 50% reliable at first blush in revealing one’s “core type”. It mistyped me as having INTJ preferences for 30 years. That was an adopted role – not my birthright, which is ENFP. 20/20 hindsight confirms this, all the way to my childhood.

    That the eight Jungian cognitive processes plus the biblical “spirit in man” – Jung’s Ego – are meant to aim for the virtues given in the nine Beatitudes is something God granted me to see on prayer and study, and my teacher Vicky Jo Varner (who had never heard of such an idea) was fascinated by my thesis.

    But here’s the point. Every time I’ve reconciled Ti with Fi or – to leave Carl Jung behind and embrace Jesus Christ – my drive for “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” with my drive for “blessed are the pure in heart”, my fiction has always made quantum leaps forward. That often means emptying my mind, and frequently my shelves and computer files too, of what I’ve done previously, and it did this time. But once I’d done that, quite spontaneously – again, as always happens – something new and exciting sprang forth from the back of my mind (Ti: logical frameworks).

    I asked these mostly *self-critical* questions on my own blog:

    > Maybe, just maybe, “millennial/prophetic fiction” is the only sincere and truthful way for a Christian spec-fic author to go? Dare we ask that question seriously? Can we follow the answer where it leads, whatever the cost?

    That framework is exactly what sprang forth in my mind. Yisraela – 2embracethelight – and I have talked about the ramifications of this. We are not yet sure of where it will lead, but we are determined to follow where it leads. It may never reach print – at best it may appear on my writing blog. But if “speculative fiction” as this world knows of it is no longer an option for me, even under a “Christian” banner, then something else quite possibly is. Put another way, now that I’ve really decided to Play by the Rules as I’ve been taught them, the Ruler has told me, “Play here.” 🙂

    But my focus in *work remains as I’ve decided, prayerfully and with counsel, that it must be, and Yisraela agrees with me there. So this time truly, I wish you all farewell.

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