Guest Blogger: H.G. Ferguson
Recently the question of how mythology relates to Christian fantasy — if it relates at all — was raised on Speculative Faith by Elijah David, and by Mike Duran, and the conclusion reached is that myths can be “redeemed,” i.e., mythological creatures, stories et al. can indeed be woven into a Christian story’s framework to bring glory to God. Both writers cite Lewis and Tolkien, of course, who mined different mythologies to bring forth characters like Mr. Tumnus and whole plots like a magic ring. Both David and Duran encourage Christian fantasy writers everywhere to follow suit. Duran even asks whether or not all myths can be redeemed, not just certain ones.
There are those, however, who strenuously disagree. Many Christians believe any and all “paganism” in a Christian story automatically infects and corrupts it, since God condemns pagan gods and practices thoroughly in the scriptures. Therefore, any tale that has anything “from a pagan source” is inherently suspect and actually quite dangerous, even inspired by the devil. Google this mindset and you’ll find it swiftly. Narnia is corrupt, LOTR is corrupt, it’s all corrupt and evil because it has things in it that come from paganism. For these folks, myths cannot be redeemed, period.
Unfortunately, people who assert this don’t understand … (gasp) … Psalm 29.
Psalm 29 is a hymn to YHWH’s majesty and power. It also is, practically verbatim, a hymn to the god Ba’al. Google this if you doubt me. Yes, the very Word of God settled forever in heaven (Psalm 119:89) contains a hymn to a mythological deity in it! Oh, the unutterable HORROR of it all! Well…not quite. It was originally a hymn to Ba’al, but now there is one tiny little difference. The name YHWH replaces the name of the pagan god. This is YHWH’s way of saying I RIDE THE STORM, NOT HIM. It is also the example par excellance of redeeming a myth, because God redeems this one Himself. The Holy Spirit inspired the Psalmist to take this hymn and tell the Truth. These are pagan words from a pagan source, but they honor and praise the true God, YHWH. Because they are redeemed. Not … reproduced. Keep the name Ba’al here and the myth remains unchanged, untrue, and dishonors the REAL Rider of the storm. Redemption, not reproduction. The truth about Psalm 29 silences as far as I am concerned the objection that anything from a pagan source corrupts a Christian story. Not if it is redeemed, Jack.
So yes, myths can and should be redeemed, but there is a danger here, as Duran rightly observes, and care is required. There is a solemn warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 about those who will depart from the faith and wander away into “the myths,” i.e., mythology. This is reproduction, not redemption. Historically this referred to the gnostics but in our day it also applies to some who think they can pretty much mine/write whatever they want and still claim they are honoring God. When myths are reproduced, this dishonors the one who said I AM YHWH…YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME (Exodus 20:2-3).
Now what do I mean by this? Let me give you an example.
The phrase much in vogue today is “What if?” But a Christian writer who actually believes the Bible is God’s Word and that it is objective, absolute truth should never ask that question without asking first WHAT DO THE SCRIPTURES SAY? That determines our “what ifs.” There won’t be a “what if” if that “what if” is the opposite of what God says. Or there could be, but then that’s a lie, is it not?
One thing unifies all pagan mythologies, whether they be Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Greek, or Slavic (and all of these can be rich sources of story fodder). That one thing is polytheism, many gods, some battling each other, some hopping into bed with each other or taking delights with mortal men and women, ad infinitum et nauseam. Why nauseam? Because polytheism cannot be redeemed and still remain polytheism. A polytheistic story universe does not honor the One who said, “I AM YHWH, AND THERE IS NO OTHER. BESIDES ME THERE IS NO GOD…BEFORE ME THERE WAS NO GOD FORMED, AND THERE WILL BE NONE AFTER ME” (Isaiah 45:5, 43:10).
So if a Christian writer thinks he or she can honor the God Who spoke these Words by creating a universe with many gods in it, even one with a “high god” at the top, and all these beings are called gods and they are indistinguishable from the mythology from which they were drawn, think again. This is reproduction, not redemption. It may sell books and not offend people, but it certainly would offend God. He says so.
Some claim Tolkien crossed this line with his Valar, but any careful reading of his corpus will not substantiate the allegation. There is no polytheism in Tolkien, Eru Iluvatar alone is God. Tolkien redeemed the notion of “gods” with a little g by making his Valar created beings, subservient to Eru and the workers of His will, much like the angels. The Valar are never called “gods” except by mistaken Men. In Numenor there was only one holy place, the Meneltarma, and that was sacred to Eru Iluvatar alone. The Valar are respected, but not worshiped. Redemption, not reproduction. (And by the way, in Lewis, Oyarsa is not Maleldil).
Redemption, not reproduction. My current WIP set in 1850 northwestern England involves some denizens from British/Nordic folklore — fairies, goblins, palug cats, a bad-tempered fachan, a wight — even a human/non-human married romance! But all these beings have a relationship with God, the real God, the True God, the same way the Christians and unbelievers in the story do. Not the same relationship, but the same God. Some spit in God’s face, others serve Him, whether they be human or not. This is what I mean by redemption, not reproduction. I could populate my tale with all manner of things indeed, but if this relationship with God is not there at the center, then I have merely reproduced the old tales, complete with their presuppositional framework of polytheistic gods. The real God, the True God, He would not be there. The old gods who are not gods would be. I could indeed pen such a tale so as not to “offend,” but my Bible tells me Jesus Christ is to have the pre-eminence in all things (Colossians 1:18), including what I write. A story using myths mined from pagan religions that avoids every Christian reference might make me successful, but what is my true motive in doing so? This is not redeeming myths for the right reasons, it is reproducing them for every wrong reason imaginable.
As a Christian who believes the Bible, I cannot do that. I will not do that. I won’t check my faith at the door in an effort to look like the world so I can be popular and not offend. Far better I offend men, but not God, who calls me to be true to His Word.
And myths? Yes, we can redeem them. We should redeem them. Even must redeem them, perhaps. May God give us the wisdom to do so in creative ways that truly honor Him as we write our stories according to His Word and to the praise of His glory.
Author, theologian, graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and Oral Roberts University, HG Ferguson brings biblical truth and articulate power to bear upon matters of both spiritual arcana and his work as a writer of horror fiction from a thoroughly scriptural perspective. Always outside the box of convention, but never outside the lines of what God has told us in His Holy Word. In his metaphysical horror novel Jezebelle, the darkness haunting a small southern town takes a road trip—into implacable evil and mindless destruction. And some Light too.