This question really floored me. Not that it is difficult to address, but that the answer should be so clear that the question need not be asked at all. And while I tire of repeating the same points over and again, questions against “pleasures of the world” have never been targeted at fiction, but now that they have, I feel an obligation to reiterate.
I think it is important first of all to ask, what is fiction, at its core? A reasonable answer would be that it is an art form. An outflow of human creativity which attempts to take a little bit of the chaos in the world and distill it into a single snapshot that speaks to the human heart in a sensible and almost tangible way. Let us address the first part first.
Artistic creativity. This without a doubt, is something which separates us from the other creatures of the world. Surely a beaver might build a beautiful dam, and a bird an intricate nest, but these are nothing more than instincts which happen to be pretty. To us, they seem like a mere shadow of our own creativity. We laud them for it, even in the knowledge that we are far superior. And yet is it not the same with us and God? Our pitiful creative powers pale in comparison to the God who created the heavens and the earth, yet without a doubt these powers are derived from God himself, when He created us in His image. Our creativity is God-given. And just as we delight in seeing beauty in the animal world, God too delights when He sees products of our creativity here on earth, of which literature and fiction certainly hold a place. Now, to reject these because they might lead us astray in our faith is ridiculous, (more on this later) because they spring from a creativity that is a gift from God. Are we to insult God by saying it is a lousy gift, not worthy of our attention? Certainly, there are works which dishonour God and such works deserve to be approached with much caution, if at all. Yet by the very definition of fiction, which implies it is from God, it gives Him honour in some way does it not? The fact that humans can even string words together in such beautiful order owes itself to God.
Secondly, fiction as a viewing glass of the world. Fiction is not just made up stories or imaginations of people with too much time. Often writers (and all artists) see the most of the world. While people go about their lives not seeing and not perceiving, writers see the hurts, the contradictions, the human condition, the problems. The world is a chaotic mess. And fiction works like a magnifying glass, to isolate and examine a single theme, a single human experience, and to make the most sense out of it. Often, truth is found more in fiction than in the real world, not only with our minds, but especially with our hearts. Fiction opens our eyes and our hearts to see things that we might not see otherwise, like Nathan’s story to David. Even Jesus told parables. Through fiction we understand the human condition a little better, we glean insights into the lives of people we would never meet, into issues we would never encounter elsewhere. Just as education is seen as a boon for a Christian as something which broadens his intellect, fiction is something which broadens our moral imagination, our concept of beauty, our capacity for empathy, and our view of God. Why is education then advocated, when the pitfalls are equally dangerous? Are we choosing which man-made rule to put in place?
I think a quote by Jeanne Damoff can sum up my point well:
“Christians should definitely not read fiction. They risk opening their minds to vain imaginations and puffing themselves up with knowledge. Who knows what they might be emboldened to do? Engage their atheistic neighbors in conversation? Take a stand against social injustice? Travel to heathen countries and mingle with uncivilized people groups? The world is a broken place, and we can’t risk the possibility of story painting pictures that open the eyes of Christians to its pain. Think what might happen if we do!”
I mentioned earlier that to reject something because of it potential to lead us astray is ridiculous. Let me explain. EVERYTHING has the potential to lead us astray. Now to follow the logic which is behind eschewing fiction, one has to follow it all the way. And therein lies my complaint. The view against fiction proposes an all-encompassing logic that cannot be applied to everything. Think about it; organised religion, love, friends, service, ministry, education, family, food. All of them could lead us astray. Seriously. Are we to avoid all of them? Certainly not! But let each do as his faith allows, as Paul says. Then comes the question: why test your faith? Well, why test your faith by subscribing to organised religion? It is a question we cannot answer because organised religion is the best we can come up with, pitfalls and all.
Let me put it this way. When we were newborns, everything was dangerous. As long as we were alone, it was dangerous. Because we didn’t know any better. Then when we were maybe 3 or 4, things have settled down, we can say “dada”, and our parents feel more at ease. Except if we leave our cot and crawl around the house unattended. That’s dangerous. Then comes Primary 1 and it’s only dangerous when we leave the house. Primary 4 and it’s crossing the road. Secondary 1 and it is coming home late. And so and so forth. Now, it would be crazy if your parents were to stop you from leaving the house alone when you are 20 because it is dangerous. You would think them to be out of their minds! You see, ultimately, everything is dangerous to a certain extent – we could die crossing the road, today. But as we grow older, our judgements and abilities to protect ourselves improve, and we know what can be considered reasonably dangerous enough to avoid, and what can be undertaken with considerably less caution. It is the same with our faith. When I was kid people always told me not to go into apologetics, for it is an unnecessary mess to get oneself into. What if your faith weakens? And now I am 20 and everyone is like, yeahhh apologetics, we must defend our faith! What’s the difference? The difference is that my faith and my mind can handle it now. So let each person act according to his faith.
As I mentioned however, there are books which dishonour God’s name, and these books are certainly dangerous. But that said, what is intended for evil can become good. Take for example Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. He is a strong atheist, and Brave New World is about a utopian world in the year 2540 where technology has solved a lot of problems. It is deeply atheistic in nature. Yet when I read it, I began to feel for the depravity of the world. Moreover, I even used it once as an example of how unideal a world without free will would be. So you see, in the end it is all about our response. Of course, I don’t encourage you to go read Fifty Shades of Gray or some book about Satanic arts, but you get my point.
To end, I want to be clear that I am not advocating a mindless and blind dive into all fiction indiscriminately. Discretion is always the key. And through it all our eyes must always be fixed upon God first, who gave us fiction in the first place.