The EVIL of Fiction

A while back, Brandon posted something about his grandfather just not getting science fiction. In my personal reading, I came across this quote:

To the seventeenth-century Puritan, fiction did not only deflect the reader from more profitable occupation[;] there was an additional, very grave objection. It was untrue, therefore a lie, and therefore damnably wicked. Puritans customarily divided lying into three categories: the pernicious lie, made for evil intent; the officious lie, intended to prevent some danger or procure some good; and the sporting lie, “which is to make one merry, or to pass away Precious Time.” (Gillian Avery, quoted by Leonard Marcus in Minders of Make-Believe)

I find this fascinating. I doubt the Puritans were the first to come up with the concept that all fiction is lies. The Devil just isn’t that creative; he’ll take the same ideas and twist them the same way over and over and over again. However, it’s hilarious that the very idea of fiction being evil is literally Puritanical!

But is fiction evil? Well, it’s fiction, and therefore not truth. But didn’t Jesus himself tell stories? Take a look at the parables. They were stories that illustrated heavenly truths. I suppose you could argue that these aren’t fictions in the strictest sense; after all, shepherds lose sheep and women lose coins. That’s not necessarily a made-up tale. The prophet Nathan used a story to get David to realize his sin. Even that might not fall under the same category as “fiction” though.

But what did God say? Did he say “don’t lie,” which is what the Puritans are flinging at fiction? Well, no, God didn’t give that command. He said, “You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.” There’s a big difference here.

If my fiction ends up making someone think badly of a certain political enemy, and my fiction has no basis in fact, well, I’m breaking this commandment. On the other hand, if my fiction is about a magical land called Narnia, who am I giving false testimony about?

False testimony aims to tear down someone else. False testimony seeks to build me up by making someone else look bad. If my fiction does that, then yes, I am sinning. If my fiction does not falsely tear down someone else, though, and simply tells a story – who am I tearing down?

Well, food for thought.

(Incidentally, Minders of Make-Believe is turning into a fun read. It’s a history of children’s literature in the States. Take a look if you’re into that sort of thing!)

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5 thoughts on “The EVIL of Fiction

  1. I think an important element of fiction that makes it something we can see as godly is that it is the exercise of a quality God has put into us, one that reflects his own nature – Creativity. God’s creative work of designing this world and everything is contains in one of the qualities for which we give him glory and praise him. In many ways, we reflect God’s own qualities, albeit in a limited form and corrupted by sinfulness. When we use those qualities to his glory, we are giving him glory, because we are reflecting his nature.

    But there be the rub – doing it to his glory, and not our own. But if I write an awesome story and then publicly point to Jesus as the true source of my inspiration and creativity, how would that be any different than the man who creates any other work of art to God’s glory, or who plays pro football and gives glory to God after the victory, or who works on his assembly line faithfully and always makes it clear that he works hard to honor the Lord?

    I believe that when we create our little worlds and our little stories, we are just reflecting our great Creator. When we give him the glory for that, we should not feel any guilt.

  2. An interesting thought, for sure. I think you might be able to add “oneself” to the list of bearing false testimony against a neighbor. For example, if I tell a tall tale that hides my weaknesses and and magnifies my strengths, I might just be a braggart. But if I tell a tale on my job application that deceives them into thinking that I went to Harvard when I am actually a dropout… I guess I’m bearing false testimony about myself?

    I think the sin also lies in the deception. CS Lewis had no desire to deceive me into believing Narnia lies behind just the right wardrobe.

    1. Good thought on the deception idea — it isn’t my intent to deceive with fiction, and few (if any) would be deceived by such fiction. False teaching, on the other hand…

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