I enjoyed the article Escapism vs. Exaltation: Two Opposing Motives for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, which provides a look at sci-fi and fantasy from a hard Christian Reconstructionist perspective – a viewpoint that I share.
But I have my differences, listed below.
When I read “escapism is a bad thing”, I know the core truth that the author is communicating, and I largely agree with it. And yet…
Tolkien didn’t actually say “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory” but he did say
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.
I don’t begrudge a man from drinking, or from getting high, in his free time: in the same way, I don’t despise fantasies.
But, even though I love Tolkien’s major works, I am a Calvinist postmillenialist, not a Catholic amillenialist: that is, I am sure that the Good Guys WIN, in time and on earth – if slowly, and after much struggle and heartache. Building the future, and using stories about it as a tool of both entertainment and education (or at least to provoke some thinking), is what pushes me forward.
And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death. Fairy-stories provide many examples and modes of this … Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness.
An interesting, and properly alien perspective.
Anyways: in the great war between the Tolkien-style of worldbuilding for its own sake, and C.S. Lewis’ focus on a story with a purpose, I actually follow Lewis, although I enjoy Tolkien more.
Returning to the Escapism article:
Obviously, there are books worth of material that could be devoted to clarifying and understanding the many fantastic elements contained in Scripture and what they mean in application here and now for us. While I’d like to get around to writing such a book someday soon, Lord willing, for now let me just try to make two quick points before moving on:
Fantasy, like myth, does not necessarily mean untrue or unreal. Fantastic tales and mythologies can indeed contain very real and very true characters, encompass very real historic events, and convey biblically sound truths. .
The fact of God’s purposeful use of sometimes very dark characters and situations is not to be confused or contorted into God (or His people) in any way or at any time legitimizing evil actors or evil acts themselves. One apparent purpose of God using these darker elements as He does is to craft the dark backdrop upon which He juxtaposes the shining, bright beauty of His attributes. There is much more to say on this, of course, and I hope to tackle this area in some detail in the Part 2 follow up to last week’s post on gaming, but for now I hope that the notion of God’s purposeful use of dark figures and dramatic stories featuring many fantastic components can at the very least be seen as confirmation that the use of such things in such a manner can indeed be profitable, and perfectly so.
Most of the Recon guys I read are deeply into non-fiction, and rarely venture into creating – as opposed to enjoying – fiction or poetry. (Rushdoony himself, a major leader of this rather aggressive branch of Christianity, being a notable exception with his love of poetry.)
As for me, I prefer storytelling, for reasons best outlined in North’s article “The Rabbi and the Professor: How to Get Your Idea Across”. The intro quote:
Peter Drucker told me once, “There are two ways of teaching: the Greek way and the rabbinic way.” The Greek way, he explained, is based on analysis and breaking down a subject into its logical outline sequence (I A, B, C; II A, B, C). The rabbinic way always begins, “Let me tell you a story.” — Bob Buford
I’m with the rabbi’s here.
Back to Escapism:
One of the primary means by which we can test for the profitability of a thing is the motive by which it is being presented or pursued.
Motive is everything.
Having examined the critical concept of motive some detail in last week’s Every Game Captive: The Christian Call to Christ-Centered Gaming (Part 1), it might be helpful to re-share some of those thoughts here (with gaming sometimes replaced by fantasy):
Motive – As Scripture makes plain, the motive of one’s heart is critical (see: Matthew 15:18 and Luke 6:45). Motive is everything, and only the saving grace of God in us can provide us with the pure motives necessary to pursue truly Christ-centered actions. […]
In this context it is vital to ask (and continue asking as we go along) the question: Why am I doing this? Why am I making or watching this movie? Why am I writing or reading this book? Why am I creating or playing this game?
As for specific games, it is important to note that we are not constrained by what we may think (or even know) about the motives of those who crafted the particular game that we might be considering or playing, and we should not constrain others in a similar fashion. The fact that a particular game may have been made by unbelievers for self-serving, Christ-dismissing reasons in no way renders the game “untouchable” to us or irredeemable as a potentially profitable means by which God’s true Nature might be well observed and contemplated. While some games may require more filtering and adjustment than others, we should be slow to write any game off as a total waste of time or as an irredeemable piece of junk.
Yeah, yeah, I know full well that Traveller is (in part) grounded in a host of fallacious assumptions, from plentiful alien life to macro-evolutionary development to the existence of psionics.
Traveller gives me the tools I need to tell the stories I want. It is useful; therefore, I will use it.
When you make the Christian assumption that life and death are not fundamentally trivial matters, but is infused with meaning and purpose by God…
(as opposed to the Will of
wealthy and connected Men),
…motives and reasons rise to a point of great importance. So to conclude the article:
So what is our motive?
What is our motive in pursuing fantasy?
Are we aiming to escape from reality – a reality that is quite literally a purposeful reflection of the Nature of the God who created and defines all of it? Or are we aiming to embrace the infinitely beautiful and vibrant reality that God has crafted and charged us to engage and explore eternally (starting right now), all to His glory and all to our benefit?
In other words: Are we aiming to escape or evade our God-given, Gospel-fueled Great Commission mandate to take every thought and thereby every action completely captive to Christ? Or are we aiming to more rightly honor and more capably exalt His Nature by better understanding it through the Christ-centered pursuit and application of God’s creation of fantasy?
Well, replacing fantasy with science-fiction…
Traveller provides an arena to face a vast array of interesting and difficult situations, and put my ideas about people, politics, war, historical lessons, and life to a theoretical test, in the framework of a story.
Players naturally enjoy the personal challenge of beating the odds, in a fight or in getting a treasure. While being careful to give the players a fair shake, I get to see how the plan and the setting gets impacted (smashed?) by reality, pick up the pieces, see what works and what doesn’t, and set up something new.
Traveller is a really cool and sturdy sandbox, the land of vast and subtle thought experiments. And sometimes, the experiment produces a real insight, a bit of pure gold, that can be applied to the real world.