Every book you read is a tractate on the world view of the author. In some stories, the author’s viewpoint is immediately discernible; perhaps the book’s premise was even based on a view the author passionately wanted to share, such as Charles Dickens’s frequent crusades against the injustices of Victorian England (Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Little Dorrit). More often than not, however, the author’s world view is simply the de facto backdrop for a story intended for sheer entertainment value.
Don’t be mistaken, though. The fact that an author doesn’t necessarily intend to “preach” his world view, hardly diminishes the fact that his view is still presented to the public in a favorable and often convincing manner, simply because likable main characters share these beliefs. This very subtlety is what gives fictional stories tremendous sway in directing public morality. One need look no farther than Hollywood to recognize the phenomenal impact stories can have on those who participate in them.
The entertainment industry, headed by Hollywood, is probably the single most powerful pundit of public thought, emotion, and belief. People flock to the movies to watch their favorite actors fight their way through incredible odds to rescue the world and save the day. We love these heroes, we admire them, we emulate them. Because of our great fascination with the heroes of the silver screen and the written page, we want to forgive them their faults and gloss over the inconsistencies between the world view of the Bible and those exemplified by our heroes.
That we are affected by what we watch and read is undeniable. That authors therefore bear a huge responsibility to their readers, in presenting the truth in their work, should also go without saying. Christian authors, especially, must be aware of the great burden they shoulder whenever they sit down at their keyboards. In the medium of fiction, we have perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for sharing moral truth with people.
Moral compromise and outright immorality has inundated the mainstream entertainment industry—and therefore the populace at large—to such an extent that immoral standards have not only become accepted, but even encouraged.
What I find extremely discouraging is how few Christian writers (and filmmakers) are presenting a counter-attack to this destruction of biblical morality. A vast majority of fiction written by Christians presents heroes whose lifestyles are cookie-cutter copies of the worldly models found throughout Hollywood. Why aren’t Christians standing as a light in a dark world? Why aren’t we presenting heroes and stories that find their ultimate foundation on the Word of God?
In no way am I suggesting that Christian authors should limit themselves to writing about sanctimonious, puritanical, or “perfect” characters. Many Christian readers are thoroughly fed up with the formulaic stories funneled through today’s Christian publishing houses and distributors.
Not only is it possible to present flawed and interesting characters struggling and ultimately learning to do right, but some of the greatest moral stories in both literature and movies find their foundation in this premise. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace offers as its hero a young Judahite consumed with revenge. When a Man’s a Man by Harold Bell Wright is fueled entirely by the wrong decisions its characters make throughout the majority of the story. In Mary Johnston’s epic Civil War duology The Long Roll/Cease Firing, her characters, lost in the chaos of a country at war, fall and rise and fall again. But in all of these stories we find the bedrock truth of convincing morality. Why is it convincing? Because it rings true to life, in its flawed characters and desperate plights. Why is it moral? Because the authors refused to compromise the underlying truth of their stories. Even when the characters themselves do not understand this truth, the reader is led to see it through the logical ramifications caused by the characters’ actions.
Christian writers must take a hard stand on the truth. We must stand on the laws of God, show the stark black and white of morality, and never flinch from breaking today’s abundant stereotypes. Rise above mediocrity. No matter how excellent a truth you may be presenting, no one will care if it is not packaged with excellence. Don’t fall into the trap of two-dimensional characters, cotton-candy facades of the “Christian life,” pat endings, and unjustified prudery. If we, as Christians, bear in ourselves the Light of the World, how can we dare present unfruitful, second-rate stories? We must excel, we must shine—not for our own glory, but for that of our Creator, King, and Savior.
In his excellent book Outside Hollywood: The Young Christian’s Guide to Vocational Fimmaking (which, despite its title and emphasis, still possesses an abundance of wealth for the Christian writer of fiction), Isaac Botkin puts our case very plainly: “Christ commanded all of us to examine the fruit. So what is the fruit of Christian pragmatism? The runaway worldliness of the Church is easily keeping pace with the runaway worldliness in surrounding culture. Christian radio, Christian television, and Christian movies have simultaneously descended to a level that is not merely culturally irrelevant, but spiritually treasonous. It is also ugly, childish, and of poor technical quality. This, of course, is a generalization, but it is an accurate generalization."
The truth of quality and the truth of morality: both are desperately in demand from Christian writers, both are the bedrock of excellent fiction.
- January 30, 2008
- K.M. Weiland
- Posted in Theme