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    Portraying God in Fiction

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    mindspike
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    Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  mindspike on February 21st 2011, 1:31 pm

    As part of Critical Press Media, I have developed and am supporting the board game "Atomic Earth". The premise of the concept is that the earth is now ruled by giant, atomic, Godzilla-style monsters, with mankind decidedly not in the position of dominance. As part of my supporting work, I'm writing fiction using this setting. A while back, I had someone comment on having one of my characters praying in response to being attacked by a giant monster. He said, "I cannot reconcile the existence of God with a world where giant Atomic Monsters have devastated humanity." This comment has bothered me ever since.

    I'm not using my stories to preach, but I do write about ordinary people with ordinary faith and the ordinary practices of that faith. I don't have a problem seeing salvation on the other side of the monstrous apocalypse, but I recognize that others may. The same problem extends to many other settings and sci-fi conventions where humanity has left Earth behind for the stars, fantasy realms where the Earth is completely different, or worlds where Earth and humanity are not a part of it at all.

    Given that:
    1) fiction is metaphorical communication concerning the "human condition"
    2) the most pressing problem of the human condition is the need for recognition of sin and a savior therefrom

    How do you effectively communicate in a setting (like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, or Atomic Earth) where the consumer may perceive that God does not or cannot exist?


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  Hackmodford on February 21st 2011, 2:12 pm

    I'm sorry... but I don't understand the problem with God existing in a world with giant atomic dinosaurs dominating the earth and humanity struggling for survival...

    I mean... if you're some primitive guy in say, Africa, there's giant Lions and stuff that would be more than happy to eat you. How is that any different except on scale?

    And to be honest I don't fully understand your question anyways.

    Another exmaple I would imagine the person having a hard time understanding would be the movie "The Book of Eli"

    Am I right/wrong?


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  Paeter on February 21st 2011, 4:53 pm

    mindspike wrote:
    How do you effectively communicate in a setting (like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, or Atomic Earth) where the consumer may perceive that God does not or cannot exist?

    Hmm. Good one. Wish I could get inside the mind of the person who commented.

    I don't have a technical, textbook writing class answer for this one. That's much more your strength than mine. But I'd say that in the sci-fi where I've seen spiritual matters blend well for my tastes, they are a part of the world and story. If you look at the recent Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, or Star Wars, you'll notice that the supernatural is part of the world and story, although somewhat "behind the curtain".

    In Star Trek, religions were almost always presented as "advanced science+superstition= religion". There were religious people, but to my memory their beliefs were never validated as being actually supernatural. (It usually turned out to be just another alien acting as "god".)

    So you might ask yourself whether or not the setting you've created validates the reality of any spiritual elements. Maybe adding some could grease the wheels for some "god talk" now and then.

    That's my stab in the dark. Good luck!


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  mindspike on February 21st 2011, 6:45 pm

    Hackmodford wrote:And to be honest I don't fully understand your question anyways.

    The inherent problem is that this particular instance is an emotional response. The actual reasoning is flawed. It goes: 1) God did not create Giant Atomic Monsters in the real world. 2) Giant Atomic Monsters exist in this world. 3) Therefore, God cannot exist in this world. 4) I believe God exists in the real world. 5) Therefore, this story cannot be reconciled with my belief system.

    That's not the point. The point is that in the absence of a defined spiritual cosmology, the reader will insert his own.

    Star Wars, Farscape, BSG, et al, portray universalism.
    Star Trek is an excellent example of materialism.
    Dungeons & Dragons is classic pantheism.
    TV shows like Supernatural and Legend of the Seeker rely on mysticism.

    All of these ideas are antithetical to monotheism in general, and Christianity in particular. At the same time, since the belief set is defined, Christianity can be accurately portrayed therein as transcendent spiritual truth, superseding the accepted belief system.

    In the case of settings such as Atomic Earth or Hammer's Slammers, the fantastic elements are meant to coexist with Christianity without contradicting it, allowing orthodox Christian behavior without making theology the focus of the story... as with Spirit Blade.

    I guess I'm wondering if perhaps this approach is inherently flawed, or if this is simply a failure of communication in a singular instance.


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  Hackmodford on February 21st 2011, 6:50 pm

    So are you saying that you're wondering if shows that portray the wrong ideas are inherently wrong? Or are you saying that accepting christianity as the transcending truth in such tales is a way to cope? Or are you saying that we should only stick to stories that don't conflict with our beliefs?


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  mindspike on February 22nd 2011, 1:21 pm

    I'm saying that I don't want a reader of my fiction to draw the conclusions:
    1)I as an author don't believe in God
    2)salvation may be found apart from God
    3)God is not a necessary part of a cohesive worldview

    If you doubt that fiction has the ability to cause such reactions, I give you the "Church of the Jedi".


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  Hackmodford on February 22nd 2011, 2:04 pm

    Well... you're a publishing company right? Just put a note in the beginning of the book, or an editor's note... or something like that.

    Would something like that help?


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  mindspike on February 23rd 2011, 12:34 am

    That's kind of the question, isn't it? If I need to append a disclaimer to works of fiction in order to establish orthodox theology, then this approach to fiction is inherently flawed as a method of communicating orthodox faith.


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    Re: Portraying God in Fiction

    Post  Paeter on February 24th 2011, 9:25 pm

    mindspike wrote:That's kind of the question, isn't it? If I need to append a disclaimer to works of fiction in order to establish orthodox theology, then this approach to fiction is inherently flawed as a method of communicating orthodox
    faith.

    I think that's an option, but you don't need to do that. I see the marketing elements (like the suggested disclaimer) as related to but separate from the storytelling. I'm going the route of marketing my stuff as "Christian". But Brent Weeks, for example, is not, despite having obviously Christian content throughout his entire trilogy.

    Now, one difference is that Weeks' world is purely fantastic, with religious parallels to ours, where Spirit Blade and Atomic Earth are suggestions of what may happen to our world in the future.

    Even so, I think if the groundwork is laid well, Christianity can fit into any genre or story. I've not read any fiction based on Atomic Earth, but from playing the game and reading the manual, I'd see a reference to Christianity as coming from left field because I didn't detect any themes of faith in the core of what the game is about. Now, if one of the locations on the board had religious context (like a temple or chapel), and/or if faith had been mentioned in some way in the world setting in the manual(if it was, I missed it), then a Christian character in fiction based in that world would be a natural idea to me.

    As a side note, cosmic/radioactive/"comic book" energy causing positive mutation instead of harmful mutation tends to be used by sci-fi that supports naturalistic evolution in which mutation is used to explain forward leaps in evolution. So it may be that your use of mutation (the origin of your monsters) subconsciously creates a naturalistic paradigm for players already leaning in that direction. That's pure speculation on my part, but it may be one possible explanation for that reader's assumption and reaction.


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