A few years ago, I had to choose my major between my two favorite subjects: physics and literature, and despite the clear monetary advantage in studying physics, I choose to study literature. Reading simply gave me more joy and I felt that I had a calling in the humanities. My story is fairly uncommon, but we all make that same kind of choice between utility and imagination every day. Every time we pick up a book (or watch a new movie or show), we’re investing our time and energy in an imaginative work that could be spent somewhere else. So why do we do it?
Often our motivation is for simple entertainment, but my best advice to Christian readers is to do it for more than that and read for the joy of literature. In his essay “Different Tastes in Literature” C. S. Lewis described his own discovery of the “joy in the arts,” by writing that “[it was] as if a food one had enjoyed for the taste proved one day to enable you (like dragon’s blood) to understand the speech of birds: as if water, besides quenching your thirst, suddenly became an intoxicant.”
Christians have unique hope in regards to literature because they can recognize that they are a dim reflection of God’s redemptive plan for the world—that Jesus Christ has overcome death will come again in the final conclusion that all readers of stories ultimately long for. J. R. R. Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” states that “[the joy of the happy ending] is a sudden and miraculous grace. . . it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” We have more choices today than ever before, and choosing to read comes the cost of a hundred other uses of our time, but if we can catch a glimpse of God’s glory and experience the joy of stories, then we can gain so much more than just entertainment.
The Oscars are coming, and I haven’t seen almost any of the movies. As I scrolled through category after category of Oscar nominations only to find a small handful of films I’ve seen, I understood that I’ve been living under a rock for the whole year. In fact, I’ve been under two rocks—the rock of College and the rock of Christianity.
Living on campus without a car is not unlike being a part of the Gilligan’s Island castaways: you have interesting people for company and plenty of bamboo-rigged conveniences, but there’s no escape, and your only connection to the outside world is a radio. I really had planned to see some of these movies, but I was just too busy curled up in my dorm-room cave.
Christianity is a weightier rock, to be sure. As a child growing up in the “Christian bubble” I was rightly sheltered from many films, but parental censorship no longer applies to my life, and I have to figure out for myself how to honor God with my movie-going decisions. There’s no hard and fast rule; but when five of the eight films nominated for best picture are rated R, I’ll usually just give up the task of weighing the merits of each individual film and go see Inside Out for the second or third time.
I may be one of mass of people that are out of touch with the Oscars, and chances are—you are too. But I realize that it’s not always bad to be behind the times with our engagement with popular culture. While we can all celebrate the artistic talent and hard work that is highlighted in the Oscars, the best kind of cultural engagement is dictated by our interests, our time, and our faith.
The presentation of women in fiction has come a long way, but the subject of feminism and fiction is still incredibly contentious. Many feel that feminism in fiction is divisive, but feminism can benefit everyone by improving the work of fiction overall. Here are five reasons why feminism can improve fiction:
- It expands the audience of a work of fiction.
Great fiction is able to reach all people. If a story contains problematic messages about women, then it’s cutting its intended audience in half. Women can and frequently do still enjoy these stories, but the message that they’re really for boys only still persists
- It promotes unity.
Feminism in fiction aims to bring women into fiction more frequently and respectfully. This in no ways means that it will push men out. Good feminism promotes unity between men and women.
- It pushes for more creative writing.
Creating lifelike characters is difficult. Therefore, many writers fall for the temptation to use flat or stock characters. This is true for characters of both sexes, but female characters seem particularly prone to this. Feminism challenges writers to put a bit of extra effort into their creative writing.
- It reflects reality more truly.
No matter how fantastic the story is, all great fiction communicates truths about reality. And feminism in fiction is all about conveying the diverse spectrum of women that really exists in the world.
- It honors women as people bearing the image of God.
Art in any form honors the original artistry of God’s creation—and women are an essential part of that creation. The priority of all fiction should give respect and honor to people of any kind because they bear the image of God. Feminism is just one of the many ways that we can create achieve that goal.
There’s no doubt that Star Trek: The Original Series is a cultural icon, yet I rarely find people my age who have actually enjoyed the series. If you have no taste for dated science fiction, then I understand; however, Star Trek has a timeless quality to it that will not grow old. Many have attributed that quality to the show’s intelligence—and it is brilliant—but I think that the eternal appeal of the show runs deeper than that. Quite simply, Star Trek asked questions about what it means to be human, and in doing so, it captured part of the awe and wonder of our human experience.
Psalm 8:3-4 says “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (ESV). These verses express beautifully what all people feel at some level when they consider the majesty and size of the universe. We are struck with wonder, and we’re immediately forced to examine our place that universe. The Psalmist answers these questions with the understanding that we are God’s creation and thus praises God. Star Trek deals with these same questions—but it approaches them from a slightly different angle.
One episode, there’s a transporter accident that splits Captain Kirk into two people who embody his conflicting natures of goodness and evil like a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in space. In another, an android learns how to love, and yet another episode features an alien civilization that must be protected by the Prime Directive, even if that protection means that the social injustices of that civilization would be left to continue. It’s cheesy, it’s thrilling, and it’s nothing less than a dramatized philosophy of man.
“God vs. Man in Batman v Superman”
Batman v. Superman is my most anticipated film this year; not only does it feature some of my all-time favorite fictional characters, it also promises to explore themes of ambition, innocence, and power. All of the trailers feature a narration from Lex Luther claiming gleefully that the conflict between the two heroes is like “God vs. Man.” The religious overtones in this conflict are clear, but what are we as Christians to make of them?
It’s easy for Christians to be put off by the prevalent comparisons of powerful superheroes to gods. We, like Captain America in the first Avengers movie, often find ourselves thinking “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” We fear the hint of heresies in fiction because we
know that fiction helps us interpret the world, but what we sometimes forget is that our understanding of the truth can also help us to interpret our fiction.
Superman is often compared to Jesus Christ. The messianic metaphors in the Superman mythos give Christians a unique advantage in their understanding and appreciation of the character. He’s a kind of savior to the human race, but Lex Luther has always represented the ambition of man and the belief that mankind can save itself and rise to the power of gods on their own. This is why he understands the conflict between Batman, a man like himself, and Superman to be the war between Man and God. But what Luther never understands about Superman, is that he does not lord his power above mankind but joins humanity and becomes one of them. Far from the cheesy cliché that people often imagine it to be, Superman’s secret identity as “mild mannered reporter” Clark Kent is a kind of incarnation. The mysteries and wonder of Christ’s actual incarnation are beyond all of our understanding, but to me that mystery makes Superman’s own conflicts between his god-like power and human nature all the more fascinating.
Literature is a priceless treasure, but it comes at a cost. I’ve always heard people say that reading great literature can expose its readers to both the highest reaches of civilization and the deepest mysteries of humanity. They’re not wrong, but such soaring praise for great literature and the inevitable exhortation to read the classics that follows often give us a burdensome sense of duty and a secret guilt at not being up to the task.
I remember the feeling of drowning I felt at reading The Iliad for the first time and not understanding a word. I hated it and hated the faceless elites that told me that I should love it if I wanted to love literature. I thought that studying literature would mean that I’d love my work, but I didn’t realize that my love would become work. It took me years to realize that it was okay to feel that way—that every passion worth pursuing is worth working for. I learned to accept my struggles with literature as part of growth instead of feeling guilty that I didn’t like all of the great literature I was reading.
Six years after my initial experience with The Iliad, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the epic much better. I’m no longer drowning, but I’m still in over my head. It’s the inevitable result of embracing something larger than myself. Too often, we approach reading with a kind of literary legalism that promises that if we enjoy The Grapes of Wrath or understand T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land we will be “well read” and have “good taste.” But if we approach literature with pride at conquering the classics instead of humility at learning from them, then we will fail every time. It doesn’t matter what level you read at or how knowledgeable you are about literature, read something difficult, something you might not even like at first. We’ve got nothing to prove but everything to learn, so let’s all read above our heads.
We all want to see Nasa put someone on mars, but this is no easy task. I read a recent news article by Eric Berger that states that “it would take NASA 20 to 40 years to send humans to the surface of Mars at a staggering cost of approximately half a trillion dollars.” Naturally, the politicians who would have to pay that bill are unenthusiastic. After all, men on mars have no practical value. They do, however, have immense value to our innate sense of story.
Quite simply, the only way that humanity will walk on other planets is if we fully buy into the vision that our manifest destiny lies in the final frontier. That was the vision Star Trek offered in the years immediately preceding the moon landing, and it’s a vision that still captures the minds and imaginations of people today. Our desire to go to mars is continually inspired by Science fiction that shows us doing just that. C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet is set on the ethereal Malacandra—another name for Mars. Doctor Who places the first outpost on Mars in the year 2059 (as a fixed point in time, no less). And of course The Martian, both the book and the film, seized the popular imagination with visions of the first man on Mars.
The futuristic stories that science fiction gives us have the power to affect our real future because we also understand our real history, both past and future, as a narrative. Christianity teaches that the hope of our future lies in Christ’s return, but rather than negating the value of science fiction, this doctrine should empower us to eagerly embrace the future. After all, we know that no matter what heights we reach or depths we fall, our future is secure, and the human story ends well.