Monday, October 7, 2019

“Going Christian:” A Belated, Fiction-Related Rumination

     Yesterday evening I heard from another writer, one I’ve long admired, that she was considering trying to write Christian science fiction. Having dipped a toe into those waters myself, I was immediately alarmed for her well-being. There’s no harder row to hoe in any of the speculative fields.

     Yes, there’s an audience for Christian-oriented fiction of all kinds. Yes, there are publishers who specialize in it, and apparently do fairly well at it. (She mentioned this one specifically.) And yes, some writers have done quite well in that niche. But the difficulties are quite as severe as with any other variety of message-oriented fiction. They may be at their highest in the speculative genres.

     “Then why do you do it?” I hear you cry. Well, in part it’s because I’m a lunatic. And in part it’s because I prefer a severe challenge. (I’m bored by stuff I do easily; aren’t you?) But I tend to think of my crap as Christian-flavored rather than message-oriented. Let’s see if I can illustrate the difference.

     One of the more controversial notions I’ve batted around with the priests I’ve known concerns the possibility that the Apostolic Succession might be severed, such that there was no longer a chain of bishops from Saint Peter onward. Without a bishop connected by the Succession to Saint Peter, no one could ordain priests who could validly administer the sacraments. Would that mean that Christianity itself had reached its endpoint? Or would it still be valid to claim that one is a practicing Christian, and to inculcate the Faith in others, despite the absence of the sacraments?

     As it happens, there’s one sacrament that even a layman can administer: Baptism. John the Baptist did it, and no one ordained him! So even the severance of the Succession wouldn’t put an absolute end to that practice. As for the other sacraments...well, one can only ask for so much. But the Faith itself doesn’t depend upon the sacraments. They’re adjuncts to the Faith: extremely valuable sources of grace and reinforcement. But they’re not absolutely essential.

     God is just. He denies no man his due. A total “heathen” who has nevertheless lived a good life will earn the same salvation as any ardent believer. One who embraces the Faith, perhaps after encountering a vestigial copy of the New Testament and finding it persuasive, is no less worthy for having been denied the administration of the sacraments. That was one of the motifs I employed in the Spooner Federation novels.

     There’s no explicit Christian preaching in the Spooner Federation books. But the reader is presented with Christians behaving as they’re expected to behave, including in their approaches to difficult and unprecedented problems. Flavoring, not message.

     The novels of the Futanari Saga are similarly flavored. They feature Christian characters who behave as Christians are supposed to behave. There’s no “message,” as such. As with the Spooner Federation books, there are Christian characters who exemplify Christian conduct.

     In The Wise and the Mad, I chose to use the most painful of all Christianity-related subjects – the clerical pedophilia scandals – as a major plot driver. Even so, my emphasis was on the behavior of Christians, including the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. How would the Faith regard the application of a technological breakthrough to such a problem? Somewhat more quirkily and amusingly, how would the Church react to the elevation of a typical no-nonsense / “roll up your sleeves and get the job done” New Yorker – think Donald Trump in a miter – to the Throne of Saint Peter? The Church’s Establishment is just as resistant to dramatic changes as any other. In a way, that’s only proper, for a church’s major function is to conserve its doctrines over time and to see to it that they’re promulgated accurately. But stubbornness of method in the face of a crisis that could destroy the Church completely, as the pedophilia scandals have threatened to do, would not be pleasing to God.

     So: No “message,” just Christians and Christian clerics behaving the way they’re supposed to behave, rather than the caricatures the entertainment media have bombarded us with. Persuasion by example is powerful. Its antithesis, hypocritical behavior – preaching one thing while behaving in an opposed fashion – has done the Faith a great deal of harm.

     Openly preachy Christian-message fiction tends not to be entertaining. The emphasis on message gets in the way. Besides, no one likes to be told what to do. Saint Francis of Assisi understood that:

     Saint Francis of Assisi was known for his embrace of poverty and utter simplicity. His evangelism was largely by example. An illustrative story about his style of evangelism concerns a brother in a monastic order where Francis had taken lodging. One day the young monk begged Francis for permission to accompany him on a day’s preaching. The saint assented, and they went forth from the monastery at daybreak.

     First they came upon a group of men laboring in the field. Francis said “Let us work beside them,” which they did, in silence, for several hours before passing onward.

     Next they came upon a village where they found a group deep in prayer. Francis said “Let us pray with them,” which they did, in silence, for another hour before passing onward.

     Late in the day they entered a village where a wedding celebration was in progress. Francis said “Let us rejoice with them,” which they did. At last dusk was upon them and it was time to return to the monastery.

     When they had returned to the monastery, the young monk said to Francis, “Brother, was it not your intention to preach today? Yet we spoke not a word of preachment from departure to return.” Francis smiled. “Brother,” he replied, “this day we have done nothing but preach, from dawn till dusk.”

     Isn’t that the essence of the old writer’s maxim:

Show, Don’t Tell!

     Saint Francis grasped that perfectly – and he never wrote a line of fiction, now did he?

     May God bless and keep you all!

1 comment:

Tracy Coyle said...

The old wise saying: do as I do, not as I say.

Oh, wait, never mind. This one:

It's better to be seen than heard.

No..that's not right either... umm, oh:

Actions are better than words.

Yea, that'll do.

I love your Catholic characters. As they say, churches are full of hypocrites, because they know they need it. If more of the priests (and I'd settle for a diocese full were as you write them, I'd go back.

By their works you shall know them. Not their preaching. And I hate scol...people that preach AT me.