Halloween is coming and so I thought it would be appropriate to post my Stranger Things themed article. I know that I usually post articles on Wednesday that deal with writing advice… but if you write or read Christian SF/F/H then this article will be relevant.
In 1982, High Fantasy=Satanism… in 2016, Christians embraced themes from Stranger Things: did we escaped the Upside Down or dive in fully?
In 1982, High Fantasy=Satanism. In 2016, Stranger Things receives praise from RELEVANT and Christianity Today. What happened in thirty years of Christian culture?
I grew up in the Stranger Things era. Dustin, Mike, Will, and Lucas would’ve been my friends in school. Except my mother bought into the Pat Pulling/B.A.D.D. nonsense (Pulling was the primary leader of the crusade to villainize D&D and other uses of the imagination as well. Pulling’s tragic story involves her son’s suicide, sketchy research, and a need for something to blame.) Despite an Antifa-ntasy mindset, there was flexibility in my home. Star Wars was fine; D&D was not. Star Trek was okay; Magic the Gathering was evil. LotR books were acceptable but any RPGs, CCGs, and high fantasy was off the table. Oddly enough, Willow was fine. Even as a child, that didn’t make sense.
Why was Willow okay but Castlevania or Astyanax harmful? I realized that if my parents liked it, it got a pass—Mom liked Star Trek, so it’s fine… Mom really liked Val Kilmer, so Willow passed. Though young, I realized that most Christians bought into hype. We had corporate triggers; the primary one was fear, and it’s understandable. In October 1989, Jacob Wetterling was infamously kidnapped 80 miles from my home. Christians, Americans, wanted to keep their families safe.
Even rural America became dangerous. It transformed from free-ranging kids on bikes in cul-de-sacs to indoor models. It seemed dangerous to walk to school. The world got small.
It stayed small for many years.
And then came the Internet and the world exploded in size! Information from across the world became readily available. I learned that, in many parts of the world, believers were less confused—and in others, Antifa-ntasy reached epidemic levels (some claimed that CS Lewis was even a satanic plant).
A generation grew tired of the illogical screaming—tired of accepting other people’s word as fact. Christians finally became skeptical and tested what we’d heard against scripture, discovering that not everything was as we’d been told.
Instead of dogma, we ought to have been trained to discern right and wrong: something we ought to innately know about—a byproduct of being sealed through the Holy Spirit, (see Ephesians 1:11-14). 1 John 4:1 says that we ought to test whether things come from God or false prophets, and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 indicates the same and demands we defend what is good.
How do we really know the difference, especially on relatively modern things where Scriptures may be silent? How do we test? Acts 17:11 tells us: be like the Bereans who examined scripture daily. Don’t just know about God… know Him—that involves communicating to Him (prayer) and hearing his Words (prayer and reading the Word.)
As smart as modern Christians can be, the majority of us are lazy. Most of us are not Bereans. Many simply open our brains and ask for info-dumps from folks we think are smarter. This enabled a new Pharisism to rise: those who will pretend to be godly and claim a gift of discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10). They dictate right or wrong and put a stamp of “sinful,” on things. They say, “do not handle… do not touch!” giving “merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship…” (Colossians 2:21-23 spells out the holier-than-thou attitude indicative of Pharisism).
It is impossible to run around and wrestle every Pharisee (and we would risk simply replacing them,) but we can excel at discernment, and we can be sure that fantasy is not somehow spawned of Satan.
Theologian Peter Leithart said, “The Devil has no stories.” No matter how dark, no matter how uplifting, all tales borrow from deeper, truer stories. Everything else is a shadow copy of the divine, and stories (whether they are parables or fantasy epics,) help us comprehend the incomprehensible—that is the beauty of what God gave us: imagination. Only through imagination and the creative bent of mankind can we comprehend the concept of infinity. Imagination is partly how we relate to aspects of the divine. Limitless creativity is a reflection of an infinite, creative Creator.
What we can be certain of, scripturally speaking, is that nothing inherently demonic can glorify God. Many fantasy tales are stuffed full of characters who wrestle with morality, the human condition, allegory, religious symbolism, divine foreshadowing, and even outright theology.
Researchers widely point to the minister and fiction author George MacDonald as the first writer of “modern fantasy” and he inspired future greats such as G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis. Some would point even further back to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as the first work of modern fantasy. Thoroughly a Christian allegory, it was also the first novel written in the English language.
Would Jesus approve of fantasy? That probably depends on the goals of the writer. Jesus used story to connect people to greater truths. Fantasy didn’t exist as a genre in his time, but he did use many genres to relate to the crowd, including common sayings, poetry, parables, and the popular apocalyptic genre among others. Paul did likewise and even used Greek theology to glorify Jesus (Acts 17:23). No genre is beyond the ability of an all-powerful God to use for his glory. And no person, either. I’ve seen many “Pharisees” come to this understanding; nobody/nothing is irredeemable.
I understand those with a knee-jerk fear of fantasy. I want my kids to be safe, too. But I also want them to freely exercise their limitless creativity and to play in an infinite sandbox; it enables growth and interaction with faith concepts.
Demonizing fantasy (or music styles, hobbies, activities, etc.) or anything not banned by Scripture is a way to shrink God and make idols of personal preferences, fears, or comforts. Following Jesus is not, and has never been about, putting stamps of approval on day-to-day activities, types of entertainment, or people—it’s about living in relationship with an all-powerful Creator. Truly, locking our eternal God into a limited box is the ultimate act of fantasy, and one far more fictitious than Narnia.
Bio: Christopher D. Schmitz is the author of Wolf of the Tesseract: book 1 in the Wolves of the Tesseract trilogy, and other faith-based speculative fiction stories. Schmitz did a dime in the pulpit and has worked for Youth for Christ for nearly as long. He holds a Master’s Degree in Religion, is a sucker for comiccons and speaking engagements, and freelances for local newspapers. He lives in rural Minnesota with his family where he drinks unsafe amounts of coffee and annoys the neighbors with his bagpipes. Find him at www.authorchristopherdschmitz.com
This article can also be read at SpecFaith where it was originally published.