December 14, 2015

Bricks in the Wall: Works of fiction made me consider different views of God

I want you all to hold onto your hats for a second, because this first anecdote is probably going to tickle your funny bone. I am not responsible for lost hats.

Have you secured it?

Okay, good.

What I want to start with is a little work of pagan fiction called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I jest of course. It's not really a work of pagan fiction--it's a work of Christian allegory. But when I was seven or eight, it gave me quite the good Christian child fright because I realized that Aslan was being portrayed as a deity, and that he wasn't Christ.

The term "allegory" was obviously not something I was familiar left, so this left me with quite a bit of guilt for reading and enjoying a story about a universe where God was a lion.

Naturally, this pretty easily resolved itself as I matured as a reader and realized that the series (and its author) were very Christian. Recently, I thought of this moment as I was considering the types of media that made me think of God differently. This is the first instant that I can remember considering how God was portrayed in something I was reading. I don't remember ever considering it before reading the Chronicles of Narnia.

When I think of other works or series that made me consider God differently, two jump to mind: Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials and Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil.
I read His Dark Materials when I was in high school...maybe my freshman or sophomore year. I was still incredibly involved in my religious faith, and naturally, the trilogy shook me to my core. It offended me, deeply.

I've often thought of revisiting it now that I no longer believe, because at the time, I found it poorly written. I criticized the author for being heavy-handed. But I wonder sometimes if I was reflecting my offense, and not an accurate presentation of the author's actual skill.

The trilogy raised questions for me that I'd never considered before. One of the significant side effects of being raised by a teacher who specialized in early childhood education is that I can't read without asking tons of questions. My mind--and I'd wager that most of us are the same, for the record--takes off on flights of fancy. "What if," I thought while reading the trilogy, "God really was created by humans?"

What would a world without God look like? The options that presented themselves weren't always good, but as I explored the thought experiment it presented, it was intriguing to me. What kind of world would I create if I were God? What would morality look like? How would I present myself to humans?

Would I create humans at all?

These questions made me look at my faith differently. It raised ideas I'd never considered before, and for me, it was another step in moving towards a place where my faith was humanized, so to speak. It was made more profane, it was something that I could examine and think about and criticize, and that was a huge shift.

When I started reading Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles my senior year, I zoomed through the entire series. I loved the first three--they are still among my absolute favorite books. After that, I read mostly because I wanted to know what happened to Lestat. I didn't enjoy them as much from a purely reading for pleasure perspective.

Memnoch the Devil, though, was another work that made me think of God differently.

In the novel, Lestat gets glimpses of God and the Devil speaking. They talk about God's motivations, the Devil's motivations--it's an incredible exploration of some really difficult topics. To my teenage brain, it required me to look at tenets of my faith differently yet again.

One question that it really made me tease with was: Why the Devil? Why was Lucifer able to rise up? As I was taught, the angels had no free will. Only humans had free will. So how did Lucifer go against God?

There were ideas presented in Memnoch the Devil that made me question the Devil's motivation--and that was really a turning point in many ways. As a Christian, putting myself in Satan's shoes was...it was indescribably taboo. Who wants to try to understand why Satan did what he did? He's the bad guy!

These works gave me the ability to think about God differently, and that was incredibly valuable as I moved through my process of spiritual questioning. It made me really consider and criticize my own belief system.

And from there, it was a short hop, skip and a jump to beginning to distance myself from my own religion.

((Side Note: While doing some very basic research for this piece, I ran across a comment from Anne Rice where she talks about how Memnoch the Devil was a big step in her own return to Christ. I think that just the difference between her experience and mine shows how deep this novel really is. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it yet.))

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