Despite my happiness at yesterday’s sale of “The Silver Tree” to Kaleidotrope, a part of me is bracing for some criticism from Christian friends and associates because this is arguably my least “Christian” story to date.
“The Silver Tree” deals with something called the Singularity, the idea that we’re rapidly approaching a turning point in history, where artificial intelligence will become sentient and merge in some fashion with human beings. Some wags have called this the Geek Rapture, since it posits a near-instantaneous elevation of humanity, via technology, to a superhuman utopia. More pessimistic authors envision a world where humans become the slaves of a less-than-benign computer “deity” or augmented metahuman elite.
In my story, the Singularity has happened, and Earth’s pessimists have fled across space to hide from it. How might members of a society that has forsworn technology react when forced to confront it? Is the Singularity really a good thing, or were they right to opt out and set the clocks back forever?
So far, so good…now, why am I concerned about how the Christians inside and outside my circle will react to this story?
1. Writing a story in which the Geek Rapture actually happens might in some sense validate or advocate it, in opposition to the Biblical vision of mankind’s future destiny. Sometimes the perceived line between speculation and heresy is very thin.
2. God doesn’t come into the story directly. If my characters have religious convictions, Christian or otherwise, they don’t talk about them. This could be seen as giving aid and comfort to atheists (people who don’t believe God exists) or agnostics (people who believe there is a God of some sort, but he’s vacationing in the Andromeda Galaxy at the moment and doesn’t much care about us).
3. People unhappy about 1 or 2 will probably not be pleased with the story’s ending (although I don’t expect proponents of the Singularity will be content either).
Should I care? Somebody’s always going to be displeased about what I write, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. I had to smile at some of the recent commentary about John Updike, who most people wouldn’t have characterized as a Christian writer before his death, as he wrote about people who were spiritually adrift and morally bankrupt and was very explicit in describing their adulterous hi-jinks. Resurrecting a past article on the occasion of his passing, Christianity Today practically canonized him as another C.S. Lewis for the complex theological discussions among his characters and the general sense in his writings that these people who had abandoned the faith of their youth were ultimately diminished as human beings.
Now, there’s no way I’ll ever be compared to John Updike, but I think this illustrates that one’s “Christianity” as a writer is often in the eye of the beholder. God is the keeper of my relationship with Him, and I strive not to do anything, in life or on the page, that would dishonor Him in any way. I do have to remember, though, that being timid in my writing may also be dishonorable. Here’s an interesting quote from author Simon Morden on that topic (the entire talk is here):
But I would argue that your job as a writer, as a Christian writer, is to write well. You should be able to tell your stories with both clarity and passion. When you write about faith, then write about a real faith, one that Christian and non-Christian alike will recognise as true. When you write about reality, do the same. You have to acknowledge that drinking, swearing, sex and violence happens in a fallen world. You cannot ignore it. One of my Subway colleagues thinks that to do so is to deny the Incarnation, that Jesus came into this world, with all its complexity and shadow. Andy Crouch addressed this year’s Christy awards ceremony – given for the best of CBA fiction – with a direct challenge. “I plead with you not to tell me stories which improve on the world. Instead, tell me stories about the world as it is, strange and real and full of grace.”
And with that, I’m going to stop angsting on the whole issue. Until the next time.