One of the objections I hear leveled against Christianity is its exclusivity.
The argument runs something like this: “I can’t believe in a God who would throw people into hell just because they didn’t believe in Him/Her/It self. God is love and love covers a multitude of sins and lets everyone into heaven. There are multiple roads to heaven and trying to claim that Christianity is the ‘only’ way to get there is unacceptable to me as a reasoning individual.”
Reflecting on a recent encounter with this, I discovered a speculative fiction response:
Schmidt, Van Gelder, Williams, McCarthy, Schubert, Flint, VanderMeer, Campbell/Gordon and Cox are all names of magazine editors recognized and respected in science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. These are perhaps the best-known editors of the “professional markets” for speculative fiction. (I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Please pardon my omissions.)
These men and women reject thousands of submitted manuscripts every year. Each magazine, whether online or paper, has a very particular set of parameters for what they consider publishable stories. These editors have clear standards of what counts as professional quality writing. While the exact likes, dislikes, standards and “flavor” of each editor are as different as the magazines they work to select stories for, all of them strive to choose stories that will create a clearly identifiable product. Stan Schmidt seeks “ANALOG stories”; Shawna McCarthy seeks “REALMS stories”. Each market has an unmistakable identity and while they are radically different, they are all “pro markets” for a spec fic writer’s work. These markets have clearly understood, near-universally accepted standards.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is an organization whose membership is made up of writers who have had three stories or one novel published by someone on the “pro” list. It is so exclusive that if you have three publications in what are considered “semi-pro” venues, you are not welcome as a full member of SFFWA. They have clearly delineated and published standards and if you do not meet the standards, then you cannot be a member.
Professional publication, mediated by professional editors and recognized by a professional organization is the “golden ring” of many, many spec fic writers. They attempt to write to the standards of professionalism espoused by these markets and SFFWA. Once they get their “three professional sales” – when they meet the standard – many join SFFWA. So when these professional editors reject a manuscript, people weep – whether in fact or metaphorically. They rail. They rant. They blog.
Some of the strongest objections to Christianity have come from these writers and while they accept and sometimes revel in the exclusivity of professional publication, they refuse to grant that God can have standards.
Imagine the protest if Gordon Van Gelder simply accepted every story that crossed his desk for F&SF. What if he decided that he would publish any story whose author went so far as to put their MS into the accepted format, on unlined paper with black ink and then mailed it with a SASE to his editorial attention? Such a writer would obviously be very sincere and deserve to get published, correct? Most professional writers would agree that that is ridiculous and would lead to the ruin of F&SF.
My argument is that if the prozines and SFFWA can have standards, then certainly God can have standards. Those who don’t like God’s standards can no more change those standards than I can change Sheila Williams’ standards. If I want to be published in ASIMOVS, I have to meet her editorial standards. If I want to get into heaven, I have to meet God’s standards: believe that I am a sinner, have broken God’s laws and deserve punishment for breaking the laws; believe that Jesus as God’s Son came to take my place for the punishment; and that when I acknowledge that He took my place, I can claim that salvation for myself.
God’s standards are no more or less exclusive than the ones I need to meet to make a pro sale and be a member of SFFWA. So what’s the problem?