March 28, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Latent Christianity, Writing Speculative Fiction, the Real World and Me

People always ask writers where their ideas come from. SF writers respond with everything from books on writing, like Orson Scott Card’s Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy and Uncle Orson’s Literary Bootcamp workshop to terse, possibly humorous comments like Harlan Ellison’s, “Schenectady.”

C.S. Lewis, Christian apologist, author of The Chronicles of Narnia as well as a serious poet, commented on how a Christian’s witness should be incorporated into their writing: “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.” (God in the Dock, pg 93)

I work at a local Barnes and Noble store and was scanning the rack of dailies we sell last night. This front-page headline caught my eye: “A City United by Tragedy, Divided by its Kindness”, wherein journalist Bob Davis explains a curious response of the human species to unprovoked horror: survivors of all kinds will fight over monetary remuneration for the loss of loved ones. ( According to Davis, this has been happening since the founding of American society and has led to the development of anonymous, mathematical formulae used to calculate how much each person involved with a tragedy will receive.

I was stunned. What could possibly cause this behavior? It has been a human response for hundreds of years, but I had never heard of it. Of course, I “knew” that funds were gathered to assist people in the wake of tragedy. I have contributed to these funds myself. What I had never considered was that there would be PROBLEMS distributing the funds later. I had never considered that there were RULES governing such distribution. I was entirely ignorant that “What might appear to be a simple problem of arithmetic can turn into a complex moral calculus…”

My response? Story.

Not “a story”, though I confess I have a story in mind. But “story”, as in where I retreat when I need to deal with life; to come back refreshed – sometimes with insight gleaned from a specific story, and sometimes merely refreshed and ready to tackle the problem again.

So what is my response here? It will be a complex weaving of science fiction, my faith and a desire to sell the work to a secular market – and the necessity of keeping my Christianity latent (definition: “potentially existing but not presently evident or realized; ‘a latent fingerprint’ (what CSI is all about); ‘latent talent’ (what American Idol is all about)”).

Complex? Yup. Difficult or even impossible? Hmmm…

Shouldn’t we be blatant in our proclamation of the Good News? Yes. C.S. Lewis certainly didn’t hide his faith in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. Neither does Billy Graham. But I would put out there that neither did these people use their Christianity as a bludgeon. Certainly Billy Graham could not have loudly proclaimed his faith in the face of Bill Clinton’s personal crisis and still maintain his close friendship with the former president. C.S. Lewis absolutely kept company with professed English atheists, among whom he counted as personal friends, Arthur C. Clarke and his first Oxford tutor, William Kirkpatrick. Yet while he may have had harsh public words for atheists, he clearly kept peace with his friends.

So how do I do “latent”?

Good question. Here’s how I’ll try: my main character in the short story I’m plotting will be a Christian. NOT the most obnoxious type, sent over from Central Casting and held up and vilified as representing “all” Christians by the a-religious Left; but a character like…me. They may or may not have a Bible in their briefcase or on their PDA. They absolutely will share their faith when asked – AND WHEN APPROPRIATE. They will NOT stand on soapboxes on street corners, haranguing passersby, but will rather work at homeless shelters and “be there” with tentatively offered prayers and support when tragedy or difficulty strikes. He will question his own beliefs honestly, confident that God can answer bigger questions that he can come up with. The story has a tentative title of “Liberation” wherein an alien world liberated by Humans sues Humanity for damages caused during the liberation of their world from another alien oppressor. Not sure exactly where it’s going, but…I’ll keep you posted!

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