My article Why a Judeo-Christian Worldview Is Essential to Good Fiction, received a lot of traffic and made several atheist forums, most notably THIS ONE, where it landed under the heading:
Writers: if you’re not Judeo-Christian, chances are you suck.
For the record, I never said any writer “sucked” in that post (which I AM saying in this post by way of counter jab). However I did say, “the Judeo-Christian worldview is more viable for authors than, say, a relativistic worldview, not just because it is more intellectually compelling, but because it jibes with reality” — a statement I still whole-heartedly stand behind. Anyway, the commenters over there took the opportunity to call me all manner of names and reconstruct my argument into so many straw men you’d think you were in an Iowa cornfield.
Like this from Doubting Thomas:
“…to say that you have to have a religious worldview to be a successful author is just plain stupid.”
And this from Reverend Jeremiah:
“…apparently, his argument is that if you dont have a ‘messiah’ character who is battling evil and good, where good is ultimately victorious, then he PERSONALLY thinks you suck as a writer.”
Finally, via Faith No More:
I was wondering why my stories always sucked. Now I know it’s not because I don’t have any talent.
After reading through the comments on my original post and perusing the misstatements and smears, er, civil discussion at the atheist forum, I’ve reached this conclusion: The volatility of that post was the result of either
- Lack of clarity on my part, or
- Rejection of my thesis.
For the record, I think it had to do with the rejection of my thesis more than confusion about it. Which is why the participants in that discussion said things like this, from padraic:
The article is just another lame attempt to argue morality comes from the Judeo-Christian religions.
In this post, I won’t be speaking to #2 as much as trying to clarify what I’m thinking. What that should accomplish is more rejection of my thesis. Which I’m fine with. I prefer clarity to agreement, and when that clarity leads to disagreement it helps us know where we stand relationally and philosophically.
The closest anyone over there came to really grappling with my point was Rev. Rye who said:
“…if I’m reading the article right, Mike Duran (the author) seems to consider it impossible that one can frame stories in a religious context without embracing the ‘Judeo-Christian worldview’”
The good Rev is on the right track. However, my point has less to do with framing our stories in a “religious context” as it does with recognizing that any appeal to Good and Evil, Right and Wrong — a universe where absolutes exist — is intrinsically tethered to a Judeo Christian worldview. And without this worldview and a context of Moral Absolutes, stories can’t be logical or compelling. Let me lay it out this way:
- Most stories employ (and appeal to) a belief about “real” Right and Wrong, Good and Evil.
- Placing our stories in a world of “real” Right and Wrong, Good and Evil enforces the concept of Moral Absolutes.
- Moral Absolutism is tethered specifically to a Judeo-Christian worldview.
- Therefore, Good stories require an appeal to a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Okay. I anticipate two prongs of rebuttal.
- Objection #1: Relativistic fiction can be compelling. You don’t need Moral Absolutes for a story to be interesting.
- Objection #2: A belief in Good and Evil can exist apart from Judeo-Christianity.
Let’s take those one at a time.
First – Yes, relativistic fiction can be compelling… but only if you don’t think it through. So your protag survives. Big deal. If the Moral framework of her universe is negotiable, what does her survival matter? Other than to her. The survival of the zombies or thieves or flesh eating bacteria might be just as morally sustainable. And if that Moral framework is relative, then her survival really doesn’t matter. I mean, why is it “better” that she and her child survive? On what grounds? And in the end, if there are no Moral Absolutes, your protag and all her great deeds will simply fade into the dust of history like so many other valiant, yet futile, warriors. (Note: Readers hated that The Hunger Games trilogy ended on such a bleak note. However, if there is no Hope or Virtue, then why not end it there?)
Relativism simply does NOT provide a viable reason to live, much less frame your stories. Which is why most stories appeal to a sense of Nobility, Virtue, Goodness and Hope.
Humans instinctively crave Nobility, Virtue, Goodness and Hope. Why?
As to Objection #2 – A belief in Good and Evil can exist apart from Judeo-Christianity — I’d ask, in which worldview? Not the relativistic worldview, for Good and Evil are subjectively defined. They are not “real” except to the individual who believes them to be.
In a relativistic universe, why should the Third Reich be defeated? Because they’re killing innocent people? According to them they’re eliminating an inferior race. Because they threaten human existence? According to them, they are advancing the species. See? You can’t fight evil unless you actually believe in Evil.
Which implies the existence of Good.
Two of the major world religions — Judeo-Christianity and Islam — see morals as rooted in God (even though their conceptions of God differ). In Hinduism, the third great world religion, God is in everything, both good and evil. As a result, there is no absolute morality. Through the law of karma, the soul (Atman) simply migrates back to God (Brahman).
So I ask again, which other worldview appeals to Moral Absolutes? Not an
- agnostic worldview
- atheistic worldview
- humanistic worldview
- pantheistic worldview
- polytheistic worldview
Any belief system that appeals to a Moral Law evokes a Judeo-Christian worldview. How? Because a Moral Law implies a Moral Lawgiver.
Dennis Prager, Jewish speaker and radio talk show host, in his article entitled Moral Absolutes put it simply:
In the Judeo-Christian value system, God is the source of moral values and therefore what is moral and immoral transcends personal or societal opinion. Without God, each society or individual makes up its or his/her moral standards. But once individuals or societies become the source of right and wrong, right and wrong, good and evil, are merely adjectives describing one’s preferences. This is known as moral relativism, and it is the dominant attitude toward morality in modern secular society. (emphasis mine)
There are only two options here, folks. We either live in a world where
- Morals are grounded outside us (in God / the Universe), or
- Morals are grounded inside us (in individuals / society).
Either Morals are static or elastic, unchanging or always changing, real or illusory.
Which brings me to my point: Without a context of Moral Absolutes, stories can’t be logical or compelling. Think about it:
Even books that frame a godless, impersonal universe of moral relativity appeal to Absolutes to make their point.
Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a good example. Pullman is an avowed atheist whose series has been described as “a secular humanist narrative.” The author flatly said, “My books are about killing God.” He’s famously quoted as saying, that the Chronicles of Narnia “is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read,” and is also “blatantly racist”, “monumentally disparaging of women”, “immoral”, and “evil”
But even in Phillip Pullman’s universe there had to be an Enemy, Something Worth Fighting For, some Good to accomplish.
As Augustine said, Either there is REAL evil to fear or the fact that we fear what is not really evil, is EVIL. Take your pick. In like manner, either there is Real Evil to fight in Pullman’s worldview or the fact that he feels he must fight something is Really Evil. If Pullman’s book is about “killing God,” the question I ask is “Why should God die?” If it’s because He is evil, then you presuppose Good. If it’s because the existence of God is a lie, then you imply objective Truth.
Defeating God, the Church, or Christian belief becomes pointless unless defeating them is The Right Thing to Do. Which presupposes absolute Right and Wrong. Which appeals to a Judeo-Christian worldview.
So, yeah, without Moral Absolutes, your story sucks!