Doctrine: God will give us as much light and truth as we are willing to receive in whatever form we are willing to ingest it. Yet, piecemeal doses of truth, while great supplements for entertainment, are no substitute for the actual word of God.
I’m a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. But, my main motivation for writing began by reading fiction.
For me, there is something powerful in fiction. It’s a sneaky way to sort of tell people what you think, what you believe, and who you are in a make-believe world. This make-believe world allows writers of fiction to preach, if you will, without being preachy. They couch truths, political opinions, deep mores, personal standards of living, humor, sin, and culture within worlds that aren’t real. Then, we read the books, step into the worlds, and are slyly influenced as we investigate for entertainment.
Several years back, I fell upon an article which I believe, for myself, holds a great deal of truth. It is called, Fiction Is Good For You and was posted in the online Boston Globe in April 2012 by writer Jonathan Gottschall. What is the article about? Well, it talks about how reading fiction is good for us. Here are some of the benefits that research for the article claims.
- “…fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction…”
- “research consistently shows that fiction does mold us.”
- “Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds.”
- “…the most impressive finding is how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better…”
- History reveals fiction’s ability to change values at the societal level, for better and worse. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”
- Virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s fund of empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency deeper than politics.
- “Heavy fiction readers outperformed heavy nonfiction readers on tests of empathy.”
- “…fiction serves the function of making-the-world-a-better-place by improving interpersonal understanding.”
- Children exposed to a large number of children’s books…had a…stronger ability to read the mental and emotional states of other people.
- Fiction…is strongly dominated by the theme of poetic justice…goodness is endorsed and rewarded and badness is condemned and punished.
- “…fiction generally teaches us that it is profitable to be good.”
- “Traditional tales, from hero epics to sacred myths, perform the essential work of defining group identity and reinforcing cultural values.”
When this article came out, I didn’t think much about fiction being “scripture.” But, recently, as I have pondered the doctrines of grace and God’s mercy and love for His children, a general doctrine appears.
Doctrine: God will give us as much light and truth as we are willing to receive.
So, what if I am not a big Christian? What if I’m not that religious at all? Or, what if I come from a tradition of religious beliefs and I hold true to the big beliefs but nothing else? What if reading from the Bible, Book of Mormon, or any other non-fiction religious text or commentary is well beyond my current desire or capacity?
Where then will God find a way to give me truth if I won’t search His words directly?
In Moroni 7:5, 12 and 13, and Alma 5:40, we learn:
- By their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
- That which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
- Whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
Anything in the world that is good, that invites and entices us to do good, to love others, to serve others (and by consequence to love and serve God), comes from God. So, I’m NOT saying every fiction book, novella, or novel is completely inspired of God from front to back. But anything good in the books’ themes, plots, character arcs; anything that shows examples of good, humility, self-sacrifice, and other Christlike qualities and commandments—whether the writers intended it or not—comes from God. And, as we read them, take joy in them, and find inspiration and power in them; they then become, in essence, a form of scripture—or how God gets His word through to us. Especially if we’re not inclined to study the real thing.
I find that in most fiction works, the general themes of good versus evil are preserved. They sort of have to be. That is the only real conflict in the eternities. That is the root story. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can admit that minimally, over the course of human history, there is also a theme of tyrants versus the greater good of society. There are holocausts with D-days. There are wars overcome by peace treaties. There are basic, over-arching human themes of good versus evil. There is always someone or something trying to take away human free will, human life, individuality, creativity, and even human dignity.
So, if you read **decent fiction (see ** at the bottom of the article for my definition of decent fiction), by default, you are getting a tiny dose of God’s word. You are getting a minimal amount of enticement, influence, and an invitation to emulate or desire the good being delivered to you through a fictional story.
I’m NOT saying decent fiction IS scripture. But, for those who don’t read or study God’s word at all, good, **decent fiction could be seen as their scripture; or the most amount of God’s word that they are willing to receive, couched secretly in something they would never dare to call “God’s word.”
So, what if you read your scriptures and you’re getting your dose of God’s word on a daily basis? Is fiction any good to you? Should you take any time to read it? Is it better than some good non-fiction, religious non-fiction, or commentary?
If God’s word is already a part of your life, then adding side-dishes of entertainment that include quotes, themes, and character-arcs that validate and witness of things you already believe, is, in my humble opinion, the best kind of entertainment and relaxation you can get. It validates, cements, and enhances your current love for goodness and your desire to live up to it. For myself, I love when I read a favorite fantasy series or religious commentary and find there the made-up stories of others, or the real-life experiences/opinions of others, that validate what I believe and bring it bursting out in some happy tale or personal declaration. It brings me joy, peace, excitement, and often it’s during those moments that I find deeper gospel parallels and better ways of understanding the word of God that is already available to me—that I have already studied.
One example is Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia, the Son of the Emperor-over-the-sea. I don’t know what it is really like to see Jesus Christ face-to-face. But, when I read of the interactions of the characters with Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, I feel that C.S. Lewis’s basic ideology in writing those interactions is pretty accurate. Every time I read through the series I see deeper and deeper parallels between Aslan and Christ. I see it in how good people feel in his presence. I see it in how good people who need to repent feel in his presence. I see it in how wicked, unrepentant people feel in his presence. And, I see it in the good people who are deceived yet still good, and how they feel and act when they meet the Great Lion.
(If you’ve only ever read the popular The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, then you are missing a great amount of insight into the Savior. I here give a suggestion to any so inclined to read the Narnia series and take notes of every interaction between Aslan and the book characters. It will be a deep spiritual journey.)
I can go down the entire list of my favorite fantasy and science fiction and find moments, characters, or plot pieces that illustrate principles and doctrines of the gospel. The whole book is never something I can apply directly across. But, there are so many good vignettes that deliver delicious packets of truth. Take a look at this video I made from snippets of Harry Potter 5. A few quotes and a ton of doctrinal truth.
In non-fiction and religious commentary, I also often find personal declarations or life-stories that impact me deeply. Somehow, because I know real people have exhibited these elevated, godly characteristics of perseverance, self-sacrifice, endurance, humility, loss, and love, it strikes a chord that resonates with my personal affinities and beliefs.
So, again, I’m not advocating that any, or all, fictional writing is scripture. But, I am advocating that the word of God can be found in all that is good, uplifting, and ennobling. Whether you believe in Christ or not, anything that persuades you to believe in His truths and to do His works, comes from Him (this includes self-improvement as long as it’s not too eccentric). Decent fiction can be an incredible source of good doctrine and gospel principles. Good fiction makes for great parables or stories that illustrate gospel truths. Some of these stories can impact us with almost as much life-changing power as some actual scripture if we grasp the deeply hidden truths that shine out at us all, in different ways, as we read these texts.
There is, however, no substitute for the actual word of God. As much as I love reading I can testify of this to you from my own experience. In fact, being familiar with the real word of God amplifies and strengthens the truth we find elsewhere. This amplification will not take place and is not possible to us if we aren’t studying the “real thing.” The good things in fiction will have less power if they are not supported by a foundation of undiluted truth. It’s like trying to have a good red sauce for pasta with only good spices and no tomatoes. The tomatoes are what make it a red sauce. Fiction can make some truths more edible, but ultimately it isn’t a complete source for a spiritual foundation.
We are commanded to study our scriptures daily: the Book of Mormon, the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the words of living prophets and apostles. As we do so, at least in my experience, the truths found in other more secular forms—such as fiction—stand out all the brighter, are more recognizable, and are more impactful in our lives.
**Decent fiction, is to me, fiction that is written with the purpose of telling a good, uplifting story. There is some fiction that while it is “made up” has a purpose other than telling a good, uplifting story. Whether it’s goal is scaring the pants off of you or to arouse you to some unhealthy sexual feeling it is not “decent” in its ultimate goal. Those genres are labeled pretty well and should be fairly obviously “not decent.” So, steer clear. However, generally, I find that even fiction with some unsavory patches (maybe a few pages in the whole), as long as its main purpose is to tell a powerful story, those unsavory elements or pages quickly slide to the back and lose importance. Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what is “decent,” but I find that “if it leads us to do good, AND to believe in Christ, AND to serve Him,” then it is usually a good read.