Interpretation Continued: Objectifying Morality in Fiction

Building on a proper understanding of the genres of fiction, and a thorough appreciation for the whole of stories and there individual scenes, let us look now at the culmination of morality in fictional works to interpret the intent — message/meaning, if you will — of a story.

Morality is one of the stickiest issues for religious people to cypher whether a story is a good one to read or watch. We get lost in the minutiae wondering about the suitable age range for audiences; whether the story is “Christian” enough; whether the villain’s worldview overwhelms that of the hero’s; we total up the number of expletives in the first act; we count the number of square inches on our TVs that are covered in a splash of blood in a bit of violence….

We need to have an objective reference for what’s good and evil and whether or not it should or should not be appreciated in fiction. On that note, here’s some perspective from Brian Godawa, author of Hollywood Worldviews:

The ultimate source book for most media watchdogs is the Bible, and it ought to be because without its definition of a universal, objective morality we have no absolute reference point for right and wrong. Without God’s definition of good and evil there can be no ultimate value difference between the diabolical acts of Hannibal Lector and the innocent ones of Forest Gump. The Bible alone provides a justifiable, objective standard for making moral judgments that transcend the whims of personal opinion.

So as Christians we have the Bible as our standard of right and wrong. We should use is to determine what is right and wrong, and thus, whether or not we can benefit or enjoy variables of morality in stories. For the rest of you that are not Christians, you go by your own made up moral standards because there is no authoritative basis for what you deem good and evil. You don’t have an objective, absolute standard. Christians do in the Word of God because God provides our standard and He decided what’s right and wrong in the first place. Moving on.

So we can use the Bible to determine good storytelling. The Bible is filled with stories also. The Bible has both narrative and non-fiction, if you will. It weaves in and out of telling true stories with ideas, principles, laws, etc. So, how broad is the variables of morality in the Bible? What does the Bible find liberty to divulge, and how is immorality and all manners of evil dealt with? As Christians, I propose that we can objectively say that good and evil portrayed in the Bible’s narratives are safe for us to find in fiction.

Well, uh, if this is the standard, then there is a lot of evil that can be “allowed,” if you will, in favorable fiction. You will find all of the following in Bible stories (true history, mind you):

  • Rape
  • Adultery
  • Murder
  • Incest
  • Gratuitous violence/bludgeoning
  • Blasphemy
  • Satanic worship
  • Annihilation of cities
  • Depictions of hell
  • Seduction
  • Sodomy
  • Cult activities
  • Human burnings
  • You get the idea

These are traits that for most readers (before there was TV, movies, plays, novels, radio) found in Scripture would have been vivid to the imagination when the Bible was read. If you didn’t have modern media, and all you had for storytelling was swapping stories by the fire at night with friends, or listening to readings of the Bible at a church or temple, then these elements would have been oppressive to the soul through your imagination as you heard of them.

So the Bible is okay with these things in storytelling…. Well, what do we mean by “okay with?” The Bible has immorality all throughout, but the Bible also condemns immorality and offers good morality that should be conducted by all people in the place of evil.

The same relates to fiction. When evil is presented in all forms — hopefully sparing us the gratuitous details — it needs to be determined whether the evil is recognized as wrong. When it is not, the immorality is inconsistent with God objective will. If it is, then it is consistent with God’s objective standard of right and wrong. Any Christian here object?

Then the Bible tells stories in an objective manner with which we may methodically use in and enjoy/benefit by in fiction.

To be continued.