Dragons and the Sufficiency of Scripture: What about Dragons in an Alternate Reality?

Thank you all so far for your comments, questions, challenges, and arguments. I know my presentation of this isn’t flawless, and am working out the flaws as you show them to me. It’s easy when you’ve grown up with your argument just to assume tenets that other people disagree with. So thanks for pointing the weak spots out. 🙂

What About Dragons in an Alternate Reality?
“If dragons are real, and I’m sure they at least were, they aren’t much like the dragons in fantasy, anymore than elves in LotR are like elves in Celtic myth. If one were to take the basic properties of a dog, for instance, and make it something fantastical but still call it a dog, it would be much the same, I think. Like and unlike the actual creature, in theory you could also change the nature of the creature. Fantasy is theory; thus, good dragons.”[1]

Although this statement makes sense, I disagree. Fantasy is theory, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can twist what God has called good or bad. Alternate reality still has standards. God’s standards are absolute, because they come from His character. We are to be Holy as He is Holy. His character is unchanging, so His ethics are as well. If we create another world and seek to glorify God in that world and write in a way that pleases Him, we must stick to His standards.
The above justification of good dragons is similar to ones I’ve heard about when people read Harry Potter (for the record, I’ve never read Harry Potter, nor do I plan to). Mr. Phillips has a wonderful article on Mrs. Rowling’s books; I encourage you to read it all.
“What… is the fundamental argument employed by
honorable Christian thinkers… to endorse Harry Potter
and to justify the creation of children’s books which are
simply drenched in the glorification of sorcery? It is this:
fantasy worlds are not the real world. Authors need not follow
the same moral rules in fantasy realities. Things which are
downright wicked in the real world may be introduced in a
fantasy world and presented as good, if this literary device helps
to serve the broader purpose of telling a great story.” [2]
Later Mr. Phillips presents the question we should be asking in response to this argument. He asks, “Does the creation of ‘alternative fantasy realities’ allow authors to employ literary premises which declare ‘good’ that which God has declared morally reprehensible in the real world?” [3]
One could argue that dragons are not morals. This is true in one sense of the word. However, morals are also principles of right and wrong, not just doing right and wrong. Satan being bad is a principle. To call something the Bible presents as anti-God good is breaking a principle of right and wrong set out by God’s standard of His character. To say that we can call dragons good is saying that we know better than God does.
God’s authority is ultimate here. In defining right and wrong, we should never resort to questions such as, “did Lewis or Tolkien do it?” but “What does scripture say?” The issue is not whether great authors can tell a great story but whether they have done so lawfully.
There is one who tries to get us to break God’s law – Satan is lying in wait to eat the seed of the woman. Many men choose to be eaten, as “the eternal quest of rebellious man is to escape the law and dominion of God.”[4] Man sins, detracting from God’s glory and adding to his own. He does this in literature by
“[creating] realities of his own where he is free to operate
without the constraint of the rule of law as prescribed by
God. The moral law of God and its application in the
universe reflect the eternal, transcendent, immutable
character of God Himself… Those who seek to create
alternative realities in which the moral law of God is
suspended, are, in fact, creating alternative realities
governed by someone other than the God of the Bible…” [5]
There’s nothing wrong with fantasy, per se. The problem is when our fantasy denies the law of God. Allegory, parable, types, and symbolism can be employed lawfully and to God’s glory. This is perfectly acceptable; Jesus even did it with the parables. “But the moment an author redefines the moral law order of the universe, he has… declared war on God. This is the case for fantasy realities in which murder, perversion, or witchcraft are presented as good things.”[6] I would argue that the same is true for dragons. When people say that’s alright, they miss the point.
“The Bible offers no refuge to the individual who says,
‘It is okay for me to imagine and rejoice in the vanity of
immoral speculations, because I am not doing it in the
real world.’ If you imagine such things in your heart, you
stand condemned. (Matthew 5:27-28).” [7]
How does vain imagination show up when it comes to dragons? A vain imagination is one that seeks to imagine something that is at war with God’s reality. With dragons, this means that making dragons good is vanity. In A Landscape with Dragons, O’Brien explains how something good – symbols – have been twisted. “[Symbols] offered spiritual insight into the nature of the Christian cosmos, [impart] to the child some essential insights into the invisible realm and the struggle between it and the natural realm where we must live… it is now widely held that dragons are merely misguided, in need of compassion, and in some cases misjudged altogether. The monster is being tamed.”[8] Instead of keeping dragons as the Bible portrays them, we create alternate realities where dragons are good creatures.
“A new worldview is being propagated, one that attempts
to convince the young that demons are friends or cuddly
pets and that people can use evil means to achieve “good”
ends… the growing confusion… draws modern man away
from traditional Christian spirituality and prepares him to
accept occult replacements.”[9]
Although accepting dragons as good may not seem bad in and of itself, and while it does not affect your own salvation, it may have affect the salvation of following generations. If we become increasingly more syncretistic and allow more and more “occult” replacements in place of Truth, then it will drastically affect our children. A old – but very true – maxim says, “What parents allow in moderation, children allow in excess.” If we allow some syncretism, following generations will accept more and more of a pagan culture in their lives.

A second problem with alternate realities is when our reading of fantasy turns into escapism. I quote Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin –
“We who feel “the urge to escape sometimes” should ask
ourselves why a world apart from God’s character, God’s
laws, and God’s created order would be a world a Christian
would desire to live in? What would make us want to run,
like Jonah, from God and His presence? ‘Escapism is only
medicine to one who views the reality of God and His creation
as a disease.’ [Ben Botkin] The answer for those in need of ‘escape’
from life’s hardships is running to God – not away from Him.
Here is the ultimate question for those of us who delight in being
titillated by unbiblical violence, unbiblical death, unbiblical spiritualism,
and unbiblical romance – even when it’s ‘just pretend’: Are we
are of the spirit, or still of the flesh? (Romans 8:5-9)” [10]
Some create fantasy worlds to get away from God’s ethics. Says Rushdoony, “Men who will not be governed by God’s word will not be governed by reality.”[11] This is sin, because it sets the self up over God, saying that our reality is better than God’s.
If we truly believe scripture is sufficient, then we will allow it to change us.
If we truly believe scripture is sufficient, then God’s reality will be enough for us.
When it all boils down, the question is not the issue of dragons. It goes far, far deeper than that. It goes even deeper than alternate realities and creating new orders. It goes into spiritual warfare, of Satan, the dragon, attacking again with the age-old question, “did God really say?” He asks us if God really said dragons are bad. He is trying to get at us, our salvation… to make us syncretistic with his pagan culture. It’s part of the war between God and Satan, with us in the middle.

Every story is based off one basic story, whether the author admits it or not. The story is the war between good and evil. It is a true story, about a King who
“made a beautiful kingdom, and he filled it with
creatures whom he loved. A dragon crept out of the
darkness and sought to devour an entire world. A brave
man faced him, and the dragon slew the man. And the man
was God, but nobody knew that until the man came back to life.
Then he took the weapon with which the dragon had killed
him, and he battled the dragon. The dragon hated the Cross and
feared the way the man changed it into a thing that could defeat
him and his legions. God is the maker of this one great story,
which contains all the billions of lesser stories, and he will
decide who the tale ends. This story really happened, and parts
of it are still happening and some of the most terrific parts are
still to come. If you have the heart of a child, you will know
that this is true. And you know that a certain dragon has a
persistent desire to devour our children.”[12]
Yet as O’Brien say so clearly later in his book, the dragon is set on us dismissing the account of the battle as nothing but a falsehood. “It is not to his benefit that we, imitating our Lord the King, should take up arms against him. He thinks it better that we do not consider him dangerous.”[13]


[1] see footnote 5
[2] Doug Phillips, “Harry Potter and the Lavender Brigade,” 2005. http://www.visionforum.com/hottopics/newsletters/newsletter.aspx?id=07-22-05
[3] ibid
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] ibid
[8] Michael D. O’Brien, A Landscape with Dragons. Ignatius, 1998. Pages 12-13
[9] ibid
[10] Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, “How Twilight is Re-Vamping Romance.”  http://visionarydaughters.com/2009/11/how-twilight-is-re-vamping-romance
[11] Quoted in the Botkin girls’ article.
[12] Michael D. O’Brien, A Landscape with Dragons. Ignatius, 1998. Pages 24-5
[13] ibid, page 32-33. Emphasis mine.

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17 thoughts on “Dragons and the Sufficiency of Scripture: What about Dragons in an Alternate Reality?

  1. Heather says:

    Hey Ky, I’m really enjoying this series and learning more about how you view the dragons. Here’s a thought I came up with the other day: since creation is fallen and dragons are part of the fallen creation then yes, in this world I’d say that dragons are evil. However, if we create an alternate reality in which dragons are sentient beings (much like taking animals from our world and making them talk, as Lewis did in The Chronicles of Narnia) and therefore have the knowledge to make a choice of salvation, I’d say that’s OK.
    That, in a nutshell, is why I feel comfortable with good dragons in fantasies. But like I said, I’m enjoying reading your dragons series. And, I must admit that it made me think a little more on why I’m OK with good dragons. Great job of providing food for thought!

    Like

  2. James Dunn says:

    This is by far the best essay. It helps me see better where you’re going with the whole argument. I think I’ve been missing the forest for the trees. I find myself in perfect agreement with this statement: “…while it does not affect your own salvation, it may have affect the salvation of following generations. If we become increasingly more syncretistic and allow more and more ‘occult’ replacements in place of Truth, then it will drastically affect our children. A old – but very true – maxim says, ‘What parents allow in moderation, children allow in excess.’ If we allow some syncretism, following generations will accept more and more of a pagan culture in their lives.” So many issues instantly came to mind when I read this — the age-of-the-earth issue, psychology, the gospel being watered down, parents sending their children to caesar — it’s so true. Compromise has horrible consequences: perhaps not one’s own salvation, but certainly future generations.
    My only one point of disagreement with you is what we spent days arguing about on your previous post: that dragons are actually evil in the real world, and that God says they are in the Bible. I’m with you 100% on everything else.
    I’ll say this about dragons however: even though I’m not dead-set against dragons being good in fantasy, I’ve always thought it was a little weird — and, as you point out, it has traditionally always been portrayed as an evil monster in legends, and the Bible frequently uses it in one form or another to represent Satan. Since thinking about this, I’ve grown uncomfortable with good dragons. It’s a reversal of long tradition in literature, a tradition that God himself made use of (although we might disagree as to the reason he used it). I’ve never wanted to use good dragons in my own writing, because ever since Eragon came out it seems “good dragons” have become the new fad — and my natural tendency is to rebel against whatever the fad is. Perhaps, as you say, a reason for it being a fad is tied to the whole “making evil good” phenomenon, as we see with sorcery in Harry Potter (I never intend to read those books either). It give me pause. And then prompts me to ask, “why bother making dragons good… what’s so great about that anyway?”

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  3. James Dunn says:

    And I just read Heather’s comment that I missed earlier… just to clarify, Heather, when I wondered if “Good dragons” were part of the “making good evil” phenomenon, I wasn’t referring to Half-blood, I know that would have nothing to do with you. I was thinking more of Paloni. I’ve only managed to read the first few chapters of Eragon, so I don’t know how his world works very well, but Ezra informed me that his elves are atheists of sorts . . . I can’t help but wonder if Paloni has the “rebel against God’s order” syndrome (although he probably doesn’t think of it that way), and I wonder further if making dragons good is a part of that for him… wanting to portray things differently from the “traditional moral order” or something. Just to clarify that I wasn’t thinking of you.

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  4. kyleian says:

    James: Funny that the age of the earth issue comes to mind when you read that – I
    first heard it from Mr. Ham at the SoS conference, and he was talking about
    things like the age of the earth. 🙂
    You make a good point, James. Instead of copying the fads of the world, we
    could do things SO much greater by seeking to follow scripture and present a
    biblical world order (even if it is in another realm). We are told to
    imitate Christ, not the world, and for good reason.

    Heather: Ok… I have a question for you, and it may seem completely unrelated, but it is, trust me:
    Are you a Calvinist?

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  5. Lostariel says:

    When it comes down to it, I just don’t agree. However, it’s not an issue for me because I rarely write about fantastical animals.

    BTW, I think Paolini knows the message his elves are giving.

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  6. Heather says:

    I think, James, that you’re right with Paolini. Maybe the attitude has something to do with it. And I knew you weren’t referring to me. :0)
    Ky, no, I’m not Calvinist. You’re right, it doesn’t seem to fit in–I’m curious to know how? :0)

    Like

    • kyleian says:

      I thought you weren’t. So I think the resolution of our differences will be harder. 😉
      You said about good dragons that if they were sentient beings, they’d “have the knowledge to make a choice of salvation.”
      See, if we had the choice of salvation I would have no problem with good dragons. However, the inclination of our sinful hearts makes it so that we walk in direct opposition to God unless He changes our hearts.
      God uses dragons as/to represent evil and to say otherwise would be to change His Sovereign choice. He could make them good, but He chooses not to.
      See now how it connects?

      Like

  7. Ezra says:

    Which is especially sad, as he is by far the most prominent homeschooled fantasy author at present (but then, God’s glory is much sweeter than prominence, yes?).

    Like

  8. James Dunn says:

    Hmmm…
    On the Calvinist thing and dragons (I am a calvanist, by the way)… I would assert that in the real world, dragons are/were mere beasts — a different category than humans. Humans: some God chooses to save; Angels: for those who fell, God does not choose to save any; Beasts (including dragons): they don’t have souls, but cease to exist when they die.
    In Heather’s fantasy, dragons are creatures that fall into the human category. If Heather were a Calvinist, she would explain that God has chosen to save some of these dragons, just as he has with humans. The dragons here are much like the talking beasts in Narnia.
    To your objection, “God has sovereignly chosen to leave dragons evil,” well, exactly. The real disagreement doesn’t have that much to do with calvinism, but on the significance of the symbol. Not that I want to start arguing about symbols again; we got nowhere doing that earlier. I simply want to assert that that is the precise location of relevant differences — Calvinism plays into it a little, but the real difference in opinion is over the relevance of using the dragon as a symbol for Satan.

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  9. kyleian says:

    My point was that in God’s world order, He chooses to use dragons for evil. If we create another realm, then for the Christian, the order God has set up still needs to exist (I believe talking animals are inside this order. Balaam’s donkey is just one example).
    Perhaps it’s not so much Calvinism as it is following the order God has set up on this earth, even in an alternate reality (which is still technically an issue of God’s sovereignty).

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  10. James Dunn says:

    Yes, and my point was that we still disagree on whether dragons being evil is part of God’s order… you consider the fact that it is used as a symbol for Satan or anything else that God punishes to have more relevance than I do. So the disagreement is not about God’s sovereignty, but rather over what God actually has chosen to do with dragons. If, as I have asserted, using a dragon as a symbol for Satan does not actually mean dragons are inherently evil, then making dragons good is not defying God’s sovereign will. However, if as you assert, using a dragon as a symbol for Satan does in fact mean that they are inherently evil, then making dragons good is indeed defying God’s sovereign will. The debate hinges on what using a dragon as a symbol for Satan actually means, not whether God is sovereign or not.

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  11. Heather says:

    Ah, I see…that makes sense on how it would affect our thought patterns toward this particular question.
    Well, Ky, I say we agree to disagree. :0) Seems to me that’s the only logical answer at this point and that we can go on enjoying each other’s work and stories while not fully agreeing with the beliefs behind them.
    Re Paolini: I honestly don’t understand WHY he’s so popular, especially with his latest book, Brinsingr. *gag* Well, and top that with the fact that he’s just not that good or original of a writer.

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  12. kyleian says:

    Heather – Sounds good… I’m tuckered out from arguing right now, and I don’t think it would get us anywhere anyway… Same goes to you, James.

    Like

  13. Ezra says:

    Heather: I second that. But then, twilight is also popular, conceptual art wins world art competitions, death metal is not regarded as morally bankrupt, and Avatar is one of the most popular movies of all time.

    Like

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