If God Is Just Fiction, Then What Are the Rules of the Story?
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak…”
Those are harsh words from the prolific biologist, scholar, and ardent atheist Richard Dawkins. Most Christians, when arguing against men like Dawkins, offer assurance of their beliefs through their text, the Bible, and then validate their statements through other corresponding passages in the scriptures. This allows men like Dawkins to simply cite, ‘that is still your fiction, but this is my reality.’ To men like Dawkins, the real world, with its scientific, philosophical, and even psychological groundings, invalidates the “fictional” worldview of the Christian.
In this article, instead of arguing in futility, let’s assume Dawkins is right for a moment.
Let’s suppose God IS the God of fiction. We can’t stop there, however, because ALL fiction has rules.
Take science fiction or fantasy fiction. Every great science-fiction/fantasy author (the writer — or, dare we say ‘god’ — of their story), must create parameters for their fictional story world.
What’s the gravity like?
What realms or planets do the characters come from?
How does the story’s environment affect how the characters function through it?
These parameters are addressed before the author’s “fictional” story is fully written because they impact the story line. An article for the reedsy.com blog, 13 Kick-Ass Tips For Writing Fantasy From Professional Fantasy Editors, states:
“7. Give your world internal rules
To make a world feel real and functional, you also want to make sure that it’s grounded by rules — or an internal rationale, so to speak.”
If the God Dawkins spoke about above of is fictional then what are the rules or parameters of this God’s “fictional” story world? For the sake of brevity, we’ll boil it down to six parameters.
- God is the creator of all existence and humanity.
- God made man in His image, bearing His likeness.
- Man rejected God’s plan for His creation, and, in doing so, invited evil into the world.
- The principal head of this evil is a fallen angel named Satan, who, since his fall, seeks to “kill, steal, and destroy” those bearing God’s image.
- Satan and his forces can work through the “sons of disobedience,” or prideful, fallen members of mankind, whispering inspirations and controlling systems and realms from behind the scenes, schemes most often oblivious to mankind, but that damage and destroy those listening to it, and then lives of those affected by it.
- God sent his Son into the world, to abolish the works of Satan and his evil forces, and to liberate all who believe in him from the power of sin and death, offering them eternal life after this one passes.
It is easy to understand how those parameters could easily be considered fiction, or, at the very least, the foundations for a Good vs. Evil fantasy story. Christians cite them as factual at face value. Atheists like Dawkins assert these parameters are nothing BUT fantasy and only the delusional would treat them as reality.
But rarely does either side explore what impact these parameters have on their worlds. Let’s not agree or disagree with these parameters–
Let’s explore deeper.
Parameters 1 and 2: PROSPERITY AND FLOURISHING
The first two parameters show that humanity was created to flourish in prosperity and vitality.
Unlike any other ideologies’ “fictional parameters,” were not created by some impersonal, outside Force. We created in that Force’s image.
That changes everything.
Imagine you are a fine art painter and you’ve just finished a painting. For whatever reason, you can’t stand it. Frustrated with your final “Masterpiece”, you take a knife, slice the canvas to shreds and burn the whole painting. Is there any societal recourse?
That image is your creation, but it is made outside of yourself. You did, however, design it; you brought it into reality. It is yours; you can do with it as you see fit. Its value is tied to your impulses, your feelings, and your whims.
What if you did the same thing to your kids?
What if you decided you were no longer happy with your children, they no longer amused or inspired you, and you took that knife and did the same thing to them that you did to your painting? What would happen?
Arrest, murder charges, and incarceration. In the public eye, you would be considered the most heinous not just for the murders but because they were your children.
Why the difference in outcomes?
With ownership, its value is tied to the individual’s perception of the item owned. With a creation made in your image, value is directly correlated back to the original creator. The more one values oneself, the more one wishes for that which he or she creates in his or her personal image to flourish and prosper.
Those made in your image are your reflection on earth. You want what is made in your image to “suck the marrow out of life” as Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society beautifully stated. In part, because their prosperity brings you glory.
If we are made in God’s image, based on the above understandings, He would want us to prosper and flourish. And that is everybody. Since God not only created us all but we also all bear his image, there are no neighbor kids down the street He cares about less. We are ALL loved because of that image-bearing parameter.
Let’s look at what “fictional” parameters three and four uncover:
Parameters 3 and 4: HUMANITY IN THE CROSSHAIRS:
In this “fictional world”, humanity is not only made in the image of its Creator, but it also bears the likeness of that Creator’s enemy…
Oh, wait, that changes everything again.
When you were in your teen years, you might have dated a person whom you believed — at least at the time — was “perfect.” If you had the typical teenage romance, that person probably wasn’t perfect for long. That person you “loved” so deeply, no doubt became an object of scorn and anger. You couldn’t harm them physically, so you did the next best thing.
You destroyed their image.
You’d gather your friends and have a photo burning party. Those photos were your representation of that person. By destroying their image, you were getting out that anger and hatred toward that person.
This “fictional” God “loves the world (of humanity),” because it all bears His image. We are His “photos” on earth. But his enemy, known as Satan, wishes to see us destroyed and decimated for the very same reason: we bear that Creator’s (his enemy’s) image. He wants to have a photo burning party all the time.
He just attempts to do it with live people.
Remember how I just said no one is exempt from bearing God’s image? Well, no one is also exempt from being hated by God’s enemy for that very reason.
We are all targets.
The world is a global crime scene, and we are all in the crosshairs, whether we chose to acknowledge it, or even believe it.
How can I be so certain?
After all, this is all “fictional” right? Just a good fantasy story? All might have remained in the fictional world, except we have this little fifth parameter, and it changes everything (wait, did I say that already?). Parameter five shifts from the assertions of scripture to the tangible light of the real world. Parameter five allows us to gauge every technological, ideological, religious, or philosophical offering strategically.
Parameter FIVE: JUST AN IDEA OR INVENTION?
Everything created by man, from an idea, a philosophy, or even technology or mobile app, began with an idea in the mind before it is ever put to paper or offered to society. Therefore, if there exists an enemy capable of whispering into the mind of the human Creator, as this parameter claims, then everything created can be studied to determine whether it has been designed, in some big or small way, for prosperity and flourishing (the desire of our Creator) or for destruction (the intent of Creator God’s enemy). Not through how the inventor wants us to use his or her invention. Not just through how his or her invention affects us morally or spiritually.
But through its outcomes.
Below is a small list of creations that are considered both for its intended purpose and objective outcome:
Crystal meth and other recreational narcotics were created for the intended purpose of euphoria, but their objective outcome includes serious brain defects and the loss of crucial brain chemicals, the deterioration of the body, the loss of sleep, and food intake. Not to mention near-instantaneous biological addiction.
The intended purpose of promiscuous sex is physical and psychological elation, but the objective outcome can be a venereal disease, cervical cancer, AIDS, depression, and infertility.
The intended purpose of alcohol is physiologic stimulation, but its objective outcome can include depression, addiction, internal organ damage, and if driving is added, incarceration for DUI or worse: manslaughter.
The (somewhat) intended purpose of gambling is having a good time and potentially winning big, but the objective outcome is can be bankruptcy, poverty, the loss of job or family, depression, and anxiety.
The intended purpose of pornography is sexual stimulation, but the objective outcome can be erectile dysfunction, divorce, depression, and possibly even incarceration if underage children are involved.
This is the smallest of lists for the sake of brevity. The world is shocked and frustrated at these outcomes. It’s the part of our pleasures that, well, sucks. Being scientifically advanced and intellectually evolved, we attempt to reduce the damage while we still try to celebrate the pleasure of these experiences. Worse, we develop new tools to alleviate the damaging outcomes of our pleasurable actions, often with tragic results.
“The smartest and most educated people are the scientists, for they have already found solutions to all our problems and will soon find solutions to all the problems resulting from their solutions to all the problems we used to have.”
Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
Pleasure is good. Consequence is bad.
In the “real” world, through secular science and reductionist ideologies, these pleasure/consequence realities aren’t connected. How can they be? Remember, these parameters are still “fiction,” right? If there is no creator of humanity and no enemy of humanity, then it’s all a brutal coincidence.
A brutal, damaging, life-destroying coincidence.
Our freedoms aren’t so free, but oh well, that’s part of life.
What a way to live as an individual. What a way to live as a society.
But inside these first five parameters, we can see the outcomes of these particular actions, not as coincidental consequences of humanity’s favorite freedoms–
–but, in part, as their strategic intent.
The believers of this “fiction” can proclaim to the “real world” that the alarming statistics of disease, addiction, alcoholism, depression and anxiety, STDs, etc., are not just the unconnected result of certain actions; they are also part of the intent of these actions. God desires prosperity for humanity, his greatest creation. The enemy seeks to destroy that creation. He seeks to eradicate that prosperity. And we can see the interplay of both desires through the outcomes of our actions. And we can ONLY discover this through the fictional parameters of this single worldview of “fantasy.” (Now, is far more nuanced than I can develop in 2,000 words, so it is not Cartesian.)
This “fictional” worldview has a lot of strategic applications and offers quite a bit of inspiration to the world. And this “fictional” God appears to want the very best for the creation made in his image. It answers a lot of puzzling questions. It also offers powerful solutions, when they are removed from fantasy and unpacked INTO the real world. These parameters offer us the ability to analyze, to discover, to ward against, and to liberate us from the onslaught of the damaging statistical data that plague society. Statistics that plague you.
Or, just maybe, these parameters are not fiction at all.
Parameter 6: Authentic Hope
“Your shadow walks faster than you, do you think that you’re not alone?–
It will defeat you then teach you to get back up,
After it takes away all that you’ve learned to love.
You’d better HOPE you’re not alone.”
Jack Johnson, Hope
Parameters 1–5 have real-world application, especially on understanding society’s statistics of disease, depression, loneliness, anxiety, addiction, the list goes on and on. We are often unintentionally caught in parameters 3, 4, and 5. They have wrecked havoc on us. They have wrecked havoc on society. They have wrecked havoc on history itself.
Blame is not necessary here. We simply need to recognize that most of us are caught in an endless cycle of Parameter 5. We believe that whatever we trust in, use, purchase or take will get us out of this cycle of destruction. It won’t, because it can’t. You bear this “fictional” God’s image.
This God of Parameters 1 and 2 saw this endless cycle of supposed pleasure and intentional destruction and did something about it. Why? Because you bear His image. Because he wants the very best for you. Because He loves you. How do I know? We come to Parameter 6.
6. God sent his Son into the world, to abolish the works of Satan and his evil forces, and to liberate all who believe in him from the power of sin and death, offering them eternal life after this one passes.
Remember how I stated earlier that ownership is about what it costs to acquire something?
This God of Parameters 1 and 2, to rescue you from Parameters 3–5, gave up everything to acquire you. First stepping into humanity, with all its faults and complications, then enduring mockery, beating, torture, and finally slaughter at the hand of humanity. He died, but He rose again to eradicate the power of Parameters 3–5 in your life. In the life of humanity itself, if we are willing to accept Him.
Parameter six is hard to rationalize and believe if we just start at parameter six. It is easy to understand why Dawkins would make his statements against this “fiction” — especially when there is often little evidence of its power from many claiming to believe in it. But if there is real-world application of the first five parameters–
What if Parameter Six is just as real?
I encourage you to find out in your own life. Because if Parameters 3–5 are real, then we need Hope. Parameter 6 offers that Hope.
This is just the smallest microcosm of the power of this “fictional” belief system and the God who designed it and who designed you. I have barely scratched the surface. I’ve just tossed the smallest pebble into the wondrous ocean that contains these understandings. I will do my best to continue to write about them.
I encourage you to seek out more from those that live Parameters 1,2 and 6 — and don’t merely talk about it. They don’t judge. They don’t attack. They just live it. Find those people, and you’ll find the Way to the Hope described here.