For those of you who don’t know, I am a Christian. Christianity is a big part of my worldview and it inevitably ends up in nearly everything I write, yet none of what I write could be properly described as proselytizing. Part of this is because I firmly believe that “freedom of religion” is a correct founding principle, particularly but not exclusively for government. Part of this is because I have too much respect for too many people who are not Christians to presume that they need to be saved by me. Part of this is because my own faith is far too complicated to make for good proselytizing material.
I did not grow up in a Christian household. Both my parents were raised Catholic, but by the time I came along they weren’t practicing. I didn’t even get baptized until I was 15, at my own choice, and it was in a Lutheran church.
Nevertheless, as a child, I had the seeds of faith planted in my heart. When I was five years old, our house burned down. We stayed with a neighbor, who was a Christian and who was also dying of cancer. At some point that night, I got up on a stool and talked about how it was God’s will and He loved us and we would be okay. Out of the mouth of babes, I was a comfort to our generous neighbor, if not to my family.
At the age of 7, I had open heart surgery. My dad put down that we were Catholic, so a priest came to my room. After my mom told him I wasn’t baptized, he said that they could do it now, before my surgery, so that if I died I could go to heaven. That didn’t go over well. The funny thing is that I did die—they had to stop my heart to transfer my vital functioning to the heart/lung machine and then reverse the process when they put my repaired heart back into my chest. Even though I wasn’t baptized, I met Jesus and I went to heaven. Then I was sent back to earth.
The strangest thing about these experiences and the others that followed was that I had no religious upbringing and no religious knowledge. As a child, I was drawn to books with Christian themes. I read The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time (as well as other books by Madeleine L’Engle); I graduated to The Wheel of Time and The Lord of the Rings. When I first read these books, I didn’t know there was anything “Christian” about them. Even after I’d finished the books, I didn’t realize it, because I lacked the religious education necessary to recognize the similarities. These books just “rang true” for me. When I was finally told, in a rather exacerbated tone of voice, that The Chronicles of Narnia were “Christian allegory, for God’s sake,” I was flabbergasted.
Sure, I get it now. It’s perfectly clear now. But to me they were just stories, because the story was never sacrificed to proselytize. To me, that’s important. Stories can plant meaning and character into readers’ hearts without battering them over the head with another’s beliefs. That is one of the reasons I love stories.
The novel I’m writing is set in a world that is founded on aspects of my worldview. This first novel falls under Forgotten Angels, whereas the Fairehaven stories fall under Faithful Angels. In case it’s not perfectly clear, there will be other stories that fall under, um, well, Fallen Angels. These three distinctions were formed from the intersection of two competing aspects of my own worldview. First, I am a Christian. I do believe there is a God and that He is a force of good. I also believe there are forces of evil. Second, I don’t believe in dichotomies. I believe there is always at least one “third side” to any story. Clearly, there’s some competition there.
When I incorporated these competing beliefs in synergistic fashion I came up with something a bit revolutionary, something that is quite possibly blasphemous. See, according to my religion, God brought into existence a great many souls and He wanted to make them perfect/complete, like unto Himself, which meant, in part, obtaining physical bodies. One plan was for us to come down to earth, acquire bodies, and make choices that would either bring us home unto God or not. This meant some—even a great many—would be lost, but that those who chose so could be saved with the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son. Another plan was for us to come down, but not to have a choice. We would obtain our bodies and we would all be saved. I believe this plan was rejected, in part, because we wouldn’t learn anything from our sojourn on earth. We would be mere puppets without free will. God chose the plan with choice. War ensued. Those who fought for God were faithful; those who fought against God became fallen. This is all, more or less, part of the doctrine of the church I joined as an adult. But, I ask, what of those who did not choose?
Many religions associate “goodness” with following God’s will and “evilness” with anything that is not aligned to God’s will; but, since we don’t really understand God’s will, the powerful usually assert their own will as if it were God’s will. Thus, we have a lot of shameful incidents in the history of the Christian religion; I’ve been told similar acts of brutal intolerance have been exercised, at one time or another, by every other major religion, too. The point, however, is that this belief establishes a dichotomy.
I believe in the significance of choice. You can choose to be good. You can choose to be evil. But you can also choose to go your own way. Just because you are not aligned with God’s will doesn’t mean you willfully align yourself with evil. I believe you have to choose either way; it’s not a default decision, as so many religions claim, otherwise there really isn’t much of a purpose to the choice.
So, in this world that I’m creating, one of the founding beliefs is that 1) there were “angels” that refused to choose either God or the devil, instead they chose to go their own way and are “forgotten” by religious history; 2) both the forgotten angels and the fallen angels can take on physical form, any form they choose, and act on the mortal plane, but they have no physical form that is their own; 3) both the forgotten angels and the fallen angels can interact on the plane of the soul, but they are not perfect/complete, because they have no bodies, and therefore they are at their weakest on that plane; 4) one of the ways forgotten angels have chosen is to become “gods” in their own right, which is why our history is littered with human-like gods and demigods, spirits and, yes, even elves and fairies; and 5) Fairehaven is the one place in the mortal plane where the truth is kept, but, much like the Garden of Eden, it cannot always be found and, as is consistent with historical power dynamics, the true purpose of Fairehaven is kept even from the people of Fairehaven.
This first novel and all the stories that fit within this world that I’m creating will be imbued with elements of my worldview. Christianity will appear. But my worldview will also be filtered through the experiences and personalities of my characters. For example, the main character of this first novel, Simone, is not a Christian, but there are important people in her life who are Christians and others who seem to be. Yet, she is good. She tries to be good. She wants to be good. And she beats herself up any time she makes a mistake. And she makes a lot of them.
This novel isn’t a book of proselytizing. People try to “convert” Simone to all sorts of things, but her skepticism and distrust run deep. Yours can, too. I hope, in the spirit of the novels of my youth, you will still enjoy the story for its own sake.