God Fiction

When a fiction writer rummages around in the theological bag of tricks for inspiration and attempts to put into narrative order what he or she finds there, it should catch the attention of theologians. Liberated by the genre of fiction, a writer is free to experiment with inherited scraps of doctrine and put them to work in the lives of characters drawn from the present cultural milieu - characters who have been forged by historical forces that didn't exist when the original revelation, or the scriptures that testify to it, or the theological doctrines that resulted from reflecting on these scriptures, first arose.

In what follows we will examine the novels of three theological outsiders - an Italian literary critic and Dante scholar, an American science fiction writer, and a French journalist, each of whom has attained a level of expertise in theology through the work of conceiving their stories. Each writer has consulted biblical and theological sources in order to familiarize themselves with their main character (God), and, in the end, used narrative to reach conclusions worth paying attention to - conclusions regarding God's motives, powers, and implication in evil, as well as speculating on the moral effects of the concept of God on our lives.

A vigorous religious community must return periodically to its founding myths and reexamine itself in light of those myths. For Paul Ricoeur, narrative is effective in rejuvenating the moral imagination of readers because of its unique power to redescribe reality. This is because narrative allows one to "try new ideas, new values, new ways of being-in-the-world."12 Through stories the imagination is allowed to play with a great field of possible ways of being, to imagine its way through different sequences of acting and valuing and to see what comes of them. In following the story through its twists and turns, in reflecting on the decisions made and their consequences, in identifying with this character or that, in seeing what is lost and what is gained - the reader's world is intruded in upon by the world of the story. What is discovered in the story's world has the power to "disturb and rearrange" the reader's own relation to reality.13 In this way, narrative has the power to transfigure the practical world of the reader.

The three God novels that will be examined here are not simply products of individual and autonomous creative minds. These authors have consciously plundered myths from ancient traditions and entered into a conversation with them. Through the resulting novels, archaic myths speak again and the world conjured up through this new recitation is one that has been educated by some degree of faith in transcendent realities that the old myths carry. But in the hands of these three authors the myths have been overhauled and held accountable to much historical and literary experience that has transpired since they first entered the consciousness of our ancestors.

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