Christianity means more than adhering to a certain set of principles, more than observance of the law, as Jesus made quite clear in his dealings with the Pharisees. Though most of us see this as a very basic truth, one that hardly needs stating, sometimes this recognition doesn’t spill over into our stories. We’re content to let them sit at the “merely moral” level, where they fail to touch the heart.
CS Lewis had this to say on the matter, in an essay on the books of Charles Williams:
The public has a distrust for moral books which is not wholly mistaken. Morality has spoiled literature often enough: we all remember what happened to some nineteenth-century novels. The truth is, it is very bad to reach the stage of thinking deeply and frequently about duty unless you are prepared to go a stage further. The Law, as St Paul first clearly explained, only takes you to the school gates. Morality exists to be transcended. We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully. It is one of the liberating qualities in Williams’s books that we are hardly ever on the merely moral level.
If you read or write Christian fiction, it’s likely you will have witnessed the complaints of certain readers about Christian content or “preachiness” in stories. Of course, there are people who will take offense no matter how Christian elements are presented, but sometimes I wonder if part of the issue comes when stories advance mere morals, instead of giving life and breath to the meaning and reality behind the moral. When morals are presented didactically, as a duty rather than a joy, it gives a sense of forced message rather than demonstrating a spiritual element which bubbles up from the creative well of the story.
As Christians, we don’t want to take the approach Charles Perrault did in his versions of familiar fairy tales. He took stories with rich, multi-layered meanings and distilled them down to a moral rule which he announced at the end of each tale, robbing the stories of natural meaning in his desire that none would mistake his moral purpose. Instead, we need to go a step beyond morality to that which defines morality, revealing the beauty and wonder of God Himself the best way we can. It’s rarely easy and often we’ll fall short, but it’s worth seeking to achieve.
In your opinion, what is the difference between merely moral stories as opposed to stories infused with spiritual truth? Do you agree or disagree with my perspective? I welcome all thoughts.
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