I have long defended fairy tales, the stories that write the context for who we are in the world, the myths, legends, and symbolism that shapes us as people and begins to create the foundation for our culture. Fiction can actually be a great vehicle for truth.
Sadly in our post modern world we’ve got this crazy idea that “fiction” means lies and deception. We tend to walk about claiming we’re very reason based and discerning, while clearly demonstrating we are anything but. I like that word demon strating, it’s got the “demons” in it. The proof is in the pudding or, “by their fruits you shall know them.”
I’m reminded that while nursery rhymes may sound like nonsense to our modern ears, there is actually historical evidence behind them, truth that is revealed when we dig beneath the surface. “Ring Around the Roses” is often thought to be about the Black Death, the Great Plague, although there is some dispute about this. Regardless, many of our fairy tales and nursery rhymes of old where actually cultural commentaries, political statements, historical truths.
Dr Seuss who taught many kids to read, began as a political cartoonist, and his easy reader Cat in the Hat tales have a rhyme and a reason to them, a message and truth beneath the surface. The Sneetches and Other Stories, for example, has some clear messages about what happens to yellow sneetches of the world with no stars on their bellies.
All fiction has a message, because writers cannot really draw tales out of nothing, ex nihilo, instead they must be related in someway to the world around them, to their experiences, to their personality and vision. So fiction and fairy tales make a statement, they reveal some truths, and the characters in our myths and legends begin to shape us. We are the company we keep, we are the “people” we hang out with.
I cannot give you a single historical or archaeological proof for doors in the back of wardrobe closets or for the land of Narnia that CS Lewis gave us, but I can tell you that there is great truth to be found in those tales, that behind the characters and whimsy is, well, knowing. Experiential knowing, relationship, truth, that comes to us in a non evidential way, truth based not on facts and reason, but on the heart. It is the kind of truth that one must experience and walk out.
Hugh Hefner, the Playboy mogul, once broke my heart. I suppose you could take that in two ways, in a literal sense which would suggest I had a torrid affair at the Playboy mansion, but of course I never even met the man, so that would not be factual. Just the same, he did break my heart, because at a time when I was very bitter and cynical myself, he gave an interview and said, “I set out to prove that the words in all the love songs were true.” What he really meant was, “I set out to prove they weren’t.” That really broke my heart, rocked my whole world because I realized how broken our culture had become, how cynical, how reason based, and cost-effective.
I can tell you right now that, “her eyes were like crystal pools of deep blue” is a lie, a deception, not factually true or evidence based, but to dismiss the truth and beauty to be found there, to now pride oneself on one’s superior discernment skills is just tragic. There is truth and beauty to be found in our allegories and metaphors, in our love songs, in our fiction and our fairy tales.
At the time Hefner spoke his words, I also did not believe the words in the love songs were true. I was also demanding evidence for the sweetness of music as if to say, “oh yeah, what makes it sweet??” Let me tell you, if your mission in life is to prove that truth and beauty aren’t real, are a deception, a lie, something has gone deeply awry in your spirit.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Be careful what you pray for, be careful what you seek evidence of, because we have a way of making our vision, our reality, and then we must live there.
Which brings me to the bible, to a frequent accusation from atheists that is just a book of fairy tales and therefore invalid. First of all, I don’t believe that at all, I can see multiple evidence based facts, archaeological finds, historical records that document many of the truths to be found in the bible. However, that is not really the point at all, that is not really the most important thing. The bible could be written out like an IRS manual, a cross referenced, peer-reviewed, historical record of facts and figures, but that would only give you head knowledge, data driven belief about as cold and meaningless as believing the truth of water is composed of nothing but H2O.
An alien on another planet, a dry one, could read about the chemical composition of water and check the facts and evidence that demonstrate that water does indeed exist, but they will still know nothing of water, the joy of a hot bath or the way a river brings life to a region, the feel of a summer rain on your skin. To try to speak to them of Living water would be like, well like trying to communicate with an alien.
You simply cannot love The Word, you cannot experience The Word, without involving your heart, your imagination, your emotion. And The Word is not simply the two-dimensional words stamped out on a page, He is also a person. Jesus Himself is often called “The Word.” The word given to us in human form so we have somewhere to place our eyes, a context in which to read our stories, Someone to actually experience and know in an intimate way.
Perhaps we Christians need to understand this truth, to embrace it even more than atheists try not too, because there is always a tendency to want to push back and react, to defensively proclaim we have facts and figures on our side rather than truth and beauty. When we do that we are reacting to the ways of the world and not responding to the wisdom of Jesus who once asked us, “what is truth” and “who do you say I am?”
Because the truth of receiving Him is always going to be a subjective one, a decision based not on our objective understanding of reality, but rather our own subjective perception of The Truth. Whether you believe Jesus is your Savior or you believe He is not, you are going to be objectively right about that.
Even the demons believe in the truth of Jesus, but that doesn’t make them His followers.
So, close your eyes, feel the music, believe the words in the love songs are true, and embrace the fairy tales. True love conquers all, it always has, and if others think you’re mad, well then, embrace the madness too.