If you have not read very much science fiction or fantasy from before 1940, then you are liable to struggle with this. If your concept of science fiction and fantasy is derived primarily from movies and television, then you will definitely struggle with this. And if Christian thought is so offensive to you that you’re actively engaged in some kind of non-stop culture war against it, well… you’re naturally going to pretend that what I’m saying makes no sense at all. Assuming, that is, that you’re capable of seeing the point in the first place.
What it comes down to is what authors and directors do on a scene by scene basis in order to establish, develop, and maintain the likability of the hero. And these creative choices do not happen in a vacuum. They are informed by a value system. And how these scenes play with an audience hinges on their culture.
This would seem to be a rather self-evident observation, but it is one that will be sniped at from any of a half dozen spurious angles. If you’re talking about the work of a particular author, then someone will point out how they were not professing Christians or how they had their own particular vices or how they were really brilliant at cocktail parties or something. If one can sidestep this distraction, then one still has to establish the fact that American culture was inherently Christian in the 19th Century and then well into the 20th. This of course can be deduced from a survey of fantasy and science fiction of the sixties and seventies, which was so aggressive in its attempts to transform the culture that you could reverse engineer what must have been the norm on the basis of what they held in contempt.
From there, one must delve into the question of whether there is not anything unique to Christianity that is not common to nearly every other culture in the world. And from there, one must establish that anything in American culture that appears to derive from Christianity actually did come from Christianity and not from some other religion or culture. And to answer that, one must establish that Christianity actually existed, that it was significant enough to influence culture and history at all, and that it was internally consistent enough to be compelling in a non-superficial way to someone that is actually significant.
Now… these sorts of reactions are merely that: reactions. They are not arguments at all and I won’t address them except to point out that this sort of thing is a great example of just how complete the cultural transformation has become. It is not enough for us to merely become a post-Christian culture. No, it’s now taboo to even suggest that we were ever anything else!
For another example, consider your reaction to McClintock!, the classic John Wayne film from 1963. How do you feel, for instance, when the Commanche chiefs ask the lead to read the following statement to the Indian tribunal:
We are an old people, and a proud people. When the white man first came among us… we were as many as the grasses of the prairie. Now we are few, but we are still proud… for if a man loses pride in manhood, he is nothing. You tell us now that if we will let you send us away… to this place called Fort Sill… you will feed us and care for us. Let us tell you this: It is a Comanche law that no chief ever eats… unless first he sees that the pots are full of meat… in the lodges of the widows and orphans. It is the Comanche way of life. This that the white man calls charity is a fine thing for widows and orphans… but no warrior can accept it, for if he does, he is no longer a man… and when he is no longer a man he is nothing… and better off dead. You say to the Comanche, ‘You are widows and orphans, you are not men. ‘ And we, the Comanche, say we would rather be dead. It will not be a remembered fight when you kill us… because we are few now and have few weapons. But we will fight and we will die Comanche.
Now, this film had been at pains up until this point demonstrating the respect the townspeople had for McClintock. The film breaks down how successful he was as a businessman and what it took for him to climb as high as he did. The film shows him to be savvy and a good judge of character. His sense of justice leads him to intervene on behalf of an Indian falsely accused of kidnapping. His kindness leads him to offer work to those that need it in such a way that they can maintain their sense of pride.
You would think that the guy could not be shown in any better light. But then the Commanche chiefs– whom he’d fought in previous decades– ask him to read that statement for them in their hearing. It’s an astonishing moment. And quite moving, at least to me. Which leads to the question of just what it is that happens to the people that watch this sort of thing and then feel inspired, awed, uplifted. I would have thought I was too sophisticated to enjoy something like this. That’s what I was told before I looked up some of these old films myself.
How can this even work? And what is the thing in me that this film operates on? How is it that these people from another time and place can play me like a fiddle? And why is it that the people that made this seem to know more about what makes me tick than I do myself…? It’s a mystery. And it’s no less of one due this sort of thing happening so consistently to me with not just old westerns, but old pulp stories in general.
But mine would not be the only possible response. You might watch this and sneer at it. It might strike you as incredibly unrealistic. You might declare that this film is actually offensive. Stupid. A relic. A fossil. You might declare that such a man as George Washington McClintock never existed. Cannot have existed.
And if that is your reaction, well congratulations. Because you are very much a product of a post-Christian culture. The film was not actually made for you, but for a different sort of person.
A people that had no idea how quickly they would disintegrate and be replaced with people like you.