Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's the problem with paranormal?

Since the release of Kiss, I've encountered a handful of people--reviewers, interviewers, readers--who have said they don't like the paranormal element of the story. Some seem simply surprised by it, some more deeply offended. This information has come to me indirectly rather than face-to-face, so I can't always find out the reason for the objection. One reader did tell me personally that she thought stealing memories from another person by kissing them was demonic.

Demonic is a strong word for a device I intended to be merely symbolic. But it raises a question I'm hoping some of you might help me with: What's wrong with stories that employ paranormal devices? Some readers don't like the genre on the grounds of personal preference. I get this. There are fiction categories and authors I don't read for the same reason. But I'm more perplexed by moral objections to the exploration of paranormal possibilities. What's that all about? (I'm genuinely asking.)

Kiss is considered a "Christian book." Define that as you will. But it leads me to ask: Do people object to the paranormal because it is perceived as unChristian? The definition of paranormal is "not scientifically explainable," in which case one could argue that the Christian faith is founded on something "paranormal." Do people object because the paranormal is perceived as unbiblical? Then what can we make of the angels and demons that appear in Scripture, all of the miracles and prophecies, and Jesus' transfiguration and resurrection? Also, there's a story Jesus told that I consider paranormal, not to mention dark: It's about a rich man who goes to hell and a beggar who goes to heaven, and a long-dead Abraham telling the man in hell why he won't send any spirits of the dead to warn his family of hell's reality. That's in Luke 16.

Is it because many books, films, and TV shows that feature the paranormal tend to focus on the dark side of the unknown? Does that mean a Christian writer can't touch it? Does misuse of a device preclude it from ever being employed constructively again?

So these questions are rattling around in my head, because the stories I write are going to have paranormal elements in them. The intersection between the physical and spiritual worlds is what captures my heart and my imagination, both symbolically and literally. I can't avoid it.

But maybe understanding the objections will open some new ideas for me. So shout out or sound off. I'm ready to hear.


SozinTara said...

Hello, Ms. Healy,
I just recently purchased Kiss and will read it (after exams for class of course), and I am glad I am introduced to you now.

I love "Chirstian books" with an edge. And I completely agree about the paranormal thing. I suppose its the connotation and history behind the term "paranormal"-maybe culture?

When someone sees the show, Supernatural, they may think 'dark' because it tends to focus on the dark side more, but they have introduced angels in the show now, although the dark side have really cool looking people while the angels are older men who are judgemental and ornery.

Keep writing what you love, because I love writing religion/romance/sci fi personally-God gave me the gift in the first place, and He has given you the gift as well.


Bethany said...

Ted Dekker has written about people complaining about the content of his books in his blog before. I think that if people have a problem with his books already, that wouldn't change just because he co-authored it with someone.
I personally loved the book, and am looking forward to Burn.

porcelainsnow said...

I have yet to read this book in particular, but I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Dekker's "Black/Red/White" series, so I'm sure I'd probably love this book as well. I found this discussion through the amazon page for "Kiss."

I think a lot of the issues surrounding "paranormal" topics have to do with what you have already discussed, that it has generally shown a dark side of the paranormal world and it is difficult for some people to separate the term paranormal from the "dark" side that has been shown for as long as we can remember. I personally enjoy nothing more than a good vampire story [which could be classified under "paranormal"], but my mother feels that the whole concept of vampires is demonic. In reality, the vampire is more often than not used as a metaphor for something else entirely, such as sexuality and sexual tensions, emotionally [or "psychically"] draining people or circumstances, etc.

I think a lot of people also think of aliens when they think of the term paranormal. A great deal of people don't believe in aliens for whatever reason, and so they probably feel that the "paranormal world" is silly and superfluous.

However, I feel that as long as you can sleep at night with what you have written, then you're doing something right.

Caitlyn said...

Hey Erin,

I am completely with you on this, but in trying to understand the mindset of those Christians who aren't, here's the only thing I can think of: We're used to hearing that "any power not from God is from Satan," which I'd agree with, but we can be too quick to judge what's from God and what isn't. If it isn't something in a familiar part of the Bible, we automatically write it off as being not of God.

Also, I think it's also just a matter of how the vernacular has developed, like Ted was talking about in his latest blog on the term "evangelical." When Christians speak of God's doings in the world, which certainly can be called "paranormal," we don't usually use that word. Instead we say "spiritual" or "miraculous." "Paranormal" has come to indicate something dark and bizarre, creepy and yes, quite possibly demonic. Going back to my above paragraph, anything that we can't instantly recognize as being of God gives us the shivers and makes us take a big step backwards.

This is a pretty large problem, I'd say. It indicates that we're putting God in a box. We insist on defining what he can and cannot do. God has done some pretty insanely unusual things, both as recorded in Scripture and in our world today. We need to back off a bit and let God be God. Test the spirits, but don't scream "demon" when it's really just a new move of God.

Not sure if that answered your question. I think I went off talking about reality instead of fiction. Oh well. There's my two cents anyway. :)

sonwray said...

Hey Erin,

I have to agree with Caitlyn on her thinking of "paranormal vs spiritual. I grew up with "paranormal" stuff is the devil. But you are right, Jesus fits into the definition of what that word means.

I love how Ted and now you are willing to push the "envelope" on what is Christian to write!

I am so glad I found your blog!

jahchild101 said...

To throw in my twopence, I loved the book. Excellent read, and I don't think I was ever disappointed by it.

I honestly don't think there was anything wrong with the paranormal content. I may be wrong, but the Bible just says don't do sorcery and the like. Basically, don't invoke dead people or angels/demons for any purpose. It doesn't say anything about talking about it or using it as a plot device.

If your character were a witch, or if she was visited by dead people or spirits, then there would be a problem. But I wonder if this woman feels the same about Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings or all of the mythical creatures i The Chronicles of Narnia.

MarieT said...

I think the reason why many people complain about the paranormal in Christian literature is the fact that they do not know and understand the real definition. Even then some might not care.

People put Religion above everything that is earthly (and I have actually heard this argument from someone who does not like paranormal writings labeled as "Christian"), and the paranormal is of the earth. If paranormal was of the earth we could create such things and then they would not be paranormal. Yet again, I actually had someone argue this to me.

Definitions of certain words are so construed by modern day media, and people are so dead-set in their ways that they do not want to change.

I say, let them think they know what their talking about, and show them through your actions and writing that they are wrong. If nothing else, maybe someday they will get it.

By the way, Kiss is a great book, and I am looking forward to Burn.

Skeptical Mystic said...

There is nothing wrong with using the paranormal as a literary device. The scriptures forbid certain kinds "spiritualistic" practices, but these tend to be defined and they are nothing like anything we'd see in a Dekker book or even Harry Potter.

Most of the supernatural/paranormal expressions we find in fiction have absolutely no correspondence to anything we might be able to tap in the real world. That is the key here.

If someone wants to glorify practices God has forbidden, sure, I would have a problem with that. But so many of the arguments posed against supernatural elements in Christian-oriented fiction are completely misplaced. These are arguments against events, actions, and expressions that can NEVER get off the page. The kind of supernatural indulgences God opposes are the ones that CAN get off the page. To argue against an utterly fictitious device on the grounds that it is "unbiblical," therefore, makes no sense to me at all. For it to be unbiblical, it has to be real and accessible.

Finally, let me mention this mystery: nobody complains when Tolkien and Lewis use spiritualism, spells, supernaturalism, wizards, goblins, etc. When they do it, this is "great literature that makes the church proud." But when anyone else does it, we cry foul.

You cannot have it that way. Either these things have a place in literary expressions or they don't. You can have it or not have it. But you cannot say that what is acceptable for one author is forbidden for another.