Fiction isn’t dead. In fact, it remains the widest read classification of writing in the world.
It’s been this way since the book was invented. Hell, fiction has been around since the time of Noah. As you may have heard, Noah was a man-giant famous for compelling predators and prey to get along in a state of the art vessel he built without so much as Papa Lemech’s power tools. Had his 900-year lifespan been delayed by, say, fifty centuries, he arguably would’ve been the greatest player in NBA history. Now, we have to accept Jordan as the G.O.A.T, instead of just thinking of the goat named Jordan who travelled with Noah alongside parrots and beavers and tigers and lions and lemurs, bobbing up and down the ravenous seas.
How about in other periods? Well, the same thing can be said of Jesus, who was blessed with the innate ability of being unlike the modern-day televangelists that cite his name in vain. Depending on the crew you ask, dude was straight godly. Even those who don’t swing that way still believe that, through the one and true GOD, miracles were performed with the help of Jesus, who stood five feet tall soaking wet.
Remember when the universe was created? Those were good times. We were all sitting around the dinner table. Chef Shiva with the pot, stirring the universe into existence. Complex and textured, with a hefty serving of galaxies, sprinkled with supernovas, a pinch of rock and some aliens for a kick. I don’t care what you and your siblings think about your mom’s lasagna; it’s trash compared to what great-grandpa Shiva cooked up that night. It was served warm, and we washed it down with a refreshing glass of fiction. Even then, fiction was side-by-side with historical truths.
Of course, there’s that period belonging to the one who shall remain both nameless and faceless. Fiction books weren’t around then, but idolaters traded in fiction. Gutenberg wasn’t born yet. These are merely historical facts. Nothing more should be read into this. Please don’t kill me.
The works of Twain, Dickinson, Shakespeare, Wolf, and more remain in circulation, easily accessible in traditional book form or in digital. Take every legendary writer of fiction and add up all of their books that have ever circulated. Then, multiply that figure by two for no apparent reason. I assume that’s a big number, but my Grade 9 math grade doesn’t permit me to turn that mathematical assumption into a certainty. This presumably astronomical figure, though, pales in comparison to another sub-class of fictional works which are the most widely read in documented human history.
This sub-class of fictional tales, previously conveyed through generations by way of oral transmission, tablets, scrolls and the like, became so imbedded within communities, that they’ve been accepted as truth.
The codification of these fictional stories in book form was necessary because it helped to spread these tales and assist rulers in consolidating power. Words in print carry immense weight. It’s no coincidence that the first book ever printed was The Bible.
Just as bread and wine become body and blood, fiction transubstantiates into fact. But in the end, people are still just getting drunk — one way or another. The power that existed in storytelling and myth-making has been almost completely drained from these works, leaving people with only quasi-historical claims that carry little weight and relevance when taken literally.
This miraculous transformation of fiction into fact is important, not just because the written word is prone to abstraction, but chiefly because these tales are used as instruments to deceive, manipulate, and coerce people into blind obedience.
Quite the miracle indeed.
Church fundraisers for hurricane relief. Lunches for the homeless prepared at the mosque. Candlelight vigils for friends murdered by cops. Clothing drives for flood victims held at the temple.
Objecting to these acts of good faith would make you a selfish scum-siphoning moron who sells fentanyl to children. There are countless things done by religious groups and affiliated organizations every day that are worthy of commendation. When so few are willing to help, those that do help shouldn’t be criticized. Those acts aren’t the issue, and they’ve never been the issue.
Organized religion is a sedative, numbing senses and making it easy for us to accept ideas that, in a fully conscious state, we’d be inclined to reject outright. In the majority of cases, it is not extreme. However, the more trying the pain and suffering, the higher the dose of sedative we desire. The higher concentration of sedative means that we’re prone to accept even more radical notions, ones that fly in the face of noble considerations, like accepting and helping fellow humans.
People embrace religion for a variety of reasons, but it’s the addiction to the feeling that is noteworthy, because addiction deludes; it forces us to live only in pursuit of temporarily satiating that addiction. As our tolerance grows, more is required. While we spiral further down into the depths, clinching tightly to that feeling, our behaviour grows erratic, our temperament becomes hostile, and the link to reality erodes, until finally it severs.
We will stop at nothing to continue along our path. No relative, no advice, no amount of money, not even the love of our lives can get us to stop. We end up in the company of those that engage in the same behaviour. The only thing we accept is that feeling, because that feeling is palpable. That feeling gives us comfort. That feeling is the only fact that’s accepted.
In this vulnerable state, there are those with malicious intent that will harness the power of that feeling, using it for their own destructive purposes.
Rampant sexual misconduct by church officials. Fatwas issued for authors and cartoonists. Crusaders using automatics on Iraqi civilians. Women forbidden from reading or going to school.
We try to dismiss these occurrences, or make excuses for them, or turn a blind eye to them because we’re not willing to confront the uncomfortable truths. It is easier to continue living the way we have instead of recognizing that, despite the benefits that religion may provide — a sense of community, a purpose in life, a guide to moral living — there are people, perhaps without the outlets or wherewithal, who cannot escape the destructive fantasy. If they did, it would be tantamount to suicide.
We don’t aspire to create a society in the image of a Philip K. Dick novel or fashion the world from Brave New World. Okay, maybe those are bad examples. But in fiction, we take the good with the bad. There are pernicious characters, anti-heroes, noble fellows of high repute; settings infused with depravity, or ones with a frustrating level of calm and happiness that make me dry-heave.
In whatever way it’s done, there is meaning and lesson and impact. Effective stories toil with our emotions, investing us in the lives of characters to such a degree that we associate them alongside our best friends and our worst enemies. There is time for introspection, and once it’s over we walk away better by having gleaned a deeper sense of empathy.
There is immense value in fiction. However, fiction is most valuable when it remains fiction. People don’t kill because they disagree on whether Hamlet was a justifiable prick to his mom. But, if Hamlet was considered the messiah or the last prophet, there would be some fuckboy ready to murder you if you said he was unjustified, or a nation invading another because King Hamlet was the more vaunted and esteemed of the Hamlets. As we know, there is a special place in hell for those that take “to thine own self be true” out of context. It was Polonius, not Hamlet. It’s ironic. Now, off with their heads!