Thursday, August 18, 2005

Patch the Pirate and "Reality"

Some time ago, David W. Cloud, a fundamentalist Baptist preacher and writer, offered some written criticisms of the Patch the Pirate children’s recordings. I won’t go into his criticisms here, nor will I say much about the Patch recordings in general, except this: Patch the Pirate is a bit silly at times, but some of the songs are good, and they are decent children’s entertainment for very young children (though they can be enjoyed by older children, one hopes they will have moved on to more substantive things by then).

The following was a comment one of Cloud’s readers made in response to the original article, and this is what I wanted to talk about:

"I have a very strong position that is in opposition to ‘Patch’, but for reasons not mentioned in your article. ‘Patch’ is based on Non-Reality. This is a very dangerous foundation upon which to ‘minister’ to young people. Bible-believing Christianity is REAL, not fantasy as presented by ‘Patch’. Nowhere in the Bible do you find Bible truth presented in fantasy form. This false method of ‘evangelism’ or ‘teaching’ leads young people into a fantasy world, not into the reality of true Christianity. To add to this error, the hero ‘Patch’ is a pirate. I can find no pirate in all of history that is good. Is this calling ‘good’ ‘evil’? This type of ‘ministry’ is a bane on the church. Dobson does the same thing with his ‘Odyssey’ program. I would like to see someone research this and present it through your medium. I deeply appreciate your ministry. God bless you, my dear Brother."

I actually deal more at length with this kind of criticism of fiction in my forthcoming book Talking of Dragons, but here are a few thoughts.

First, the writer asserts his opposition to Patch the Pirate on the indisputable grounds that it is “based on Non-Reality.” He asserts that this is a “dangerous foundation upon which to ‘minister’ to young people.” He supports this assertion with another assertion: “Nowhere in the Bible do you find Bible truth presented in fantasy form. This false method of ‘evangelism’ or ‘teaching’ leads young people into a fantasy world, not into the reality of true Christianity.”

Taking these statements together, then, it seems that by fantasy the writer means Non-Reality. Presumably, what he means is that the events in the Bible really happened, while the events of Patch the Pirate, Adventures in Odyssey, etc., did not, and thus should be categorized as “Non-Real.” Now to begin with, I wholeheartedly agree that the Bible is primarily a book of history. I accept without qualification the historicity of the miracles of the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, including the great miracles of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ. In this sense, the Bible stories are “Real,” while fictional stories are “Non-Real.”

The question has to do with whether fictional stories are really, as the writer claims, “dangerous.” Since he asserts that, “Nowhere in the Bible do you find Bible truth presented in fantasy [fictional] form,” I presume he would change his mind if we could show him examples of just such “Non-Reality” in the Scriptures themselves. This I intend to do. So let’s just briefly mention a few examples of passages that the Anti-Patch writer would have to cut from his Bible to avoid such “dangerous” “Non-Reality.”

In II Samuel 12:1-7, we have the prophet Nathan’s story of the rich man stealing the poor man’s lamb. He told this story to King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Nathan comes to confront David but does so obliquely (at first) by telling him a fictional story. Ultimately, the story was true, in the sense that David had done, in effect, the same thing as the man in the story. But then, the same could be said of most fictional tales. The fact remains that there really was no rich man who had stolen a poor man’s lamb. What really happened (and remember Anti-Patch’s insistence on only the “REAL”) was that a king had stolen a soldier’s wife. Why couldn’t Nathan just stick to reality? Obviously, because one benefit of fiction is that it helps us see truth and reality that we would otherwise have missed. By telling David a fictional story of a gross injustice, Nathan stirred David’s righteous anger to the point of admitting that the man in the story deserved to die. Then, the kicker: David, “thou art the man.” Can you imagine a more powerful way to turn the mirror on a man’s soul, driving him to his knees in repentance before a holy God? Such is the power that God has given to Story.

Other examples could be multiplied. In Revelation, God shows John visions of things that even the most conservative of scholars admit are often symbolic (i.e., the most die-hard literalist Baptist does not believe that the Anti-Christ has ten horns and seven heads). These symbols are true, in the sense that they point to something beyond them that is true, but the symbols themselves are, strictly speaking, imaginary, fantastical, and fictional. Yet if we live by Anti-Patch’s arbitrary insistence on only “REAL” events, we will miss nearly everything that the book of Revelation has to teach us about God’s sovereignty and triumph over His enemies, because we would not be allowed to read Revelation.

Most tellingly, we have the parables of Jesus Himself. These are short, fictional stories designed to teach truth for those who have ears to hear, and to confuse those who do not (Matthew 13:9-16). Shouldn’t Jesus just have stuck to teaching eternal truths, as in the Sermon on the Mount? Why delve into “Non-Reality”? The same reason Nathan told David a story instead of jumping right to the “Thou art the man,” as many contemporary “prophets” would have done: Story is powerful. Now, some may say that Jesus, being God, could have known of true stories in which a woman lost a coin, or an enemy sowed weeds among the wheat, or a man was robbed, ignored by his countrymen, and then helped by a foreigner. Granted. But Jesus doesn’t present them that way, as if they were AP news stories. He doesn’t tell us the names of the people involved, as the Bible usually does when recounting true history. The point of these stories is that they apply to everyone, because they could have happened to anyone.

Finally, just a word on Anti-Patch’s condemnation of Patch the Pirate on the grounds that he is a pirate. I find it hard to imagine that children will suddenly develop a desire to loot and pillage after listening to Patch. Obviously, this is not a pirate in the sense of “we extort, we pilfer, we filch and sack, drink up me hearties, Yo ho!” There are other, symbolic (there’s that nasty, Non-Real word again) ways to use the image of a pirate. Michael Card’s haunting song, Why, comes to mind: “Why did it have to be a heavy cross He was made to bear?…It was a cross, for on a cross, a thief was supposed to pay. And Jesus had come into the world to steal every heart away.” Or, more interestingly, we have another of Jesus’ fictional parables, in which He says, “how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matthew 12:29). The hero of this parable actually enters someone’s house and “plunders” it (“steals,” “loots,” “pillages,” “sacks,” are listed by Merriam-Webster as synonyms, though they forgot to add, “drink up me hearties, Yo ho!”). So, it would seem the image of a thieving marauder can be used to good purpose in fictional stories, obviating both of Anti-Patch’s criticisms in one fell swoop.

Yo ho, Yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.