Truths in Fiction by Phillip E. Johnson

Truths in Fiction

From time to time, I like to turn away from the scientific themes that are the most common subject of my writing for Touchstone and turn to matters of the literary imagination. The idea for this edition of the Leading Edge came to me when I saw an article by Benjamin Plotinsky in the Winter 2009 issue of City Journal: “How Science Fiction Found Religion: Once overtly political, the genre increasingly employs Christian allegory.” Plotinsky based his thesis on this synopsis of the storyline of two popular films:

There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside over a world redeemed. Tell this story to one of the world’s 2 billion Christians, and he’ll recognize it instantly. Tell it to a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and he’ll ask why you’re making minor alterations to the plot of The Matrix or Superman Returns.

These two films were not produced by a religious organization seeking converts. They are both commercial products aimed at filling theater seats with young people who want to be drawn into a thrilling story. Since successful American movies have a worldwide impact, I hope we will receive reports about the popular reaction to these films in post-Christian Europe and the Middle East. I have heard reports that a great many Muslims around the world are having dreams about Jesus that motivate them to want to learn more about the Christian savior, and it would be very interesting to know if something of that sort is happening in the minds of popular moviemakers.

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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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