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Rocky: Boxing and the Meaning of Life

Rocky: Boxing And The Meaning Of Life

From the Bottom Up

“The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” – Saint Irenaeus (Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 180)

“His whole life was a million to one shot.” – Rocky 1976

Anthony Joshua, with his impressive and inspiring victory over Andy Ruiz in December, has lit the fire for this article on boxing and redemption. His return to the heavyweight throne serves to reiterate once again the perennial fact that most great stories involve serious redemption and are movingly personal. The great appeal of boxing, and part of the reason for its resonant cinematic success, is its heart of passionate redemption.

We see this icon of elevation again in Tyson Fury’s tale, recounted in his recent autobiography. The lineal heavyweight champion moved from the top of the heavyweight division down to the brink of suicide, and weighing over twenty stone, before elevating back to new heights.
Fury accomplished his triumph by returning to outbox adversary, and maybe boxing history’s most devastating puncher, Deontay Wilder, in an epic comeback fight. Tyson even rose like wrestling’s The Undertaker from a disastrous knock-down in the twelfth and final round, to cement the drama. Fury later proclaimed that God’s hand was at work here. The struggles and successes for each boxer in the ring reflect the same patterns in life outside the squared circle. In Fury’s case the pendulum has swung wildly, and reveals life’s uneven contests:

“…Yet now, as I drove along the motorway in this new dream car, I was caught in the nightmare of clinical depression. I had it all, but I felt I had nothing to live for. There was no point to my existence.

As I came off the motorway and slowed down, I just knew it was time to leave all this torture behind. “Right, come on, Tyson, just get this over with.’’ My mind was made up, it was in a place of meaninglessness. Nothing mattered; I didn’t matter.

I looked at the upcoming bridge. That was the target; that was the end point. The Ferrari’s engine roared back into life. It would be the last sound I would hear. In a couple of seconds my mind would be clear, devoid of all the voices that were boiling in my head. I put my foot to the floor. The end was in view.

Then, in the moment before I was set to crash, a voice shot into my head: ‘No! Stop! Think about your kids!’ And I blasted past the bridge before hammering on the brakes.

That’s as close as I have come to ending it all. I look back with relief and bewilderment at just how a person can enter such a state, suffocated by depression like I was, and I give thanks to God. Without my faith I would have committed suicide that day. My children would not have a father to guide them and my amazing wife Paris would have been robbed of a husband who, for all my faults, loves her with all his heart.” (Tyson Fury, Behind the Mask, 2019)

Now, Tyson has returned from the brink and aims to ascend to his heavyweight throne once again. Echoing the previous words about life, he informs us what it was like to struggle on in the ring, after a devastating fall against Deontay Wilder:

“I hit the canvas with an almighty crash. This had to be the end, thought Wilder and everybody else in the arena, and the millions watching around the world on TV…

Five seconds later the comeback was alive, the darkness gave way to light as I rose to my feet. It was all meant to be, whatever has happened in my life. I was supposed to go down against Wilder; I was supposed to rise dramatically.” (Tyson Fury, Behind the Mask, 2019)

Why was Tyson, who ‘had it all’ on the surface, found in a position of almost fatal darkness? And why now can he see the light?

Without exhausting the story, or explaining any pain away, we suggest that he forgot who and what life is truly about. This is a problem for many wandering souls in our flattened-out culture without fight or passion for living.

It has been said that passivity breeds mediocrity and mental illness, for those who will not settle for mere existence. I would echo this claim and observe how it fits with Tyson Fury’s story of mental illness. He speaks to the passive stupor of the present age. An age with neither heroism nor a healthy routine of good habits to form redeemed character.

One part of the problem is the shallow nature of our consumerist golden calf. This wasn’t enough for Fury, and it isn’t enough for us. Man does not live by consumption alone and yearns for an elevated position.

“A mere consumer,” Wendell Berry writes, “is, by definition, a dependent.” (Daniel Lattier, Wendell Berry on Consumerism in America, 2018)

It is in action, and the rising above the banal, that we become who we are made to be. This is despite our own fears and limitations. An active body and mind attack the constant attempts at slumbering self-sabotage and defeatism that follow in the wake of a collapsed, consumerist, hollow which lacks incarnate heroism.

The quest for elevated redemption rails against the restrictions placed upon Man by others, and our desire to prove ourselves to them according to standards that fall short of our full stature in God-Manhood. Tyson’s, and ours, is a crisis of true identity.

The Fight for True Identity

Manhattan’s magnificent Pastor, Tim Keller, has preached convincingly about our identity in Christ, and His holy desire to move us out of our morose inertia. He describes three basic options and opens a door out of despair:

“…Dinesen recognizes three paths toward identity, each taken by a different group of people. First there are those looking outward. These are the traditional people who look to their duty and role in the community to find a self.

Then there are those who look inward. They do not believe in any cosmic order but, as we have seen, this means they must rely on competition and shifting fashions to find self-esteem. They are no freer than members of traditional society, for they must take “their happiness, and even their own selves, at the quotation of the day.” No wonder they “tremble, with reason, before their fate.”

But there is a third option—there are people who, as it were, look neither outward nor inward but upward. Dinesen proposes something neither traditional nor modern. What if we were created by a personal God and given a personal mission and calling? Then neither does the individual take precedence over the group (which can lead to social fragmentation), nor does the community take precedence over the individual (which can lead to oppression). What matters is not what society says about me, nor what I think of myself, but what God does.

Dinesen follows another great Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard, who said:

In fact, what is called the secular mentality consists simply of such men who, so to speak, mortgage themselves to the world. They use their capacities, amass money, carry on enterprises… perhaps [to] make a name in history, but themselves they are not.

Spiritually speaking, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God, however self-seeking they are otherwise. (Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, 2018)

Life will pummel us all, but we each long for redemption in body and soul. We are called to act and become more than we are, or ever were before. In Christ, redemption is offered for when we fall. It is given to the full and directs us along the way. He has first acted to restore our stature, and yet lift us even higher than in the beginning.

We see a growth from Genesis to Revelation, and a call to maturity. Some of us experience this pull to a greater whole through sports, others through arts, or by any number of paths. He offers His holy hand for us to grasp, regardless of the road taken, and all true stories of redemption may partake in His primary story of redemption.

Cometh the Man

In a talk about redemption in boxing, and what it means to be a man, just after Joshua’s arresting loss five months ago; boxing legend Teddy Atlas admonished AJ with moving passion. The veteran trainer shared on a podcast how Anthony might grow from loss… Grow he did!

Joshua, like Fury, found ascent along the J-curve on the way to redemption. The J-curve is dying to a lower self to receive new higher life. We will discuss this in more detail later, but this is a constant elevated way each of us may follow in life.

During the discussion with Brett McKay on The Art of Manliness podcast, Teddy Atlas also spoke about fighting against the downward drag to give in, before proclaiming from the heart that the man must fight:

“…When you fight, it’s over within a second, 10 seconds, really. I mean, really. Am I exaggerating? A world title fight, if it goes the distance, lands 36 minutes. That’s a blink of the eye in somebody’s life, a blink of the eye. It’s a second. Something difficult you gotta deal with, a minute, half a minute, five seconds. Whatever it is, that’s how long it lasts, to deal with it.

But if you don’t fight, whatever your fight is, you don’t deal with it and you quit, you submit, you give in, that doesn’t go away. That’s there all day, all night. It comes at the worst times to you, 2 o’clock in the morning. You can’t sleep. You’re lying in bed. You get up, you walk into the washroom, you look in the mirror, and there it is. There it is. There it is. It’s still there. The next day, still there. The next day, still there.

Yeah. If you understand it in the way I just said it, the real way, yeah, it’s damn easier to fight than it is to quit.” (Teddy Atlas, Podcast #524: Boxing Trainer Teddy Atlas on What It Means to Be a Man, 2019)

Atlas’s ardour reveals that to be a warrior is not to wage battle senselessly against forces only outside yourself, but to be better today than you were in the past and convicts us to be better in the future by careful preparation. This artful self-improvement takes us up into a higher plane of intentional living, banishing the ugly resentment that falls from a passive mindset, or constantly judging yourself by the standards of the critic.

However, we must know our foes inside-out to understand the threat posed, and prepare for action.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 2005)

The redemptive fighter will prune suffocating weeds to grow to greater stature. This is what we saw in Joshua’s comeback, mirroring Tyson’s terrific success. Plus, Anthony Joshua entered the esteemed annals of boxing history by joining only a handful of heavyweight boxers to win an immediate rematch for the world title: A short list including only Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Floyd Patterson.

When we remember our real identity, the living character of redemption replaces the suicidal shadow of discontent. We are offered a rightful death of lower selves in service of a nitid higher purpose, but we have to join the fight.

“The positive Warrior energy destroys only what needs to be destroyed in order for something new and fresh, more alive and more virtuous to appear.”
(Robert L. Moore, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, 1992)

Whether we refer to boxing or life, the high road to redemption is hard, but necessary for a full life.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’’ (Robert Frost, The Collected Poems, 2013)

Many will wonder, in an age of passive comfort and indolent armchair theologians, what Christianity has to do with the hard road of boxing, or any fighting arts. This portrays, most often, a failure of imagination and sometimes a failure of incarnational nerve.

The Martial in Man

Because it is fashionable today, especially in the halls of Christian academia, to proffer pacifism or purist non-violence as a panacea to solve all Man’s ills; I wish to briefly caution against this. It shuts our imagination down, before we can get a glimpse at the depth of the fighting life in various forms, including boxing.

I do not follow this popular path nor see it as an absolute binding tightly on all Christians. With CS Lewis, St Augustine and others in our great tradition, I turn away from the ideology of absolute non-violence in order to follow Christ, and His church more fully. Finding a place which is full of peacemakers, some of whom are warriors. We fight according to God’s words and deeds in different ways.

My countryman CS Lewis speaks with his usual brilliant clarity, when he says “…Christians cannot retaliate against a neighbour who does them harm, but the homicidal manic, “attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, [so] I must stand aside and let him get his victim?” Lewis answers his own question with a resounding, “No.”

Furthermore, regarding the context of specific Christian verses about self-defence and war, Lewis proclaims, “Indeed, as the audience were private people in a disarmed nation, it seems unlikely that they would have ever supposed Our Lord to be referring to war. War was not what they would have been thinking of. The frictions of daily life among villagers were more likely on their minds.” (CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 2013)

Orthodox Christianity has long stood for respectable self-defence and defence of innocents, and we can see it throughout church history reaching way back into the Old Testament. This martial character of the church is important as it shows us that the fighting man has a place in the church and can assuredly follow the hero’s journey to the foot of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Tremper Longman III has shown us how even God Himself is a warrior. (Tremper Longman III, God is a Warrior, 2010) We will return to this key point soon.

There are numerous passionate arguments going on within academia and online about just war, pacifism, self-defence and defence of others. Some of these points touch upon our topic and may interest readers. If we are flippant, we run the risk of failing to appreciate the depths to which Christian warriors, and sports such as boxing, speak to a full Christian life.

Within the Christian community, there are many differing voices. Fr Alexander Webster has written recent books on pacifism and the virtue of war (Alexander Webster, Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West, 2004), Fr Philip LeMasters likewise, in a number of articles and books (Philip LeMasters, Orthodox Perspectives on Peace, War and Violence, 2011). Fr McGuckin has written about war in Christian tradition and raises important, but perhaps answerable, questions about self-defence and uses of violence. (John McGuckin, Ascent of Christian Law, 2012) At certain levels of self-defence, Fr John Whiteford suggests active physical force has a moral place within the Christian life, arguing that in some contexts such actions are not sinful. (Fr John Whiteford, Self-defence, 2016)

This overlaps in part with violent sports such as boxing and martial arts, which I and many Christians see as valid avenues for elevated and redemptive action. Context is vital.

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth?

Quite simply, we are called to be meek more than, what we often mean by, weak or submissive to violence.

We are called to be humble in mind, body, and soul but not to knock any fight out of ourselves. God’s weakness is truly greater than Man’s strength, but this does not refer unfavourably to self-defence, or martial arts, for God-fearing Man.   

Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson gave an interesting and refreshing interpretation of what it means to be meek on the Joe Rogan Podcast, but was criticised from self-appointed theological ‘experts’ online, only too quick to cast him off their self-assured terrain. (Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan Podcast #877, 2016)

Peterson’s basic notion of meekness, as a more complex and positive virtue than is often realised, was correct however and is supported by at least one actual expert, Derek Kidner. He writes, in his commentary on The Psalms:

“…The context gives the best possible definition of the meek: they are those who choose the way of patient faith instead of self-assertion.” No mention of weakness. The focus is on the strength to choose appropriately.

We take a wrong turn, when we turn meek into weak rather than humble. One aspect of humility is exactly what Peterson was describing – you know your strengths, but you choose to refrain from a negative action (action driven by anger or wrath). You trust in God. This is the exact description of Jesus. Jesus was strong but in the face of evil, he chose to be humble.

God wants you to be strong but humble. Know your strengths and your limitations and do not overemphasize either. Evil loves to devour weak people. A Christlike character is a character of strength in the face of evil. God gave us a spirit of “power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). (Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary, 1973)

David Kopel has written at length on pacifism, and its lack in portions of the early church. With Kopel, I follow the living God of Israel and the church; from the early days until present in standing against any small absolutist pacifism. We know that we’re in a life and death fight. (David Kopel, Christian Pacifism before Constantine, 2008)

Catholic philosopher, and anthropologist, Rene Girard’s theory of mimetic desire suggests we are imitative creatures and asserts that this should make us averse to most forms of violence because it begets more violence. (David Cayley, Rene Girard, 2015) Christ knew this well and spoke with authority in His warnings against taking up the sword too readily.

However, the good Lord also whipped the moneychangers in the temple and encouraged His followers to carry swords. It is a popular pacifist trope to explain these events away today, but I remain unconvinced. Moreover, there is no reason to suppose that all violence is morally equal. Defending innocents by using some sort of force is on a different level to aggressive violence; As is fighting for sport, in a theatre of heroism and in rigorous play. Again, context matters.

The Christian warrior fights in war, sport, and for defence at several levels; most often however we know, with Joshua, Fury and the many who have walked the path; We fight against demons, in the spirit of competition, and our past selves for elevated redemption. Not for mimetic revenge.

“Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland.” – St Herman of Alaska (Prokopy Povarnitsyn, Saint Herman of Alaska, 1996)

The Christian warrior’s life is an incarnate attempt to partake in redemption; his attempt is greater than the critic’s gnostic complacency, sitting aloft and looking down at the redeemed who fight when they must:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena, 1910)

Once we appreciate that there is no ultimate and binding restriction on combat for Christians, then we can start to appreciate the character of fighting, and fighters, from a more fruitful point of view.

If we follow the way as Christian warriors, we might go down several different routes. Jack Kerwick dusts off two: Martial Arts as Game (MAAG) or Martial Arts as War (MAAW).

I respect parts of his atypical Christian take on fighting, but don’t follow his conclusions entirely, just like I don’t follow a purist black and white pacifism. Kerwick suggests “The presuppositions of each are diametrically opposed to those of the other.’’ (Jack Kerwick, Virtue, Liberty, and God: The Morality and Theology of the Martial Art of ‘Warrior Flow’, 2019)

I’m not sure about these strict formulations. However, the element of the ‘game’ mentioned by Kerwick brings Huizinga’s important notion of ‘play’ into the picture and speaks to the innate appeal of martial arts, which like other sports cannot be restricted to their usefulness. (Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, 2016)

Rules can sometimes stand in the way of God and Man; whilst they can also at other times provide a lofty path. ‘Play’ can even be ultimately and highly serious, whilst still offering joy and a shot at redemption; It often is.

The Warrior Returns

Of prime importance in our discussion, as we noted before, God Himself is a warrior. Tremper Longman III’s book, God Is a Warrior, traces the development of the “divine warrior” motif through the Old and New Testaments, beginning with Israel’s conflicts with her enemies and ending with Christ’s victorious return in Revelation. So, to understand the true meanings of fighting, and what it means to be a warrior, we must turn to the living God.

Against the broader background of Ancient Near Eastern warrior mythology, Longman’s work discusses Yahweh’s warfare on behalf of ancient Israel, and prophecies of the coming Divine Deliverer. Longman also looks at the New Testament’s Divine Warrior, Jesus Christ, and His war against His spiritual enemies in the Synoptic Gospels, in Paul’s letters and in the final apocalyptic battle in the book of Revelation:

“…War was worship for Israel. But even further he noted the warlike nature of Israel’s religion. Israel was in conflict with her neighbours, particularly in the area of religion, and this frequently led to armed conflict.’’ (Tremper Longman, God is a Warrior, 2010)

Ecclesiastes 3 King James Version (KJV):

3 To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Redemption in Story and Song

One of my earliest memories from childhood, and only memories of my late father, is watching the first Rocky movie in a small house in Dundalk. This story of redemption and hope has left an indelible imprint on my mind. Even then, the tale of the hero and icon of a new and resurrected life spoke to me and stamped a lasting insignia on my heart.

Pastor Vander Klay reminds us that we are storytelling creatures at our roots, who live in both a ‘story verse’ and a ‘matter-verse’. We live within stories we are told and tell ourselves. By means of memory and following such archetypal stories with passion, we enter an enchanted life. I experienced its power then and do more so today. The prismed life of these lasting narratives affects us by taking their part in the true light of reality, and resist reductionism. We come to know who we are, and know that we are on a journey, by entering these tales. All of this finds its end in the light of reality, Himself. By following Jesus and the J-Curve, we participate in the true redemptive story of Man. (Paul Vander Klay, Jesus as Master of the Matter-verse and the Story-verse and Brings them Together in Himself, 2019)

The incarnation of God as a man speaks to this mixture of matter and story. When we partake in the patterns of redemption, we partake in this true story in body and soul. Boxing, and sports generally, lay one path for us to follow the journey to incarnate redemption. The ring serves as a microcosm of, and metaphor for, the whole of life. Sylvester Stallone realised this, and played upon it, when he wrote the classic Rocky story. Characters in daily life and drama each make meaning manifest through their deeds:

“… meaning is made, not just discovered. That is what religion for the most part is: the constant making and remaking of meaning, by the stories we tell, the rituals we perform and the prayers we say. The stories are sacred, the rituals divine commands, and prayer a genuine dialogue with the divine. Religion is an authentic response to a real Presence, but it is also a way of making that presence real by constantly living in response to it. It is truth translated into deed.”
(Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, 2012)

From the beginning, redemption is a key feature of timeless Academy award-winning movie Rocky. This is a movie about meaning, and ‘metaphor for life’, that is made for the big screen.

Now an established cultural icon, this film moves in the beginning from an icon of Christ, the Redeemer, right down to Rocky getting pummelled in the ring by Spider Rico. This shows us, in pure storytelling form, a perpetual problem that needs to be resolved and points the way to salvation. Rocky, to be the man he’s called to be, needs to make a meaningful life for himself; if he is to avoid being just ‘another bum from the neighbourhood’.

Stallone intentionally chose this image of Christ, and Rocky’s downtrodden position at the beginning of the archetypal tale, as a ‘metaphor for life’ and made Rocky the Christian ‘crusader’ who must go out to fight in the world, acting through ‘self-sacrifice’. He explained each of these facts in a most revealing interview with Pat Robertson upon the release of Rocky Balboa. (Sylvester Stallone, Sylvester Stallone accepts Jesus Christ, 2014)

This is the genesis of the journey that we are all called to go on in some manner and helps us see why Rocky speaks to us with such power across generations.

One of the net’s premier boxing channels has traced further themes of redemption, friendship, lasting love and sacrifice in this memorable film and series. (Rummy’s Corner, Ranking the Rocky Sequels from Worst to First, 2018)

Art and Life Imitate Each Other

The plot thickens when we come to realise that the story of Rocky is, in many ways, Stallone’s own story. The story of the film’s creation reverberates with pulses of redemption all its own. It is beautiful to behold the film’s coming to fruition when we consider the sacrifices Stallone made to be true to who he is and the vision he was given. We are told how he lived hungry and sold all he had. Including even his best friend in the world, his dog. Before getting it all back and then some. This cherished canine appears in the film, as the memorable Budkiss and recalls the happy resolution achieved in Rocky’s making. (Tony Robbins, The Rocky Story, 2013)

We see this microcosmic tale retold in many great boxing and sports movies. Few move the audience so much. It’s there in Cinderella Man, Raging Bull, The Fighter and many other boxing films. But few tell the tale so well, or convincingly as the Rocky series and even less have the widespread appeal of Stallone’s iconic series. It is popular to refer to such archetypal tales as ‘iconic’, in a pop-culture sense, and they are. These images partake in what they symbolise.

Rocky taps into the archetypes of any great story. Writer David Lucas has traced the simple pattern of many great stories in his work and educates people on its supreme potential: Beginning with “a problem, before things get worse…and worse! Then, a crisis. Followed by a twist, before the problem is solved.’’ (David Lucas, A Simple Story Pattern, 2019) This is the J-curve in action, in literature and film. We observe its irresistible contours in each of the great Rocky movies. This helps us get into step with them.

In a long book on the basic plots of our favourite tales, author Christopher Booker has traced perhaps the main seven, across time and place. They reveal some of the character of our ‘story verse’, calling us outside of the dull dormancy of armchair critic. He speaks thus of rebirth and redemption:

“Sleeping Beauty is based on the type of plot we may call ‘Rebirth’. A hero or heroine falls under a dark spell which eventually traps them in some wintry state, akin to living death: physical or spiritual imprisonment, sleep, sickness or some other form of enchantment.

For a long time, they languish in this frozen condition. Then a miraculous act of redemption takes place, focused on a particular figure who helps to liberate the hero or heroine from imprisonment. From the depths of darkness they are brought up into glorious light.’’ (Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots, 2005)

Lest we uncritically assume that fiction is somehow ‘false’, does not matter in the end, or can’t speak to how we should live; we would do well to reflect upon what moves us deep down and why. Fiction is an experience of the real world that cannot always be expressed in another way.

Writer Andrew Klavan, in a piece responding to our nihilistic fashions, beautifully describes the real and binding nature that works of great fiction have for us, and the cosmos:

“…Here is an area where I can speak with some expertise. I am a lifelong maker of fiction, and I am here to tell you that this (Harari’s nihilistic description of fiction) is not what fiction is; this is not how fiction works. Good fiction does not create phenomena; it describes them.

Like all art, fiction is a language for communicating a type of reality that can’t be communicated in any other way: the interplay of human consciousness with itself and the world.

That experience can be delusional, as when we hear voices, mistake infatuation for love, or convince ourselves that slavery is moral. But the very fact that it can be delusional points to the fact that it can be healthy and accurate as well.

When it is healthy, the “common imagination of human beings” can be regarded as an organ of perception, like the eye. Fiction merely describes the world of morality and meaning that that organ perceives. (Andrew Klavan, Can We Believe?, 2019)

It is only when we step outside our self-effacing suspicion of reality that we can appreciate life, emancipating ourselves from mental slavery. We are called to join in the story of redemption by various trails. Fiction, non-fiction and our finest songs all play to this truth, in redemptive harmony:

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds!… Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
Cause all I ever have

Redemption songs (Bob Marley, Redemption Song, 1980)



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Please see also parts two and three.

Mark ConnollyMark Connolly

Mark Connolly

Mark Connolly is a teacher in London and is originally from Ireland. He received a BSc in Communication with Counselling from the University of Ulster, before going on to complete his PGCE in Primary Education at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. He generally writes on theology, philosophy, literature, psychology, poetry, and popular culture.

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