Searching for the Truth in a World of Crime

I’m currently trying to develop a Biblical Perspective of Detective Fiction. Here are my thoughts so far: (sketchy so bear with)

  • The genre/text reflects the creativity of God because He made us in His image as creative beings and gave us all gifts to use. Even non-Christians are given gifts by God. Their use of these still brings glory to Him because they are a reflection of His goodness and self.
  • Crime is part of the result of the sinfulness and fallen nature of humanity. It is a distortion of God’s creation and damages our relationship to God and others.
  • The detective genre gives us insight into our need for salvation. We need someone to intervene and save us.
  • The detective figure represents a saviour intervening in the world to bring justice and eradicate evil.
  • The detective is a reflection of a person who uses God’s gift of reason for the good of others. S/he shows a Biblical care/love for the wellbeing of others and glorifies God in his/her use of reason and love.
  • The detective genre is in some ways a response to the dualism with which we see the world as being separated into material and spiritual realms. We now, in our humanistic society, hold a much more deistic view of the world – the spiritual realm is removed from us or irrelevant, or, if we are Christians we may think God is outside His creation (He isn’t by the way! it’s just we often think He is) – and feel the need to control evil. The detective genre is a response to this and acts as an expression of our need to contain evil and feel safe. The detective genre makes readers feel safe knowing a rational being can solve and contain crime/evil.

And this is about as far as I have gotten.

Any more ideas?
Here are more questions I am thinking of:

What should the Christian response be to crime?

Considering the Bible says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” (Phil 4.8) should we, as Christians, read literature which takes for its subject crime?

In what other ways does Detective Fiction communicate Biblical truths or grand narratives?

If you have the answers to any of these questions, have more of your own or think my points [above] are dodgy and off track, please let me know. This is a real work in progress and I’d love to hear your ideas, especially from a Reformed Theological perspective. If you can support your ideas with the Bible, even better.

Also, let me know if you have any great Detective Fiction texts you love. What do you love about them and what do you learn from them?

Don’t you love how literature helps you think about the BIGGER things!

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14 Responses to “Searching for the Truth in a World of Crime”

  1. John Dekker Says:

    Great topic!

    I think you’d also need to say something about the rationality of the universe, as well as the detective’s reason. (And since we’re created in the image of God, the two are able to co-incide.)

    James Jordan has written on this here. He also mentions “transcendent law” (detective fiction only works because of universal morality) to explain why “such stories have developed only in the Christian West”.

    My favourite writers of detective fiction are, of course, my favourite Christian writers – Sayers and Chesterton.

  2. Radagast Says:

    Dorothy Sayers says something about this somewhere.

    I would say detective fiction celebrates especially the ideals of Truth (and the gift of Reason) and of Justice (cf Gen 4:10).

  3. missmellifluous Says:

    I agree with both of you. Thanks for your ideas.
    I am especially interested in what Sayers has to say on this as she is a Christian who writes Crime Fiction. If you know where her musings are, let me know!

    I will definitely look up the references and verses you have both given. Thank you!

    Please continue to add to and/or scrutinise my ideas so far. Working collaboratively is so fun!

  4. missmellifluous Says:

    Great article, John!

    I’m not sure that I agree with this though:
    As Christian faith declines in our society, we can expect detective fiction to disappear. It will make less and less sense, and become more morally nebulous.

    I think that an awareness of right and wrong is innate. The reasons why something is right or wrong are not but everybody has a sense of when something is unjust, unfair or wrong. For example, no one ever thinks abuse of a child for pleasure is right. Regardless of religion, worldview, beliefs, people agree this kind of action is wrong. They may not be able to tell you why they think so like a Christian could however they know it is wrong. Humans have a strong sense of morality/right and wrong – even if they reject it – which I think is part of our deep hunger for God. It’s a gift God has given to all of us that He uses to show us how much we need Him. It is not the Christian worldview that makes detective fiction make sense because people can long for morality and justice without believing in God…
    Don’t you think? I’m still working this out…
    Detective Fiction is an extension of the Western in which the Sheriff was the hero who contained evil however urbanisation lead to a change of setting and character for crime stories. Aren’t there stories about Heroes fighting evil outside the Christian tradition/societies…? Or maybe not. I’d like to look into this more.
    Having said that, I do think Detective Fiction can reflect a Christian worldview. I’m just not sure that it has to exist inside one…

  5. Rebecca Says:

    I think that the detective fiction genre is innately a moralistic genre – something awful has happened and must be righted. I’m thinking about Sayers, where her Christianity wasn’t overt, but the STRUCTURE of it was, if you know what I mean?
    I’ll probably have more to say later… thinking!

  6. missmellifluous Says:

    John, sorry I accidentally deleted one of your comments that ended up in spam! Ooops! I don’t know what I did wrong…Can you post again? Please?

    Great! Thanks, Beck! I’m glad you commented. You’re right it is an innately moralistic genre. Looking forward to more thoughts.

  7. kim from hiraeth Says:

    One word:

    Justice.

    Everybody wants it.

  8. John Dekker Says:

    Oh dear, what did I say?

    Humans have a innate sense of right and wrong, but they suppress it. For this reason, the list of actions universally condemned is rather small – genocide, infanticide, homoseuxality and rape have all been accepted, not just by individuals, but by societies.

    Your example needed to be very specific – abuse of a child for pleasure – since child abuse by itself has indeed been accepted at various times in various places.

  9. Ellen Says:

    Here’s a link to an interesting information on Sayers…
    http://www.sayers.org.uk/dorothy.html

  10. candyinsierras Says:

    Hi Miss M. Thanks for note over on my blog. I am finishing up a job that was awful and will be starting a new job teaching fourth and fifth grade at a Christian school.

    A note of interest. Sayers was the only female allowed in the Inklings which consisted of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and Charles Williams among others.

  11. Radagast Says:

    My sister has been teaching detective fiction. I must ask her…

  12. missmellifluous Says:

    Please do!

  13. Veronica Mitchell Says:

    I would add two thoughts:

    First, to expand the sinfulness idea: detective fiction not only recognizes the evil in humanity, but in all humanity, something popularly denied. The plots of detective fiction depend on showing that every character could be a murderer, revealing the sinfulness in every human heart, not just a special evil few.

    Second, there is something eschataological about the structure of the genre. There is a final resolution. The deeds done in darkness are seen in the light. The truth is finally revealed. The series of murders are ended.

  14. missmellifluous Says:

    Wow! Great points! Thank you, Veronica!

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