Monday, April 30, 2007

Confessions of an Atheist #1: Why Do Atheists Hate God?

More video blogging! I am apparently pushing through with my plot to talk about atheist issues on GodTube, who still appear to be my best customers. I feel a trifle bit like a whore. I am not saying anything I don't think is true, but I can feel myself pulling my punches.

Labels: , , ,

Contradiction, Science and the Completely Material Universe

This is mostly an add-on to previous post.

I was talking with a friend about the idea of pride in submission. She thought it was a goofy concept, and it is, but I pointed out that it's really common. How many Christians are proud of their “submission” to Jesus, for instance? I'd say most of them. At least, that's my experience.

Then I said, to paraphrase, that most ideas prior to the very modern world were so primitive that not a single one of them really explained human experience without obvious contradictions not only of each other, but of the observable world. Say, Christianity demands that people accept the miracles but very few Christians claim to see even one such miracle. At the same time, during the Middle Ages, they were taught that the poor were blessed, meekness was good, violence was bad, all that, but they were also part of feudal contracts that lionized aristocrats that murdered for profit. They could be both “good Christians” and “good aristocrats”, even tho' the first wholly contradicted the second.

So, people have had a lot of experience holding in their minds two or more ideas that simply did not make sense, not with each other, not with the world around them. People lived in a state of perpetual contradiction.

It has taken a very long time for any ideas at all to come into existence that do not require a person to flatly contradict themselves entirely. I think most people don't grasp how recently strong ideas to support a purely physical universe is. It wasn't until the 1960s that the Big Bang became publicly known (with the discovery of the cosmic background radiation, which basically killed the steady state model). If you were educated before the 60s, then, you were not taught that the universe could possibly have a purely material origin, because science, itself, hadn't developed the idea with sufficient proof to popularize it. So, it's only been around 42 years that there was enough scientific hypotheses to take us from the initial conditions of the material universe to the development of life on earth and our present civilization.

And we have thousands, tens of thousands, of years of cultural history, however, in holding multiple, contradictory thoughts in our head. It's gonna take a while to purge out all that crap, I figure – people are being told right now that contradictory ideas are better than a self-supporting group of theories that make sense in whole as well as their individual parts. These contradictory ideas are, furthermore, in many ways the very foundation of our culture, in their religious forms. So, to reject those cultural ideas is to reject, in some way, our very identities. I, myself, am not so enamored of my current identity to fear replacing it with a better one – but, clearly, many people are.

However, we're very close to having a system of knowledge – not just science, but also modern politics, epistemology and such – that is not contradictory, that a person can honestly support, and that epistemological system is of great power and utility, but for many people it will have to become their culture before they accept it, because of the damage done to the human psyche because our identity is based on these contradictory ideas that we've learned to live with.

Then my friend said, “It is good that our knowledge is catching up to our capacity for reason.” That's exactly it. That's exactly it.

Addendum to the Add-On

Yeah. Science. It works.

Here is a brief survey of science news from this weekend.

First, scientists are making concrete progress on reversing memory damage from diseases like Alzheimer's. Second, scientists have probably discovered the way to switch on the fat burning process of the human body. We are very closer to having a purely medical solution to the problem of weight in America. Third, a significant part of a mouse's brain has been computer modeled. We are very, very close, too, to unlocking so many mysteries of the brain with this sort of computer modeling – not just being able to do far more complex neurological research than ever before, but this also has significant importance for artificial intelligence.

So, uh, what's the religious news for this weekend? On the BBC RSS feed, the closest I found was a huge rally for secularism in Turkey. Religious fundies are on the verge of taking over Turkey, it appears. There is no other news that is strictly religious on the BBC right now (which, other than local news sources, is the only thing news I bother to read because . . . so much of it is so bad).

We, of course, see this sort of thing all the time. Hardly a day can go by without scientists making another advance in some field or another. Where is the religious equivalent to this? Where are the religious folks saying, “Today, our god healed some of the memory loss attributable to degenerative neurological diseases”? Or, “Today, our god decided that he'll stop people from getting fat because it's a health risk, and fat doesn't have so much a place in the modern world as it once did”?

What does religion do?

For me, this is the absolute key difference between science and religion. When all those religious folks try to say that science “is just another religion” they seem to absolutely forget that even if science was “just another religion” it's like comparing the right way of doing something to the wrong way of doing it. If religion and science were both vehicles, religion would be the rusty junker in the yard and science would be the Wrightspeed X-1. One works, the other doesn't. It baffles me that difference doesn't seem to matter to religious people. Utterly baffles me.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 27, 2007

Science: Still the New Kid on the Block, But Scrappy

I know it's easy for people to get really . . . freaked out about how religion still struggles against science, and the fairly obvious inequality of the struggle. Science is so right, after all, in just about any way a person puts it. Science is demonstrable, makes accurate predictions, can be replicated by anyone, can be falsified, etc., etc. Even if science was “another religion” (it isn't, but even if it was) it would be an altogether better religion – because putting your faith in science generally works. Like I've said before, let a Christian try to miracle their way to LA and I'll take a plane and we'll see who gets there first. When a person gets cancer, let one group try prayer and the other try modern oncology and see which group survives longer. Or, in other words, “Science. It works, bitches.” Which is something that religious folks just can't say about religion.

Given this truth, I know that lots of atheists and the saner theists out there get are confused when science and religion collide that religious folks keep fighting the losing fight. Even while, at the same time, trying to curry the legitimacy of science with stuff like creation science, intelligent design and arguments about “the appearance of design”. Even as religious people criticize science, they seek it's legitimacy, because the legitimacy of science far exceeds that of religion for most people (when you get shot, you call the ambulance and then pray). The fight, like I said, is one-sided and it's confusing to a lot of people why religious folks keep trying to fight it at all, rather than admit that religion is mystical (a field outside of science's purview) and have their cake and eat it, too.

I will now veer to talk about the Enlightenment. For a lot of people, the Enlightenment was a time when people used “reason” and it is seen as the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. People were obsessed with reason. And a lot of our hassles come from this period, I think.

To me, the Enlightenment used reason much in the same way that Star Trek's Spock used logic – that what people in the Enlightenment meant by “reason” wasn't really that reasonable at all.

For instance, most of the Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton's ground-breaking tome about physics and mathematics was mostly about astrology. Newton was seeking more accurate measurements of the planets and stars in order to make more accurate astrological charts. Not precisely the poster child of scientific reason. Indeed, it's rather like “flood geologists” using modern geology to try to justify the Biblical flood – any advance in geology they make must be separated from their non-scientific hypotheses before it can be useful (tho', to my knowledge, no flood geologist has advanced the field of geology – science is not what it was in Newton's day, which is sort of my point).

Likewise, it was the general consensus of Enlightenment scientists (who were all white upper-class Christian men, I should point out – though right now I don't intend to talk about the racism, classism and sexism of Enlightenment thinking) was that study of Nature – invariably spelled with a capital N – would lead to a scientific proof for god's existence. The whole enterprise of science was built on finding their god.

Unfortunately for them, the evidence actually took them in a wholly different direction. And it wasn't until the Romantic Era that scientists faced that. It isn't really the Enlightenment (also known as the “Era of Religious Wars”, which is often forgotten by cheerleaders of the Enlightenment that the worst Christian-on-Christian violence was during the Enlightenment – the Thirty Year's War destroyed Germany, for instance, which in terms of relative death made WWII look like a border skirmish; the horror rivaled the Black Death) that the scientific method was developed. It was during the foofy Romantic Era that scientists really broke away from religion. Those Enlightenment scientists looked for god. The Romantic scientists? Nope. They're the people who stopped looking for evidence of the divine because, after centuries of looking for such evidence, it became obvious that the conclusions pointed in the other direction.

So, for my own part, I actually see the creation scientists, intelligent designers and their ilk as being the heirs to the Enlightenment, still engaged in the fool's errand of trying to prove the existence of their god with “science”. Unsurprisingly, then, that these same people would gleefully plunge our world into a new Age of Religious Wars – armed with the material certainty that their god is the right one, it would follow with the mindless mechanical precision of Newtonian physics that they would use violence to spread their faith. Give me the Romantic view of science any day, which is sprawling and brawling, and, yes, passionate – but entirely material, without the faintest whiff of the divine, and thus absent of religious certainty and the raw material of genocidal religious conflicts.

And . . . to try to get to my point, modern science, as a Romantic invention, is about 200 years old. Christianity is 2000 years old. Science is a mere tenth the age of Christianity and every day, almost every hour, the strength of science grows. Science is a new growth compared to the mighty oak of Christianity (and other religions, but I tend to focus on Christianity because I'm American and Christianity is very relevant). It is largely cultural inertia that prevents religion from being discarded – for thousands of years, for a hundred generations, people have been told the religious lies. So, charting the progress of science vs. religion, the destruction of religion is nigh. The last thing we scientific materialists need to overcome is the Enlightenment baggage that Christians keep trying to project into religion – which is inevitable, because the evidence still points away from a higher power.

So, despair not.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Intelligent Design DEATHMATCH vs. Archeology

This is about four minutes of me talking about intelligent design and archeology, with some UFO stuff thrown in. Interestingly, I posted this both on YouTube and GodTube last night. On YouTube, four people have bothered to watch it. On GodTube, over 100 have watched it, already.

Oh, dear, the Christians like me. I suspect this is because the people on GodTube are more, ah, purpose oriented. And I have long said that Simon Peter is directed at a Christian audience.

I am reasonably pleased with this. In the future, I want to have a title sequence, and I need to plug my website, and I definitely need to talk a little slower, but all in all I'm pleased.

I suspect I'll be doing a vlog on issues that a Christian might be interested in hearing an atheist sound off on, like "do I hate God?" and my feelings on the basis of morality without religion. Something like "Confessions of an Atheist". I figure the GodTube crowd will eat it up. ;)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Bring Division! Let's Talk Missionary Work

When I ranted about Westboro Baptist a few days back, some Christians came by to try to “show” me that they weren't like those psycho fundies down at Westboro. Which is fine and dandy, and I never said otherwise, but what I wanted was for someone to explain two things: How these Westboro nutjobs can call themselves Christians? and What are “real” Christians gonna materially do, or are doing, to really stop this insanity?

I thought they were both reasonable questions. In the responses, I got three Christian responses. For my blog, three newbie first-time posters is great! (I should probably work on some superior form of tagging, tho' I admit the technical details I find tedious and frustrating. I should still do it if I'm serious about wanting fundie Christian trolls cruising my blog. A friend of mine doesn't say that it'll particularly help because I'm too good at “winning” arguments, which drives away trolls. Still, I want trolls!)

The first, Kathi, said that confronting them is “what they want”. The second, Kevin, didn't even mention what to do about them except “expose their mess”. The third, Martin, said that the Westboro people sue other people, so didn't dare do anything, then claimed poverty (tho' he eventually did say that, perhaps, it was time to do something about people like that), and then said that money could be better spent feeding starving people, and he also used the “it's what they want” argument. All three of them used the “no true Scotsman” fallacy as a defense, claiming the guys at Westboro weren't “real Christians” (tho', again, to be fair, Martin seemed to realize that his aggressive behavior wasn't, really, too much different from the Westboro people – loving everyone does mean, after all, even loving horrible human beings).

All I could think, really, is “what a bunch of gutless fucking cowards” but then I started thinking it through, more. Christians can find the money to send missionaries all over the world, but can't find the cash to go down to Topeka, Kansas? They'll send missionaries into brutal, war-torn countries to confront dictators and warlords, but can't stand down from some guys in Kansas?! So, given that Christian churches routinely do dangerous missionary, and I gotta figure it takes a lot of nerve to do missionary work in some corners of the world, it really makes me wonder why the Westboro people are so off-limits? Clearly, Christian churches have the nerve to find missionaries to do work in very dangerous places, and they find the money to do it, too. I find it without real credit the idea that neither the resources nor the courage exist to fight the Westboro Baptist Church. I mean, it isn't like these people – Christians – have any problem at all converting people. If the folks down at Westboro aren't “Christian”, I can't see any reason at all why “real Christians” would hesitate from attempting to convert them and thus save their souls as well as blot out an ugly stain on American Christianity.

I think that this is important for talking about American Christianity and every time they throw up the “no real Scotsman” fallacy. These people, as a group, are missionaries. Jesus, himself, created what is known as the Great Commission, which was go to out and preach the word of Jesus to all the world. They've got the resources, infrastructure and personnel to provide missionaries to the most horrible spots all around the world – they'll fight to send missionaries to communist China and war, drought and famine ravaged African countries, and everything in between, but they will not engage in missionary work directed at fundamentalist Christian organizations here in America.

I would really like for some Christian to answer me that – I want to know why missionary work isn't directed towards people like the Westboro Baptist Church, which time and again I've been told “isn't really Christian”. Because, what I think, is that it is Christian, and that no moderate or liberal Christian in America really wants to do missionary work towards fundamentalist Christians because it would start a real lively discussion in America about the real nature of Christianity, what it really stands for, and why Christians speak and act as the do (with many of them being racist, classist, sexist war-mongers), and I don't think that any Christians in America want that. The fundies don't want it because right now they can get away with murder, and the moderate and liberal Christians don't want it because it'll create a big ruckus right next to them, it'll bring division and dissent into their own homes and communities, and they do not want that.

Yet, I can't help but think that Jesus said something about this:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53 KJV)

Again, spread the word. I'd really like to get a good answer as to why “real Christians” don't engage in missionary work to spread the “real” word of Jesus to fundamentalist churches in America.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pseudepigraphy and Fraud

Pseudepigraphical is one of my all time favorite words, and because I continue to do research on the people and events surrounding Jesus for Simon Peter, I run into it all the time.

Pseudepigraphical is a very Christian word. What it means is “a work written by someone other than the work claims it was written by”. So, when discussing the Infancy Gospel of James, that is claimed to be written by James the Just, brother of Jesus . . . well, it isn't. It was written by someone else.

The reason why I love the word pseudepigraphical is because, outside of Christian writings, there'd be a different term for it – a fraud. When someone claims that something is written by one person, when in fact it is written by another, that's just fraud. And, yet, when discussing the fraudulent works for the Bible – and there are a lot of them, the odds are that most of the books of the Bible are pseudepigraphical – this fraudulence is hardly ever mentioned.

So, of the four Gospels, only one of them might actually be written by the person to whom authorship is attributed (that being Luke, who also seems to have written Acts, and is likely to have been the personal physician of Paul). The rest? Their attribution is legendary. But, if you ask most Christians, they will assert that Matthew, Mark and John wrote their respective Gospels, that the authorship of the various epistles is equally certain, when in fact none of this is the case. That they are all, ahem, pseudepigraphical – which is to say that their authorship is fraudulent.

This seems to be utterly significant to me in the context of Biblical scholarship – and, in some circles, it is. But most Christians don't admit to the fact that . . . no one knows who really wrote most of the Bible and that the names and such that are given to the various books of the Bible are completely legendary, even by the standards of Christianity. To me, the failure of Christians to address something even so basic as who wrote their holy texts in a clear and honest way demonstrates the intellectual dishonesty of Christianity.

Still, I love the word pseudepigraphical.

Labels: , ,

Sodom and Gomorrah Humor

How fun can jokes about Sodom and Gomorrah be? Find out! Thanks to the Honest Doubter for this. Spread it around!

I promise I'll post something meaningful tomorrow.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fuck Westboro Baptist Church, and the Reasons I Don't Have Respect for Christians

The Westboro Baptist Church, you know, the "god hates fags" people, has a new music video:

So, people, spread the word: I want some Christian to explain this to me. I want some Christian to explain the hatred, racism, homophobia . . . fuck, I want someone to explain to me why these people are so anti-life. And I want someone to explain why there isn't a Christian picket line outside their so-called church, 24/7, of good-minded Christian folks who are appalled that these fucking nutjobs are calling themselves Christian, or Baptist -- why you're not deeply ashamed and appalled by what these people do. I need for someone to explain to me, if there's ever going to be any hope that I will stop holding Christians in contempt, how it comes to pass that Westboro Baptist Church continues to exist unmolested.

I mean, these people are political. The gloves are allowed to come off. They have repeatedly put themselves in the public eye. There's no legal, and certainly no moral, reason not to roundly, soundly and absolutely condemn them. And I don't mean here. I mean to their faces. I mean, at their churches.

Because when I googled "Westboro Baptist Church protests", what I got was largely shit about their protests at funerals (!!!) and the like. It wasn't until the fourth page that I found some Christians that actually criticized Westboro Baptist. But it was weak, wholly verbal protest - as opposed to the Westboro folks who really know how to get a protest goin'.

It just seems odd to me that these Westboro fuck-os can get the funds together to travel all over the country to terrorize the families of the recently deceased, but Christians can't be bothered to get the money and effort up to systematically protest this sick cult out of existence. So, someone, explain it to me.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Writin' Update

The writing this week started well and ended with difficulty. Soon, I will probably be posting a short story written in the style I'm using for Simon Peter. Right now, it's called "Immaculate Conception" and it retells the story of Jesus' conception and birth. It probably won't be next week, but the week after that. But it is only 4200 words long, which means I did not spend all my week writing it (an average week for me is about 8000 words, in case you wanted to know).

I started part 3 of Simon Peter, which will cover the time period of Jesus' ministry. Part 2 was 51,000 words and I can't imagine part 3 being shorter because I have established a heavy presence of Peter's family and social dealings and I'll want to keep that, as well as work on all the things I want to say about the nature of apocalyptic messianic cults. I will need to do this within the rough narrative framework of Jesus' ministry.

Not that the Gospels provide a very good framework for that. Ignoring the variances between the Gospels to being with, the Gospels describe Jesus' ministry as little more than him going from miracle to miracle with a few parables thrown in, until the last week of his life where it does pick up a little bit, narratively speaking. Which is, I suspect, part of my trouble -- the Gospels, like most of the Bible, is simply very, very dull. The story drags in all ways. It has lifeless characters, pompous diction, dismal dialog and it is clear the author is trying to get across a "message" but lacks the narrative skill to do this with authority. But it is the task I have set out for myself, and I believe the task is worthwhile, so I'll stick to it.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Funniest Thing EVAR

No words I have can possibly do this justice. Nothing I say can will make this funnier than it is. So, without further preamble, I give you the funniest thing ever put down on film, the final scene from The Turkish Star Wars:


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Consensus Government and SCIENCE

I am pretty politically radical. I won't be talking very much about specific political issues on this blog – mostly because I find the news so totally banal and filled with so many lies that it makes me a combination of bored and angry – but I'll occasionally cave in.

What I am is a consensualist. I think that democracy is a fairly primitive form of government, given our current level of technological advance – and certainly for the technologies that will be available to us in the not-too-distant future. It is fairly clear to just about everyone that the will of the majority can screw a lot of people.

However, one of the problems that a lot of people will have with consensus is the notion that it is impossible to get a lot of people from all over to agree with anything at all. So I've been trying to look out for forms of consensus decision making that can be used as examples.

Of course, politically, there have been communes that have tried various forms of consensualism, and some will point to Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a form of consensualism. But, well, most of the consensualist communes have failed, and Christiania is both small and in part supported by Denmark.

What is needed, then, in a good, solid example is something that has lasted over a great length of time, includes a great number of diverse people, and is indisputably successful. It must also be, of course, consensualist.

Enter science. Science isn't democratic. There is no vote on what is right or wrong. Scientists do science, publish their findings, they are discussed by other scientists who then accept or reject those findings – usually by building on them in a number of ways. Over time, a consensus grows amongst scientists about how to handle science.

There are several million scientists in the world, so it easily fits the requisite size requirements. There are scientists in every country in the world, of all religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, etc., that contribute to science. No one doubts the success of science, either – even its worse detractors are, in daily life, almost entirely dependent on science and it's findings.

Additionally, science is wildly more flexible than politics. Take climate change. If scientists were in charge, no one would doubt that we would be very far advanced of our current policies. Save for those few scientists that are on the rolls of energy companies, scientists of climate would be taking far more radical steps to solve our climate problems – ranging from cars that were more efficient to solar panels in space beaming down power, to moving towards a hydrogen based economy. They know what to do to avert climate disaster! But politicians, even those elected democratically, stall and hem and haw about things – moving with dreadful slowness, even when they agree, in principle, with scientists' predictions. Far from being monolithic, scientific consensualism is brisk compared to politics – in large measure because of the autonomy of scientists. So, consensus can build to action faster than democracy.

So, I'm thinking that the world will, ere long, owe something more than science. Not only has science provided us with all the material advantages we enjoy from health care to computers to a diet stunning in its variety and quality, but it is also providing a model for how consensus can work. To me, that's quite exciting.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bible Interpretation Example: Luke 22:36 and the Ills of Interpretation

I'd written this about a week ago with a mind to post it eventually, when I didn't have anything else. After the murders at Virginia Tech, however, I'm posting it, now.

Luke 22:36 says, "Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one."

This is often interpreted as being a justification for broad-based self-defense. Almost always, this is in the context of using firearms.

This is an interesting case, however, of being able to test the literalness of the people who talk about the Bible. This is one of my favorite verses, because it is in most ways so totally out of line with everything else Jesus says in the Bible – the whole sell your cloak and buy a sword line is only in Luke, and it it used to justify self-defense and guns.

But if you read it literally, what does it say? It says to buy a sword, if you've got the money for it, and if you don't, sell your cloak to buy a sword.

What it doesn't say, and is said nowhere in Luke, is that the sword should be used in self-defense. That's interpretation. So is the idea that this verse refers to firearms – it doesn't. Jesus doesn't say “guns” he says “sword”. To say that Jesus is referring to firearms is also interpretation.

What does Jesus want his disciples to do with their swords? He doesn't say. And he certainly doesn't refer to anything other than swords. Specifically, his belief about firearms is untested. The purpose of these swords is also left unclear.

Yet, most Christians in America interpret this line to justify broad-based self-defense with firearms. This is, I think, an unusually clear place where interpretation takes place. Christians, rather than saying that they should arm themselves with swords, infer that what Jesus meant is weapons, generically, and for the purpose of self-defense.

Of course, from the context, it is in fact reasonably clear that Jesus is telling his disciples to arm themselves for the purposes of self-defense. I do not dispute that this is a fairly obvious interpretation, but it nevertheless remains interpretation.

This sort of thing is true of almost all cases when someone quotes the Bible in support of something. The Bible almost never says what they say it says. It says something that could – to a greater or lesser extent – be interpreted as what they believe. It doesn't say it, it is merely interpreted as them saying it.

But why are they reinforcing their interpretation with sacred text? Why do they bother to justify the owning of firearms with Bible verse? The United States, in particular, already has a culture of gun ownership. Secular reasons to justify firearms ownership are culturally powerful – I'm sure a brief tour of the NRA publications section will give you more than enough to satisfy you. Hunting, Constitutional scholarship, tradition, self-defense – the US has numerous intelligible (not necessary right or true, but intelligible) secular reasons to justify gun ownership.

It seems to me, however, that for Christians an appeal to reason isn't enough, because secular arguments are, by their very nature, human arguments, and flawed, and can be discussed. When talking about the utility of guns for self-defense, people might bring up the disturbing fact that in a household with guns, it's 22 times as likely that the guns will be used to cause harm to the residents of the household than a criminal. In short, you can bring up facts that weaken a purely secular argument.

However, by appealing to Jesus Christ, argument can be stopped. It is not longer a matter of one side that believes in firearms ownership because they believe it discourages crime and another side that believes that the damage done to society outweighs the right to own guns. The issue is now sacred. The right to bear arms in self-defense is holy, because Jesus himself said so. Who can argue with that? The perfect being has said, in their minds, that Jesus approves of firearms for self-defense. The fact that their “proof” is literary interpretation is meaningless; by assertion, their political preference has been transformed into inerrant holy decree. It is beyond discussion.

What a perfect political convenience! By stamping the sign of the Bible on something, it puts it beyond reasoned discourse and into the realm of holy law! All, of course, without the slightest sign from Christians that what they're doing is interpretation – they'll repeat, time and again, that Jesus approves of self-defense, even though a literal reading of the relevant passages don't reveal that at all, but shows, instead, Jesus ordering a discrete group of people to buy swords for unspecified reasons. This is taken, then, to be the highest form of argument, so pure and strong that it simply cannot be argued.

What a fantastic trick!

But it increasingly seems to my mind that those of us in the atheist/humanist/non-theist camp need to start calling out this stark interpretation. We're letting Christians literally get away with murder because we lack the skills to call their selfish, dishonest interpretations of religious texts what they clearly are: an obvious and duplicitous justification to a specific political agenda. We should hammer home, again and again, when Christians are interpreting the Bible – but pointing out the obviously of their interpretation, and giving no relent until they are exposed as the frauds or fools they are.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Screenplay of the Case of Charles Dexter Ward

This might be a bit of a cheat. I'm going to publish, this week, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's novella “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”. And as an intro to this I'm going to write something I wrote three years ago when I was adapting the novella.

In tone, this is completely different from Ruthless and Defiled. Instead of a cyberpunkish neo-noir science-fiction, we've got a modern dark horror adapted from another form. It also represents an earlier writing style for me. Ruthless and Defiled was, consciously, fairly stylized. Before that, I was doing a “get back to the basics” program of working on essential story elements, like dialog, characterization, things of that nature. This dates to that period.

The screenplay has a lot of pages, but in terms of actual length, it's around 20,000 words – which is just five thousand more than Ruthless and Defiled. When you download it, don't be daunted that it's 120 pages long. The formatting of screenplays is designed so the movie based on that screenplay is about a minute a page. The whole thing can probably be read in far less than two hours.

Here's the introduction I'd worked up, back then, for the screenplay. Nowadays, it seems hopelessly pretentious:

I've been an admirer of H. P. Lovecraft's since I was a teenager. I had just discovered horror stories and Lovecraft's were the best, though I didn't have a good understanding at the time of why. Reading the occasional essay or foreword by an established writer didn't seem to clear anything up, either. They went on about the “fears of the unknown and unknowable” but that answer never seemed to really fit with me. Sure, we're all afraid of the dark for a while, but most of us get over it. Some of us, including many of the people closest to me, are dedicating their lives to the study of the unknown – including the very depths of space from which much of Lovecraft's horror comes.

After a several years of thought on the subject, I narrowed it down to my own personal belief of how a writer invokes horror in the audience – through a feeling of helplessness and a feeling of hopelessness. We become horrified when we realize there is no chance and no hope. Many horror writers, however, don't seem to follow through – their heroes end up defeating the menace. This is the reason why many horror stories fall flat at the end after a rousing good scare the first half of the story. When the audience becomes aware that the heroes will win there's nothing to be frightened of, really, no matter how vile or disgusting the horror is. Furthermore, most horror writers never differentiate between the helplessness and hopelessness. They conflate them and as the audience becomes aware the heroes are helpless, there is also no feeling of hopelessness.

Lovecraft's genius was an intuitive understanding that a person can disjoin helplessness from hopelessness. Other horror writers have a sense of this – which is why at the end of virtually every horror movie ever made there's a hint that the horror is not gone, to try to pathetically dredge up a last scrap of hopelessness from the audience before finally fading to black – but none the same way Lovecraft did. So while in his stories the horrors are usually defeated or driven back, what remains is a feeling of hopelessness amongst the characters. The Great Ones were, the Great Ones are, the Great ones will be – and some day they'll awaken from their aeons of slumber and throw off humanity with a shake of their great bodies, the same way a dog shakes off water. Everything we are and everything we will be is, ultimately, irrelevant, much in the same way that an ant colony is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. So, while the heroes win against their horrors, they are forever changed; they are fundamentally robbed of hope.

And that's damn scary.

Thinking about this has had a tremendous influence on my writing over the years. I feel a tremendous obligation to Lovecraft for all the inspiration he's given me. But what to do?

For a while I'd wanted to try writing a screenplay. I'd written one, before, as a sort of test, and I liked it. It was corny and pretty bad, but the length of a screenplay pleased me pretty well. I've found the short story format to be constraining and I rarely have enough to say to fit into a novel that isn't padded more than my posterior – but screenplays are about the right length for me. I enjoyed writing the first one and decided to give it another shot. I was also interested in doing an adaptation of something. I've long wondered why so many adaptations were so, well, bad. One would think a great book or story would provide more than enough material for a screenplay. I suspected there was something going on and I was curious to see what. I toyed with various books for a while – such as The Count of Monte Cristo, which is one of my favorite books and I had several ideas of how to do it in a unique way – but the sheer length of the adaptation process put me off. Turning 1,000 pages of Monte Cristo into a 20,000 words of screenplay seemed a little much.

Then I thought about Lovecraft. I'd never seen a movie based on Lovecraft that I thought was really top notch. So I decided to give it a try, eventually deciding on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” because, to my knowledge, it'd never been done before. (After I was done, I did learn that there was a movie based off of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”. Such are the vicissitudes of fate. Still, I'm egotistical enough to think my screenplay is better and, besides, Lovecraft is in the public domain.) And I like the story.

I quickly learned why I had been so dissatisfied with so many Lovecraft adaptations. Lovecraft is essentially free of dialog! Movies are strongly dependent on characters speaking to each other, so this presented a barrier. A movie that was “faithful” to the story would be more like a documentary than a horror movie. While it would have been an interesting experience to try to write a good screenplay in that fashion, I decided not to go down that road and spent a fair bit of time putting words into characters' mouths. Fortunately much of the material in “Charles Dexter Ward” can fairly easily be conveyed through dialog – the characters talk to each other a fair bit, it's just that Lovecraft often doesn't quote them directly. The other thing I found out, about halfway through, is that if you were perfectly faithful to the story the movie would be something like three and a half hours long. I decided I'd need to prune a bit.

As exercises go, it was a complete success. I know feel I understand why screenwriters and directors make many of the decisions they make in adaptations. The method that books present information is much different than the way movies do. Something that requires two pages of description in a book can be covered in seconds in a movie, and some complex ideas are simply impossible to convey on screen in without becoming hopelessly pedantic. Plus, considering I had to trim away some material when adapting an 80 page story, I can only imagine the challenges that a screenwriter faces when trying to adapt a 400 page book. They eliminate broad sections of material that is often, quite arbitrarily, deemed irrelevant; they merge characters together, they change events from the story in a way so it conveys the meaning of the story better than a slavish following of the text ever could. In many ways, it was far harder to adapt “Charles Dexter Ward” than to write my own screenplay; finishing it was a trial because I had to keep going back to trim here and there, to re-write in a way I've never had to do when creating an original work.

But is it a good screenplay? I think so. While it is rough in some ways – I'm still not totally comfortable with the jargon used in screenplays and I'm sure I've made errors – I think that it is faithful and, if made into a movie, would scare the socks off of you.

It is, however, primarily my tribute to Howard Philip Lovecraft, who has been a tremendous inspiration on my life.


YouTube vs. GodTube

I posted my interview on as well as So far, in terms of the number of times viewed, they're running neck and neck. Which I think is pretty interesting about the traffic over at GodTube. I had expected the YouTube one to be viewed a lot more, but apparently not.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Interview with me!

This is the first in a series of interviews that I'm making about the writing of Simon Peter. My interviewer is Tim "Santiago" Converse, who is a scholar and a friend that is helping me out with . . . well, a lot of things.

This is the introductory interview. We'll be doing more of them in the fullness of time, with the juicy, meaty questions like "why did you rape Jesus?" - but for now, we decided on a more measured and stately interview technique.

Anyway, I hope people enjoy it!

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Capitalism and Conversion

I was reading this BBC article about Pope Rat's Easter celebrations. It appears, if one can believe the BBC, that the Catholic Church wants to focus on Asia. Allow me to quote: “the Vatican regards Asia as its most promising area for future converts.”

Then it occurred to me that is very nearly the same language that capitalists refer to underdeveloped markets. Corporations regard Asia, too, as this vast market waiting to be exploited, either as consumers or for raw materials.

In many ways, fascism is the right-wing merger of state, business and religion. The truth of that rushed on me, all at once, even though in my mind I've known it for a while. In the West, the exploitation of the New World was a state, business and religious prospect all at once. The Conquistadors came with state authority to convert Indians as well as rob them of their resources. The American conquest of the West was done in roughly the same way – missions preceded colonists that preceded reservations and/or genocide. Missionary activity has gone hand-in-hand with industrial exploitation.

Asia, in all ways, has been a tougher nut to crack than Africa and the Americas. Asia has a number of native religions and philosophies that, really, put Christianity to shame. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism – in intellectual terms, in completeness, in almost all ways – make Christianity look like a primitive, second-rate religion, not to mention that monotheism is already well served in Asia with Islam. Asia boasts ancient civilizations and a powerful culture. So Asia has not been Christianized nearly to the extent as the rest of the world, just as Western style capitalist exploitation didn't work out as well there as in other places. Sure, both India and China were colonized, but they retained their own independent character and have taken the reins of industry into their own hands – both countries are averaging around 10% growth a year, currently, and the success of Japan and South Korea are well known. Nowhere has Western style capitalism succeeded outside of functionally Western nations (and not even all of those) except in Asia. So, with business as much as religion, Asia has been a tough nut to crack.

Which puts my mind onto two thoughts. The first is . . . is Western religion getting into a trap by going into Asia? No one doubts that India and China are going to become economic and perhaps military superpowers in the next twenty years or so. Both countries have managed to maintain their cultural and political identity against Westernization while adapting the industrial system of the West to their own purposes. Is the Roman Catholic Church's interest in Asia pure arrogance? Why do they think that Asia won't merely adapt the techniques of Western religion that suit them and turn the tables on the West, as they are currently doing with business?

This segues into my second thought. China is already a fairly large cultural exporter, nowadays. India is developing into one (not only with cinema and letters, but, interestingly enough, comic books – several Indians have decided to try to export Indian comics into the West, probably attempting to recreate the success of Japanese manga in America). How much longer will it take to occur to them to start the sort of cultural exportation that the West has done for centuries? Before they start to organize Hindu or Buddhist missions to flood the West with their own religious culture?

Those cursed lucky Europeans might be able to resist, because it appears that most Europeans simply don't care much about religion – even those that still identify with their traditional religion. So, in France, if one believes Stew's translation of those French graphs, and I do, 59% of the French identify as Catholic, but over half of declared Catholics have only ever been to church for marriages, baptisms and funerals, and only 23% of declared Catholics bother to attend church for even the big ceremonies like Easter, Assumption and Christmas. And only 38% of the French believe in the Christian god – which means that something like 2/5ths of declared Catholics don't believe in God or are agnostic! So, I doubt that Hindu or Buddhist missionaries would be terribly successful in that sort of environment.

On the other hand, here in America, where we are pretty religious and belong to a very backwards, primitive religion, they might find really fertile ground. Think of it. Nothing in, say, Hinduism or Buddhism requires a person to deny evolution, or that the earth is billions of years old. Modern science fits a lot better with most Asian religions than it fits with Christianity, and they are capable of the same level of spiritual comfort and community.

So, really, I find myself asking, “Right now, are there folks in India and China saying that the United States and South America would be perfect places to gain new converts?” Because if my thesis is true and missionary work goes hand-in-hand with economic exploitation, the West will soon become a big target for cultural imperialism from Asia.

A third thought also occurs to me, that it required the missionary zeal of Christianity to develop capitalism. Christianity is all about exploitation, about converting people, and about controlling them (religions being top-down systems of authority that have strict codes of conduct and such, I don't think it can be reasonably said religions aren't primarily about control . . . at least, not without invoking a god in an apologia). Most other places, prior to the advent of Christianity, had reasonably tribal religions or attempted to identify their own gods with the gods of other places. One of the fairly unique things of primitive Christianity was its exclusivity (there is but ONE god, and it is OUR god) combined with its missionary zeal. It is unsurprising to me that a people so used to exploitation, so used to destroying other people's cultures, came up with the idea that, economically, they're also fair game. It isn't something, I think, that would occur to people, otherwise, used to seeing them either as outsiders to be avoided or believing, as most in the ancient world did, that everyone's gods were the same but simply called by different names and under different faces. That religious conversation that destroys a culture's religious uniqueness would naturally lead to exploiting their labor and resources.

Though I doubt that Pope Rat would agree with this. After all, he's jump right into the apologia of his premeditated cultural imperialism against Asia as justified because his god really exists.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Talking to Christians and Literary Analysis as the Foundation of Belief

In the discussion of this post by Beep! Beep! It's Me!, things are getting into the endurance flames part of the discussion with a couple of Christians who post there. Eventually, it seems to me, virtually all discussions with Christians of conscience about their co-religionists that are fundie nutjobs boil down to a variant of the No True Scotsman fallacy. In this context, it's an interminable discussion about what constitutes a “true Christian”. This then goes around and around and around, with the non-Christians saying that all Christians think they're the true Christians and using the No True Scotsman fallacy on all other Christians, and the Christians asserting that through some interpretation of the Bible that you can deduce a true from a non-true Christian, and then the non-Christians saying that's what all Christians say . . . so forth, and so on.

I'm not going to focus on the No True Scotsman fallacy, but how Christians use literary interpretation as their epistemological foundation. Because, to me, that seems the bigger issue.

So, when a person asserts something that a Christian (or other religious person, it's just that in America a body almost always has this discussion with Christians) objects to, the fundamental authority that must be appeals to is the Bible, or, more precisely, that Christian's interpretation of the Bible.

So what happens is every discussion about a matter of weight with a Christian is transformed into a discussion about the true meaning of the Bible. Discussing the age of the earth? Go to the Bible. Discussing politics? Go to the Bible. Discussing feminism? Go to the Bible.

This is a form of conversation stopper, then. When a Christian brings up a Bible, what they're saying is they're appealing to an unimpeachable authority. And what I think is important, here, is the authority isn't the Bible. The Bible is a vast, sprawling work that is complex, and often contradictory. The Bible says a lot of things in a lot of language, and is literal in places, metaphorical in others, with no clear distinction between the two. The authority is the person's interpretation of the Bible.

Most people, of course, have not comprehensively detailed their interpretation of the Bible. To do so looks to me like a very daunting task. Indeed, most Christians don't know the Bible well enough to speak passingly about it, much less comprehensively about it. But even if the Christian in question does have a comprehensive, internally consistent interpretation of the Bible, it's almost always largely hidden in the mind of the Christian.

But, that's not how Christians present the argument, by and large. In my experience, they don't go, “In my personal interpretation of the Bible, which is a vast and confusing book with many seeming contradictions, I feel Jesus clearly says that fags should be butchered.” They go, “The Bible SAYS that fags should be butchered” when, in truth, what the Bible says is difficult to parse even for a lifelong dedicated student of the Bible.

So, when discussing the Bible with virtually all Christians, you're actually discussing a very particular, and usually hidden, interpretation of the Bible that has been elevated to absolute, unimpeachable truth in the mind of the Christian. And, with almost every issue of importance, a Christian will use their divinely revealed interpretation as an unimpeachable authority.

Unsurprisingly, this is a conversation stopper. When that happens, when a Christian pulls out their (hidden, undiscussed interpretation) of the Bible as the last authority, the other person has to either agree or the discussion ends. It ends particularly hard for non-Christians – almost no Christian is going to admit that a non-Christian's interpretation of the Bible is valid. So even when a non-Christian confronts a Christian with Biblical material, it simply doesn't matter because non-Christian interpretations of the Bible are automatically meaningless in discussions of the Bible. Christians largely believe that non-Christians have no right to interpret the Bible.

(Which is not true in other forms of literary criticism, I should note. In literary criticism outside of religion, different styles of interpretation co-exist. So, when discussing, say, Freud, a Marxist critique of Freud is not automatically dismissed by a post-modernist; the post-modernist might disagree with the Marxist, but they don't reject the legitimacy of the Marxist's right to interpret. Indeed, in literary criticism, a person might accept both interpretations! And, always, they are aware that it is an interpretation made by a human for human purposes, without divine inspiration or guidance.)

Thus, it seems to me that most religion is an epistemological system based off of chance prejudices that are sanctified by appeal to sacred literature, and this appeal to sacred literature is, itself, merely a biased interpretation of the religion's works. It creates an internally isolated epistemological world based on holy feelings, and any deviation from that world is regarded not merely as error but sin. Unsurprisingly, this makes it pretty hard to talk to religious people.

Which, again, puts me off the very idea of religion, at least how most Christians and Muslims practice it, at any rate. Because, even if a Christian believes something that is true, the reason isn't that they've reasoned it out, but that they have decided their belief coincides with the Bible, and then they elevate their belief to the status of divine inspiration against which nothing at all is allowed to intrude. They are right not because they have used reason, but merely because they have decided, and appealed to an ultimate authority. Religion seems to have nothing good about it, really.

Labels: , ,

Ha, I Say, HA!

Part two of Simon Peter is done. It was about 25% longer than I'd planned for it to be -- around 51,000 words -- but I feel good about it.

Part three will be, I expect at this point, to be the longest of part, because it will contain the bulk of Jesus' ministry as well as his death. I'm half thinking of rather than diving straight into part three that I'll write a short story in the style I've adopted for Simon Peter and post it here when I'm done with it -- probably a week or so from when I begin -- and I'm curious if y'all out there have any thoughts on the subject. I know that most of you are here because I cut up about religion, not necessarily because I'm writing a book on Biblical characters, but most of you also seem to be pretty hip into reading, which pleases me immensely.

Labels: , ,

Kurt Vonnegut is dead

Kurt Vonnegut is dead. He was one of the greatest English language writers of the 20th century, a man of wit, honestly, compassion and integrity. He left the world a better place than he found it, and he will be missed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Occasional Frustration – Confessional Time!

I sometimes wish I was on the other side of the aisle on the whole radical leftist/atheist thing. Some people might ask why. Simple! You don't need any . . . talent to work the other side of the aisle. All you've got to have is a vicious wit and a contempt for reality.

I don't mean the sort of disagreements that rational people have. For instance, libertarians have some interesting points to make, as do libertarian socialists.

But when I look at the blogosphere – particular blogs like PZ Myers' Pharyngula and the like – there is this constant stream of posts about these corrupt and irrational pseudo-intellectuals prostituting themselves. And, each and every one of them, is wildly more successful building a house of cards ten miles high than those of us who have some connection with reality.

Seriously! Think of how great it would be to be on the side of Intelligent Design! No more careful, nuanced understanding of science or philosophy of science, no attempts to become educated or informed about the subject. You'd just go, “Oh, humans are obviously so complex that there was a designer!” And when people say, “What designer? Where?!” you can go, “The one that clearly designed us!”

Or with gay marriage. Rather than trying to see people different as us as real people, just join up a screaming mob and have one's identity and ideas handed to them by that mob! Just don't bother caring who controls the mob, or why. Just froth at the mouth.

Seriously, thinking is so hard. Better to just close one's eyes, right, and ignore the fundamentalist nutjob in your pew at church, who is a militaristic asshat that believes in dominating the world through force, who thinks gays should be stoned, women kept pregnant in the kitchen, and niggers should know their place – who's for turning the Middle East into “a glass parking lot” with nuclear fire – well, better to just ignore that guy and talk about how, y'know, your church does a little charity work, and therefore the entire religious enterprise isn't massively, irredeemably corrupt.

Wouldn't that be easy? Just go to church, get whipped up into a frenzy, abandon any pretense of justice, logic or reason, and say simple things loudly in the belief that'll make 'em true. What intellectual ease that would put me in!

And, as a writer, how much easier it would be for me! Rather than have to struggle to get published, rather than have to face analysis and critique of what I write, I could just write turgid prose in praise of some Biblical character, and so long as it was passionately religious, overtly glorifying of those characters, and the idea of the Christian god, I could make a mint! No more research, no more grappling with difficult issues, nope, just present a hackneyed and straightforward glorification of some Bible character and off I'd go to superstardom!

But, like Christ on the cross, I can't give in to that deadly temptation. I just wouldn't be me if I did. Plus, y'know, I get to comfort myself by being so terribly right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Reading Anne Rice's Christ the Lord Out of Egypt proved, at a glance, that I must hate myself on some profound level. All through reading this book I would come across something particularly bad and ask Adrienne, “Why am I reading this?” She would say, “So you can make fun of it with a clean conscience.” She knows me well.

For some background, when I'm writing a long project like Simon Peter, I try not to clutter my brain with too much outside literature. I generally read a lot less, and it tends to be about whatever it is I'm writing, if only tangentially. This helps me stay focused on a big project. The last thing I want is to get a really great idea in the middle of writing something that distracts me from what I'm doing. So, right now, I tend to read a books about various 1st century CE subjects, especially if they're dealing with Judaism, Roman Palestine and, of course, Biblical figures. Rice's book is very much the sort of thing that I read.

I've also planned on reading it for a while. I am not an admirer of Rice's work, but she's important to Simon Peter. After learning that Anne Rice had written a novel about Jesus it really dawned on me anyone could do it – and I fancy myself a much better writer than Anne Rice. So I started looking into it and, behold, I'm doing it.

As you can probably guess, I think the book is bad. The rest of this post is about how bad, and the forms this badness takes, and it'll probably be pretty long. It's the worst book I've actually finished in a longish time.

Also, for the record, I hold no particular hostility towards religious fiction. I am, after all, doing it, myself. I like a fair number of Jesus-fic novels such as Barabbas by Par Lagerkvist and Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore. Others, such as The Last Temptation of Christ I might not have liked, but I can see the craft and art that went into writing them. To me, a well written book about Biblical characters is akin to interesting fantasy, and I hold neither the books nor the writers in any sort of contempt. I say this because I didn't go into this hating it. While I'm not a fan of Rice's works, I did enjoy Interview with the Vampire, so I further know she's capable of writing things I like.

But Out of Egypt is just a bad book. It's so bad I am struggling with where to begin. So, after Carroll, I shall being at the beginning.

The book takes place when Jesus is seven or eight years of age. It takes place in the first person, as if Jesus is narrating things as an adult. The plot revolves around Jesus learning he is the son of Jehovah, immediately after the death of Herod the Great and the riots surrounding Herod's death.

The first problem is the narration, itself. Jesus is narrating the book as if he was an adult looking back, but the book totally lacks mature insights into the youthful Jesus' problems, personality or social interactions. Particularly lacking is mature insight into Jesus' social interactions, which I very much would have liked to see. But the narration, despite technically being recorded by an adult Jesus, comes off as being narrated by the child Jesus.

The book begins with Jesus striking another child dead while he lives in Alexandria. It was inspired by a scene out of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. (Out of Egypt also mentions Jesus turning clay pigeons into real birds, also from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.) The inclusion of the striking dead scene is problematic and, I suspect, the reason it never even got seriously considered for Biblical canon. After all, murder is a sin, and Jesus is said to have lived a sinless life. Though, in Out of Egypt and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus undoes these acts, having done them, he had sinned. Just because you give back the money you've stolen doesn't mean you're not a thief – you're just a penitent thief, right? The first thing that Rice has Jesus do is sin.

Now, if it had been a book written in that fashion, I probably would have been pleased. A Jesus that went around withering people and striking them blind – based on various legendary sources – would have been a hoot. Heck, if I wasn't deep into Simon Peter I might have done it that way, myself. However, Rice intends to confirm the divinity of Jesus – which is not well served by having Jesus kill someone, even if he does repent of it. God is above that sort of thing, right? At least, that's the standard Christian doctrine – that Jesus is perfect. So the book starts out with a serious misstep.

The book has a lot of missteps. It's like Rice doesn't know what she's doing from one chapter to the next. So, in one chapter, Joseph tells Jesus not to do violence. He is clear. Joseph says, “Never lift your hand to defend yourself or to strike.” Then, a chapter later, Joseph and his relatives kill a man who is attempting to rape a woman. Which is it, Joe? Never lift your hand, or is it okay to kill in self-defense of third parties?

Another misstep is the . . . well, the Jewishness of Jesus is a complex subject in the book. Clearly, if Jesus lived at all he was Jewish. We don't know what kind of Jew – we know very little about him, as a person, and it is often contradictory or outright silly – but certainly a Jew. Christianity largely de-emphasizes Jesus' Jewishness. Some of it is outright racism on the part of Christians, certainly, but there is a larger point to it – Jesus is not a Jewish messiah but a universal messiah. By emphasizing Jesus' Jewishness, it weakens Jesus' universal appeal, which clashes uncomfortably with the rest of the tone of the book where it is emphasized that he's a universal messiah.

Those are the three major missteps I can think of, right now. Now I'll start to address the further horrors of the book.

Keeping on with the Jewish character of Jesus, the book dwells on things in a truly comical way. The characters mock Egyptian Jews who study the Jewish Bible in Greek, unlike Jesus and his family who do it in Hebrew. Which struck me as reasonably cruel, to mock someone's ignorance. It further struck me as comical – Jesus and his family of super-Jews. (Not to mention that it isn't like most Christians learn Greek and Hebrew to study the Bible. Rice, herself, had to do her Bible study in English. It seems a bizarre standard of mockery, given the lack of importance American Christians give to learning the languages the Bible was written in.)

The Jews, in general, are treated in a cartoonish way. So, in Sepphoris, Jesus notes the absence of prostitutes for the Roman soldiers to fuck, vis-a-vis Alexandria. As if Jewish women didn't know how to prostitute themselves? The Bible is very explicit on the extent of prostitution amongst Jews. Apparently, it was nigh ubiquitous. At several places in the Old Testament – such as Ezekiel 16:15 . . . oh, to at least verse 38 – the author shows a pretty profound knowledge of the ways of prostitutes. And, of course, famously, Jesus hung out with prostitutes. But in Out of Egypt, it's like the Jews are too moral to engage in prostitution, which is laughable.

(Interestingly, the book seems to praise Jewish women for wearing the veil, which protects them from the Roman soldiers. I don't think that Rice was praising the veil as effective against sexual assault – when a person gets it into their head to rape someone, a piece of cloth is unlikely to stop them – but trying to suggest that Jesus would have been for the veil because it's modest. Still, there is also enough in the Gospels to suggest that Jesus wouldn't have cared about veils or the conservative social modesty of the Jews. He broke a lot of Jewish social rules, such as traveling with women (Mary Salome, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene – by the social rules of the time, they should have been escorted by a male relative) and associating publicly with prostitutes. But she chose to have Jesus praise the veil, which isn't necessary given the further life of Jesus nor particularly sensitive to modern issues.)

And the Pharisees are SUCH GOOD PEOPLE. They're so learned and holy and . . . ugh, it's childish. They're not just good people, as humans can be, but they're these smiling, sinless people who never lose their temper, who never get developed beyond their smiling, one-dimensional caricatures. And there's the wise old woman who is so old and wise! And the crotchety uncle with sage advice! None of the cast (who aren't walk-in characters, generic threats) had, it appears, a single bad impulse in them – even when they do something that is bad (such as Jesus striking someone dead) it's never because they possess a sinful thought; Jesus acted impulsively, without thought, Joseph and his cousins acted to save someone else. Humans without some measure of bad in them, of course, are caricatures. They aren't believable. Thus, none of the characters in Out of Egypt are the least bit believable.

Going hand in hand with the cartoonish, one-dimensional nature of the characters is the awful writing. There are some examples that will help illustrate this. Be warned. It is bad.

Elizabeth lowered her voice and spoke on.

“We have brethren with them, grandsons of Mattathias and Naomi, who went out long ago to the desert to live with them, and I've spoken with them, and they will take him, even now. It's their way to take children and bring them up strictly, abiding by their rules of purity and fasting, and strict community, and all these are natural things to my son. And he will study with them. He will learn the prophets. He will learn the word of the Lord. The desert is where he wants to be, and when I'm gathered to my ancestors there he will go until such time as he is a man and decides for himself what he will do. I have already provided for John with the Essenes and they wait only for my word, or for him to come to those that live on the other side of the Jordan and they will take him far out away from here to where he's to be brought up removed from the affairs of men.”

Who speaks like that? C'mon. It's a parody of the sonorousness of the King James Bible. This passage isn't a particularly bad one, either. It's all like this. Very portentous, very pretentious. In other passages, I swear I can also hear the nasal New Yawk twang, too. How can a person take this seriously?

Another bit that I found amusing:

”Oh, yes,” said a woman who saw me look at them. Her eyes were red, and her clothes covered with ashes and dust. “And days ago they massacred us, I tell you, and sold off anyone in sight to the filthy slave merchants who descended on us to put our loved ones in chains. They took my son, my only son, he's gone! And what had he done, but gone out to try to find his sister, and she took for what? She was trying to go from my house to the house of her mother-in-law?”

Rice, especially with female characters, has them say things like “I tell you” and repeat themselves – the slavers sold off anyone in sight and put their loved ones in chains – in a way that makes me wonder if this was proofread at all, by anyone! And sometimes, again largely with female characters, I swear I can hear a New Yawk twang with all the “I tell yous”.

Rice also does that annoying thing where when she wants to emphasize something, she puts a particular sentence as a sole paragraph. This is also pretty juvenile, I feel, and vaguely insulting to the intelligence of the reader. Like we're not clever enough to figure out what's important.

Over and above this, however, the book's biggest problem is it is painfully dull. It took a bit, but since I was stuck on the road a lot over the vacation, and there's only so many cacti a person can look at before they all blend into a Platonic form of cacti, I figured it out. Jesus and most of the main characters of the story are, well, canonical figures. Because nothing is really known about Jesus' childhood – a few spurious infancy gospels aside – and because Rice doesn't want to do anything to blatantly contradict the Bible (tho' she fails in this in a couple of places, as said above), the characters must be static. They can't do anything really noteworthy, else she would have to explain why this wasn't included in the Bible, itself.

Particularly static is Jesus. Because she is, in large, trying to write him as the perfect child, and because Joseph and Mary are protective parents, this means he obeys his parents. And when you're seven years old, well, you're not allowed to do very much. A fair bit of the book is Jesus asking to do something interesting, being told that, no, he's not allowed to do that, and then him obeying. After all, he must! He must honor his mother and father, right?

And because the extended family of Jesus included in the novel are equally holy, they are equally dull. For a moment, there is a brief bit of tension because Jesus' brother James (the Just, eventually, who is patriarch of the Jerusalem church and a martyr in the fullness of time) resents Jesus because James knows that Jesus is the messiah, but what could have been actual tension is resolved instantly, so it means little. And the rest of Jesus' family, who know he's the son of Jehovah, also have no problem with it – they accept it wholly and without any problem at all. Again and again, there are places for actual conflict, but Rice never really capitalizes on this. I suspect she does this because, well, the messiah can't have a fucked up family full of people who doubt Jesus is the messiah, right? Even though there is Biblical evidence that his family didn't accept his mission!

Even when Rice suggests that the larger Nazareth community doesn't believe the stories about Mary and the virgin birth, but it's kept very distant. Mary is never confronted, and neither is Jesus. The tension is hinted at, but nothing is ever done with it.

Satan also makes an appearance in one of Jesus' dreams (though uncredited, it's obvious who it is). Now, Satan is one of my favorite literary characters because it's so easy and fun to deconstruct Satan. Other writers have really had fun with Satan, from Milton to Kazantzakis. He's a fun guy! Rice's take on the big S seems designed to be as bland as possible. The child Jesus easily beats off whatever temptation that Satan might have been trying to do – compare with the Satan out of The Last Temptation of Christ, where Jesus on the cross came very close to succumbing. Satan, the greatest villain of Christianity, is treated as though he was a punk ass bitch. Again, when given the chance to really create some tension, for something interesting to happen, Rice flubs it. One could even say that, as a child, Jesus would be vulnerable to Satan's charms. Apparently not. Yawn.

So, all the action of the book takes place from a very limited perspective. Of a young child that has no real verve, an obedient child, a completely dull child. The other characters are equally dull, because they have to be worthy to be the family of the Christian messiah. Even the passage through the riots following Herod the Great's death are without impact – they are never really threatened. The book is very explicit about this, that Joseph wouldn't have been ordered to return to Galilee if the way hadn't been made straight. So, no real threat! They are protected by GOD HIMSELF.

All of this combines, of course. It isn't just that the characters are one-dimensional parodies, and it isn't just that the writing is bad, and it isn't just that nothing really happens. All of these things are happening at the same time.

The book is dull and silly, it says nothing original in poor language. It isn't even bad in an interesting way – it plods along, boring and pretentious, not even letting the audience thrill in how truly awful it is. It's bad in a pedestrian way. I recommend giving it a miss.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, April 9, 2007

Deep-fried Butter Balls

This Stranger's Blog article mentions . . . deep-fried butter balls. Here's how you make them:

2 sticks butter
2 ounces cream cheese
Salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
Peanut oil, for frying

Cream the butter, cream cheese, salt and pepper together with an electric mixer until smooth. Using a very small ice cream scoop, or melon baller, form 1-inch balls of butter mixture and arrange them on a parchment or waxed paper lined sheet pan. Freeze until solid. Coat the frozen balls in flour, egg, and then bread crumbs and freeze again until solid.

When ready to fry, preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

Fry balls for 10 to 15 seconds until just light golden. Drain on paper towels before serving.

I take no fucking responsibility for your health if you actually do this, hehe.

Also, I am using icons, now! Mostly cacti or other desert plants, because I am prickly, sharp and like a lot of sun.

Ruthless and Defiled

I'm starting to post stories on the old website, and I'm starting with Ruthless and Defiled.

Ruthless and Defiled is a fifteen thousand word short story that was, basically, proof of concept for Condotierri. Ruthless and Defiled has a lot of the same themes – anarcho-capitalism, corrupt security corporations and class struggles play crucial roles in both stories. Ruthless, though, also contains a heavy element of racism which isn't present in Condotierri because Condotierri is more science-fiction than Ruthless. People in Condotierri can, functionally, change their appearance at will, so attributes of race are hidden and not considered as important – thus, there is less overt racism. I wrote it, however, to see if I could, as an author, write something so sustainedly grim and uncompromising. Dante Wakefield, the protagonist of Ruthless, is the moral opposite of an action hero. He does everything that an action hero does – he's a go-it-alone maverick that uses violence to get what he wants ostensibly in the Dirty Harry mold – but while most of those rogue cop stories justify the cop's brutality and criminality by saying that it was somehow necessary, that you have to break the law to save it nonsense, Ruthless presents the corruption and violence as ugly and unnecessary, putting a lie to the notion that a go-it-alone superman does any good in this world at all. Or, at least, that's some of the backstory, here. That, more than anything, that corruption and violence amongst police is always detestable, that it isn't justified and doesn't make the world a better place, is shared with Condotierri.

Ruthless is also a more graphic story. Or, perhaps, it is better to say that Ruthless has a greater density of truly horrible things happening to people. I needed to pull out the stops because I had to know if I could write in this way, to write about horrible people doing terrible things to each other. I didn't necessarily write any of it to shock people, except to the extent that I felt it necessary to convey the significance of the violence being done. Violence in stories is exciting, yes, but at the same time a great many stories lessen the impact of the violence – all the deaths are clean and swift. There is also a literary whitewash that goes on with the characters, too – the idea that a character can kill and torture and, in some capacity, remain a moral person (indeed, in many stories, the protagonists kill and torture in a way not too different than the bad guys, but are held up as moral exemplars – the best people kill and torture, but they have a reason and that makes it alright, which is an attitude I find contemptible).

On the whole, though, I like the story. It contains some good imagery, has a solid plot and good characterization. I wouldn't say that Dante Wakefield grows during the story, but he certainly changes, and I think in ways that are interesting and contain verisimilitude.

Comments are very welcome. Plus, spread it around! The more who read it the better.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Freestylin' Against Theocracy!

This is me freestyln' about theocracy. This is me just ramblin' on a bit.

One of the key things to bear in mind is that when those fundie Christians and their ilk talk about how the Christian god has always been part of American government, they've got a point. Sure, a number of the Founding Fathers were deists and reasonably suspicious of religion. A number of them were heavily religious, too. And at the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all states in the Union would only let white, Christian landowning men vote.

But, more than that, I think it's fair to remember, vital to remember, that the whole enterprise of government originated with religion. It is hard to find a people, anywhere, in the pre-modern world (and many in the modern world) that don't equate their rules were divine or sacred people. I'm not just talking the god-kings of ancient Egypt, or divine right of European kings, or the Chinese mandate of heaven, or the Turkish Emperor being the Shadow of God, or Roman Emperors being pontifex maximus -- well, maybe I will mention them. It is virtually ubiquitous to have governmental and sacredotal authority vested in the same person, or the office of ruler having a sacred quality.

I say this because I think most people fail to recognize how very new the idea of a truly secular government is. Even our Founding Fathers weren't aiming for a really secular government. If they had, they would have addressed the fact every state required a person to be a Christian to vote, but they didn't. Religious freedom was meant to avoid the Christian leaders of America from tearing it up; but it was never in doubt in their minds that Christianity was the religion of America. All states had laws to insure that was the case, and would continue to be the case.

I think that people, in failing to recognize the newness of secular government, also fail to understand how deeply religion is entwined even in technically secular governments. Such as here in America how the number of atheists in Congress that have ever been open about their lack of faith is . . . one. Out of thousands of congresspeople and senators. And no Presidents, no governors, no Supreme Court justices, only a few other officials. The entire elected apparatus of American society is firmly religious and overwhelmingly Christian.

I am not going to say that the US has a theocracy. But we're not far from it, either, y'know, because all but one congressperson, all senators, the President, virtually all judges, all governors, all but a tiny handful of state senators, county commissioners, mayors, etc., they're all religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The US has not, traditionally, needed an overt theocracy in order to advance religious points of view. So, during the fifties, advanced by our secular government, school prayer was enforced in schools, and "under god" was put in the Pledge of Allegiance. No, not quite a theocracy, but simply because a theocracy was unnecessary.

This is, fortunately, changing, but even as it changes I think we need to note that in almost all governments in the world, the origin of state power is indistinguishable from religious power, and in America we've very close to a theocracy in practice if not in overt structure.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 6, 2007

Boggles with Blogger

For a couple of days Blogger refused to publish my blog via FTP -- which meant nothing updated, including comments. My web host figured out a workaround, so I'm back in business! :)

Fundies on the Attack! Alliance Defense Fund Whackiness!

Naomi over at God is for Suckers posted this about about this blog post from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The upshot is there's this organization of fundie Christians, the Alliance Defense Fund.

Here's a lesson in newspeak. AUSCS calls the ADF:

Founded by TV preachers and other extreme right-wingers to push the Religious Right’s agenda in the courts, the ADF was spawned by James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Donald Wildmon, among others.

Originally, the group was conceived as a funding pool. The ADF would collect money and dole it out to Religious Right litigators like Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.

The ADF calls itself:

The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.

ADF was founded for a unique purpose: to aggressively defend religious liberty by empowering our allies, recognizing that together, we can accomplish far more than we can alone.

We work tirelessly to assist them in their efforts through strategy, training, funding, and, where necessary, direct litigation through our own ADF legal team.

The ADF makes it sound like they'd defend radical Muslims or Buddhist monks or something, without giving any specifics about who funded it or the real work that they do. Oh, sure, later on they spill the bag -- but if you're a casual visitor to their website you might actually come away with the idea that they're protecting religious freedom in a global sense, not their own narrow view of it.

Still, that's not what I'm here to say. It just leapt up at me and I had to say it.

And I encourage everyone to read the GifS and AUSCS posts. They really say most of this better than I'd have the patience to do. The upshot is that the fundie religious right has this huge court machine trying to exact it's religious beliefs through the courts, as American law.

I don't normally write about politics, so why this? Because I think that most Americans have scant idea how organized, and the fashion of organization, the fundie Christian right is using to manipulate the government. That Americans need to see this sort of thing, to have it right out there in the open, to understand how the government is being fundamentally manipulated at the highest levels of power by fundamentalist Christians. (Compare, f'rex, the openness with which the ACLU pursues its cases. Everyone knows who the ACLU is, but virtually no one knows who the ADF are or what they're doing.) So, some of this is just spreading the word.

The rest of it is just me having contempt for the "nice Christian" defense. Time and again, I am confronted with Christians who try to say, "Well, I'm nice, and the Christians I know are nice, so you've got it wrong about Christians." Bullshit. Where is the "moderate" or "liberal" Christian response to this sort of thing? At best, they don't know, which is sort of like living in Stalin's Russia and not being aware of the gulags, if you ask me. They're not really hiding it, and someone is giving the ADF over twenty million a year to pursue cases, and train judges and the like. But they never seem to go after their these fundie Christians. They do spend a lot of time giving apologia for their religion, rather than doing the hard work of getting these people out of their religion! Of destroying the mechanisms of their manipulation! Day after day, year after year, they sit in congregations with rightist fundamentalists and do nothing but then have the arrogance to criticize atheist and humanist critiques of their religion, while offering endless (generally ridiculous) apologia for their faith.

Maybe Beep! Beep! It's Me! knows the opposite of the tu quoquo fallacy. Where, instead of justifying one's own horrible system by pointing out the sins of the opposition, the person justifies continued participation in their horrible system because not everyone in it is "that bad". Y'know. Like the rank-and-file members of the KKK, or whatever, saying the KKK isn't bad because they've got some real nice people in there.

And you can be damn sure that no Christian will be picking this up on their blog. I'd be fascinated if someone could find even one where this was brought up, even one.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 5, 2007

TXU takes the citizens of Texas for a ride

The hard way, baby.

So, TXU, MY provider of electricity, has threatened to turn of a number of power plants in the state if $200 million in fines are not alleviated. The fines were levied against them for manipulating the energy market in the summer of 2005, resulting in higher energy costs for consumers.

They're threats would disrupt energy supplies for Texas consumers. Yeah, they're holding us hostage unless we look the other way on their unfair market practices.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Biblical “Literalism” and Interpretation

Because I hate myself, sometimes, I've started to read Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I am doing this because, well, when I heard that Anne Rice had become a Christian and written a Jesus book, it is one of the things that inspired me (out of sheer disgust) to write Simon Peter. So, I figured I should eventually actually read the book. Also, one of the ways that I keep focused on a long project like Simon Peter is to read books that are related to the project – so, after reading something cool, I don't get distracted by plotting in an unrelated subject (like, for instance, thinking about science-fiction while writing a historical novel). Also, I am reading it because I clearly hate myself, hehe.

The book is supposed to contain “dazzling scholarship”. I'm not seeing it. This isn't surprising. The amount of legitimate scholarship a person can do about Biblical characters is basically zero. You can read the Bible, you can read a few passages from guys like Josephus, and that's it. She, apparently, did enough research to know who Philo of Alexandria was. Color me unimpressed.

What is is pretty clear she is doing, however, is something very common amongst Christians. To take the Gospels, in particular, seriously requires some heavy duty mental gymnastics. Because it's the word of god or whatever, everything in the Bible must be “true”. Which would be easy if the Bible contained only one story of Jesus – people would say that is true and be done with it. However, the story of Jesus is told roughly five different times, four times in the Gospels and once in Acts. Now, if the story was the same story, it wouldn't really bear repeating five different times, right? So the truth is that five different versions of a similar story are being told. What most Christians do is blend them together into one narrative – a narrative that is not in the Bible.

The most obvious example of this is Christmas. Our vision of Jesus' birth is Jesus, in Bethlehem, being visited by both wise men and shepherds. Try finding that in the Bible. It's not there. What is there is this:

In Matthew, chapter 2, Jesus is born in Bethlehem in a house and is visited by three wise men who bore presents. But in Luke, chapter 2, Jesus was born in a manger and visited by shepherds.

The familiar Christmas story of the wise men finding Jesus in a manger did not happen in the Bible. So, how is it that Biblical “literalists” can claim that the familiar Christmas story is true when there is no story in the Bible where such a thing happens?

You might have noticed I'm putting “literalist” in quote marks. That's because they're not literal. If you take the Gospels literally, for instance, you just have to say that there's some contradictions. You have to say that in one place Jesus was born in a house and visited by wise men, and in another he was born in a stable and visited by shepherds. When confronted with contradictions in the Bible, Bible literalists go straight for interpretation.

They say that everything in all the books of the Bible happened, and there is no contradictions. It's just, they go on to say, that different writers noticed different things. The discrepancies between the Christmas narrative in Matthew and Luke, then, are because the writers of those books noticed different things. Matthew didn't notice the shepherds, nor Luke the rich wise men. Tho' what a manger is doing in a house isn't, really, every answered.

(If you then wonder why a book made perfect by their god contains such contradictions, and you've figured out the justifications, please tell me. I have asked and I have looked. I get bizarre things such as the curious omissions and contradictions are meant to test faith, or they're just not important, but none of them are sensible to me and feel like pure justification. You'd think a perfect book would be written better, but apparently you'd be wrong. Writing books that are internally consistent is, apparently, a vanity of mortal writers.)

The key thing to remember, I think, is that Bible literalists are nothing of the sort and are full of interpretation. Because the actual Gospels can't be consistently interpreted literally, what Christians do is invent a narrative in their mind – a narrative not found in the Bible – and call that the “real truth”! This is, I think, reasonably important to understanding how Christians, in other areas of their life, can shrug off massive inconsistencies. They're already used to it, they've trained, as Christians, in a level of interpretation that would make a post-modernist blush.

I'm sure that reading this soul punishing Anne Rice novel will generate more of this sort of wit and wisdom from me, as well as motivate me to put even more sex, violence and treachery in Simon Peter.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 2, 2007

Heroism and Writing

Very soon, I'm going to start posting on this blog excerpts and stories I've written. Most of them will have the protagonists doing fairly terrible things, and being really rotten people. Some people – mostly those that don't know me, but when I'm a successful novelist that'll include most of the people who have read my works – might assume that I'm this dark, brooding person that views the world as a dystopic horror, spiraling into nightmarish oblivion.

Well, no. I'm actually a philosophical optimist. It is fairly clear to me that people today are healthier, freer, saner, better educated and happier than they were at pretty much any point in history. This isn't the same as saying that everyone is healthy, free, sane, educated and happy – far too often that is not the case, and I'm not using optimist as a justification for political nihilism or saying that the way things are right now don't need to change. As a libertarian consensualist with a heavy dose of socialist leanings and a total technophile (believing that social change is dragged forward by technological advances), I'm nearly the most radical person I know. I think that society needs to change a lot to get better. However, I'm confident it will get better. You look back a thousand, or a hundred or even fifty years ago – well, we've got a lot of problems, but we've also made a lot of progress, and I don't think that we won't continue to make progress.

But why don't I write about the world I imagine – freer, fairer, saner, healthier – instead of dystopic visions?

First, books about free, fair, sane and healthy people are dreadfully boring. There's a fair bit of literary work going on – mostly by academics – to try to “free” us of traditional narrative structures. It is not taking. Most movies, TV shows and books have very traditional structures in the sense that there's a heroic protagonist that overcomes a variety of threats to accomplish something. Whether it be Michael Corleone in The Godfather or Ofelia in The Labyrinth of Pan, the heroic protagonist existing in a dystopic world is part and parcel of narratives. It is equally obvious to me that the reason for this is it is exciting. A narrative is helped a lot if it's exciting and interesting. It takes a very advanced aesthetic – perhaps a hopelessly decadent one – to maintain serious and consistent interest in non-narrative books, movies and TV shows. They are not, in essence, interesting to most people. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly since I'm talking about me, they're not very interesting to me. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn't summon the energy to give a damn about Joyce.

Second, well, I have a problem with the concept of “hero”. This is separate from the concept of bravery. I'm very pro-bravery. In modern language we mix bravery and heroism up – we say that brave people are heroes, particularly if they're doing something society judges as “good” (such as firemen rushing into a burning building to save someone). However, those heroes tend to be very short lived (how many of the firemen who died on 911 can you remember, right now?). We say they're heroes but we don't really honor them as such, in the sense that we remember them. No, the people we remember tend to be historical, mythological, literary and political figures. Especially if they have perpetrated violence.

So, a lot of people will regard Alexander the Great as a hero. He's so heroic we call him “the Great” without any sense of shame. What did he do that was so great? He conquered Persia, briefly, creating untold misery and suffering in the process. He was a drunken barbarian who murdered his close friends in fits of alcohol-inspired dementia. He was an egotistical bastard who dragged the men of a whole nation ten thousand miles into the wilderness, killing most of them in the process, and effectively depopulating Greece for a generation. That's great?

The same is true of most literary heroes, too. They're generally terrible people who do awful things – but that's generally covered up. So in The Lord of the Rings, the Southrons and Easterners aren't really described. They're just generically corrupt pseudo-Slavs and pseudo-Arabs that can be slaughtered at will, to add color to the valiant white guys list of automatically despicable enemies. (Yes, I know that criticizing Tolkien is a quick way to get flamed. Hey! A guy's gotta have a hobby.)

However, where this really starts to go wrong for me – I can look at literary and historical heroes in light of catharsis and distance; our admiration of Alexander the Great rarely includes wanting to emulate him or in allowing anyone else to emulate him – is that we, as a society, are still terribly addicted to political heroes.

In my view, modern politicians are (as a group) one of the most venal and cowardly lots of people alive. George Bush epitomizes just about everything that is wrong with political hero worship, and will be a useful example for that reason – but make no doubt that all politicians share this to some extent. So, rather than fighting in Vietnam, Bush joins the cushy Texas Air Guard, never bothers to get qualified for a plane (thus removing any chance that even, once in a while, he might be near combat) and takes a year off to help with politics in Louisiana (whether or not this was actually desertion is for the reader to decide). Way to go, Bush. Brave guy, right?

I mean, what did he did on 911? Hopped a plane to a secret bunker. Man. What a gutless fucking coward. Then he talks all tough – when it's other people's lives on the line. Bring it on, indeed.

You see this time and again with politicians. While some of them did display tremendous physical bravery – for all that I think McCain is reprehensible as a politician, it would be a lie to doubt his physical bravery, though I do have serious questions about his moral and intellectual courage – most of them took great pains, if they were in the military, to avoid actual combat. Most of them, of course, were too busy being lawyers or accountants to serve in the military or other dangerous job in any capacity.

Worse, when something goes wrong, people seek to create a hero, even if they have to do it out of whole cloth. Again, Bush provides the ideal example. After 911, we “rallied around the flag”. We gave Bush carte blanche. Why? His flaws as a leader were already evident. On September 10th, his approval ratings were in the low 40 percentile range. He was dithering and stupid on September 10th, and he was the same ditheringly stupid man on September 12th, still lacking in administrative ability, honor, intelligence or loyalty. Obviously so! On September 10th, it was pretty clear to the American people that a terrible mistake had been made on letting this clown take office.

But on September 12th, his approval ratings were suddenly around 90%. Overnight – literally over night – forty percent of the American population changed their minds and created a hero out of Bush.

The things that were said about him . . . man, we must be trying to forget them. People were talking about his “gravitas” and “bravery” – the chickenshit ran to a hidden bunker for three days, people! – and spared nothing to attribute to him traits that, two days earlier, most Americans knew he did not possess. And it took years for Americans to remember that he's a corrupt and incompetent boob – it wasn't until a truly frightening counter-case of lies, corruption, downright stupidity and arrogance had been amassed that America turned the corner about Bush.

Bush isn't the only person this happens to. Almost constantly people attribute things to politicians that the politicians didn't do. So, for example, people will talk about how Lorenzo de Medici “built” a lot of Florentine Renaissance architecture. Uh-huh. The truth is, of course, that he didn't build anything, and all of that magnificent stuff was built by carpenters, masons and architects – but for some reason a politician gets the credit for what the workers did.

(To give a dose of militant atheism, too, I think this is what happens with messiahs. Much like Lorenzo the Magnificent is credited with doing things he had scant part in, messiahs are credited with equally magical powers. Most messiahs, like Bush, destroy their followings because of their ego, incompetence and cruelty – but if they die at the right time, their followers can immortalize their superhuman traits before the egotism destroys the movement.)

I shudder to imagine how many “heroes” have been created by these forces! That something traumatic happens and some mediocre person is elevated to the position of absolute power! Not because they have some superhuman power, but simply because they were in the right place at the right time. I suspect that most political heroes are like this. Most are vessels of the desires of others and can't live up to it in any capacity. Like Bush. History being what it is, we only remember the rare successful ones – and forget the failed ones (tho', thankfully, that is changing).

In short, I dislike how real “heroes” are made. That we forget the fireman who runs into a burning building, but lionize an incompetent moron like Bush.

This creates ambivalence in stories, for me. I want to write stories that have traditional narrative structures – protagonists duking it out with an antagonist – but I'm deeply suspicious of “heroism”, or at least how heroes are created and why.

I resolved this tension inside of myself by writing about my nightmares. Rather than write about the world I think ours will become, I write about what might happen if anarcho-capitalists ruled, or about religious messiahs. This also helps to make the protagonists horrible people, which means that I can view them as simply vicarious bastards doing terrible things, as catharsis, or maybe as a cautionary tale if one goes in for that sort of thing.

So, it isn't that I'm a depressed person living in a brutal fantasy, it's just that to write narratives the way I want to, I find it easier to write them about the figures that populate my nightmares.

Labels: , , , ,