Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Has Oscar gone Wilde?

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Barnes & Noble Classics Edition: New York, 2006. Introduction and notes by Camille Cauti. ISBN 1-59308-025-5.

Oscar Wilde is an enigma. Champion of the Aesthetics Movement, sharp-witted dandy, deathbed Catholic convert, and the original flamboyant homosexual, Wilde was by all, or at least most, accounts an immoral man, yet he left behind a small body of literature--particularly his fairy tales and his one novel--that appear to be deeply religious morality tales, though Wilde claims, right in the foreword to Dorian Gray, that art is neither moral nor immoral.

Better people than I have tried to unravel the paradox that is Oscar Wilde. We'll talk about how Cauti does it and offer a few suggestions. We'll also ask for input from you, our readers.

This novel is one of the great works of proto-sf that came out of the Victorian era (see the website of Jess Nevins for a compilation). Victorian England has come under the eye of sf authors of late, many of whom have chosen to depict Victorian England with advanced technology it didn't have, in a sub-genre of alternate history sf typically called Steampunk. Probably the best-known work of Steampunk is Alan Moore's comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which depicts not only a high-tech (and extremely polluted) Victorian England but brings together mostly disreputable figures from Victorian novels as a team of superheroes led by Mina Harker from Bram Stoker's Dracula.

League is best-known of this genre thanks in large part to the atrocious movie adaptation (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), which would have no interest for us or anyone else except that the film version added Dorian Gray to the League, though the movie's immortal and unambiguously evil Dorian is very different than the fearful and subtly sinister protagonist of Wilde's novel.

Dorian Gray's plot is well-known, classic, and original. Dorian Gray is youthful and unusually handsome to the point that famous painter Basil Hallward has a (possibly homosexual) obsession with him. Hallward paints Dorian's portrait; under the influence of the witty, Wildeian bon mots of Hallward's incorrigible friend Lord Henry, Dorian wishes he could have his youth forever, and that his age and the outward signs of his sins might transfer from him to the painting. Dorian gets his wish and for several years remains youthful and seemingly innocent as he leads a double life. The painting, meanwhile, grows ugly and decrepit. Though Dorian has escaped the appearance of sin, it remains on his soul, as indicated by his obsession with his own portrait.

Most of Dorian's crimes are insinuated, and only three are spelled out. We know that he becomes infatuated with a young actress, then callously spurns her, leading to her suicide. Wilde handles the depiction of Dorian's growing infatuation and its sudden cessation brilliantly. Though classic in its basic themes, this subplot is unique in its subtle exploration of Dorian's psyche. Later, Dorian commits his greatest crime, a murder. We learn also that he smokes opium and hangs out in disreputable neighborhoods where he presumably takes drugs and employs the services of prostitutes. Wilde once stated that Dorian's sins are unknown and that the reader really brings his own sins to the novel. This isn't entirely true: Some of Dorian's possible sins (Cauti stresses--and stretches--the book's homosexual themes) are matters of speculation, but others, such as the drugs and murder, are plain.

Hand-in-hand with Dorian's increasing vice are his increasing indulgences in aesthetic pursuits, and here the novel appears autobiographical. Dorian becomes obsessed with a "poisonous" book, which Cauti identifies, almost certainly correctly, with Joris K. Huysmans's Decadent novel, A Rebours, which was one of Wilde's favorites. Dorian also shares Wilde's fascination with Catholicism, though the fascination has more to do with aesthetics than with belief or repentance.

The novel ends (SPOILER WARNING for this paragraph, but do you really not know how this novel ends?) when Dorian feels bad about the murder and resolves to "be good." He gives up one of his love affairs before leading an innocent girl into sordid disrepute. He rushes upstairs to see if any change, perhaps a hint of virtue, has come into the painting, but finds only a new expression of hypocrisy. He realizes that the painting is his accuser and that he cannot be good without confessing his crimes. Incensed, he takes a knife and stabs the painting in its heart. Later, his servants find the painting restored to its original beauty, but lying on the ground before it, dead, is a shrivelled old man with a knife in his chest. The Portrait of Dorian Gray is an exquisite tragedy: Like all the best tragedies, it lays out a plain moral in the self-destruction of its hero, but does so without preachiness. It is interesting that in the famous 1945 film version, as Dorian lies on the floor, dying and acquiring the painting's ugliness, he says over and over, "Oh, forgive me my sins," a sign of repentance not evident in the novel.

Wilde's novel is similar to a couple of other works from around the same time, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, both of which are morality tales depicting characters consumed by secret sins. Dr. Jekyll, of course, has a method of covering up his evil deeds much as Dorian does--by transforming into the villainous Hyde. Jekyll's sins find him out when he is unable to transform back into his usual self. Unlike Wilde's masterpiece, Stevenson's novel is unsuccessful as an artwork and unconvincing as an exploration of good and evil. It is no doubt a household name because of its bold idea rather than because of its execution.

Hawthorne's novel is an exquisite piece. Its exploration of a man consumed by secret sin is as believable as Wilde's, though Hawthorne's novel is ultimately a comedy rather than a tragedy, and its moral echoes through the ages: Be true, be true, be true. In the opinion of some, Hawthorne may have been on the verge of his own conversion to Catholicism.

But what to do with Wilde? How does a man like Oscar Wilde, the champion of art for art's sake who praised homosexuality as the ultimate form of love, write works like Dorian Gray or "The Happy Prince," a beautiful story that actually made me weep? Cauti presents in the back of the novel a few provocative quotes and a few loaded questions.

The first quote, from Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde's lover, may hold the answer. Douglas separates artists from their art, much as C. S. Lewis later would with his so-called Personal Heresy. Douglas proposes that, though Wilde was indeed immoral, Wilde's art was always moral. There may be truth to this; after all, the autobiographical elements of Dorian's life are unmistakable. Perhaps the novel is a sort of confession--a defiant confession, perhaps, for though Dorian feels guilt, he never experiences contrition. Even as Wilde championed Aesthetics in his speeches, he may have condemned it in his writing, unable to do otherwise when peering into the depths of his soul to bring forth his art and finding there a hidden accusation.

Another possibility, of course, is that proposed by many of Wilde's contemporaries, that the novel is full of evil all the way through. As we are separated by time from Wilde and his controversies, that uncritical attack appears unsatisfactory because of the book's clear moral.

The third, unlikely possibility is Cauti's proposal, which she delivers in a series of questions, that the novel is relativistic, that the signs of sin on Dorian's portrait are the symbols of condemnation by a backwards-thinking society or Dorian's own pesky conscience, signs of sin that would never have shown up if everyone could just get over this whole "sin" concept. Presumably, then, Cauti would have Dorian committing murder without regret. Given the discord between Wilde's life and Wilde's novel, the proposal is nominally appealing, but it simply does not fit the book. I grant that Wilde may have intended this relativistic message, but he certainly failed to deliver. He could hardly be blamed, for relativistic messages are hard to deliver in fiction. Neil Gaiman, for example, tried it in his pseudo-tragical comic book series, The Sandman, but all he got were internal inconsistencies, plot holes, and a lot of undeserved praise from critics.

Perhaps readers like I who consider The Picture of Dorian Gray a moral work have been duped, but there are worse things to be duped by. Read this book.

March/April Issue of Biblical Archaeology Review Received

Biblical Archaeology Review is to serious Near Eastern archaeologists was Andrew Lloyd Weber is to serious music critics. Everyone likes to make fun of it but secretly enjoys it.

The magazine is, unfortunately, the only one of its kind. It publishes articles by serious scholars, but is generally poorly edited and as a result is frequently rife with errors. Besides that, the editor-in-chief, Hershel Shanks, seems to think he's an old-fashioned muckraker. Though the interested lay reader will get information about the latest archaeological finds, which is the magazine's purpose, he'll also get Shanks's latest personal crusades and archaeologists' latest personal grudges or vendettas. Arguably, that's good; it exposes the reader to the field, warts and all. At the same time, its narrow biblical focus guarantees the reader will not get a well-rounded view of the field, though he will get perpetually interesting information.

More on this later after I've actually read it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Burning Bush: Reflections from Wyoming Youth Retreat

These are the thoughts that distracted me while people were giving their testimonies on Saturday. I pass them on so they can distract you, too.

Note that the burning bush has seven tiers with the Eucharist in the monstrance on top. If I recall correctly, a sevenfold mountain in ancient Mesopotamia was a symbol of deity. On river plains over there, they didn't have a lot of mountains, so they sometimes built their own--ziggurats, holy mountains sacred to various deities.

If my memory isn't faulty, the ancient historian Herodotus described the famous ziggurat in Babylon, Entemenanki, "the Temple at the Base of the Universe," as having seven tiers, each painted a different color. Some believe Entemenanki may have been the inspiration for the Tower of Babel described in Genesis. The Tower of Babel, of course, is the ultimate representation of man's attempt to reach Heaven on his own terms rather than on God's.

One of the speakers mentioned this weekend that Pope John Paul II referred to Christ as our "mystical mountain," and we all remember that Dante depicted Purgatory as a mountain with seven levels, the last of which is a ring of purifying fire surrounding Paradise.

The builders of the Tower of Babel wanted to reach Heaven on their own terms, without suffering, without sacrifice. Christ, however, opened the door to Heaven through ultimate sacrifice and ultimate suffering. He invites us to follow, to climb the sevenfold mountain, by his path, by taking up our cross daily and walking after him. God accomplishes for us what we could not accomplish ourselves, but we must achieve it on his terms rather than on our own. I find this is exquisitely represented in the seven-layered burning bush with the Eucharist at the top, for the Eucharist is Christ himself, the source and summit of our faith, waiting to lead us into Paradise if we agree to walk through the purifying fire.

Okay. Tomorrow, I hope to put up a post reviewing Oscar Wilde's famous and ambiguous
The Picture of Dorian Gray, a controversial work, an important ancestor of modern speculative fiction, and a book that has acquired multiple interpretations. I don't promise to give the correct one, but I hope I can say I have a few insights. In particular, I'll be discussing the Barnes & Noble Classics edition with intriguing commentary by Camille Canti, and I'll try to relate it to some other major proto-sf from the same period, as well as one or two more contemporary works.

Blog Address Switched

Right now as I'm posting this, the blog is down because we are switching over to the new address.

After it's back up, either today or tomorrow, I'll inform everybody. Blogger tells me that the old stuff should redirect to the new stuff, so none of your links will be dead, but I'll try to let you know anyway (so I get a higher Technorati ranking).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Anglicans becoming Catholic

I just turned The Albert Mohler program on the radio and he's talking about the possibility of the Anglican community coming back into communion with Rome. The Anglican Church has a lot of revision to do if that's to happen, but hopefully it will become a reality in the near future. Mohler is so constantly concerned with the conservative/liberal divide that I think he may be missing the issue, and especially forgetting that high Anglicans are very close to Catholicism in much of their thinking already.

Lord, we pray that you heal the division between Catholics and Anglicans and bring the Anglicans back into communion with your Church.

Final Warning: Site is Moving

Don't forget, The Sci Fi Catholic, if all goes well, is changing its official hosting address to www.scificatholic.com tomorrow at exactly whenever I get off work+back from the gym+have dinner. I will try to send notices to everyone I know of who's linked us so your links don't die. As for anyone with a subscription, don't worry--I'll switch over the FeedBurner address, too, but if you're not getting our feed, let me know so I can fix the problem.

A Prayer (inspired by Wyoming Youth Retreat)

I dedicate my entire life to you.
Take all my work, resting, and leisure.
May my hobbies and enjoyments reflect your goodness and purity,
And never consume me with idleness.

Inspire us to answer your call to our vocations.
Fill your Church with dedicated and holy
Priests, Religious, dedicated singles, and married people.

Lord, teach us to pray.
May our lives be characterized by prayer.

Lord, teach me to esteem others as better than myself.
In disagreements and arguments, may I remain humble and charitable,
And give honest consideration to others' opinions.
May I respect the opinions of my elders as thoughts coming from those
Wiser than myself.

Blessed Mary Ever Virgin,
Pray for the Church that she may be pure,
That her children may be orthodox in belief and behavior.

Lord, make us hunger for your sacraments.
May we grow closer to you through frequent confession and communion.
May our participation in sacramentals also draw us closer to you by reminding us
Of your grace and goodness.

Lord, protect us from the twin evils of liberalism and close-minded traditionalism.

Holy family and all the saints,
Pray for us.

New Anthology of Catholic SF

I just discovered this post from Dust of the Time on a new anthology of Catholic science fiction, dealing specifically with how future events and technology and so forth might relate to faith. Check out the interview with the editors.

Wyoming Youth Retreat 2007

Oh, man. Traffic's hit the floor. I guess that's what I get for not posting for a couple of days.

But I'm back. Wyoming Youth Retreat (formerly Youth 2000, and don't ask me why it's changed) was a blast. This was my second year attending, but last year I was a catechumen. Unable to go to confession or take communion, I was actually kind of surly by the time the retreat was over. But this year, I'm on a high.

The retreat lasted from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and consisted of daily Mass, daily rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, lots of prayer, and a number of excellent talks from excellent speakers. A Franciscan Friar of the Renewal gave a number of talks and also processed the Sacrament on Saturday night. That priest is a wonderful man, full of wit and wisdom; he could have been a stand-up comedian if he hadn't become a friar and priest. Another priest, originally from France and now, I think, from Illinois, also gave some excellent and very challenging talks. He's also a religious, but I can't remember the name of his order. A priest originally from Zambia and now ministering in Wyoming also came to hear confessions and give one talk. Two nuns also came, and one of them gave a talk as well.

Through most of the weekend, except during Mass and after the Benediction on Sunday, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration. They have a seven-tiered stack of candles they call a "burning bush" on which the monstrance was placed in the middle of the hall where we had the retreat. During worship, prayer, and lectures, priests were on hand at the back to hear confession. The focus of the talks was on challenging young people to lead holy lives in the unencouraging environment of today's culture. Frequent confession and communion were emphasized, as were vocations--religious vocations and vocations to the priesthood were stressed, although godly marriages were discussed as well. One of the talks on Sunday, like last year, was on the Virgin Mary, and we had a crowning ceremony for the Blessed Virgin following the Sunday rosary.

The retreat is geared toward youth, and most of the participants were younger than myself, though there were some college students and older adults in my age group, but I would guess most of the participants were high school students. It was refreshing to be in a room full of enthusiastic high-schoolers clearly sincerely interested in their faith.

It was an excellent time, very inspiring, very challenging. And to keep my happy, we got a way with a number of toys. I sure like my toys. They had blessed rosaries available for the daily rosary, and we were allowed to keep them. They also passed out Miraculous Medals on Sunday, and they gave away the candles off the burning bush, too (I got four). Last year, the medals were much smaller and we had to give the rosaries back; this year, when they said we could keep the rosaries, I exclaimed, "Whoa!" in genuine gladness and surprised. A few people around me laughed and one woman leaned over to me and said, "Don't lose your childlikeness." I could have assured her that I am, unfortunately, in little danger of losing my childishness in the near future.

Readers of this blog may be interested in knowing that I did get into one (amiable) argument this weekend, I won't say with who, about the subject of fiction. This particular person, who I much admire, didn't care for fiction and was discouraging young Catholics from reading it. I briefly and not very adequately suggested an alternate viewpoint. Somehow the discussion ended up on Harry Potter (why do these discussions always end up on Harry Potter?). Anyway, I took what he had to say seriously and mulled it over for a while, but in the end still had to disagree with him. Nonetheless, I would agree that fiction, like anything else, can become an idol or an obsession.

So that in a nutshell is the retreat. I highly recommend a similar experience to all readers, and if you happen to be anywhere near Wyoming when it's time to sign up for this very same retreat next year, I highly recommend it specifically. There were some testimonials, which I won't repeat even without names for privacy's sake, that made it clear this was a powerful experience for a number of participants.

And hopefully I'll have a digital camera soon and be able to give you a few visual accompaniments to these sorts of posts.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Day 2 of Lent and Fun Stuff

Finally. I have finally won Thy Dungeonman 3.

I know, I know. You haven't had a real post out of me for a while, and I've even read, like, two and a half books since my last review. Don't worry, I'll have another one soon.

But not this weekend, because this weekend is...YOUTH 2000. That means a bunch of crazy graycloaked Franciscan friars are coming over here to Wyoming to host a big eucharistic retreat, and I'm going to be there all weekend, and it's going to be awesome. Why, this year, I even get to take communion, since I'm now actually Catholic. I'll tell you all about it when I get back. And I'll let you know if I managed to turn the post-Youth 2000 Chinese buffet into an annual event.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday and Blog Tour Day 3

It is the first day of Lent in the Western tradition, beginning a time to reflect on the year, remember the mercy of God, and do penance in preparation for the celebration of Easter. This is a special time of year for me, particularly, since just last year Lent meant gearing up for my induction into the Church. In particular, that involved participation in the Scrutinies, a set of scripture readings read at Mass for the benefit of the Catechumens, intended to inspire soul-searching in preparation for the sacraments of initiation.

Ash Wednesday involves marking a cross of ash on the forehead, in rememberance of our mortality. Sometimes the ash is made with the burnt remains of the palm fronds from last year's Palm Sunday.

Don't forget to check out Where the Map Ends. Since we're all about books here, take a look-see at the books page, which has an extensive list of Christian (presumably mostly Protestant) sf/fantasy authors and their work.

Ash Wednesday
Proudly bringing more Protestants to Mass than any other holiday since 1962.

What is the Heart of Christianity?

This was the title of a recent socratic club debate I went to between Dr.'s Gary Ferngren and Marcus Borg. Both professors at Oregon State University.

Dr. Ferngren, arguing for traditional evangelical Christianity, argued five major points make up the heart of Christianity. These points are: A diagnosis of what is wrong with the world: sin, The story of God’s love and his provision for the human race, The confession that Jesus Christ is the son of God and savior of the world, a promise that there is life after death, Christianity is a living faith that speaks to our hearts as well as our heads.

Dr. Borg, arguing as a member of the Jesus Seminar for the historical Jesus point of view argued that at the core of what he calls Christianity lie three basic premises: At the heart of Christianity is a robust affirmation of the reality of God, the reality of the sacred, the reality of the spirit. At the heart of Christianity lies the Bible and Jesus, these are the two primary sources of revelation for Christians, simply disclosure or epiphany of the sacred. At the heart of Christianity is following Jesus. Finally, at the heart of Christianity is the transformation of the heart.

On the outset Dr. Borg's arguments look all well and good, it isn't until the question and answer session that Dr. Borg's true beliefs came out. In the debate Dr. Borg made it clear that he did not take the bible literally. When asked abou the experiences of the apostles after Jesus rose from the dead he said, "I think some of the followers of Jesus had experiences of him after his death. Some of these experiences were visual, visions – seeing the form of Jesus, some experiences were similar to Paul’s." In other words, Dr. Borg believes when Jesus died, he really died, no resurrection involved whatsoever. Therefore, the apostles affirmation that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead Dr. Borg says is nothing more than visions, experiential claims.

These are not the whole of what Dr. Borg has rejected in the Bible. Dr. Borg went on in another question to say that all religions will eventually lead to heaven. "I have no interest in making a claim that Christianity is superior to all other religions. All religions are legitimate paths of transformation and transformation and salvation are synonymous terms." The huge problem with this statement lies in the fact scripture very clearly states "I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the father except through me." Jesus very clearly says he is the only way to heaven. There are no other options.

Dr. Borg goes on further to completely deny the intervention of God in the world. What Dr. Borg deals with here is the problem of miracles. I have invested interest in this particular debate as I have experienced miraculous healing. Dr. Borg says that the supernatural things that do occur in the world are nothing more than coincedences saying "it's not a matter of what God can do, it's a matter of what God does do." In otherwords, Dr. Borg has come up against an issue he can't explain, so what does he do with it? Dr. Borg completely denies it's existence.

What Dr. Borg has done is chosen the things in Christianity he can explain, and completely thrown out the things he can't. What you get is something other than Christianity, what you get is pane theism. The notion that an omnipresent God is every where, in everything. The difference between this and pantheism is very slight, in pantheism it is nature that is in and through everything. Therefore I think it is safe to say that Dr. Borg reduces Christianity down to a feel good religion, it's all about loving people for Dr. Borg. As far as jesus goes, he reduces Jesus Christ to nothing more than a political revolutionary. Finally, as far as the religion itself goes Dr. Borg picks and chooses so much that it's difficult to see Christianity in the religion Dr. Borg has created.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Phat Tuesday and Blog Tour Day 2

Today is Phat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This day is also known as Carneval, "Farewell to Meat," or as we like to say it here, "Hasta la vista...meat." In other words, it's a day to finish off all the stuff you aren't going to eat during Lent, like meat. So for dinner, I'm having some leftover microwaveable chicken wings, a quarter pound of hamburger, sixteen slices of lunchmeat, and a leftover steak. Ugh. I'm feeling kinda...woozy.

But while I'm chowing down, pop on over to Where the Map Ends. You can see he has a page dedicated to cool artwork.

See below for the rest of your blog tour. And add to that list Nicole.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 1

Welcome to The Sci Fi Catholic. We're dedicated to discussing the relationship between speculative fiction and religion. If you've never been here before, have a look around. We love angry, confrontational comments so much, sometimes we write our own. This article and this news item have gotten good plugs from other bloggers, and I'm fond of this review.

But enough about us. Have you been to Where the Map Ends? If not, why not? Check out the awesome stuff there. This website is all about Christian sf, and it's got cool graphics, too. In particular, notice the extensive advice for aspiring writers. Some of the suggestions are unusual and unusually cool. For example, this site directs you to, among other things, random map-generating software for lazy writers who like much of their world-building done for them. Whatever happened to the good old days when writers sketched their ideas on legal pads?

Okay, okay. I'm not convinced all of that is healthy. I mean, do your own homework. But it looks like fun.

Last for today, see the Random Story Generator.

Well, there's not denying it. Where the Map Ends is one fun site. It's a lot better than that crummy The Sci Fi Catholic you used to hang out at.

Your blog tour continues here:

Nissa Annakindt
Jim Black
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Chris Deanne
Janey DeMeo
Tessa Edwards
April Erwin
Kameron M. Franklin
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Leathel Grody
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Sharon Hinck
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner
K. D. Kragen
Tina Kulesa
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John Ottinger
Robin Parrish
Cheryl Russel
Hanna Sandvig
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Daniel I. Weaver
Timothy Wise

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Movie Review: Equilibrium

Big Brother, most of us have heard of the concept. It's why we have things like Civilian Rights. The very idea of the government super-imposing upon our emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions is preposterous in this society. It's why the Patriot Act caused a big controversy, it's also why other espionage throughout history have been of issue. Deep down, every human knows that their emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions, their senses make them human beings. Now what if all that was taken away by a daily dose?

This is exactly what happens to the characters in a movie that came out in 2002 called Equilibrium. The name of the movie states quite accurately what society was, equilibrium, status quo, be just like everyone else.

The movie opens with the idea of a third world war in the twenty first century. The world would not be able to handle a fourth world war thus man had to eradicate the cause of war, man's emotions. The idea being that if man rid the world of anger, hate, jealousy, and all negative emotions the world would no longer have war. However, in the process of eliminating man's negative emotions, man eliminated the positive emotions as well. Turning man into nothing more than a robot.

The interesting thing about Equilibrium is this medication doesn't just target emotions, it targets the senses. Because you see senses induce emotion. The whole goal is to be at equilibrium with the rest of society. Emotions, senses, are treated as a disease within man, taking it to such an extent that the main character, John Preston (played by Christian Bale), no longer feels anything when he shoots a 'sense offender.'

This is the extreme that such a society can take. On the one hand in eliminating emotion man has elminated war, but man still murders other men. Because of a simple fact, if one man begins to feel, others will begine to feel and revolt against the government. It's similar to Plato's idea of a cave. If one man gets outside of the cave he will do whatever he can to go back and tell the others of the free world he has found outside of the cave. It is the same idea in Equilibrium, one man who feels emotion must be eliminated because the rest of the world will know what it's like to be human. John Preston's partner in the beginning of the movie sums up best what has happened to them when he says "Everything that makes us who we are, traded away."

While war is a byproduct of the fallen condition of mankind, the negative side of man's emotions, the solution is not to eliminate man's emotion entirely because to do such would be to lose the thing that makes us humans.

Notice about Domain Name

Having our address redirect traffic from www.scificatholic.com to Blogspot is messing up our Technorati rankings and settings and probably causing other havoc I don't even know about yet. This is a notice to anyone who has been so kind as to link us at dgddavidson.blogspot.com that I'm going to have to host the blog at www.scificatholic.com.

I think most everything will redirect, but if you've linked to specific posts, those links might die. I know this is a nuisance. Sorry. I'll be sending out a corrective to at least one listing, and everyone else, I just ask that you redirect your links. I expect this will cause an initial drop in traffic, but I think it will be better in the long run.

I'm not going to make the switch during the blog tour or without due notice, so expect the move next Sunday or Monday at the latest. Don't forget you can always reach us through www.scificatholic.com, so that link will remain good.

February Christian SF/Fantasy Blog Tour

I've just received some final info about this months' blog tour. Don't forget it begins on Monday, February 19, and ends Wednesday, February 21, so check in here on those days for cool stuff on our feature blog and an intro to a bunch of Christian speculative fiction blogs!

Saturday and Sunday Posts

The Sci Fi Catholic has come down with a cold of galactic proportions and may not put up the previously mentioned movie reviews, and certainly won't put up more than one of them. I may be able to drag myself out for a film this evening, and I hope to have a book review up sometime this weekend. Oh, and incidentally, Pan's Labyrinth is playing here after all. Either it just got here or I missed it before. One way or the other, it preempted Ghost Rider and Bridge to Terabithia.

Friday, February 16, 2007

For shame!

My earlier post on Thomas Moore's The Loves of the Angels included a creative commons photograph from Flickr. I failed to properly attribute the photograph. It's by Ruth L. I discovered this while looking for a photo for the next article (down below) that you're all about to read. But at least this correction gives me a chance to plug the post on Moore, which is probably one of my best.

Thoughts on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Picture by idivilayil.

I wrote this essay a year or more ago after observing, and worshipping with, Charismatics of a few sects in a few places and reading a smattering of literature. This is not based on any sort of broad survey. This is not meant as a criticism of Charismatics in general or any specific Charismatic in particular, but as a discussion of dangers to which I believe Charismatics are prone. My views may be heavily influenced by John MacArthur, Jr.'s The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective, with which I am in only partial agreement. Scripture quotations are from the New American Bible.

In her short story “Samaritan,” Connie Willis depicts a future in which the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant sects have banded together to form a single, monolithic, vague, wishy-washy church. In the story, the reason for the sudden cooperation between sworn enemies is self-defense against the Charismatics. This is hardly realistic or believable, but speculation is the right of the speculative fiction writer. Perhaps, inadvertently, Willis teaches two important facts in this story: one is that ecumenism wrongly applied is dangerous, and the other is that the Charismatic Renewal, whether good or bad, is the absorption by the Church of a hostile movement.

First, ecumenism: Both orthodox and heretical Catholics today like to use this as a buzzword, and they mean very different things when they use it. Willis’s depiction of a drab, dull, future megachurch is a representation of a misuse of the word. Good ecumenism is not a C. S. Lewisian reduction of Christianity to an arbitrary set of “mere” attributes in order to achieve unity. Though Willis shows impressive ability in seriously exploring religious issues with sensitivity, she fails in this story. She describes the biggest controversies in bringing the Catholic Church and Presbyterians together as the use of trespasses versus debts in the Lord’s Prayer and the use of wine verses grape juice in the Lord’s Supper. This is silly. Trespasses vs. debts is hardly a serious matter, and no doubt many Presbyterians think taking communion with wine is acceptable. There are more central issue dividing Catholics and Presbyterians: What is the Eucharist? What is the nature of the Church? How can one be saved? What is the source and reservoir of Christian teaching?

Willis depicts Christians muddying these issues in the name of getting along, and in this she show predictive insight. Hans K√ľng, for example, claims with a straight face that Lutheran and Catholic definitions of justification are compatible. Obviously, he is willing to ignore real difference and settle for an amorphous theology in the name of ecumenism.

Willis’s vision of an ugly future church came true to a limited extent in Canada with the conglomeration of several sects in the United Church of Canada. At its formation, many optimistic Protestants claimed that it heralded the coming unification of all Protestantism. Some took it as an opportunity to scoff at Catholic critics who love to point out the Protestant capacity for schism. Today, the United Church is a swamp of theological confusion and spiritual and moral decay. This so-called “church,” dead even while it lives, stands as a warning of the consequences of wrongly directed ecumenism based on goodwill and ill intentions. We cannot claim a common gospel, common theology, common morality, or common table when simple examination of the doctrines of each sect will reveal that we have none of these things.

If Christianity is a true religion, it follows that Christianity must, at any given moment, exist in a correct form. Because differing truth claims are inherently incompatible, only one form of Christianity can be the correct one, and all others must be false. It is the duty, therefore, of all members of false churches to seek out the true Church and join it. Every member of every church must believe that his church, and only his, is the one true Church. If he cannot believe that, then he is obligated to leave his church and seek the true one, or else get another religion altogether. True and rightly oriented ecumenism is not the dilution of differing doctrines, because that would ultimately mean diluting and thereby falsifying the one true Church. Rather, true ecumenism consists of dialogue and understanding with the goal of mutual evangelism so that members of false churches may enter the True Church and false churches may peacefully die. It has become popular among Catholics to call Protestants “separated brethren,” and so they are, but let us remember that that is separated brethren. Catholics, as members of the True Church, are obligated to evangelize them and bring them into the Body of Christ where they belong. We should also never entirely forget that it is likewise appropriate to call Protestants heretics.

Some members of the Charismatic Renewal have stated that the unity of the Church is ultimately to be found in the Holy Spirit and not in dialogue or discussion. While it is certainly true that unity of the right kind (that is, unity under the umbrella of the True Church) will ultimately be an act of the Spirit, this Charismatic sentiment, taken at face value, is the same as that of those who would dilute the Church’s teaching. Mystical or emotional experience is no better a ground for unity than the lowest common denominator of doctrine. The Charismatic members of the different sects, if they are truly orthodox, are no closer to unity than are the non-Charismatic members: They are still divided by irreconcilable truth claims, although they may share an enthusiastic interest in the workings of the Spirit.

Charismatic Catholics are prone to intense devotion and all the benefits that accompany it. However, they are also prone to certain abuses, of which many are apparently unaware. Note the following.

First, the Charismatic Renewal began as a Protestant and not a Catholic movement. Many Charismatics appear to have absorbed some of the doctrine of the sects from which the movement originated. As the Catholic Church already has the fullness of the faith, this can have only a detrimental effect on the Church and on the members of the Renewal. While, for example, the Charismatics are right in emphasizing a personal relationship with Christ and the Spirit, they are wrong if they forget that such a relationship belongs in the Church, in obedience to the Magisterium, and that the Christian is obligated to receive the sacraments, which are the channels of Christ’s grace.

Second, Charismatics tend to emphasize glossolalia, sometimes to the point of distortion. God gives his charisms as he pleases and no particular gift should be elevated above the others. St. Paul asks (1 Corinthians 12.30 NAB), “Do all speak in tongues?” The implied answer is no. Many Protestant Charismatics have so emphasized tongues as to make it the one sure sign that one has the Spirit. This is unbiblical and even appears to be one of the errors St. Paul combats in 1 Corinthians. Some Catholics seem to be adopting this detrimental concept or at least coming close to it.

Third, Catholic Charismatics would do well to drop the phrase baptism of the Holy Spirit, referring to a powerful and personal confrontation with the Holy Spirit, apparently regarded by some non-Catholic Charismatics as necessary for salvation (and sometimes demonstrated by glossolalia). I do not know the origin of this concept. My earliest encounter with it is in Andrew Murray, a South African Dutch Reformed minister, who mentions it in his famous With Christ in the School of Prayer. Whether the concept ultimately comes from Murray or an earlier source, it is not, strictly speaking, biblical. Rather, it is roughly a desacramentalized form of chrismation. It is therefore ultimately incompatible with Catholic theology. Catholic Charismatics have adjusted the concept to mean something more like a full realization or appropriation of the gift of the Spirit already received in chrismation. Nonetheless, when scripture speaks of baptism with the Spirit, it refers to the sacrament of baptism. In order to bring Charismatic thought into line with scripture and Tradition, Charismatics would do well to abandon the phrase in favor of something more like being filled with the Spirit, cooperating with the Spirit, or even conversion.

Fourth, the Protestant movement saw a “second wave” of Charismaticism featuring a greater insistence on and distortion of the gift of tongues, as well as hysterical behaviors such as uncontrolled laughter. This second wave has begun making inroads into the Church, based on a video I saw on the subject (and I'm sorry, but the title escapes me). Uncontrolled behavior such as this is incompatible with St. Paul’s descriptions when he says, “he is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14.33 NAB). He further rebukes the Corinthians for disorderly behavior in their meetings when he says, “So if the whole church meets in one place and everyone speaks in tongues, and then uninstructed people or unbelievers should come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Corinthians 14.23 NAB). Furthermore, St. Paul indicates the charisms are not uncontrolled ecstatic behaviors but controllable abilities: “Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets' control” (1 Corinthians 14.32 NAB). It seems remarkable that powerful gifts of God are potentially subject to human control or even abuse, but they are. In fact, admonitions against abuse are the primary ways the Bible presents these gifts.

Fifth, private prayer language is a non-biblical phrase denoting the use of glossolalia for private devotion. The Bible does not forbid this (cf. 1 Corinthians 14.13-19, 14.28), but St. Paul de-emphasizes it and encourages private prayer in a language the pray-er understands in order to benefit both his mind and spirit. Emphasis on private use of glossolalia runs contrary to St. Paul and risks distorting the gift’s intended purpose of evangelism and edification of the Church.

Finally, while the Charismatic Renewal can potentially invigorate the spiritual life of many Catholics, it may also represent another aspect of a disturbing trend in North American Catholicism: The habit of conservative Catholics of absorbing too much evangelical thought. The Charismatic Renewal would do well to consciously distance itself from its Protestant roots and carefully ensure its teachings are fully in line with scripture, Tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium.

We've been added to Christian Bloggers

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Claw of the Conciliator and Old Testament Space Opera

Much as I hate to admit it, The Sci Fi Catholic isn't the only game in town. I keep forgetting to blogroll my doges over at Claw of the Conciliator and Old Testament Space Opera. These blogs are awesome and I simply insist that you all take a look.

In particular, note that Claw has a series on faith and sf/fantasy. His series is a bit different from ours. He examines what authors are of what faith traditions, and we examine how religion informs your reading of sf and vice-versa. Or at least we will if our series ever gets off the ground.

That's all for now. I'm going to keep gradually adding to the blogrolls, and I invite all of you to check out the additions as they come.

In the meanwhile, I've changed the ending to this short story, like, three times, but now I'm sure I've got a good one, and I can cut out some of that nonsense in the middle. Back to the ol' Word document....


I'm sorry this isn't much of a post. As you may be able to tell, I've been playing with the blog again. You can see by the little orange button to the right that you can now subscribe to our feed more easily, and you can see from the list of buttons at the bottom of the post that there's a bunch of other neat stuff you can do, too. Cool beans!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Keith Strohm: Take Your Place

Here's a great blog for you to check out. He blogged us, so we blog him. Keith Strohm is a dedicated neoCath and sf fan, just like your truly. Go check out his blog and tell 'im The Sci Fi Catholic sent cha.

Take Your Place

New Theory on Jewish Temple Location

Etgar Lefkovitz at the Jerusalem Post reports that archaeologist Joseph Patrich has produced a new theory of where exactly on the Temple Mount the Second Temple was located. There are a number of theories on this, based on Josephus, the existing architecture, and some wacky ideas; the theories range from good to conspiracy-type. Anyway, this one is based on the discovery of a cistern that Dr. Patrich argues allows for a reconstruction of the temple location. Check it out:

An Israeli archeologist said Wednesday that he has pinpointed the exact location of the Second Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount.

The site identified by Hebrew University archeologist Prof. Joseph Patrich, based on the study of a large underground cistern on the Temple Mount and passages from the Mishna, places the Temple and its corresponding courtyards, chambers and gates in a more southeasterly and diagonal frame of reference compared to previous studies. [more...]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Rotten Tomatoes Golden Tomato Awards

I keep forgetting to tell you guys that Rotten Tomatoes has released its Golden Tomato Awards for 2006. It's a simple concept--the winners are the movies that score highest on the Tomato Meter, which monitors reviews to see if they're generally good or bad.

2006 was a bad year for speculative fiction films. The few times I made the mistake of going to the theater, it was to see movies that represent poor choices on my part--The Covenant, Eragon, Superman Returns, and Arthur and the Invisibles being all the ones I can remember, probably the only ones I saw. Superman Returns was an unfortunate attempt to resurrect a dead franchise rather than create a good new one, Eragon and The Covenant were indescribably bad films based on dubious books, and Arthur and the Invisibles was just a general failure. But from the awful reviews, I see I'm going to have to see Ultraviolet. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

The Golden Tomato for sf movies went to Children of Men, which I missed, with The Fountain in a distant second. In fact, according to Rotten Tomatoes, only Children of Men, of all the year's sf movies, got a "fresh" rating on the Tomato Meter.

This upcoming summer is an exciting time for sf/fantasy film. Not only is the final Harry Potter novel coming out, but the fifth film will be coming out as well. With it will come the third installment of Spider-Man, a franchise that has been especially good, though number 3 is usually where franchises go downhill. There's also Transformers, which will either be a lovable technophilic action flick or another insulting attempt to make a few million bucks.

And then there's Bridge to Terabithia and Ghost Rider, both of which I expect to be lousy. Both are coming out this weekend, so brace yourselves, because The Sci Fi Catholic, for reasons even he doesn't understand, can't get enough of bad sf/fantasy movies.

Oh, and on another note, I'm pleased to say Epic Movie got a 2% on the Tomato Meter. Maybe that will teach those guys.

Monday, February 12, 2007

First Issue of Latest in Spec Received

We've received the first issue of Latest in Spec, the newsletter of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. You can read it here. Here's the scoop:

Jeff Gerke's website, Where the Map Ends, is the feature blog this month.

The issue is full of reviews, and a Bio of Daniel I. Weaver, an up-and-coming Christian sf author.

Incidentally, I'm going to see if I can get a hold of one of those advance copies of Grace Bridges's Faith Awakened and review it for you folks. No promises. There's only fifty of them and I seem to be having trouble contacting her....

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Book Review: Arthur and the Invisibles

This review brought to you by The Society for the Prevention of Luc Besson Writing Metaphors (SPLBWM). Donations accepted.

Arthur and the Invisibles Movie Tie-in Edition by Luc Besson. Translated by Ellen Sowchek. HarperEntertainment: 2006. ISBN: 0-06-122726-9. This book combines the text of Arthur and the Minimoys and Arthur and the Forbidden City.

In the near future, we're going to have another reviewer who will do children's literature and movies. But he's not with us yet, meaning I could spare him from this assignment. I took this up under the naive assumption that the book is always better than the movie. Boy, I was wrong in this case. The absence of Freddy Highmore's redeeming presence weighs heavily on this atrocious novel.

"Perhaps the magical jack-fire would make him so confused that things would start to make sense again," Luc Besson writes on page 199 of this turkey. Perhaps that's a hint to readers to shoot up some magical jack-fire of their own to make sense of this book. If, and only if, you are really into kid lit, this is worth looking at just because it's a well-known title. Otherwise, it's worth recycling.

In our review of the movie, I lamented that the film had good material poorly used. The good material is still there in the books, but it's hard to find because Luc Besson has covered it with a heavy layer of bad writing. Granted, he's better known as a film-maker than novelist, but he should have handed this off to someone more capable.

The plot is almost identical to the film, which was apparently in production long before the books came out. Arthur's grandfather, an engineer who worked in Africa before World War II, has disappeared mysteriously from his American home, leaving behind a bereaved wife and ten-year-old grandson. An evil landlord has come for the property, and Grandma can't pay the bills. Grandpa got some rubies from an African tribe and hid them somewhere in his garden, but no one knows where. Not a problem: Grandpa transplanted an entire civilization of half-inch-tall people to that same garden in order to protect the rubies. Arthur has to solve a number of riddles to unlock some magic and shrink down to join the Minimoys on a race to find the rubies and, while he's at it, stop evil king Maltazard from taking over the Minimoy lands and destroying their civilization.

I assumed it was merely negligence on the part of the movie-makers that we never learned how or why the various African peoples, especially the Minimoys, made it from Africa to New England for this adventure, but there's no explanation in the book, either. I guess Besson is counting on his young audience to have a poor knowledge of geography.

Besson is one of those literary amateurs who thinks he has to explain every character's emotion to make sure you get it, and the prose is laden with cliched metaphors. This looks like the product of a writing assignment for a middle school English class. It's easier to endure and even quite funny if you read the metaphors literally. "Grandma melted like snow in the sun" (p. 4) makes an amusing image, but my favorite is "His teeth felt like they were floating" (p. 207), which comes after Arthur receives a hard hit to the face. We can probably blame this on the translator; I'm sure it's okay in French, but in American slang, "his teeth were floating" means he had to go to the bathroom.

In the religion department, religion gets a reasonably good depiction, though it's not the center of attention. There are one or two tangential but positive biblical references. The Minimoys are apparently polytheistic, and they have a major religious text called, of all things, The Great Book of Ideas, which is full of proverbs including, "The smaller the nail, the more it hurts when it is in your foot" (p. 386), which doesn't even make sense. We are expected to believe this book was responsible for reforming and improving Minimoy society, sort of the way Dinotopia is kept in check by gems like "One drop raises the ocean." Most of the characters are religious to some degree, and a deus ex machina always appears just as a hero is having a faith crisis or a villain is gloating. Maybe not realistic, but pleasant enough.

The morality, too, is generally good. Honesty, justice, bravery, and honor are held in high regard, as is a convoluted Minimoyan form of chastity--there's no mention of sex, but there are some elaborate rules about kissing. That brings us to the book's most uncomfortable issue, the little romance Besson has going between Arthur and the Minimoy princess Selenia. It was reasonably cute in the movie, but the book takes it a lot further. The movie explains, or seems to explain, that Arthur is transformed into an adult Minimoy when he shrinks and enters their world. The novel has a different take: he's a Minimoy, but he's still ten; it's just that as Minimoys reckon things, ten-year-olds are adults. Selenia is ten years old, too. Having just met, and having known each other for all of two days, these two are talking seriously about marriage. And that's not all: They are married by the end of the novel.

Even I have limits. He's ten, for crying out loud! When he's twenty, thirty, forty, how is he going to feel about being married to a miniature elf he can only visit once a year? Couldn't Besson have at least made Arthur, say, fifteen or sixteen? He still could have cast Highmore in the movie, who was actually fourteen when he played the role. I haven't read enough kid lit to know if this is a growing trend, but I can say that Philip Pullman put a decidedly distasteful and sexually suggestive kid romance in His Dark Materials, but that series manages to be disgusting on a number of levels.

Some movie reviewers suggest the film is more appropriate for junkies than kids due to its psychedelic, incomprehensible visuals. The novel might be appropriate for more literary stoners. It's full of surreal and illogical situations--the same ones in the movie--but on top of that, you get Besson's psychedelic writing. Get a load of this (p. 287):

Time stood still. Bees drew hearts with honey in a sky where carnations rained down. The clouds held hands around them, and an orchestra of thousands of birds drowned the sky with beautiful melody.

Whoa, man. Awesome trip. Hit me again.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Book Review: Eight Cousins

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. Little, Brown and Company: 1996. ISBN 0-316-03086-4.

You might be wondering why we're reviewing this. It's not sf or fantasy in any traditional sense, but it is, as Alison Lurie tells us in Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature, subversive children's literature, and that's enough to bring it under the eye of The Sci Fi Catholic.

Well, there's not much of a plot. Or much character development. The story is a thinly disguised sermon on what young girls need to be healthy. It follows a young orphan girl, Rose, who finds herself living with a lively uncle, who's also a doctor, and seven male cousins. No, really. That's the whole plot.

Most of what Alcott has to say wouldn't be considered subversive today, except perhaps in the sense of being too conservative. She gets props from The Sci Fi Catholic for being liberal and progressive in a way that's really meant to improve health and morals, not pervert them. She says that girls should run around and get exercise like the boys. They should learn housework because it's useful and energetic. They should wear clothing that is simple, loose-fitting, practical, and modest. They should avoid snake oil medicines. They should learn basic anatomy to know how to keep themselves healthy.

Alcott's diatribes about clothing are still useful. In this book, she wages a one-woman war on corsets, a sort of nineteenth century bra-burner. Though corsets are no longer an issue for young girls and women, there are other absurd fashion trends, and her recommendations are entirely sensible.

In spite of the storytelling flaws, this would be enough to get Alcott The Sci Fi Catholic's seal of approval, but she turns her ire on boys' adventure fiction and loses that esteemed award. She complains that in children's fiction, the morals and grammar should both be good and the situations realistic, which probably explains why her own book is so boring.

G. K. Chesterton, alway contrary, has an essay entitled "A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls," which makes a point-by-point refutation of Alcott's arguments, though I know not whether Chesterton had her in mind when he wrote it. He points out what Alcott misses, that this type of boys' fiction is about adventure, and adventure is healthy for boys. He also notes that the morals of these stories are good; they uphold bravery and chivalry. Alcott would not allow children's fiction to feature children doing adult or beyond-adult things like piloting pirate ships or conquering nations, but these are staples the world over not only of children's stories but fables in general. Quite simply, Alcott doesn't understand story, which no doubt explains why this novel doesn't have one.

Of course, this is not to say that The Sci Fi Catholic thinks you should protect your children from Louisa May Alcott. We don't ban books around here. It would be more productive to read with your children, talk to them, ask what they think of Alcott's ideas, and explain the great gift of speculative boys' adventure fiction. This way, they won't be led astray by radical ideas.

We may continue this later with the sequel, Rose in Bloom, or as we like to call it, Eight Cousins 2: The Lecture Continues.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

And Today....

Looks like yesterday's comments didn't go over so good. Well, I guess I should have expected that. Probably some unfortunate phrasing on my part.

I'm over here grinding out a short story that I'm pleased to say is coming together. That + other stuff = really little to give you today. Hopefully I'll be able to put up a short review of Eight Cousins tomorrow and then offer more substance this weekend.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Global Warming is Man-made

By now you've all heard the news that scientists gathered in Paris have concluded that global-warming is serious and manmade. Seth Borenstein with AP News reports:

PARIS - A long-awaited report says global warming is "very likely"
man-made, the most powerful language ever used on the issue by the world's
leading climate scientists, delegates who have seen the report said Thursday. [more...]

And they've also connected the weather change to increased hurricanes:

PARIS - Global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those in the
Atlantic such as Katrina, an authoritative panel on climate change has concluded
for the first time, participants in the deliberations said Thursday. [more...]

For most, this is probably "no duh" news, but this is a particularly hefty scientific body this time. Many of my fellow Christians, for reasons I don't fathom, have long resisted the concept of global warming, perhaps because they mistakenly associate it with other ideas they disagree with, or perhaps because they're in bed with the Republican Party. A reasonable and Christian response is to accept expert opinion and respond accordingly.

Global warming has long been a subject of sf. We all remember the unfortunate movie Waterworld and the ridiculous The Day After Tomorrow. More respectable are Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica and Forty Signs of Rain.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Astronaut Charged with Attempted Murder

A bit of news came to my attention today, involving a charge of attempted murder and a love triangle including two astronauts. I can only describe the situation as unfortunate. Mike Schneider and Erin Mcclam (AP News) at Sober.com provide details:

She was the Robochick. He was Billy-O. According to police, her obsession
with him led her to drive 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, bringing with her a
trenchcoat and wig, armed with a BB gun and pepper spray, and wearing a diaper
to avoid bathroom breaks on the arduous drive. [more...]

Monday, February 5, 2007

Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour

And it's official. The Sci Fi Catholic is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. It's time for Catholics to represent on the Christian sf scene, don't you think? This means every month you'll get links to Blog Tour stuff. It also means you'll get occasional book reviews (from me) on books in the tour. Cool. Click the banner above for more.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

New Webring

Soon to be on Globe of Blogs...

Pictures for our new webring.

See the beautiful new pictures that I'm putting up for the webring recently joined (see bottom of the page).

Update and Christopher Stasheff

An e-mailer wants me to talk about Christopher Stasheff, who is apparently Catholic. Problem is I haven't read everything, much as I would like it to be otherwise, and I haven't read any of his books, though I may have to move him to priority after I finish everything listed to your right. Yeesh. Anyone have anything to say about Stasheff?

Update: The two long-promised essays have been delayed...again. That's partly because Glasshouseis temporarily out of my hands, literally. We'll get that taken care of soon. As for the other essay, you got a big, over-long post on Hoshino's work yesterday. You don't want another big essay today, do you?

Genesis 6.1-4

Today I want to talk about Genesis 6.1-4, which I regard as the "mythological heart" of the Bible. I know a few of my fellow Christians may seize up when I say that. Calm your jerking knees, brethren; when we use the word "myth" here, we're talking about stories that encapsulate human experience. The word is no comment on the truth or factuality of any story. Here's the passage in the NRSV (with a few emendations):

When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days--and also afterward--when the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

This passage has been a head-scratcher for Christians, but it need not be. I understand there are two opinions in the Church Fathers. The majority, though not the unanimity, suggest that the "children of men" are the offspring of Cain and the "sons of God" are the offspring of Seth, so that the mixing of the two lines corrupted the line of Seth. Another view, found in St. Justin Martyr, draws from the apocryphal 1 Enoch, which depicts the sons of God as fallen angels. St. Justin Martyr took it further and suggested that the Nephilim, children of these angels, were demons, who St. Justin identified with the Greco-Roman pantheon. A similar view appears in an embarrassing genre of Christian conspiracy sf (and sometimes nonfiction), which adds stuff about cloning, flying saucers, and the Great Pyramid. Sometimes it's fictionalized in other ways, as in Sci Fi's campy The Fallen Ones.

Now, why do I call this the mythological heart of the Bible? While studying Near Eastern archaeology at Toronto, and studying Catholicism, I arrived independently at the interpretation that appears in the footnotes of the New American Bible, which suggests that this passage gives place within the primordial history of Genesis for the stories of gods and heroes with which the original readers would have been familiar. First to my mind is Gilgamesh, son of the goddess Rimat-Ninsun and the folk hero Lugalbanda. His story, of course, includes a flood legend--and the Nephilim passage in Genesis is attached to a flood narrative also. In other words, the creation myth of Genesis doesn't reject the stories of other cultures, but gives them a place as well as a radical new interpretive framework: The gods who produced these children are rebels unworthy of worship. This is the spot in the Bible where all the great mythological stories go.

Now let's have your comments.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Book Review: 2001 Nights Volume 1

2001 Nights, Volume 1: The Death Trilogy Overture by Yukinobu Hoshino. English translation and adaptation by Fred Burke and Matt Thorn, with touch-up and lettering by Wayne Truman. Cadence Books, San Francisco: 1995. ISBN: 1-56931-056-4.

2001 Nights is not your daddy's manga.

Hoshino's artwork is detailed, exact, and beautiful. He does suffer the Japanese cartoonist's malady of being able only to draw about five different faces, but otherwise the artwork is solid.

Besides that, this comic may be one of the best sf short story collections you'll ever read. It's actually seven nights in this volume, not 2001, but that will be more than enough to satisfy a Jupiter-sized craving for space exploration.

As the title suggests, 2001 Nights owes a debt to Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of the references are oblique, some direct. In "Night 6: Discovery," for example, there's an artificial intelligence that looks much like Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of Hal 9000, the berserk AI from Clarke's novel. But more than that, 2001 Nights follows the outline of Clarke's book, telling the story of mankind's gradual movement out into space, from a Cold War-style short story at the beginning to an epic-sized, chilling, and religion-laden finale in "Night 7: Lucifer Rising."

I wish to focus on "Lucifer Rising," but cannot without giving away too much, so I will here make the standard SPOILER WARNING and forge ahead anyway.

"Lucifer Rising" chronicles the discovery of a gigantic gas giant, almost as big as the sun, made of antimatter and orbiting beyond Pluto. Intriguing as that is, Hoshino doesn't stop there, but exhibits Arthur C. Clarke's habit of incorporating religious ideas--and of manufacturing objections to religion rather than dealing with real ones.

The main character in "Lucifer Rising" is a Jesuit priest sent on a mission by a fanatical, possibly heretical pope to prove that this new planet, Lucifer, is a representation of Satan himself, and to prevent its exploration, which the pope warns would be a "second original sin." This notion of a second original sin, though perennially popular with fantasists (such as Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials), has no place in Christian theology.

The priest actually demonstrates compellingly that the pope's idea has some merit. Using numerous quotes from Milton's Paradise Lost, Hoshino weaves a gripping tale of discovery in the midst of mayhem, accidents, and a series of gruesome deep-space murders.

Hoshino proposes first that the sun represents God. Fair enough, given Psalm 84.12. He goes on to suggest that the solar system began with "war in heaven," consisting of a battle between matter and antimatter, with matter coming out the winner, leaving a smaller antimatter system in the "outer darkness" beyond the solar system's borders. At one time a viable sun, this antimatter star had its own watery antimatter planet with its own antimatter lifeforms, appropriately depicted as leviathan-like sea dragons. The antimatter star cooled to a gas giant (he seems to be playing loose with science here), and the planet broke up into a ring with dragons conveniently frozen and visible in its ice. Not only that, but an antimatter meteor from the Lucifer system struck Earth, wiped out the dinosaurs, allowed mammals to find their niche, and produced humans--in other words, Lucifer brought about original sin.

The "second original sin" Hoshino has in mind is the harnessing of the most efficient and dangerous form of energy production in the universe, the matter/antimatter reaction, which can propel humanity at last to the stars. The story ends with an image of Michaelangelo's much used and much abused "Creation of Adam," with God and Adam slowly drifting apart over a series of panels, representing man journeying away from the sun and, consequently, away from God. At the end of the story, the pope--a religious fanatic--dies, as does another character who proves to be a science fanatic, equally dangerous and more vicious besides, leaving open the question of whether harnessing antimatter is a good idea or not.

The story reminds of Clarke's "The Star" as well as Gene Wolfe's "All the Hues of Hell." As in Clarke's famous short story, the religious struggle is contrived and forced. We're in little danger of discovering, as Clarke's protagonist did in "The Star," that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that wiped out a peaceful, intelligent species. We're also in little danger of making one-to-one equations between planetary bodies and spiritual entities, no matter how the solar system formed. Nonetheless, the contrivance allows Hoshino to tell a story with big implications. "Is a matter/antimatter reactor a second original sin?" is a more entertaining question than "Is a matter/antimatter reactor safe to build?" which is what we would really be asking if the events of this story actually occurred.

It is worth noting that the story ends with the priest's prayer, asking God to grant that the humans who spread into the universe might be less sinful than their progenitors. Perhaps Hoshino writes this in memory of the perpetual arguments Arthur C. Clarke had with C. S. Lewis, who believed that humans colonizing the universe would inevitably debase it, as Lewis depicts in his Space Trilogy. Lewis once referred to cosmic distances as God's quarantine measures and considered space colonization a serious threat. Clarke denied this. Hoshino neither exactly affirms nor denies, but does give the idea an imaginative and powerful meditation in this fine story.

And Another Update...

We've rearranged the site again. As you can see at right, we've organized our links. We have Sci Fi and Catholic Resources and a blogroll. Both of these will gradually expand. You can also see that we're on Technorati and you can blogroll us if you so desire. Look for a book review of 2001 Nights, Volume 1: The Death Trilogy Overture this afternoon, but in the meanwhile, I gotta go write a short story.

Friday, February 2, 2007


A quickie update; tommorow, I'll give you a real post.

Tomorrow, I will rearrange the site again. We're also seriously considering hosting the blog at www.scificatholic.com instead of at Blogspot. I've moved all the accounts over there already and will probably move the blog shortly unless I discover a compelling reason to do otherwise, so if you find in the near future that you can't find us, check the new address. Also, if something seems not to be working or a link is dead, drop me an e-mail and I'll see to getting it fixed.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Thomas Moore's Loves of the Angels and Christian Sexual Ethics

Photo by Ruth L

Point your browser in the direction of a free copy of Thomas Moore's The Loves of the Angels, which as far as I can tell is in the public domain.

According to a few sources, such as The Catholic Encyclopedia, Moore's beautiful poem was a scandal when it first came out, but so it goes.

In yesterday's post, we discussed the issue of chastity, which should be the goal of our personal sexual lives and the goal of sexual education. Today, we are discussing how to form the conscience on this subject. That brings me back around to Ireland's greatest poet.

Some time ago, inspired by C. S. Lewis's suggestion that fourteen-year-old boys read Spencer's The Faerie Queene to develop a healthy sexuality, I put together a list of books I thought could bring about a similar effect, including Paradise Lost, Solomon's Song of Songs, Bone, and I'd like to be able to add Acorna: The Unicorn Girl, but Anne McCaffrey, unfortunately, seems unfamiliar with chastity.

Some Catholics to whom I showed the list were cool on the idea, preferring more practical and didactic texts like Pope John Paul II's The Theology of the Body. But that's the whole point. My list was not intended for the uninitiated. After all, any of the works I just named could be read as pornography--but they can also be read, and should be read, as poetic and potent depictions of chaste love. Granted, some of them are imperfect; the same ideas that moved Milton to describe the love of Adam and Eve also earned him the nickname, "the Divorcer." Nonetheless, I believe anyone who has a developed understanding of the Church's teaching on sexuality could find these texts useful.

C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce features a character with a nasty lizard on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. The lizard represents lust. After some arguing, the man allows an angel to kill the lizard. Interestingly, the lizard doesn't simply die, but morphs into a beautiful horse that carries the man into Heaven. This has probably puzzled a number of Lewis's readers, but he has hit on something profound, something that lies at the heart of Catholic sexual ethics: The sexual impulse is good. Lust is a perversion of that good. The antidote to distorted sexuality is not no sexuality but rightly ordered sexuality. I believe the works named here may serve as great tools to the person struggling with (rather than indulging in) lust; if he flies to these books, he will see human sexuality at its finest. His lust will ebb, for what his lust demands will be shown to be too poor a substitute.

Moore's poem is a whimsy based on 1 Enoch about angels falling in love with human women, and therefore, along with the other titles mentioned except Song of Songs, classifies as fantasy. Yet a heavy strain of purity underlies even the sin in this poem. Observe:

Sweet was the hour, though dearly won,
And pure, as aught of earth could be,
For then first did the glorious sun
Before religion's altar see
Two hearts in wedlock's golden tie
Self-pledg'd, in love to live and die--
Then first did woman's virgin brow
That hymeneal chaplet wear,
Which when it dies, no second vow
Can bid a new one bloom out there--
Blest union! by that Angel wove,
And worthy from such hands to come;
Safe, sole asylum, in which Love,
When fall'n or exil'd from above,
In this dark world can find a home.

Ah. In a world where sex is used to advertise everything from skin cream to snow tires, Moore's words come like a blast of fresh air. It's also better poetry than we've seen in English for a while.