Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sci Phi Journal



If you are unfamiliar with Sci Phi Journal, that is only because of your inadequacy.

My perusals of Sci Fi Journal have consistently been a delight (though I'm behind by several issues, because I don't do well with regularly appointed things like magazine issues, or blogging).

The brainchild of one Jason Rennie, Sci Phi Journal is a magazine that aims to showcase stories built around philosophical concepts, so each story comes with a short discussion section, a sort of artist's statement to elaborate on the philosophical ideas therein.  The magazine also features book reviews and essays on philosophy, written on the popular level, that use science fiction stories, usually well-known ones (Star Trek episodes seem to come up a lot) as illustrations or as a jumping-off point.

Reading this rag gives me a giddy feeling, somewhat like what I imagine it might have been like to read the pulps back in Ye Goode Olde Dayes, though this is primarily an e-magazine (though it now has a print version as well).  As in a pulp, the quality varies considerably.  One moment you might be reading dreck from a newbie, and the next moment you might be reading a polished work from a veteran.

One story, thanks to the efforts of the Sad Puppies to make the Hugo Awards not suck, Lou Antonelli's story "On a Spiritual Plain" was nominated for a Hugo, and like most of the other Puppies nominees, earned it.  It's a fine story, reminiscent of Michael F. Flynn's excellent if cumbersomely titled "Mammy Morgan Played the Organ, Her Daddy Beat the Drum."  Both stories build on the premise that ghosts are electromagnetic phenomena.  Antonelli's "On a Spiritual Plain" is set on a planet with a particularly strong magnetic field, one side effect of which is that encounters with ghosts are a common, even mundane, occurrence.  The story's narrator is a chaplain at the planet's lonely human outpost, who maintains an amiable rapport with a native priest.

Also of note are appearances by John C. Wright.  His story "The Ideal Machine" in the magazine's debut issue features an alien machine that operates on Aristotelian hylomorphic dualism and can inform matter according to the wishes of its user, though not without consequences.

Ben Zwycky has a serial novel, called Beyond the Mist, set to conclude soon with the release of the seventh issue, which has an odd premise and a mystery element.  I've only just started it, but in its beginnings, at least, it reads like a science fictional Pilgrim's Progress.  Though containing a few heavy-handed moments, it's polished, and it's intriguing.

Many, but not all, of the stories contain some Christian element, and Rennie is himself an unapologetic Christian.  I felt a certain desire to shake that up, so I recently decided to submit "Deus ex Magical Girl," a novelette set in my Rag & Muffin universe.  We'll see how that goes.  The story is Hindu, more or less, and monistic in its metaphysics, being cribbed from inspired by Shankara's Viveka-Chudamani.

Whether Rag & Muffin itself is monistic I honestly can't say.  The editing of it is coming along nicely but slowly, and after I sign off here, I'm going to go back to watching Jerry Miculek give advice on pistol shooting and use that as a reference while I rewrite the bar fight.  But as I've been going back over the book, I've come to the conclusion that this novel is, if anything, utterly godless.  It appears to take place in a universe where hell is definitely real, but heaven might not be.  The world is grim enough that I have a beta reader who mistook it for a post-apocalyptic story, though it's actually just supposed to be something like the worst parts of Detroit crossed with Mumbai, except with magical girls and dungeonpunk robots.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Joss Whedon Savaged on Twitter

Never forget, Leftists eat their own.

If the professionally offended have their way, nobody will be able to write stories about anything, ever.  Because everything, absolutely everything, is offensive to those who base their lives on being aggrieved.

Joss Whedon got run off Twitter by a shrieking mob of SJWs because . . . not sure, really.  He unexpectedly shipped a couple of Marvel characters in Age of Ultron.  That is apparently badthink.  And none of the shriekers can actually state what bothers them; no, they merely hurl swearwords and insults.

There is simply no way Whedon could have predicted this ahead of time and steered clear of it.  Accusations of racism, sexism, and several made-up words have simply come at him out of nowhere.  That is the point of a witch hunt:  you never know when they'll come for you.

Whedon himself is a Leftist, even if he is not of the screaming, brain-dead Twitter/Tumblr variety.  Will this wake him up?  It might, but the experiences of previous Leftists who've been made the main dish at the cannibal feast indicates it probably won't.

John C. Wright claims the so-called Social Justice Warriors are not really Leftists at all, because they stand for the opposite of what Leftists stand for:  they stand for discrimination based on color, sex, and sexual inclination; they are Nazis who've made the straight white male their Jew.

But I disagree:  this is where politics based on grievance-mongering must inevitably end up.  It may start with one grievance, but then there will be others, and then more and more, and they will never be satisfied.

This is why a man cannot be forgiven his sins if he does not forgive others their sins.  That is not Christ being harsh or unfair, but telling us something about human nature.  Unforgiveness leads to ingratitude, which leads to rage and hate.  And to be trapped in rage and hate is to be damned.

Open the first link above.  Read the Twitter posts.  That is what it is to be in hell.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Another 'Rag & Muffin' Sneak Peek



Once I complete the chapter I'm currently working on, I'll be fully halfway through the revision of Rag & Muffin, which I still expect to finish by the end of the summer. My goal is to have it on an editor's desk by the time I take my return trip to India in late October. Then, once it gets rejected the first time, maybe I'll make some alterations based on my trip or something.

A test reader told me the other day that my book's setting makes her feel hot, sweaty, and grimy. I took that as a great compliment, kind of like that guy who told C. S. Lewis he couldn't read Perelandra because it made him seasick. A pro author who edited the first draft also told me the setting was "very real." I personally care more about the setting than probably any other point in the book. I hope you like the characters and find the story exciting, but as long as you feel you've taken a trip to my city, I'll say I did my job.

The scene I'm working on now is a street scene. It's meant to be disjointed to give it a disorienting feel, but I may have taken it too far.


Shortly before the Elysian occupation, an entrepreneur had begun constructing a water pipe, ten feet in diameter, through a slum on the east edge of what was now the Dead Zone. That pipe then entered the district called Modikhana through a hole punched unceremoniously through Modikhana’s medieval wall. It was a mystery where the pipe was originally meant to run; now it simply ran intrusively into Modikhana’s center, where it stopped--a gigantic, hollow chunk of metal that had never fulfilled its purpose.

The members of the Ragtag Army stepped out of the pipe’s open end and into Modikhana’s bustle. A few people glanced their way, but most paid them no mind: the appearance of Rags and her well-armed band of children was a regular sight in this part of the city.

Eight hundred years old and one of the few parts of Godtown that had been carefully planned, Modikhana was formerly a separate village. Surrounding it was an imposing wall, and interspersed throughout were sprawling palaces accented with tall, delicate spires, though those were now largely abandoned. The maharaja who had built Modikhana had washed it in a coral color to disguise its shoddy construction. Formerly a home to royalty, it now served Godtown as a shopping district. Proximity to the Arx Ciceronis made it a favorite excursion spot for tourists and expatriates who wished to expose themselves to the local color without venturing too far into Godtown’s depths, so its inhabitants and their businesses were generally prosperous.

Although Modikhana had originally been laid out on a grid by the rigid architectural school that designed it, from the ground it looked as chaotic as anywhere else in the city. Its broad, two-lane streets were full of auto rickshaws, automobiles, buses loaded to their roofs with passengers, and motorcycles and scooters carrying whole families. Lorries with shrines to Ganesh mounted on their fasciae and visible through their windscreens had the words “Goods Carrier” emblazoned above their cabs and “Horn Please” printed on their rear ends. Drivers obeyed that last inscription with relish; if Godtown had traffic rules, nobody knew them: driving here involved a lot of jostling, a lot of honking, and, no doubt, a lot of prayer.

After leaving the pipe, the kids occupied themselves with the regular business of Godtown pedestrians--dodging vehicles. No longer pretending to act as a fireteam, they jumped away from motorcycles and sidestepped cars while simultaneously dodging the droppings left behind by camels, horses, and cows. This nimble and complex dance was not Sastravidya: this was merely regular life in the city.

Sugoi!” cried Ryuji. “So this is Godtown.” He tugged at his shirt collar. “It is even hotter down here. Is it always this hot?”

“It cools off when the monsoon comes,” Nicky said. “Last year, half the city flooded--”
He halted and put his hand in his jacket when a series of deafening pops came from a nearby alleyway, but blaring disco music quickly followed the explosions, and then from the alley poured a frolicking group of men and women carrying a youth seated in a white palanquin ablaze with flashing string lights and surmounted by advertisements such as, “Svadista Ice Cream in Ten Flaver,” and, “Ramee Ayurvedic Messaj and Akyupunkshur.”

Nicky mopped his brow. “Fireworks,” he muttered. “I hate the fireworks.”

Several times, Ryuji found knots of people coming between him and the others. He struggled to keep an eye on Rags, who still held Popkin in her arms. Tall as he was, he still frequently lost sight of her, and even though he no longer had to carry the huge rifle, thanks to Jeanne, he had trouble keeping up.
Around him swam a whirlwind of colors, a babbling din, and a constant assault of smells. Buildings of every conceivable shape and size, decked in string lights, and stretched off in every direction, flanking narrow, crooked streets. Blazing with light or appearing out of the gloom were gaudy signs and advertisements in both the vernacular and in misspelt English. And there were people, people everywhere. Everything seemed designed to distract him and separate him from the others--and he knew if he lost them, he might never be able to get back home.

A gaggle of jabbering teenage girls in salwar-kameez passed before him. With his heart pounding in anxiety, his first impulse was to push through them, but then he realized that might be a serious faux pas, so instead he stood in place and fidgeted in uncertainty. For a moment, his gaze alighted on the face of one of the girls: her eyes were deep brown, almond-shaped, and lined with kajal. She had a golden stud in her left nostril and a glittering, clear jewel between her brows. She gave him a slight nod and an intense gaze unambiguous in its meaning, and his throat tightened up.

“What are ya doin’?” Nicky was suddenly at his shoulder and yelling in his ear. “Don’t get lost. C’mon.” Nicky seized his hand and pulled him after.

Ryuji glanced down at the sweaty hand grasping his, and he decided to respond to Nicky’s firm grip by gripping him back.

The girl who had given him the come-hither gaze disappeared in the press, but there were more than enough other women equally pleasing to the eye: dressed in embroidered and jewel-bedecked saris or salwar-kameez, with arms loaded with bangles and ankles sporting strings of bells, with bindis glittering on their foreheads, with rings in their noses and jasmine in their hair, or sometimes with their heads or faces scrupulously but nonetheless alluringly covered, and with cholis revealing an inch or more of golden brown midriff, they were almost too much for a boy in the throes of adolescence to take.

Nicky glanced back at him again. “Dude, you’re droolin’. Knock it off.”

They soon caught up to the others, and Nicky kept hold of Ryuji’s hand. A marjara pulling an old-fashioned rickshaw walked by with his passengers and did his best to give Rags a proper greeting without letting go of his load.

“Namaste, kumari-ji!” he shouted.

Bonsoir!” Rags cheerily replied.

Popkin leaned over Rags’s shoulder and shouted to Ryuji, “That was a real marjara!”

“Yeah,” said Ryuji. He sniffed hard. His nose was still stuffy. “We have seen them before, but you maybe not remember.”
The Ragtag Army made it only a few more blocks before it picked up a cluster of hangers-on in the form of beggar children. Several made the hand-to-mouth gesture indicating they were hoping for money, but others simply gathered around Rags and shouted greetings. Three little boys, looking more bedraggled than most, danced and jumped around her, shouting.

“Miss Rags! Miss Rags!”

“Can I pet Muffin?”

“Where are you going?”

“Are you fighting bad guys?”

“Have you come to see the parade?”

“There is a parade?” Ryuji asked.

His expression very solemn, the last boy to speak turned to Ryuji and puffed out his chest. “They are consecrating Kumari in our Jagdish Temple, and they are taking her there tonight. Everyone in Modikhana is celebrating. They say her Sammohana is very strong, and many pilgrims will now come to our temple for the kanya-puja.”

Nicky grunted again and muttered in Ryuji’s ear, “This means a delay.”

“By the way,” the boy added, turning back to Rags, “my older brother is still telling everyone that you are his girlfriend.”

“Tell ’im next time I see ’im I’m gonna kick ’im,” Rags answered.

It wasn’t long before they could hear the clamor of the procession. Upon reaching a wide intersection, they stopped and watched as marjara priests, stripped to the waist and with their sacred threads upon their shoulders, marched up the street. Following them was a line of sadhus coated in ash, with their hair tied up in topknots, their eyes bloodshot, and their faces elaborately painted in the markings of their sect. After them came a large portable shrine of silver, fronted by six ceramic horses and pulled by a small tractor.

In the shrine on a lavish silver throne cushioned with blue velvet was a little cat-eared girl no older than five. Clothed in a red Benarasi sari, she had strings of flowers around her neck, a crimson jewel on her forehead, heavy kajal around her eyes, and an elaborate nose ring attached by a chain to a flame-shaped headdress almost as tall as she was.

This little girl was so small and her throne so big that her tiny feet, painted red with alta, stuck straight out in front of her. Although her clothing was gaudy and her position ludicrous, her serene and somber face told of august wisdom beyond her meager years. People cheered as she went by, and following her shrine were dancers and musicians and anyone else who wanted to join in, raising a celebratory but highly discordant din.

Numerous police wearing khaki uniforms and carrying bamboo lathis mixed with the crowd and watched the procession. Some, as evidenced by their neatly folded turbans, were Sikhs. The policemen warily eyed the Ragtag Army, but none appeared inclined to confront them.

Popkin, still riding in Rags’s arms, stuck a thumb in her mouth and waved as the kumari went by. “She’s real pretty!” Popkin cried.

“Yes she is,” said Rags.

“I still think you’re prettier,” said Popkin.

“So do I,” Rags answered.

Muffin led the Ragtag Army to a streetside dhaba where they could wait for the parade to pass. Rickety tables overspread by dingy bamboo-framed umbrellas fronted this modest outdoor restaurant. Behind a battered counter, a marjara man in a grimy apron fried savory meals in dented pots of oil. Since they had a large collection of urchins following them, the Ragtag Army literally overran the place, upsetting some of the grownups sitting at the tables and also upsetting some of the tables. The more good-natured merely laughed at the sudden appearance of the children, and a few stood and bowed reverently to Rags. Even the greasy marjara cook stepped out from behind his bubbling pots, bent low, and touched Rags’s shoes.

Ryuji noticed that Rags winced.

“You are always welcome here, kumari-ji,” the cook said.

“Thank you, Jayesh.” Rags set Popkin down and did namaste. “But we can’t stay long. I just wanna get the news on my town.”

“Let me serve you something,” Jayesh answered. “Perhaps some gulab-jamuns, some faluda, some barfi--”

“I don’ eat nothin’ that starts with barf. Just the news.”

“At least allow me to get you and your friends some chai.” Without waiting for a reply, Jayesh slipped away and was soon down the street at the chai-wallah’s.
To make sure his sister didn’t wander off, Ryuji took her hand. Then he leaned down and whispered in Rags’s ear, “Is it okay for us to eat at a place like this?”

She shrugged. “Might as well. Sooner ’r later you’re gonna get disinterest anyways.”

Nani?

“She’s tryin’ to say dysentery,” said Nicky. “Ever’body gets it. They call it Godtown Gut.”

Jayesh soon returned with a tray full of kullarhs of hot, milky tea, enough for the Ragtag Army and even several of the urchins. Rags took one of the cups, though Ryuji noticed that her smile became strained.

Cautiously, he picked up one himself, took a sip, and burned the roof of his mouth.

“I have to pass,” said Nicky when Jayesh offered a cup to him. “No sugar.”

“Ah,” said Jayesh with a nod. “I always forget you are diabetic.”

“Wrong, but close enough.”

After tossing her drained kullarh in the sewer ditch, Rags stood by Jayesh’s beat-up stove while he cooked. Ryuji stood nearby and listened.

“What’s the news?” Rags asked.

“Everyone in Modikhana loves you since you drove out that Turkish gang,” Jayesh answered. “But there’s trouble.”

“There’s always trouble. Just tell me whose butt to kick.”

Jayesh turned from his stove and reached into a grimy shelf where he found a rolled-up poster. Pulling it out, he handed it to Rags and then continued frying. “These are all over Modikhana,” he said.

Rags unrolled the poster. Leaning over her shoulder, Ryuji saw a crude drawing, a caricature of Rags in a dress even more frilly than the one she was really wearing, with a miniature top hat askew on her bangs and a pair of long knives crossing each other through her hair. Under the image was printed the legend, “This girl is dead meat! --Lung Shi-yu.”

“Iron Lung,” Rags muttered. “He just moved to the top o’ my list.”

Muffin pushed past Ryuji, slipped up beside Rags, and sniffed the poster. “It seems Iron Lung detects a power vacuum in Modikhana and wishes to fill it. No doubt he is trying to erode your support through fear.”

By this time, the last stragglers in the parade had passed, and the cacophony of the celebration had grown tinny and distant. Rags crumpled up the poster and waved to the others. “C’mon,” she said. “Let’s go. I’m in a lousy mood and lookin’ to beat some bad guys.”

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Learns about Sad Puppies


Man, the SJWs have really gone ballistic. The smear campaigning and the outright lying are just off the charts. Salon, The Atlantic, and Entertainment Weekly are perhaps the guiltiest parties, printing articles accusing the Sad Puppies of pushing an "all-white, all-male" slate, which is blatantly false.

Entertainment Weekly already printed a retraction worded in a "please don't sue us for libel" kind of way:


John C. Wright has already announced he won't sue. Larry Correia has spoken to a lawyer. Christians are called to refrain from indulging in frivolous lawsuits, but I personally think that exposing the lies of the leftwing media is a worthy enough cause. They could successfully sue about five or six major publications at this point.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Brief Note on Storytelling vs. Political Grandstanding



One thing that really, more than anything else, cheeses me off about the so-called "Social Justice Warriors" is their appropriation of moral criticism, that is, the analysis of literature or other art for its moral content.  These people are usually proud about their lack of morals, at least in the sexual realm, yet, curiously, they are more sensitive and touchy than a Victorian matron when it comes to speech.  Watching their behavior and listening to them, I finally understand what Dietrich von Hildebrand meant when he said the prude and the libertine have much in common.

The thing is, art is by nature ambiguous, and an SJW is by nature super-sensitive, so he can spin anything, anything at all, into something to be offended at, if it suits him to do so.

If your story is about people from just one culture (or at least if it's about white people), the SJW will accuse you of a lack of diversity.

However, if your story has a diverse cast, the SJW will accuse you of (I did not make this up) cultural appropriation.  This is one of those clever terms SJWs love to invent to make innocuous things sound sinister.  In the real world, of course, every culture borrows from every other culture it comes in contact with.  "Culture," broadly speaking, is not intellectual property and has no copyright.

The correct terms for what they call cultural appropriation are borrowing and diffusion, but of course those don't sound evil.

Take the magical girl genre, of which I'm a fanboy.  The Japanese built and undeniably dominate the magical girl genre, but the original magical girl show, Sally the Witch, was based on Bewitched, which is American.  The currently popular magical girl warrior is based on a cross between the magical girl and the Japanese superhero team, which is in turn based on the American superhero.

So the genre is an American-Japanese fusion.  Who "appropriated" from whom?  And who cares?  The idea that this hurts anyone, or that it should offend anyone, is painfully stupid.

Then, of course, you have Winx Club, the only popular magical girl franchise of which I'm aware outside Japan.  It's Italian, so that's an American-Japanese-Italian fusion.

Which reminds me of spaghetti Westerns, also an American-Italian fusion.

See, the thing is, the SJWs live and breathe double standards.  If a Japanese guy borrows something from America, that's a-okay, because Japanese people aren't white.  Unless they live in the U.S. and vote Republican.  Or something.  However, if a white guy, whatever his culture, borrows from another culture, that's bad, at least if the SJWs happen not to like the particular white guy in question.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

We're Going to Build Our Own Hugo Awards with Blackjack and Hookers



Last year was only the second year of the so-called Sad Puppies campaign, a movement started by Larry Correia and which has since grown bigger than he is and beyond his control.  It is an effort to reclaim the Hugo Awards for the sf fandom and take it from the hands of a small group of shrill elitists who've been giving it out mostly to poorly written message-heavy Leftist fic.

Last year, the opponents of the Sad Puppies gloated when the Sad Puppies campaign had little discernible effect on the Hugos, but, of course, that was only the second year.  This year, the movement was spearheaded by author Brad R. Torgersen, and it also got a major boost from disgruntled GamerGaters sick of being lied about on the Internet and on Law & Order, and who wanted another piece of SJW.

Because the Hugo is a fan-given award, anyone can vote (and I believe there is still time to register, and they give you all the works so you can read them before you vote on them) simply by paying $40 to Worldcon for a two-year membership.  Sad Puppies has registered so many people that the Worldcon folks must be swimming in cash.

Last week, the SJWs were wringing their hands over the Hugo finalists even though the finalists hadn't been announced yet (which means they more-or-less admitted that some among their number have inside information and that, therefore, they really have had the award tied up for their special group in previous years).  The finalists were announced this last Saturday, and as the rumors predicted, it looks like the Sad Puppies pretty much own it.  The only category they don't own is "best graphic story," which is no surprise, since the Puppy slate in that category was pretty dang weak.  So the nominations there have gone to titles like Rat Queens and Sex Criminals, which I've never heard of and am not sure I want to.

I confess I don't follow new literary sf these days, but have instead turned my attention to older stuff (I'm reading Talbot Mundy) and anime (I'm watching Sailor Moon . . . still), so most of these titles are unfamiliar to me anyhow.  But I am pleased with the "dramatic presentation, long form" (fancy way to say "movie") category, which is pretty much a list of the best sf films from last year.

This year in Hugos is the Year of the Puppy.

In particular, three of the five novella titles are by John C. Wright, and the fourth is another from Castalia House, which is run by Vox Day, whom SJWs hate with vile passion (in fact, there's a troll who stalks bloggers who mention his name, so I expect that guy to show up now and test my spam filters).  So if the SJWs absolutely can't bring themselves to vote for something Puppy-boosted, their only choice in that category is No Award or Arlan Andrews's "Flow."

In fact, Wright has six nominations total this year, which I believe is a record.  He deserves it.  He was being hailed as one of the best sf talents of the fledgling century, if not the best, up until he announced his conversion to Catholicism, at which point all the right-thinking people set about ignoring him.  Although I like his works nominated this year, I do think it a shame he never won anything for The Golden Age or Awake in the Night Land, which I consider to be his best.  And I await Somewhither, his alternate history mashup actioner, with baited breath, because over three or four years I've watched its development from blog joke to real novel, and it's been pure awesomesauce the whole way.  His ongoing Count to the Eschaton Sequence, on the other hand, I don't much care for.

Larry Correia was nominated for his novel Monster Hunter Nemesis, but turned it down and thumbed his nose at everyone who's said he started this just to get a rocket statue.

This article at Breitbart is Puppy-slanted but mostly accurate, if you want a rundown of the fight thus far.  I think its only error is misidentifying Chicks Dig Time Lords as a work of fiction (it's nonfiction, and it won a Hugo in the "best related work" category).

Congratulations to all nominees.

Sad Puppies 4 is already planned, but I admit I'm beginning to wonder what this will mean in the end for the Hugos.  Although the Sad Puppies are not the first to produce voting slates (I believe the award for that goes to John Scalzi), it was until a few years ago not a done thing, or at least not a thing done openly.  I expect that next year the SJWs will get organized and produce a slate of their own, which means the Hugo, rather than returning to what it is supposed to be, a fan-given award for which the whole body of English-language sf (at least in theory) competes, will become a battle between competing slates.

I know that's not what the Sad Puppies actually want, but that means sooner or later they'll have to change their tactics, though I admit I have no suggestion as to how they ought to change them.

Even though the finalists are announced, there is still, I believe until mid-month, time to register with Worldcon and vote for the award.  Go here to do so.  Remember, for $40 dollars you get the complete package of Hugo finalists, which means a collection literature worth much more than forty bucks.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Hill to Die On

I recently received this in my e-mail from Catholicvote.org:

Columnist Mollie Hemingway said it perfectly today:
“If religious liberty is the wrong hill to die on in America, then there is no such thing as the right hill to die on.”
The events in Indiana, and now Arkansas have us thinking…

If any candidate for elective office cannot stand for the basic right to religious freedom, they forfeit the support of Catholic voters. Period. 

Republican, Democrat, anyone. 

Today Arkansas Republican Asa Hutchinson followed Indiana governor Mike Pence in calling for “clarifications” and revisions to a simple law once supported almost unanimously by Republicans and Democrats. This despite outright lies about what these laws say and do.

In both cases it was Big Business bullies who used lies and distortions to pressure these Republican politicians. Apple's CEO slammed Indiana for its new law and Arkansas-based Walmart publicly denounced a bill recently approved by lawmakers in Little Rock.

Don’t be fooled. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act does NOT legalize discrimination. Anyone that says so is misinformed or lying.

The federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed by President Clinton and had the unanimous approval of the U.S. House and lopsided 97-3 support in the United States Senate. Did rampant discrimination ensue? Of course not. Because that’s not what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is about.

So the question is: since when do we give up on the Bill of Rights when one of the rights becomes “controversial”?

Of course the answer is: NEVER! It's precisely when these precious freedoms are under attack when real leaders are called to rise up and defend them!

The Founders of our country called it our First Freedom for a reason. And it was no accident that they placed religious freedom as the very first provision of the First Amendment – before freedom of assembly or even free speech!

Mark my words, this will be the rallying cry of the liberal left in 2016. I can see the questions already: Do you support "bigotry"?

Makes you wonder if 2016 hopefuls will crack under pressure.

We need to make crystal clear where we stand. Religious liberty is a God-given right which cannot be compromised.

This is where I need your feedback.

Do you agree that Catholics should tell the GOP that any candidate who refuses to defend this precious liberty deserves to lose, and will lose the support of Catholic voters?

Hillary Clinton is already in the pocket of big business in favor of crushing minority rights. The question is: will GOP hopefuls have the courage to stand up to the media lies, big business bullies and the billion dollar anti-marriage LGBT special interests?

CatholicVote.org is ready to hold the line.

Polls show the public is still on our side when they know the truth.

Are you ready to stand with us?

My answer to Cathlolicvote is that I respect the hardline position they are taking, but I respectfully decline.  No.

Why, you ask?   Because the worst RINO is better than the jackbooted totalitarians who now make up the DNC, and who are making it clear, hardly bothering to disguise it anymore, that what they long for is to line up all Christians, or anyone else who disagrees with them on any point, against a wall.

Nobody honestly believes that the law in Indiana will cause little old lesbians to die in the street from starvation because nobody will sell them a ham sandwich.  The law does not allow for that, and even if it did, that still wouldn't happen.  No, the reason for the hooplah over Indiana's decision to pass a piece of legislation that matches existing federal legislation is obvious:  it prevents anyone from dragging Christians into court for being Christian.  It defangs the militant sexual neurotics who want to be able to order everyone else to approve and even participate.

Note how they have reacted to this legislation, not by following the normal means of our legal or legislative process, but by getting some Silicon Valley thugs from out of state to apply economic sanctions.  Note also the ridiculous and outrageous lies they have told.

This is always the preferred method of tyrants who want to tempt Christians, or anyone of good will, to place Caesar above God, whatever "Caesar" happens to be this season.  Antiochus appeared before the Jews arrayed in purple and ordered them to eat pork lest they face his wrath, because he wanted to hellenize the world.  Pliny appeared before the Christians likewise arrayed in majesty, and he ordered them to burn incense to Caesar as a god, because the imperial cult was the test of loyalty to the Empire.

Today, because we live in a ridiculous age, Caesar appears before us arrayed in a clown suit, and he orders us to accept whatever is coming out of the Gender Studies department this week, lest he file a frivolous lawsuit or refuse to sell us Apple products.

Nonetheless, majestic or absurd, with threats terrible or merely obnoxious, the ultimate point is the same.  He threatens our livelihoods, and when he is powerful enough will threaten our lives, because he cannot threaten our souls.  If we have a TV show, he'll call his rent-a-mob to get us cancelled, or if we sell chicken sandwiches, he'll call his rent-a-mob to stop buying the chicken sandwiches they didn't formerly buy anyway, or if we sell cakes or take photos, he'll demand we commit sacrilege and haul us into court if we refuse.  If we pass legislation to keep him at bay, he'll take our iPhones.

But what of that?  There is nothing new under the sun.  This same situation returns time and again, merely changing in its superficial details:

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Republicans may be weak and stupid, but they are better than the alternative, and if they actually get support from what is supposed to be their base, they might possibly grow a spine.  Perhaps they'll even grow some brains, though that is less likely.

What exactly would Catholicvote have me do?  Not vote?

No.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gratuitous Music Video


I happened to notice that an artist I much admire, Lindsey Stirling, a violinist, has a brand new music video out, this one with a sort of Inception-esque dreamscape thingy going on, so I thought I might as well share it.

I note in passing that Stirling, like many talented artists of the present day, is Mormon. When the Mormon missionaries came by, I should have let them know that their arguments would have been much more persuasive if they'd brought along Lindsey Stirling. In fact, if they stop by again, I might tell them that: s end Lindsey Stirling first, and then we'll talk.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Evening with the Mormon Missionaries.


So I had the Mormon missionaries over this evening.  It is my humble opinion that when the Catholic finds the proselytizers of another sect at his door, the polite and Christian thing to do is to show them all courtesy.  Hospitality demands it, and it is an opportunity to witness to the Gospel.  Besides, I've done similar work (I've cold-called, and I've gone door to door offering paint jobs), and it is decidedly miserable, so I thought the deserved a break in the form of a guy who doesn't slam a door in their faces.

I've known others who've been unable ever to get rid of Mormon missionaries after inviting them in.  If such misfortune befalls in this case, I may have to explain, perhaps even brusquely, that the welcome has been overstayed, but I see nothing wrong with allowing them to make a few visits, within reason.

When the two elders, both younger than I, arrived, I sat them down and asked them if they were allowed to drink herbal tea.  They said they were, so I made them each a cup.  Then I started with some philosophical matters, first asking if it were true that the Mormon Church teaches that the universe is made from uncreated matter, and that God the Father was originally a man.  They said that was correct, so I explained that contingent, material beings logically require a first cause that is not contingent, and that this first cause is ordinarily called God, and must be the greatest being since an effect cannot be greater than its cause, and therefore the one they worship, though he might be a great saint or a god with a lowercase g, could not be God properly so-called.

This might have gone over their heads.  I'm not sure.  Later in the conversation, one of them said God was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and that he was the source of all truth.  I replied that if he did not originate all things, he could not be the source of all truth, and that if he was once a man, then he was not the same yesterday, regardless of what he might be today or tomorrow.  At that point, the fellow hedged and said the belief that God was once a man was speculation and not doctrine, so I dropped the subject.

They described, as I expected, Joseph Smith's first vision, which is supposed to have occurred when various churches were undergoing revivals and Smith was confused about which to join.  Regardless of whether Smith actually experienced the discouragement and consternation during the Second Great Awakening in the Burned-Out District that he claimed to, it makes for a good story; anyone who has ever asked like Pilate, "What is truth?" can relate to it.  I told them I had a similar experience of disheartenment on account of the schismatical tendencies of Protestant sects, and that like Smith I came to recognize the need for an authoritative Magisterium to prevent the constant division caused by the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, but that I found that Magisterium in the Catholic Church rather than creating it myself.

I told them also that many others besides Joseph Smith have claimed that the Church committed a Great Apostasy and that they have restored true and sound doctrine, and I asked them specifically why I should prefer Smith and the Book of Mormon to Muhammad and the Quran, since Muhammad made the same claims and also came with a book.  They dodged that without answering it.

I told them flatly that I think the Book of Mormon, with its skin color obsession and its speculation about an Israelitish origin of the Mound Builders, looks like a text written in the Nineteenth Century in America by someone with a King James Bible and an imagination, and that it was probably Rigdon's creation based on Spaulding's unpublished novel.

One of the guys was rather meek and quiet.  The other was zealous but clearly didn't like to deviate from his memorized lecture, and I had him by the end retreating to giving his testimony, by which I mean he affirmed that he knows, by private confirmation from God, that the Book of Mormon is true.  That of course is wholly subjective and thus can't be argued—which is the point.

This segued into an emotional appeal, the request that I find God through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I ended with an emotional appeal of my own, telling them that Catholics, Mormons, and Evangelicals are allies, not enemies, in the culture wars, and that we must circle the wagons together, but that the best way to present a united front would be under the banner of the Catholic Church, which alone is wide enough in her embrace to take all of us.  As an example of this, I contrasted the Mormons and their high view of marriage with the Shakers and their celibacy, and said that there is room in the Catholic Church for both forms of spirituality.

(I thought the Shakers originated at the same time and in the same place as the Mormons, but upon looking them up, I find I'm mistaken, or rather, it's a little more complicated than that, but no matter.)

They of course asked me to read the Book of Mormon, and I said I would do so if they would read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  They agreed, and we exchanged books.  I do not intend to press them to find out if they will keep their end of the bargain, but I must keep mine, so I have some reading to do once Lent ends.

I was hoping for vigorous but friendly debate.  Instead, I think it was more like my debating interrupting their canned spiel.  I don't fault them for this, as these elders are both kids.  But I found it to be a pleasant evening, and I hope they did as well.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

'Rag & Muffin' Sneak Peek


I haven't posted much lately because I'm in the field right now, but also because I am working on Rag & Muffin, my magical girl novel, and am not good for much else at the moment.  I expect to have the book in final draft form by end of the summer, at which point I'll start my rejection slip collection while I work on the second volume, which is currently under the working title of Rag Dolls, and will feature Miss Rags teaming up with her evil but gentlemanly yet decidedly foppish mad scientist pediatrician.

Rag & Muffin has taken me a long time to produce, largely because my vision of it has changed drastically since I started (it was originally so lurid and gruesome that I can hardly stand to look at the earliest drafts), and also because the amount of research necessary has intensified since I decided firmly on a more "real-world" setting (it takes place in a heavily fictionalized version of the British Raj).  Also, as a new writer, I had to, as they say, "get the suck out" and write loads and loads of amateurish junk before I could produce something of professional grade.  But in spite of the struggle, I have stuck with this particular story for years, because more than anything else I've written or tried to write, I believe in Rag & Muffin.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter, showing the condition the story is in now.  This guy Heatfreak is one of three characters in the story who exist mostly for the purpose of getting their clocks cleaned, and as with most of the characters in this book, I knew Heatfreak's name before I knew why he had that name.  Only as I was rewriting this sequence did I realize it was a nickname he received on account of the tapas generated by his Yogic exercises.

Anyway, in addition to being a fight scene, this introduces two of the R&M universe's three forms of magic.



The young soldier in the runeship was Simon Achilles Palmeiro, and he was a zealot. An idealist in love with the romantic vision of a world stripped of barbarism and united in a single civilization, he had eagerly enlisted in the Elysian army at the age of sixteen. Not long after, he had embarked on his first tour of duty in Godtown. Once he arrived in the holy city, he quickly became intrigued by the mendicants he saw seated blissfully on their mats in the dark corners of parks and courtyards: their peacefulness and self-mastery stirred something in him—yet, at the same time, their apparent passivity repulsed him.

For a long while, he could not sort out these feelings, but everything became clear when for the first time he saw a demonstration of Sastravidya. On a broad ghat beside the Ganga, under the noonday sun, he had gaped as two thickly muscled marjaras, stripped to the waist, drove at each other and fought with a combination of open-handed strikes and acrobatic grappling. They swung their arms in wide, showy arcs and flipped their bodies through the air, yet they never lost control or let down their guard.

Simon decided then and there that he wanted to learn their techniques. He found a guru, and soon he was spending every spare minute in meditation and breathing exercises, focusing his mind and learning to control the prana flowing through his body. He went through rigorous and painful exercises, balancing for hours on one foot or on one hand. He gave up meat, and he gave up booze. He even gave up women. In time, his ascetic disciplines generated so much tapas that he often returned to the barracks at night with a searing heat radiating from his body, and thus he earned his nickname—Heatfreak.

As he gained steadily in power, he found yet another master who could teach him to focus his prana and turn it into a weapon, for Heatfreak in his yogic meditations sought neither to cleanse his karma nor to realize Brahman. Heatfreak wanted to fight.

And now, as the runeship lifted, he saw on the roof below him a worthy enemy on whom he could demonstrate his skills. It was against orders. He was risking a court martial.

But he didn’t care.


He glanced over his shoulder at Darcangelo, who leaned over the sickly little girl to check the IV attached to her arm. “You’ll make it to the hospital okay, Doc,” Heatfreak said. “I’m gonna take care of the witch.”

Darcangelo snapped his head up and reached out to grab him, but Heatfreak slipped from his grasp and, with a laugh, leapt from the runeship’s door. After landing lithely, he doffed his helmet, ripped open his flak jacket, and tossed both to the ground. Raising his fists, he called a challenge across the rooftop: “Hey, little girl, you wanna play with me?”

With rapid chain punches, Rags was pummeling one of Heatfreak’s squad mates. She paused, looked up, and tossed her victim aside like a rag doll.

“Okay,” she said, “but I play rough!”

Her pink dress flared as she ran at him.


Heatfreak launched himself forward, slid across the roof, moved into a crouch, and aimed a sweep for Rags’s legs. She leapt and kicked for his head, but he blocked with a raised forearm. She twisted in the air, landed on her hands, flipped to her feet, and went into a hook kick. He blocked with a cross-kick and then spun around into a hook kick of his own. Rags ducked it, jumped onto her hands again, and shot her feet back and over her head toward Heatfreak’s torso, catching him in the side. He slid backwards and grabbed his ribs where she’d struck him.

It stung. He winced.

“How does a girl your size get that strong?”

Rags pushed a loose strand of auburn hair behind one ear. “I work out.”


Crossing his legs, he dropped into a basic resting stance. “You’re a cheeky little thing. Didn’t your mum ever teach you any manners?”

“Didn’t your mum ever teach you not to hit girls?”

“She said I could hit naughty girls who are out past their bedtime.”

A grin spread Rags’s lips, exposing canine teeth just a little too pointy to be human. “Funny. I do the same thing to naughty boys.”

He made hooks with his hands and closed again, hoping that with the Eagle Claw technique, he could incapacitate her with a few dislocations or pressure point strikes. His limbs were longer than hers, but after she landed the first blow, he realized how seriously she had him at a disadvantage: a Sastravidya practitioner learned always to watch his opponent’s eyes, but Rags was a hybrid, so Heatfreak didn’t dare. Hybrids could do strange things with their eyes—more than once in their first engagement, her bright green eyes had begun to draw him in, and he had to check himself. That slowed him down.

Besides, in spite of his love of fighting, he found he couldn’t bring himself to go all out. She was an infamous criminal, tough as a tank and with a punch like a sledgehammer, but she was still a little girl. Maybe if it weren’t for her curly hair, her bright voice, and her nancy outfit, he could have made himself hit her as hard as he wanted.

Maybe.

Now he wished he’d stayed in the runeship. He wanted this fight over with quickly, and he figured the best way was to move in close, avoid her eyes, and break a couple of her limbs.

But she clearly knew what he was doing. Keeping her body loose and fluid, she slid out of his grasp and slapped aside his every attempted strike, giggling like a child petting a dog. She was toying with him.


He felt a faint twinge of panic, so he changed his technique again and moved into a rapid series of punches and chops. Once he had her fighting more vigorously, he took the chance to draw in close. Twice she tried to kick, but he counter-kicked to keep her feet on the ground.

It didn’t work. She slipped through his defenses, smashed her right fist into his gut, and doubled him over. She tried to plant an uppercut on his chin as well, but he blocked that and recovered.

He now had an idea of her preferred methods. In particular, the move she had used early in the fight to land her first blow had been an extravagant one. Such a move she had no doubt practiced until it was almost automatic.

He feinted with a roundhouse kick, and, as he expected, Rags dove onto her hands again to duck his foot. Arresting his kick midway, he twisted his hips and drove his heel hard into her back, sending her sprawling face-first into the roof. Her little top hat came unpinned from her bangs and rolled away.

#

The fight had lasted less than a minute, and the runeship was still making its silent lift-off, though it now hovered a hundred feet in the air. While Juliet saw to the patient, Darcangelo, with his thin lips womanishly pursed, stared out the open door. At last, he sucked in his breath and slapped a hand against his knee.

“Nurse,” he said, “take over. I’ll join you later.”

“Doctor,” Juliet cried, “what about the serum?”

Darcangelo gave her a weary shrug. “I’m sorry, but there are some things a gentleman cannot witness without making reply, and one them is the sight of a lady being struck.”

He tipped his hat before pulling it down firmly over his ears, snatched up his medical bag and umbrella cane, and dove out the door.

“Doctor!” Juliet shrieked.

Being in a hurry, Darcangelo didn’t bother to make use of the flying technique, which could have slowed his descent and allowed for a graceful landing. Instead, he merely raised his prana and counted on his hardened body to absorb the impact. He fell swiftly, trench coat fluttering, and cracked the rooftop when he struck.

But he had miscalculated: the blow drove the wind from his lungs, and, with a faint groan, he slumped.

#

Rags raised her head. She wiped a hand across her nose as tears gathered in her eyes. Her lip protruded in a pout.

Heatfreak stood over her. “You lose, Ragamuffin. Now come quietly or a bad little girl’s going to get punished.”

Her tears glistened in the reddish light, the light caught his attention, and then his eyes met hers.

He had only the briefest moment to realize his mistake. He tried to twist his head and look away, but her green eyes flashed and arrested his gaze as if his neck were locked in a vice.

Then her Sammohana overwhelmed him.

His thoughts ceased. The little girl lying on the rooftop evaporated into the air. In her place arose a goddess, tall and stately and clothed in flaming red, terrible and beautiful beyond any concept he had previously had of terror or beauty. Her shapely lips were pressed together in a stern but silent rebuke, and her eyes pierced through to his heart. Seven of her eight hands held the symbols of her office as well as her weapons—the conch, lotus, bow, chakran, sword, trident, and thunderbolt—but the eighth hand pointed an accusing finger.


He sank to his knees. Like a hammer blow, the realization struck him that all his ablutions and rigors had been mere child’s play, mere dabbling. He had struggled, he had denied himself so that he might have power, but now he knew his ascesis was empty. It was not enough for the goddess. Nothing he could do was enough.

Towering above him, her incomparable face impassive and severe, she spoke to him a single word of command, and he had no choice but to obey.

#

Rags could sense the gland in the base of her skull squeezing tight as it pumped Heaven Seed up into her brain. She could feel power and heat radiating from her eyes, flowing out from her and into Heatfreak. His own eyes wide and flowing with tears, his body shaking, he dropped to the roof and mumbled to himself like a halfwit.

She had him now. She could make him do whatever she wanted.

She climbed to her feet, brushed her hands down the front of her dress, and told him to beat his head on the rooftop until he passed out. Then she crossed her arms and watched, bored, while he completed the task.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

'Rag and Muffin' Update


The eyecatch image up there is actually from the light novel series Gosick, which was adapted into one of my favorite anime shows (and which I just found out is no longer free online . . . curses!).  Anyway, I thought it made an appropriate header because Victorique and Kujo look vaguely like how I picture Miss Rags and Nicky from my novel in progress, Rag & Muffin.

I have just spent the day editing and rewriting chapter eight of twenty.  It's coming along.  I'll go over it with a red pen and then go on to chapter nine.  Once I get through all twenty chapters one-by-one, I'll give the whole thing one more go-through, and then it's time to start my rejection slip collection.

It's gonna happen.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Recently, I tested the first few chapters on a fresh reader who doesn't normally read science fiction or fantasy.  Her response was quite positive.  Most importantly, and the main reason I wanted her to try it out, she wasn't put off by all the Hindi and Sanskrit words, which she thought she could understand in context.  That was a relief.

This book has taken an enormous amount of research, which probably took longer than it had to because I'm both pedantic and disorganized.  Much of the editing process has been fact-checking.  Last week, I was reading all about sniping or watching videos on the same.  The week before that, I was reading about airsoft because I decided to make one of the kids an airsoft player; this gives me a crazier yet somehow more plausible explanation than I had originally for how he falls in with the story's anti-heroes, since he doesn't realize until he's already in neck-deep that the other kids' guns aren't replicas.  Probably a bit of Full Metal Panic! influence in there, which I'm okay with, since as a test reader said of an earlier version, the story is "manga up to its bowtie."

Then I spent three hours on Friday evening just deciding how one of the sidekick characters, the upper-class British schoolgirl with diplomatic immunity, would sling her assault rifle.

Aaaand I actually spent most of the day yesterday trying to figure out the correct word for my heroine's underwear.  Great googly moogly, I knew Nineteenth Century fashion was complicated, but that was insane.  That was a rabbit hole I was not prepared to go down; I was just sort of like, "Are these bloomers or pantelettes?"  And it turns out that's a really complex question.  I eventually found some sources that appeared to know what they were talking about, though they didn't entirely agree with one another.  Also, steampunk cosplayers don't know crap.

Today, I actually got a lot of writing done, but then I was back to double-checking some of the medical stuff.  I think I've got a handle on the medical technology for this alternate universe:  I didn't want MRIs or CT scans because that seemed too tech-y, so I had them checking a girl for brain tumors with a cerebral angiogram.  I hope that makes sense.

Whew.  Next chapter, I can get back to the parts where they shoot people and break things.  Got a scene involving magical transforming mecha and demon-possessed powered armor coming up.  I look forward to that.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Writing for Message, not to Entertain

I originally wrote and published this essay on this blog many, many moons ago, but I think it apropos to reprint it in light of recent discussions of Social Justice Warriors and their determination to place message above entertainment in storytelling. Read this and see if it sounds familiar.

Many Christian readers of sf, apparently feeling burned by the bad output for which explicitly Christian sf publishers have become famous, have drawn the conclusion that religious content in a work of fiction ought always to be slight, referenced only in delicate, tangential ways. Usually, in their support, they cite J.R.R. Tolkien's well-known dislike for religious allegory. I used to be in this crowd myself.

I have since moderated my views, mainly because of the many good books with explicit religious content. Anyone who lays a blanket condemnation on allegory or preaching will be at a loss to explain The Pilgrim's Progress, which is basically a collection of sermons and ham-fisted allegories as well as an acknowledged classic.

The problem with Christian sf is, I'm inclined to believe, more complex. First, it's possible that its badness has been exaggerated, as there are some decidedly talented authors writing in the field. Second, it's possible we have judged a fledgling sub-genre with the standards of a fully developed one: sf in its early days was largely literary tripe; standards of quality improved over time as the genre developed. Third, while religious content, in and of itself, will not ruin a story, the content of the religion in question might: I am inclined to believe that pop psychology-influenced Fundamentalism does not make a solid basis on which to build good fiction, yet it forms the basis of far too many Christian sf novels. Fourth, some authors may approach their fiction in the wrong way, forgetting that good fiction must begin with certain aims, the first of which is to tell an entertaining story. A Christian author who forgets that may fall prey to what I have decided to call Sheldonism, the belief that storytelling ought to serve no purpose other than to preach a Christian message.

Sheldonism, the bad new term I'm blatantly trying to coin, is the tendency to write like Charles Sheldon, or more accurately, write according to Sheldon's view on writing. Charles Sheldon, a Congregational pastor, advocate of the so-called Social Gospel, and novelist, was fond of telling extended parables, called sermon stories, to his congregation in place of a regular sermon (Smith 2007:201). Such stories would also be published. In His Steps, Sheldon's most famous novel, is a collection of such sermon-stories, preached in 1896 and subsequently published (Tanner 1999). In it, he presents the question that would later come to adorn key chains and tee-shirts, "What would Jesus do?" or WWJD for hip young people who, unlike me, are not acronym averse. Sheldon's gimmicky basis for Christian morality is well meaning but inadequate, mostly because it's vague and almost entirely subjective. Nonetheless,

The answers in the novel exude Social Gospel confidence, suggesting that any "genuine, honest, and enlightened Christian" could figure out what the Savior portrayed in the Gospels would do. Sheldon's characters come up with the answers with a good dose of sociological analysis and a minimum of biblical citation. [Lovin 2006:35]

Sheldon's novel was a bestseller even though it has no particular interest in entertainment per se and even though it keeps going for about a hundred pages after the story is over. Though Sheldon certainly lays it on thick, his prose and characters are interesting, and the plot, all things considered, isn't too bad. To the modern reader, the heavy focus on the Temperance Movement may seem quaint or naive, but the novel is of course a product of its time and doesn't deserve to be judged by Americans who live after the period of Prohibition, when alcohol is well regulated in both production and sale, when people no longer speak of a significant "whiskey lobby" in Congress, and when the western frontier and its associated alcohol abuse are in the distant past. Sheldon did not write of social evils from an arid academic post, either; he spent a good deal of time with people on the streets and became an early Civil Rights advocate after discovering that racism was causing the poverty of the Black population in Topeka, Kansas (Armstrong 2005:45).

In His Steps has something to say not only to Christians generally, but to a few specific occupations in particular: pastors who preach the word, newspapermen who can expose the roots of society's evils, and novelists who can potentially write inspiring stories are all featured in the book. It is not surprising that the novelist holds a special place, for, according to Smith, In His Steps is one of a number of Social Gospel novels that appeared during the Third Great Awakening, all of which were "self-consciously about print culture, making clear that founding the kingdom of God here on earth depends on making appropriate use of books and literacy" (2007:194). As Smith describes, some other books of the period such as Mary Augusta Ward's Robert Elsmere, which influenced Sheldon, or Wiston Churchill's Inside of the Cup, depict books, especially books of biblical criticism, as a means of salvation from orthodox Christianity, destroying the faith of the orthodox but rebuilding them as social reformers and truer followers of Jesus (2007:195-199). By contrast, though some describe Sheldon as a "liberal," and though he held, according to Smith, unorthodox views on certain matters such as the Virgin Birth (2007:199-200), his novel is shot through with supernaturalism. Nonetheless, it avoids getting mired in the theological debates between liberals and Fundamentalists. The wide popularity of the novel is probably due in part to this self-conscious ecumenicism; the denomination of the characters is ambiguous, and they spend no time discussing theological matters, which are clearly placed in a subordinate position to the matter of "what Jesus would do."

Rather than describing literature as a means of liberation from Christian doctrine as some of his contemporaries did, Sheldon prefers to limit its usefulness; the really important thing is whether any written work inspires people to be more Christlike. Anything else is a waste. In the same vein, Sheldon generally avoided serious theology because of "the irrelevance of doctrine to his practice-based religion" (Smith 2007:200), a way of thinking that still characterizes some strains of Evangelicalism. This dislike for doctrine may explain why Sheldon's famous ethic consists of four words that defy interpretation.

Admirable as Sheldon's philanthropy is--and the call to social action in In His Steps is still powerful and stinging--his novel breaks down precisely because of this lack of doctrine. What, exactly, would Jesus do? The question is always posed as an intensely personal one, one nobody can answer for anybody else, one that has no objective answer. The question becomes all but useless, "What do I think is the best thing to do?" with Jesus slapped onto it. When all is said and done and the novel is over, we find that every man did that which was right in his own eyes: it just happens that in Sheldon's world, every man is noble and self-sacrificing (except the novelist, but more on that in a moment). The book has good intentions, of course, but is as unrealistic as the more liberal Social Gospel novels to which it might be considered an antidote. In the real world, behavior stems from belief, and people work to shape the world to accord with their ideals. Noble ideals inspire noble behavior: a gracious god incarnate who offers stern threatenings and great comforts, who says, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me," is an ideal from which a Christian can readily work to improve social conditions or do anything else worth doing. But if the Christian believes nothing specific about Jesus, or if he believes Jesus is nobody particularly special, he has no basis for saying what Jesus would do or not do, and no reason for wanting to imitate Jesus anyway. In the world of Charles Sheldon, every man gets his own personal Jesus, and not only that, he gets to be his own personal historical Jesus scholar: you too can redesign Jesus according to your preferences, just like Marcus Borg or John Dominic Crossan, no arduous classroom study required. In our own age, we can see what this has devolved into: our liberals champion improving the lot of the poor even as they advocate murdering people by the millions. There is no telling what awful things Jesus might do if everyone gets to invent Jesus for himself.

Sheldon's view on fiction is similar to his view of doctrine: it is useful only insofar as it serves a practical purpose, which is "eliciting powerful emotions, changing people's hearts and minds" (Smith 2007:201) so that they may serve the cause of the Social Gospel. This is the goal of In His Steps, and in that sense may be seen as similar in aim to Dominique Lapierre's City of Joy, though it lacks Lapierre's finesse. It is in his view of fiction that Sheldon's ideas become visibly self-contradictory. Even though he strains against judgmentalism and tries to keep the question of what Jesus would do a personal one, he condemns novelists who do not serve the Social Gospel; apparently, Sheldon knows exactly what Jesus would do if Jesus were in their shoes. As Smith puts it, "Sheldon did not think most authors met their obligations to make the world a better place, one Christian heart at a time" (2007:201).

This is clear in Sheldon's treatment of his novelist character in In His Steps. To lay out the situation, we have a talented novelist, Jasper, who is in love with a talented singer, Rachel. Both of them, along with the other central characters in the book, have pledged, for an entire year, to do nothing before pondering that famous question, WWJD? In the relationship between these two, Sheldon presents the classic (or perhaps cliched) motif of the sensitive, idealistic artist in love with a cold woman who spurns him, thereby inspiring him to starve in a garret while creating his masterpiece.* This is the motif, oft repeated in both fiction and real life, of which Dante's love for Beatrice is the most commonly cited--and extreme--example, and which George Bernard Shaw parodies in Man and Superman. Sheldon gives this familiar story an interesting twist by adding a spiritual dimension--which doesn't bode well for poor Jasper.

Two passages in the novel are of particular importance to this discussion. The first is the one in which Jasper openly proclaims his love for Rachel. He chooses a bad time for this, at least according to Rachel's clock. In the scene previous, Rachel had sung at a tent revival meeting, the Holy Spirit had swept through the tent, and many of the city's most destitute and besotted citizens had given their life to Christ and a future of betterment away from the bottle. Shortly after that, moved both by Rachel's singing and his own passion, Jasper reveals his heart. The quote is long, but please bear with me:


"Rachel," Jasper had said, and it was the first time he had ever spoken her name, "I never knew till to-night how much I loved you. Why should I try to conceal any longer what you have seen me look? You know I love you as my life. I can no longer hide it from you if I would."

The first intimation he had of a repulse was the trembling of Rachel's arm in his. She had allowed him to speak and had neither turned her face toward him nor away from him. She had looked straight on and her voice was sad but firm and quiet when she spoke.

"Why do you speak to me now? I cannot bear it--after what we have seen to-night."

"Why--what--" he had stammered and then was silent.

Rachel withdrew her arm from his but still walked near him. Then he had cried out with the anguish of one who begins to see a great loss facing him where he expected a great joy.

"Rachel! Do you not love me? Is not my love for you as sacred as anything in all of life itself?"

She had walked silent for a few steps after that. They passed a street lamp. Her face was pale and beautiful. He had made a movement to clutch her arm and she had moved a little farther from him.

"No," she had replied. "There was a time--I cannot answer for that--you should not have spoken to me--now."

...

Rachel went up to her room and faced her evening's experience with conflicting emotions. Had she ever loved Jasper Chase? Yes. No. One moment she felt that her life's happiness was at stake over the result of her action. Another, she had a strange feeling of relief that she had spoken as she had. There was one great, over-mastering feeling in her. The response of the wretched creatures in the tent to her singing, the swift, powerful, awesome presence of the Holy Spirit had affected her as never in all her life before. The moment Jasper had spoken her name and she realized that he was telling of his love she had felt a sudden revulsion for him, as if he should have respected the supernatural events they had just witnessed. She felt as if it was not the time to be absorbed in anything less than the divine glory of those conversions. [pp. 81-82]

Ouch. Apparently, in Sheldon's (or Rachel's) world, God and love occupy separate spheres that are not to be intermingled; to profess love shortly after a detectable movement of the Holy Spirit is to do something profane in the presence of something holy.

Personally, I much prefer the depiction of the spurned lover in Caryll Houselander. Says Houselander, Jesus himself can be seen--


In the lover who, with his own hands, has laid his heart bare and shown all the subtlest tenderness of his sensitive mind and all the holy secret of himself, only to be scorned or met with indifference. Is not he Christ stripped of His garments? All that is holy looks absurd; all that is beautiful looks ugly: all that is secret is violated. He stands and bleeds. [The Reed of God, p. 117]

In Houselander's view, then, it would actually be Jasper who in this scene most resembles Christ, who is doing WJWD, revealing his love and in return receiving a scourging, which is given on a religious pretext, no less. Alas, Sheldon sides with Rachel in this matter, and from this point forward, the depiction of Jasper, when he is mentioned at all, is negative. So it always goes for the idealist romantic.

Alas, how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again.

Rachel's "revulsion" for Jasper and her and the other characters' subsequent badmouthing of him behind his back (prefaced with "I don't like to judge him but") make a fine example of where Sheldon's vague ethic leads. Though supposedly free from judgmentalism, anyone who holds to this personalized moral code can immediately turn it around and use it to whip someone else. Because Jasper doesn't have the same personal spiritual or emotional experience at the tent meeting that Rachel has, she decides he is base and unspiritual. With no sound objective truths to which they can anchor themselves, the characters of the novel find anchor in their own sentiments and experiences, which can be cruel taskmasters, especially when they are used to rule someone else. Many, many Rachels can be found at emotion-driven Charismatic churches.

In the next passage to be cited, Sheldon dispenses with Jasper completely. I beg your pardon again for quoting at length:


Early one afternoon in August, after a day of refreshing coolness following a long period of heat, Jasper Chase walked to his window in the apartment house on the avenue and looked out.

On his desk lay a pile of manuscript. Since that evening when he had spoken to Rachel Winslow he had not met her. His singularly sensitive nature--sensitive to the point of extreme irritability when he was thwarted--served to thrust him into an isolation that was intensified by his habits as an author.

All through the heat of summer he had been writing. His book was nearly done now. He had thrown himself into its construction with a feverish strength that threatened at any moment to desert him and leave him helpless. He had not forgotten his pledge made with the other church members at First Church. It had forced itself upon his notice all through his writing, and ever since Rachel had said no to him, he had asked a thousand times, "Would Jesus do this? Would He write this story?" It was a social novel, written in a style that had proved popular. It had no purpose except to amuse. Its moral teaching was not bad, but neither was it Christian in any positive way. Jasper Chase knew that such a story would probably sell. He was conscious of powers in this way that the social world petted and admired. "What would Jesus do?" He felt that Jesus would never write such a book. The question obstruded on him at the most inopportune times. He became irascible over it. The standard of Jesus for an author was too ideal. Of course, Jesus would use His powers to produce something useful or helpful, or with a purpose. What was he, Jasper Chase, writing this novel for? Why, what nearly every writer wrote for--money, money, and fame as a writer. There was no secret with him that he was writng this new story with that object. He was not poor, and so had no great temptation to write for money. But he was urged on by his desire for fame as much as anything. He must write this kind of matter. But what would Jesus do? The question plagued him even more than Rachel's refusal. Was he going to break his promise? "Did the promise mean much after all?" he asked.

...

...he turned to his desk and began to write. When he had finished the last page of the last chapter of his book it was nearly dark. "What would Jesus do?" He had finally answered the queston by denying his Lord. It grew darker in his room. He had deliberately chosen hs course, urged on by disappointment and loss.

"But Jesus said unto him, no man having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God." [pp. 137-138]

Did you get that, novelists? What you care most about are money and fame. Even if your work is decent, if you don't write in any "positive" Christian way, then to hell with you. Literally. In Sheldon's "most famous work, the one unredeemed sin is not drinking, prostitution, or a life of crime, but instead the writing of conventional, popular society novels" (Smith 2007:206).

There's something faintly absurd in what Sheldon says about what Jesus would write. We know what Jesus would write: nothing, exactly what he did write. There is little purpose in asking what Jesus would have written had he been a novelist because Jesus was not a novelist. Jesus has left the novel-writing to us.

This is Sheldonism, a view of writing into which a Christian writer must not slip: fictional works should serve only the practical purpose of forwarding the Gospel, with no particular concern for entertainment or artistic quality. It is this kind of attitude that has probably done much to damage Christian fiction; a Christian writer who holds the presentation of his personal platform, or the theology of his church, as the goal of a novel, is almost certain to fall into the kind of poor, preachy writing for which Christian fiction has become infamous. The Christian writer who places sermonizing first and artistic concerns second or not at all, is in effect condemning art as a justifiable pursuit and beauty as a good. He is perverting beauty into a mere means of conveyance, one he can dispense with if he finds it inconvenient or too difficult to master.

Sheldon's viewpoint is somewhat understandable, though extreme; Smith hints that Sheldon was reacting to Aestheticism, which championed art for art's sake (2007:201), insisting that "all art is quite useless," as Oscar Wilde put it in The Picture of Dorian Gray. These two viewpoints, that art should be useless and that art should be useful but nothing else, can be considered two extremes that the Christian author would do well to avoid. Many of the poorer Christian works with their preachiness, flat characters, and unengaging plots, appear to fall into Sheldon's extreme, but now in reaction, many Christians are falling almost, but not quite, into the other extreme, insisting that good books will have at most only bare, nearly undetectable hints of religion. This is the other evil, the view that morals or religion are somehow ugly and that truly beautiful art has little or no concern for them. In reality, many books have proven that it is quite possible to create works of high artistic quality with religious meaning, even explicit and plain religious meaning.

However, though explicitly religious works of good quality are possible, this does not mean that every book must therefore be explicitly religious. We have no clear reason to think Jesus would condemn a novel in which the moral teaching is "not bad." If the moral teaching is not bad, then it is good and therefore does the very thing Sheldon thinks fiction should do, though such a book would not beat its readers about the head and shoulders with morality the way In His Steps does. Every book, whether the writer wills it or no, will teach something. Every novel has a moral element that may be good or bad, that may uplift the reader or drag him down. Oscar Wilde himself demonstrates this; in his relentless pursuit of art for art's sake, he somehow couldn't stop writing Christian morality tales. There is a use both for the good book without blatant Christian themes and the good book with blatant Christian themes. Each can do its readers some good, each can serve a noble purpose. The key to constructing each is careful craftsmanship that gives serious thought to the key elements of writing, like characters and conflicts. Outright preaching should be kept to a minimum for the same reason infodumps should be kept to a minimum, but if the author finds that either infodumps or sermons are absolutely necessary, they must be good infodumps or sermons, well constructed and provocative. The reason pop-psych Christian novels are bad is not because they're Christian, but because their sermons drone and have little real content. To be quite blunt, the explicit Christian novel needs more content than In His Steps if it is to be a work of art.

REFERENCES CITED

Armstrong, Chris
2005 "Holiness of Heart, Life, and Pen," Christian History and Biography 85:44-45.

Lovin, Robin.
2006 "Faith Matters." Christian Century 123.20:35.

Smith, Erin A.
2007 "'What Would Jesus Do?': The Social Gospel and the Literary Marketplace." Book History 10:193-221.

Tanner, Beccy
1999 "More than a century after he first asked his congregation 'What would Jesus do?' Charles Sheldon's book on the subject is one of the best-selling novels of all time." Wichita Eagle 16 June.


*Incidentally, I remember WWJD merchandise being popular when I was in high school. I used to interpret them as "We Want Jack Daniels" or "What Would Judas Do?" (My animosity toward acronyms has been life-long.) I also heard tell of a tee-shirt that read, "What Would Jesus Do for a Klondike Bar?" I stopped mocking WWJD when a young woman, on whom I had an overwhelming crush, rebuked me soundly. I subsequently retired to my garret, as was fitting, though I have yet to produce a masterpiece, probably because I haven't done too well on the starving part; after all, poets and horses should be fed, not overfed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Addendum: Anatomy of the SJW

Yesterday, I posted on the essay by the perpetually outraged K. Tempest Bradford, who recommends that you de-Jew your library and read only approved Aryan authors.

A reader wonders if she made an honest mistake and simply doesn't realize that telling people to exclude authors from their reading list based on skin color or the ability to correctly identify one's own genitalia sounds a tad bigoted.

No, she did not make a mistake, and no, she does not realize how she sounds.  George Orwell says something apropos:

In the last twenty years western civilization has given the intellectual security without responsibility, and in England, in particular, it has educated him in scepticism while anchoring him almost immovably in the privileged class. He has been in the position of a young man living on an allowance from a father whom he hates. The result is a deep feeling of guilt and resentment, not combined with any genuine desire to escape. But some psychological escape, some form of self-justification there must be, and one of the most satisfactory is transferred nationalism. During the nineteen-thirties the normal transference was to soviet Russia, but there are other alternatives, and it is noticeable that pacifism and anarchism, rather than Stalinism, are now gaining ground among the young. These creeds have the advantage that they aim at the impossible and therefore in effect demand very little. If you throw in a touch of oriental mysticism and Buchmanite raptures over Gandhi, you have everything that a disaffected intellectual needs. The life of an English gentleman and the moral attitudes of a saint can be enjoyed simultaneously. By merely transferring your allegiance from England to India (it used to be Russia), you can indulge to the full in all the chauvinistic sentiments which would be totally impossible if you recognized them for what they were. [more...]

That was then. Orwell wrote these words in an analysis of a book denouncing British rule in India. The political landscape has changed, but the type of intellectual Orwell describes is still with us; he has merely changed his allegiances once again to fit the current fads.

This intellectual still hates his father, that is, Western Civilization, and so still seeks for something that opposes it to which he can give his his heart, even as he reaps all the benefits Western Civilization affords him.  Bradford, for example, frittered away her time in college studying interpretive dance or something similar.  Then she held a real job for a short space, and then she threw the job away to go to Clarion, after which she spent a few years touring around the country and living off the hospitality of others.

The cozy, comfy lifestyle she leads, and the small-minded things she is able to say without serious consequence, are luxuries won for her mostly by exactly the sorts of people she hates, white Christian men.  She does not know or care that most people in most times and places have not had these luxuries.  She does not know where the luxuries come from and does not care, and if anyone tried to mansplain to her where they came from, she would RAGEQUIT.

After Marxism failed, there were Gramsci and Cultural Marxism and the Frankfurt School, which expanded Marx's vision of a war between oppressive Capitalist and oppressed worker beyond anything Marx ever dreamed of, because Marx, perhaps in a failure of imagination, never realized it was possible to distort every relationship in the same way he had distorted the relationship between laborers and their bosses.  Thus we have Second-Wave Feminism, which sees men as always oppressors and women as always oppressed, or race-baiters who see whites as always oppressors and everyone else as always oppressed, and so forth.  The Cultural Marxists believed that if they tore down Western Civilization, a sparkly unicorn kingdom would magically take its place.

At least they had a theory and a goal, even if the theory was wrong and the goal impossible.  But we are now in the "Third Wave," which is made up of the Second Wave's useful idiots, who've now taken over the nuthouse.  There is no apparent goal, no apparent endgame, just an endless witch-hunt, an increasingly shrill series of demands, and a shocking amount of backstabbing.  They hate the West and love everything that opposes it, and only that can explain their contradictory infatuations, such as their simultaneous love for sexual disorders and Muhammadanism.  They never realize that if the West goes, their luxuries and stupid ideas will go with it, because ideas like theirs cannot survive except in the lap of the luxury that the West has afforded them.  They are hothouse flowers, shielded from the harsh winds of reality by their smartphones and their air-conditioners and their rich buddies.

That's why these silly theories grow and metastasize on college campuses, where reality is carefully kept at bay.  What comes out of a department with "Studies" at the end of its name has nothing to do with real life, but that does not matter to the people who run such departments, because they are intellectuals who have security without responsibility.  It's only their students who have to crash into reality when they leave the hothouse behind.

That is, if they leave the hothouse.  Some never do.  Some tour the country and crash on friends' couches, or they find other ways to keep reality at a safe distance.