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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

On literary propaganda and sucker punches

John C. Wright considers the questions of literature as propaganda in "Writing with an Axe to Grind":
A propagandist, like an attorney loyal only to his client, will argue his client’s case, and does not bring up any points helpful to the opposition. An artist, if he is honestly presenting an image of the world as it is or as it should be, will give both sides of the argument, because in nature there are two sides to each question, if not more. An artist may be indeed quite loyal to his burning vision of the world, but an attorney is a partisan loyal to a cause, not to a vision.

The attorney is trying to get a result, that is, to persuade a jury; whereas the poet is trying capture a in a web of words a reality somehow more real than reality itself, as strange as Norse gods catching Fenrir in a gossamer strand make of nine impossible things.

A propagandist is even less honest: he does not actually argue the case nor even tell the jurors that there are two sides to the case. He uses rhetoric rather than logic, uses appeals to emotion and uses other fundamentally indirect and dishonest tactics. The perfect propagandist changes his victim’s mind without the victim even being aware of the operation.

Contrariwise, philosophy confronts a judge with two opposite view points and calls on his to use his dispassionate reasoning to render a verdict.  Propaganda is the mere opposite of this. Propaganda lulls rather than awakens the judgment....

There are two dimensions of propaganda to keep in mind. One is the depth of the message being preached, and the other is the frequency.

To measure the depth, use the following rule of thumb: if the message were removed, would the rest of the story still stand? For example, in STARSHIP TROOPERS the answer is clearly a resounding No. It is not a war story. The fighting scenes are few and far between and sketchy to the point of zenlike reductionism. It is a story about the pragmatic morality of fighting, the patriotic duty to fight. Remove the speeches and everything in the tale uses to buttress or exemplify the points made in the speeches, and the entire story is gone.

Again, try to imagine ATLAS SHRUGGED without the struggle between the productive and archrational supermen and the vampiric irrational socialists, and there is no story. I suppose there is sort of a harsh and angular love story between Dagny and Reardon, but since the ultimate resolution of that plotline is forced by the author’s peculiar theories of the metaphysical foundations of love and romance, even that would have to be dropped.

Likewise again, while parts of THE GOLDEN COMPASS or THE SUBTLE KNIFE might be preserved without the anticlerical message, there is no story in AMBER SPYGLASS aside from the struggle between the good freethinking atheists and the Evil Church of Evil and their clownlike god who evaporates upon exposure to air.

Frequency is another thing. It is common enough in movies and books to hide a Leftwing ‘sucker punch’ beneath what otherwise seems and innocent story, or whip out an anti-Bush joke in the third act that has nothing to do with the story, or suddenly make an old wizard or a comedy relief viking a sodomite, in order to make the homosexual disorder seems harmless and unremarkable. These are called sucker punches because they are the opposite of deep propaganda: their whole effect comes from them being unexpected to the point of being extraneous.

So imagine listening to a comedian telling ninety nine jokes about his mother in law, and one remark that is not a joke at all to the effect that everyone who regards homosexual acts as sinful, or even imprudent, is a hateful bigot with no right to a polite hearing: and Christ was evil for preaching sexual purity, and the Antichrist is Our Master.

In this case, the ninety nine jokes was nothing more than the patter of a confidence trickster, a con job to get you to lower your guard, to lull your suspicions, so he could punch you while you were nodding, you sucker.
This is an interesting perspective and it further demonstrates the difference between Pink and Blue SF. While there is, without question, propaganda being written on both sides, one of the hallmarks of Pink SF/F is the observable fact that in most cases, the personal is the political and the propaganda is the story.

Remove the Christian propaganda from Narnia and you still have an astonishingly compelling set of fantasy stories. Remove the feminist propaganda from the average Pink SF/F novel and you've got nothing but a bog standard romance novel.

Wright's latest work, CITY BEYOND TIME, could technically be labeled a brief, except for the fact that it is so masterfully presented, so deeply philosophical, and so perfectly woven into the story that very few will be aware of the book on that level. It is not, however, propaganda.

Stross's THE RHESUS CHART, on the other hand, is neither a brief nor propaganda by Wright's definition, as the expected anti-Christian asides fall squarely into Exception (1): "a part of the author’s world view integral to him". By a happy coincidence (or was it prescience), I bookmarked a few passages last week that nicely demonstrate this.
  1. "As non sequiturs go Pete has heard worse. In parish work you periodically have to deal with young, slightly alienated gay teens whose overly concerned parents drag them in for a talking-to by the vicar—there’s something strange about Harry. Part of Pete’s job (as he sees it) is to talk them down from the ramparts of militant anti-Christianism, explain that no, the entire Church does not hate them, and then point them at the nearest LGBT youth counseling service. With luck, in a few years’ time they’ll be happy and stable, and remember you when the last of the reactionary ’phobes have finally flounced out of the General Synod."
  2.  “Oh good god.” Mo doesn’t believe in any gods other than the ones I believe in, but the expostulation comes instinctively.
  3.  “Oh, that’s easy!” He looks up. “Would you believe that, of forty-six parishioners informally polled, thirty-six of them believe in the existence of evil incarnate, in the person of the Devil?” He sighs. “Well, their average age was somewhere north of sixty, and they’re self-selected for being frequent attendees at religious services, so there was bound to be an element of literal-mindedness to them. But, taking the Devil as a baseline, the really interesting thing is that forty of them believe in vampires. Over 85 percent! Vampires are out-polling Satan in the bogeyman charts this decade.” He takes a mouthful of fizz. “Mind you, I added a couple of control questions. I said they were a self-selected sample? 52 percent of them think gays are going to hell, and 39 percent think the Earth was created late one Saturday night in October of 4004 BC.” He looks pained. “I can see I have some sermons to write on the subject of metaphor and creation myths. And tolerance.”
In fairness, these little jabs can't really be described as sucker punches when they are telegraphed so obviously. But however ineptly they are administered, their intent is clearly to inform (unnecessarily as it happens) the reader of Mr. Stross's worldview (to the extent it can be described as a coherent and singular entity as opposed to a dynamic collection of externally imposed politically correct opinions) rather than "manipulate the reader into adherence to an ideology".

One of the interesting things THE RHESUS CHART caused me to reflect upon was the way atheists writing vampire novels resolutely stick to certain conventional aspects of the vampire myth, such as being undead, blood-drinking, superhuman strength, quasi-immortality, and a vulnerability to silver, stakes, and beheading, while just happening to remove the power of the Cross over vampires. I think this may reflect an element of anti-Christian propaganda, as well as a certain moral confusion about the intrinsically evil nature of the monsters.

And it shows how these biases can structurally weaken a story. Because, quite often, the very writer who has removed the power of the Cross (to say nothing of the Name of Jesus Christ) over the monsters subsequently decides that it would be very useful if there was a centuries-old organization that either knows about the monsters or hunts them, and then promptly attempts to introduce some element of the Catholic Church despite the fact that the Church has no more ability to deal with them than any Fortune 500 corporation.

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69 Comments:

Anonymous Rabbit July 09, 2014 3:03 AM  

**One of the interesting things THE RHESUS CHART caused me to reflect upon was the way atheists writing vampire novels resolutely stick to certain conventional aspects of the vampire myth, such as being undead, blood-drinking, superhuman strength, quasi-immortality, and a vulnerability to silver, stakes, and beheading, while just happening to remove the power of the Cross over vampires. I think this may reflect an element of anti-Christian propaganda, as well as a certain moral confusion about the intrinsically evil nature of the monsters.**

It depends on how it's done. In some cases it may not necessarily be 'anti-Christian' as an attempt to explain vampires in a scientific way. There is actually one case where both scientific and demonic vampires exist in the same literary universe. In the Marvel comic book universe, MOST of the vampires have the traditional weaknesses, they are actual undead and vulnerable to crosses. There is also another character in the Marvel universe, Morbius the Living Vampire, who is a science vampire, and not actually undead, he has a medical condition that forces him to drink blood. Not actually being undead-demonic, he isn't vulnerable to crosses, which was used to a somewhat humorous effect by Marvel when another character, Blade the Vampire hunter (not realizing the Morbius was a science vampire rather than the undead type he was familiar with) burst into Morbius's lair, and was rather confused to find that the cross had no effect on Morbius. Morbius for his part had (prior to Blade's interruption) been in the middle of a temper tantrum in which he had been throwing test tubes against the wall after his latest failed attempt to cure his pseudo-vampiric condition. He was not delighted to see Blade or his cross.

Blogger Eric July 09, 2014 3:15 AM  

Gah. My pet peeve - authors injecting their world view into a story when none of it actually advances the story. Yeah, I get it, gays are the new black people for middle aged white women. But does every story need to approvingly include a gay "married" couple and then provide me with a Teachable Moment?

And B.C.E. When did it become a requirement to jam in some reason to include "B.C.E" so the reader knows the author isn't into any of that God-bothering stuff?

I just read Shattered, Keven Hearne's latest, in which he includes this stuff. I like the series, like the prose, like the pace... but that will probably be the last one if he's going to keep throwing cultural gang signs like that.

Blogger jaericho July 09, 2014 3:36 AM  

I can't stand the secular vampire craze. iirc Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D series has the vampire overlords still fearing to the cross. At best that's only throwing us a bone, but I'm glad it had that.

Blogger Duke of Earl July 09, 2014 3:44 AM  

I think Marvel Comics also included the caveat on cross usage that the user had to be a believer. Someone with no faith couldn't use a cross against a vampire. Kitty Pryde burned Dracula with her Star of David necklace.

Using that caveat the Catholic Church would be excellent cross wielders, while limiting the non-believer's ability to fight the undead.

Blogger Shimshon July 09, 2014 4:05 AM  

I (for one) love the (amusing; or was it ironic?) use of (parenthetical) expressions.

Anonymous Roundtine July 09, 2014 4:22 AM  

I had an idea for a twist on the pink SF vampire love story. At the end, the male (human) hero saves the female vampire love interest by taking her into the Church. She accepts Jesus and then dies.

Anonymous VD July 09, 2014 4:26 AM  

cultural gang signs like that.

That's a good description. They serve essentially the same purpose.

I (for one) love the (amusing; or was it ironic?) use of (parenthetical) expressions.

I am reliably informed (by people who are very confident in their own judgment) that they are useful (indeed, necessary) if one is to be considered a superior prose stylist.

Blogger Tom Kratman July 09, 2014 5:10 AM  

He either missed or, at least as likely, just decided to ignore for purposes of the column one trick. There is a kind of propaganda that has no positive goal or offensive purpose, however offensive it may be in some circles. Indeed, this kind is often most offensive. I mean by this defensive propaganda, or innoculating propaganda, where the purpose is not to persuade anyone _toward_ a world view, or idrological stance, but to innoculate him from adopting a world view or ideological stance, or to undermine one he has already adopted.

It is, one might say, the difference between the true believer, and the true _dis_believer.

OpenID bc64a9f8-765e-11e3-8683-000bcdcb2996 July 09, 2014 5:39 AM  

Kinda' puts The New Yorker in a nut shell.

CaptDMO

Anonymous EH July 09, 2014 5:55 AM  

Peter Watts' Blindsight had good, scary science-y vampires who were vulnerable to crosses through a defect in their perceptual processing, so mullioned windows would be even more effective than a single symbolic cross.

In the prog pantheon vampires are representative of predatory aristocrats, thus white men. They punch the love / hate buttons of the female libido. As representatives of the upper class, it wouldn't be consistent to have them be at odds with a religion that the progs see as allied with the upper class, or at least official social conformity. They also don't distinguish clearly between the paranormal and the religious.

Zombies are the other end of the prog monster mythos, representing progs and their pet subcultures, self-hatred and their frustrated lust/hatred for normality and brains. It was a masterful twist in Blindsight to have the narrator be a zombie (philosophical subspecies), who of course doesn't realize what he is.

Blogger Dave Freer July 09, 2014 6:36 AM  

I think they're more intended to denigrate the average church-goer/Christian as being stupid, and of course terribly bigoted -- which therefore disqualifies their opinion on anything. And it would be seriously uncool (to the group-think for insecure little cubicle voles) to think otherwise SOP manipulation of the gullible and insecure. It's also quite possibly wishful thinking about people he is ignorant of and desperately wants to believe. My own little church has a similar age profile - and while I would guess that an acceptance of the existence of evil - possibly for understanding in human terms, incarnate in something we'd best understand as the devil, is almost universal, but you'd be hard put to find one who believed in vampires or global warming. My older son's church, almost all south of 35, and seemingly exclusively made up of mathematicians and physicists seems not dissimilar in attitudes.

Blogger Tom Kratman July 09, 2014 7:16 AM  

Oh, Dave, you're brilliant. Think about the comeback: "Oh, no, in modern terms I'm an atheist; I don't believe in either vampires or anthropogenic global warming."

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 7:17 AM  

Good article.

In other words, Progressives are required by their political brain disease to regard EVERYTHING as propaganda.

What they write for the same reason ends up clogged with propaganda too, and will only by accident be art, as Wright later mentions. Another good reason to avoid pink SF.

And this one was good:

modern ideologies attempt to be as all embracing as religion, so that opinions about woman or the weather become political statements.

Ha ha ha, ain't that the truth. "Nice weather today!" "DIE DENIER CAPITALIST HITLER SCUM (goes into weeping twitter rage)"

I think Wright is being too nice to his reviewer (even if a writer should be). It sounded more like a hit piece, preconceived because of a dislike of the author rather than on any merits of the work. Indeed, it seemed to make a point of outright misrepresenting the book. As we have seen ahem recently, there's no lack of that kind of reviewer on the pink side.

Blogger Lucilla Lin July 09, 2014 7:48 AM  

I think the secular vampires in GRRM:s Fevre Dream worked well. They just happened to be a different species that preyed on humans (which they called "cattle"). At least they were predatory herd species, not misunderstood boyfriend material. And there was a strong emphasis on good and evil (their predatory nature vs choice to fight it) It was not connected to any mythology about vampires, just about universal philosophical questions about free will versus the nature.

I think that those ideological "jabs" like the ones in the examples can age the novel really fast. Like the jokes about George W Bush people injected everywhere some years back. They became entirely irrelevant - new leaders get elected and screw up etc, nobody cares about Bush anymore.

Anonymous Salt July 09, 2014 8:04 AM  

(Prose)(stylist)? (Keys)(are)(there)(,)(use)(them).

Anonymous Dan Maguire July 09, 2014 8:10 AM  

In my experience those on the Left tend to be angrier, oftentimes much angrier, than those on the Right, at least in modern America. If the lefties were to acknowledge it at all, they would insist that such anger is due to the strain of being the noble protectors of the downtrodden, the last bulwark against bigots and other haters. Of course, I think that's a load of dung. I think their worldview simply requires a motor that idles in anger, and sustained anger poisons the soul. It makes it impossible to see two sides to almost anything, and must therefore produce inferior, one-sided sucker-punch art.

I'm not saying anger is always a bad thing. It's a rational response to a lot of things. But continued anger becomes self-sustaining to the point it exists without any stimulus at all. Reminds me of an angry shrew who could run 1,000 miles on the furnace of her rage, but if she were forced to smile would likely be bedridden for a month. Man, that's no way to go through life.

Blogger Bogey July 09, 2014 8:14 AM  

@Tom, God calls those people lukewarm, and he's literally more disgusted at them than someone who may be wrong most of the time.

Rev: 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Blogger Jourdan July 09, 2014 8:38 AM  

Wright is almost correct, but not quite. There are certain pieces of propaganda under that definition that, by capturing and displaying something innate in the human condition in a compelling and deep way, rise to the level of art. Common Sense, for example. Starship Troopers, as another.

Anonymous Dennis Mahon July 09, 2014 8:50 AM  

Good Lord, has Stross really gotten *that* bad?

Blogger IM2L844 July 09, 2014 8:59 AM  

'phobes don't flounce!

Anonymous joe doakes July 09, 2014 9:26 AM  

I've read a few newer books where the symbol used to repel vampires is whatever the bearer believes in: could be a Cross, or could be a Star of David, or could be an amulet. The intensity of personal belief is the key. Not sure why a vampire would give a crap how strongly I believed in something. Seems more likely he'd care if the thing I was bearing had some actual power, which is why the original story featured a vampire recoiling from a crucifix on a rosary. It's the same concept as an exorcism - calling on a supernatural power to combat a supernatural power.

Anonymous mattos July 09, 2014 9:28 AM  

Little know fact: Anna Karenina is actually one giant parenthetical.

Anonymous Brother Thomas July 09, 2014 9:47 AM  

He's on the right on target, as usual. This sums up the vast majority of modern "literature".

Anonymous Brother Thomas July 09, 2014 9:50 AM  

mattos July 09, 2014 9:28 AM

"Little know fact: Anna Karenina is actually one giant parenthetical."



It's actually a great book. I enjoyed it immensely.

Anonymous TJIC July 09, 2014 9:57 AM  

Here's a review I wrote about Stross' Apocalypse Codex almost exactly two years ago, touching on this very same topic:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3KCJNXDXQDB6Z/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1937007464


Charlie Stross was one of my favorite science fiction authors a while back - Iron Sunrise, the first few books in the Laundry Files universe, and more.

I'm not sure if his style is changing or if my preferences are, but recently I've been less and less able to tolerate his writing. It strikes me as smug, self-righteous, and very VERY pleased with itself. The less clever he's actually being, the more self-regard his fiction seems to exude.

I'd pre-ordered this book months ago, and it arrived yesterday on release date.

I forced myself to read to page 100 before giving up on the novel and throwing it on the "donate to library" pile.

I know from his blog that Stross is active in attendance at science fiction conventions, and I've got a theory that the first habit that bugs me (more on this in a moment) comes from that. He seems to think that in-jokes and witt-less witicisms are the soul of cleverness. This is now the second - third? - novel in which his characters use the oh-so au-courant [for 2009] phrase "Jesus Phone" to refer to iPhones. He re-uses and re-uses and re-uses science-fiction nerdom catch phrases [ example dialogue: "any sufficiently advanced lingerie is indistiguishable from a weapon" ] that are intended to be funny, but fall utterly flat. In a single word, the nerd-to-nerd dialogue is embarrassing, and it's embarrassing on two different levels: if I worked with a self-described nerd who thought he was being clever issuing the lines that Stross' characters deploy with regularity, I'd cringe for his or her sake. ...and given that this is not actual dialogue, but written fictional dialogue that rings so false and so flat, I cringe for Stross' sake.

The final thing that made me realize that this is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly [ see the Dorothy Parker quote for the rest of that thought ] is the self-righteous smug condemnation he, through his characters, hands out to all of the mouth-breathing evil Jesus freaks from the snake handling continent of North America.

Stross' unconstrained hostility to Christianity is normally present in his blog, but it usually doesn't impact his fiction ... but in this book it's hard to go a page without being hit over the head with Stross' opinions being mouthpieced through either the characters or the plot. The villain is a cartoonish two dimensional televangelist (a totally up-to-the-minute target of hate...if this was 1982 and the 700 Club was on the air) of a TV megachurch. The preacher is a horrible man, engaging in gluttony and lust towards his daughter. Because he is a sexual pervert [ I think, having read only to page 100 ] he's castrated himself...but none-the-less he forces his daughter to mortify his flesh, as holy punishment, which involves something unspecified off in the direction of painful oral sex.

All of Stross' sympathetic characters roll their eyes in all the right places, and violently agree with each other on how evil and stupid those who don't share their sophisticated opinions are. At one point a teacher notes approvingly the de-Christianization of England (in that there are Hindus, Muslims, etc. in her class) but mention her big problem with the religious: fanatic parents - not Muslims, mind you, but Christians - take their children out of religion class. There can be no explanation for this other than the one presented - the small minded Christian parents are afraid that their children learn FACTS.

It is during this same coversation that one of the good left-wing anti-Christian characters that we are meant to identify with "sips his wine thoughtfully" in the between explaining that Christians are fanatics and, after the sip, explaining that Christians are fanatics.

(continued)

Anonymous TJIC July 09, 2014 9:57 AM  

(part 2)





Moving off of the utterly arrogant and snide tone to a new topic of critique: one of Stross' pitfalls as a writer is that he often throws a barrage of word-salad at the reader in - I believe - an attempt to come off as more knowledgeable than I suspect he actually is. In some of his science fiction the phrase "time-like curves" appears far more often than is defensible, and the context fails to provide any example that Stross actually knows what he's talking about. In this, his horror fiction, it's a barrage of theological terms. "Dispensationalism" gets used as if it's just a synonym for "fundamentalist", "prosperity theology" gets used in a similar way. The "quiverful" movement of some Christian religions teaching that large families are good is denounced as a plot because the people who adopt such opinions are seeking to either indoctrinate their children or use them for unwholesome purposes.

Despite the fact that most of the oxes that Stross is goring are not my own, I finally got SO annoyed at how he stacked the deck so strongly against his ideological enemies, so that every character sympathetic to his own point of view is wise, patient, sophisticated and urbane, and every character with the other opinions is a snake-handling con-man, I couldn't even stay with the book up to the point where - I presume - the fairly entertaining Chtulian plot begins.

It's a shame - Stross used to be a good writer.

Like Heinlein in his late period, though, writing good fiction and entertaining the reader now takes a backseat to the author's own tired rants.

Anonymous Feh July 09, 2014 10:31 AM  

A few years ago I read a zombie apocalypse trilogy in which the zombies were clearly supernatural (they did not decay), AND just about every character had an interaction with a ghost, AND YET nobody in the book even thought about the theological implications of all this.

You would think undeniable supernatural manifestations would be a "come to Jesus" moment of the strongest possible sort.

But I guess the author just couldn't stand to have any Christians as the good guys.

As I recall, there were some lesbian protagonists and clearly conservative antagonists, so it was pink horror if not pink SF.

OpenID cailcorishev July 09, 2014 10:32 AM  

I've read a few newer books where the symbol used to repel vampires is whatever the bearer believes in: could be a Cross, or could be a Star of David, or could be an amulet. The intensity of personal belief is the key.

That's one of my least favorite things about the Dresden Files (which I generally enjoy). It's halfway consistent with traditional Christian belief: reciting prayers mindlessly or surrounding yourself with holy objects means little if you don't have faith. Someone who tries to exorcise demons by sprinkling holy water on the possessed person and reading some prayers out of a book is going to get pounded if he doesn't have a strong faith in God's power over them.

But Butcher takes it further in saying any object can be equally effective as long as you believe in it. So Harry's amulet is just as powerful as Michael's sword (containing a nail from the Cross), because the amulet reminds Harry of his mommy. I realize that helps with his world-building, because it means the various groups and individuals can have different cool weapons that are all on similar power levels. But it's very New Age, to say that things have however much power you believe they do.

Blogger Desiderius July 09, 2014 10:32 AM  

VD,

"I am reliably informed (by people who are very confident in their own judgment) that they are useful (indeed, necessary) if one is to be considered a superior prose stylist."

It's along the lines of wearing t-shirt, cut-offs, and trucker's hat to church.

Conspicuous informality.

Anonymous Stephen J. July 09, 2014 10:34 AM  

"The intensity of personal belief is the key. Not sure why a vampire would give a crap how strongly I believed in something."

The explanation I always used for that is that vampires feed on psychic energy as much as on blood, which explains both their telepathic powers of charming and induced amnesia but also makes them vulnerable to psychic energy on a particular "frequency" of thought -- specifically, sincere conviction in a principle that defines some kind of metaphysical "rightness" and "wrongness" and firmly identifies the believer as the former and the vampire as the latter. The holy symbol itself as a physical object isn't strictly speaking even necessary, in this theory; it's simply a visual support for the believer's mental state. If the vampire himself once believed in the same principles, this effect is magnified and strengthened by the vampire's own subconscious self-condemnation as well, causing some vampires to develop phobic responses to the symbols even when no believer is present to consciously "energize" them.

That is, of course, how an agnostic explains the phenomenon, because the possibility that objectively real supernatural powers are at play and that the believer's explanation may be the right one is unfalsifiable by the data but frustratingly unverifiable too. :)

Blogger Desiderius July 09, 2014 10:38 AM  

"I'm not sure if his style is changing or if my preferences are, but recently I've been less and less able to tolerate his writing. It strikes me as smug, self-righteous, and very VERY pleased with itself. The less clever he's actually being, the more self-regard his fiction seems to exude."

Contemporary progressivism is a con game, that feeds on a civilization that has lost confidence in itself. It's the only game he knows, so he plays as best he can.

Vox's attitude is a useful inoculation, but it may be too late for Stross and his ilk.

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 10:51 AM  

TJIC, that's a pretty good review. In the absence of wit, the frantic winking at fans gets so very tiresome.

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 10:53 AM  

Another favorite little trick in movies is to have the hot girl conspicuously or secretly agree with the maverick telling uncomfortable truths, for instance by the camera registering her smiles and twinkling eyes when he's being outrageous. Oooh Mr Atheist, you're such a bad boy. Let me run my fingers through your curly locks once these stuffy old guys are gone.

Well, at least those guys understand the basics of propaganda: the side with the hotties is the better.

Anonymous Trimegistus July 09, 2014 11:01 AM  

There is actually a good reason to write de-Christianized supernatural fiction. George Orwell spotted it in his review of C.S. Lewis's _That Hideous Strength_. Quite simply, when God is on the side of the heroes . . . there's no doubt about the outcome.*

So for Stross, writing in a specifically Lovecraftian universe where there really is no omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator God, merely a bunch of exceedingly powerful alien beings who get called "gods" for lack of a better word, it makes sense to depict Christianity as a comforting delusion. Punches up the horror factor. No one's going to save you.

Of course, where he falls on his ass is by not noticing that the smug anti-Christians are also marinated in their own comforting delusions, but I think that's because Stross himself is thoroughly pickled in them and thinks they're true.

*Unless the author is a brilliant (and theologically astute) person like James Blish, and I'm not going to say more for fear of spoiling a great fantasy/horror novel.

Blogger Feather Blade July 09, 2014 11:03 AM  

"And B.C.E. When did it become a requirement to jam in some reason to include "B.C.E" so the reader knows the author isn't into any of that God-bothering stuff?"

They don't even bother to change the start date to something appropriately anti-Christian, like Nietzsche's birthday.

It just makes it terribly obvious that they have no understanding of how eras are named...

Anonymous Joseph Dooley July 09, 2014 11:03 AM  

"My books are about killing God." -Philip Pullman

Anonymous Trimegistus July 09, 2014 11:07 AM  

Interestingly, one can say that God disappeared from horror fiction, not because people stopped believing in God, but because people stopped believing in the Devil.

A medieval or early modern Christian was acutely aware of the existence of the Devil. Particularly in 17th century Europe, he seemed to be everywhere. So stories of encounters with evil beings like vampires or werewolves had real terror, because at least in folk belief, the Devil was nearly as powerful as God, and his evil minions might be able to pull off a victory.

But in the post-Enlightenment era, when God stopped being an "old man in a nightshirt" wrestling with a red horned dude and became more like an abstract principle, belief in the Devil faded away. The terrifying fairy tales and ghost stories of folklore became children's entertainment. It was only when Lovecraft really thought through the literary implications of a completely non-supernatural, wholly materialistic world that horror gained new life and power.

Blogger Krul July 09, 2014 11:15 AM  

Well, I'd say part of it is a story teller picking the low hanging fruit when it comes to character roles.

So I'm telling a story. My story has a villain. I want my audience to hate the villain, to root for the hero against him. What to do?

Easy! I'll make him a racist, or sexist, or a 'phobe. Naturally, the hero(es) will express the opposite opinions, and commisserate with those whom the villain hates. No need to dwell on it, or even to make it integral to the plot. The villain just needs to mutter a racial epithet here, talk down to a woman there, call a black man "boy", etc.

Naturally, if the villain is a straightwhitecismale and and hero is not, then the modern SWPL audience's sympathies are already on the side of the latter.

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 11:22 AM  

Tismegistus,

Still, it seems a bit weird to amp up the hate against Christ in particular, especially when both reader and characters know there's a big bucket of Lovecraft out there. And when the hate is deployed on the authorial level ... would it be okay to shake your head at Stross (marxist in all but the word, atheist jew) and move on to someone more congenial? Personally, I'm coming to the conclusion he's had his day.

By the way, thanks for the reminder of James Blish, who among other things wrote some of the best theological SFF I've read (try A Case of Conscience, Black Easter, The Day After Judgement). I think I know which novel you mean.

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 11:28 AM  

"It was only when Lovecraft really thought through the literary implications of a completely non-supernatural, wholly materialistic world that horror gained new life and power."

Indeed! I think we also should recall The Nightland, which can, if you will, be seen as an independent nearly-nihilistic vision parallel to Lovecraft's. Though obviously less central to our genre.

PS. Sorry about the misspelling above, that was intended as Trismegistus, which properly should have been Trimegistus.

Blogger Krul July 09, 2014 11:30 AM  

Trimegistus - There is actually a good reason to write de-Christianized supernatural fiction. George Orwell spotted it in his review of C.S. Lewis's _That Hideous Strength_. Quite simply, when God is on the side of the heroes . . . there's no doubt about the outcome.*

I don't think that's a very good reason. People reread books all the time, despite already knowing the outcome. As a matter of fact, I'd say this metric doesn't apply to any literature except mysteries and those that rely excessively on plot twists.

If I divide literature roughly into two categories - high art (e.g. Moby Dick) and entertainment (e.g. The Dresden Files) - we can see that for each type Orwell's complaint is rubbish. For high art, it doesn't matter whether you know the outcome or not; the enjoyment comes from the artistry of the story. For entertainment, you already know the outcome: the good guys win.

Anonymous Bernard Brandt July 09, 2014 11:32 AM  

I think that in the ultimate paragraph of this entry, we have from VD one of the sucker punches that Wright was detailing in his own essay:

And it shows how these biases can structurally weaken a story. Because, quite often, the very writer who has removed the power of the Cross (to say nothing of the Name of Jesus Christ) over the monsters subsequently decides that it would be very useful if there was a centuries-old organization that either knows about the monsters or hunts them, and then promptly attempts to introduce some element of the Catholic Church despite the fact that the Church has no more ability to deal with them than any Fortune 500 corporation.

As a former Roman Catholic (and present Eastern Catholic), I might be tempted to take exception to this statement by VD, save for the fact that it is, alas, quite true.

From the fact that by the educational standards set down by Vatican II, I'd estimate that 95% of priests are unqualified, to the fact that those same priests are, for that reason, risably ill-equipped when it comes to knowledge of Scripture, Tradition, and Church Authority, even down to the fact that Pope Paul VI back in the '60s suppressed the minor orders (i.e., acolyte, lector, porter and exorcist).

And, of course, there is also the fact that various Catholic and non-Catholic groups have estimated that between 35-55% percent of RC clergy are a pack of fags.

Anonymous Daniel July 09, 2014 11:35 AM  

There is actually a good reason to write de-Christianized supernatural fiction. George Orwell spotted it in his review of C.S. Lewis's _That Hideous Strength_. Quite simply, when God is on the side of the heroes . . . there's no doubt about the outcome.*

So for Stross, writing in a specifically Lovecraftian universe where there really is no omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator God, merely a bunch of exceedingly powerful alien beings who get called "gods" for lack of a better word, it makes sense to depict Christianity as a comforting delusion. Punches up the horror factor. No one's going to save you.


I would argue that Lovecraft's atheism--and to a lesser degree, Stross' soft-serve version--make a strong case that their own atheism is the horror. After all, Lovecraft's "gods" are not supernatural: they are cosmic alien entities - purely an extension of the material, simply far greater than humankind, and totally oblivious to it (except Nyarlathotep, who is basically a high order cosmic ant-stomper). In other words, Lovecraft's horror is the horror of a material universe, completely devoid of God.

As for punching up the horror - Flannery O'Connor's Christ-centered tales plumb the depths of horror, swimming far deeper than the residents of atheist Subterranea ever dare contemplate. Lewis had it right: Aslan is not safe.

Atheists are cowards: they pray that this world is all there is, that vile, suicidal religious nuts (Lovecraft's cultists) are the only faith there is, and that at the end of things, a great cosmic monster swallows you whole. Fade to black, and never answer the Maker for your sins.

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 11:35 AM  

I think Lovecraft and Hodgson were furthermore both driven or inspired by scientific findings such that the Earth is vastly older than we had thought, that the universe is a nearly infinite void, that due to entropy it's all running down into a cold darkness, and that there is no inherent presence of good, only bizarre inhuman species whose fossils are being exhumed from beyond time.

Blogger Krul July 09, 2014 11:39 AM  

Bernard, I'm pretty sure VD meant that in the context of the stories under discussion, as in "then promptly attempts to introduce some element of the Catholic Church despite the fact that the Church [IN THESE STORIES] has no more ability to deal with them than any Fortune 500 corporation."

He really should have added a parenthetical note there.

Anonymous VD July 09, 2014 1:24 PM  

I think that in the ultimate paragraph of this entry, we have from VD one of the sucker punches that Wright was detailing in his own essay

Not at all. As Krul pointed out, I was discussing the fictional Catholic Church in these author-created universes where it supposedly hunts evil monsters despite the fact that all of its religious weapons and rituals have no power. The authors might as reasonably choose the Ford Motor Company instead.

Anonymous Hunsdon July 09, 2014 1:48 PM  

Our host said: The authors might as reasonably choose the Ford Motor Company instead.

Hunsdon said: Ford was an anti-Semite, and therefore on the side of the monsters.

Anonymous Bernard Brandt July 09, 2014 3:43 PM  

VD,

I stand corrected. Thank you for your reply.

I will continue to state, however, that while there are traditionalist pockets of the RC Church where exorcism still exists (and for that matter is efficacious), that the majority of RC parishes resemble Cardinal Glick's "Catholicism-Wow!" approach (as lampooned so effectively in Dogma), and would be as effective in exorcising a demon (or two angels, for that matter) as was the good Cardinal.

Blogger Joshua Dyal July 09, 2014 4:04 PM  

I think Lovecraft and Hodgson were furthermore both driven or inspired by scientific findings such that the Earth is vastly older than we had thought, that the universe is a nearly infinite void, that due to entropy it's all running down into a cold darkness, and that there is no inherent presence of good, only bizarre inhuman species whose fossils are being exhumed from beyond time.

Well, not the third of those, at least. The Big Bang Theory had no support during the entirety of the twenties and thirties, and nobody even attempted to propose it seriously until after WWII. And the proposal for the accelerated expansion of the universe (as opposed to the eventual contraction) is even more recent.

Anonymous Eric Ashley July 09, 2014 4:25 PM  

Hmm, an accountant, despite unreasosable stonewalling, gets the chance to do due dilligence audit for his billionaire boss. He finds that the Ford Motor Company is run at a loss.

He confronts the company president who is out on a 'visit dealerships tour' at a dealership.

Billionaire walks in......'finally my investigators have found the Opposing Force to the Empire of the Dead'.

Big fight, with acct. joining in against his former boss, the lich, and teh zombie hordes. But as about to be defeated, the lich calls forth Nyarlthotep to stomp the dealership, and the CEO of Ford calls forth 'Ford Dealership....Transform to Giant Robot Form!'

Anonymous Feh July 09, 2014 4:26 PM  

After all, Lovecraft's "gods" are not supernatural: they are cosmic alien entities - purely an extension of the material, simply far greater than humankind, and totally oblivious to it (except Nyarlathotep, who is basically a high order cosmic ant-stomper). In other words, Lovecraft's horror is the horror of a material universe, completely devoid of God.

In John Varley's Steel Beach, aliens eliminate all human technology on Earth. Only primitives are left on the planet, while human technological civilization takes refuge on the moon.

It is noted that nobody believes in God any more, and especially Christianity, because who could believe in a deity that regarded mankind as his special creation after mankind had been all but wiped out? The aliens had shown that there was only an uncaring material universe, full of hostile aliens, completely devoid of God.

Anonymous Bz July 09, 2014 5:28 PM  

Joshua, I was thinking of the even older "heat death of the universe", proposed by Lord Kelvin in the 1800s from the laws of thermodynamics. (Wikipedia says 1851-1852.)

Blogger John Wright July 09, 2014 5:29 PM  

"It is noted that nobody believes in God any more, and especially Christianity, because who could believe in a deity that regarded mankind as his special creation after mankind had been all but wiped out?"

The same people who continued to believe God was concerned for the fate of the Jews after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Or, to find an earlier example dating from the Bronze Age, Job of Chaldea.

I am ashamed for my fellow science fiction writer Mr Varley if he knows so little of history and so little of the human condition to regard such a conceit (pain leads to universal atheism) as realistic or new.

A more realistic take on the issue is found in BRAVE NEW WORLD, where the abundance of all pleasures and material goods drives all thoughts of God from the minds of men.

Blogger Michael Maier July 09, 2014 8:13 PM  

Even Monster Hunters annoys me with this nonsense.

How could anyone watch a good guy get all glowy and drive off a Master Vamp and not have serious thoughts about Our Lord? But everyone seems like they're satisfied to call the guy a saint and never delve deeper into strengthening their own faith. I just don't get it.

Anonymous mattos July 09, 2014 9:52 PM  

Yeah I was joking. It's my favorite book. First time I really understood how fiction could be more than entertainment.

Blogger Akulkis July 10, 2014 3:26 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Akulkis July 10, 2014 3:31 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Akulkis July 10, 2014 3:40 AM  

There's something that's overlooked... The personality of the Vampire, as developed by the late 18-00's and mostly continued on into the present is a very tight parallel (with some symbolism) for Borderline Personality Disorder.

If there is a personality archetype for the Vampire, it is definitely BPD.
One thing that Christianity DEMANDS is to recognize one's own sins, admit to them, and change one's ways. One trait of BPD's is that they will not, no matter how blatantly obvious the evidence is, own up to ANY mistakes, let alone sins, and would rather totally destroy a relationship with anyone rather than change their ways -- BPD's will do just about anything....EXCEPT change their cruel and anti-social behavior towards others (both people and oftentimes even animals).


BPD's tend to be extremely charming before revealing what they really are like.
BPD's cause confusion in those around them -- by a web of lies.

BPD's tend to hyperfocus on ONE PERSON (victim), and literally sweep that person off their feet ("love bombing") such that they are utterly oblivious to all of the warnings from friends and relatives that "there's something wrong with that guy/gal" even if they can't quite put their finger on what it is that bothers them about the BPD/Vampire.

After totally seducing the victim (not just physically, but emotionally), the BPD suddenly lashes out in a violent way (physically or emotionally) -- c.f. with vampire bite on the neck...

BPD then tends to disappear for some weeks to months... usually renewing a relationship with some other victim.

(compare to the vampire "turninng into a bat and flying away" and then not returning to the victim for several months)

The BPD promises that he/she has changed and won't do it again, sucking the victim in again. Compare to vampire's victim almost immediately falling under the spell of the vampre again upon his/her return.

3 bites from a vampire turns the victim into a vampire. Several horrifically damaging betrayals / attacks from a BPD tend to cause the victim to start behaving like a BPD person also.

There's more that I can think of... but that's enough to make the point.


Anyway... one thing about BPD... the comorbidity with homosexuality is extremely high (also for drug use)... and being extreely narcissistic... and drama queens... and basically a lot of the stereotypical gay persona (minus the gay lisp)... much of it they will keep hidden, because they are ashamed of who they are and what they are ... they KNOW something is wrong with them, even though they will the be last ones on earth to admit it.... AND, they tend to be extremely controlling and manipulative, and demanding of adulation.... and don't tolerate people holding opposing points of view -- they beleive that they know it ALL and that the rest of the world is clueless. Usual cause is abuse and/or neglect going back to infancy and/or extremely unstable childhood (so Obama, Barack, POTUS) or sexual abuse at any time in one's life. IDENTITY disorders abound in this group.

Sound like not just the SFWA, but in particular the types of people writing the types of books being discusssed in this thread?

Anonymous Mudz July 10, 2014 4:10 AM  

But Butcher takes it further in saying any object can be equally effective as long as you believe in it. So Harry's amulet is just as powerful as Michael's sword (containing a nail from the Cross), because the amulet reminds Harry of his mommy.

Oh, man am I tired of that New Age fluff.

"Hey, we're going to hunt some luciferian spawn of abysmal poetry from the eleventeenth dimension of Hell!!"
"Here, you'll need this! It's my LUCKY SOCK +12! It's your only protection!"
Devil: "Noooo, how did you know!"

I remember reading one of my dad's Batman comics back in the day, when he was actually taking on a legit vampire, with a legit flaming cross, and stabbing the thing through the grandfather clock like a mofo. That was a badass comic.

And recently, I just had a read of one of the current lot, where they tried the same story, but bitched out with Batman saying 'it was just the belief the cross represented.' That's just not even fun. And this was during the same arc that they had some liberal angel type floating around as well, so what the hell, writers? I pick up a comic book for some dumb entertainment and you completely pussy out of it? What are you even good for?

(And I don't care what those nerds say, Batman is at least a deist. He's the gothic knight, man, it goes with the territory.)

I think where this whole thing really solidified for me was remembering those original Warcraft games. I didn't play that much of them, since I was a wee lad, but I clearly remembered churches with crosses, badass flamey-eyed paladins with the power of exorcism fighting scorchy red devils and demons, and the orcish hordes of Sauron slaughtering through the country for shits and giggles.

Come to Warcraft III (and beyond, presumably) and it's all soft new-agey non-specific light-magic-force and misunderstood orcsies (and demons that look like left-over Gorn from a Star Trek set). And after a while, I realised War1 and 2 were aesthetically way cooler.

That's what really made it clear to me how much that fluffy liberal mysticism sucked compared to something as badass as Heaven vs Hell imagery. How much more inspiring the concept of the mighty bastion of the Holy Church standing against all the forces of Hell arrayed against mortal man, with only their indomitable courage and faith in Almighty God to sustain them, with the fate of man's eternal soul hanging in the balance. As opposed to even the most magical magicking of magical light-magic that means nothing in particular.

And I wasn't even favourable to the Church or the cross back then. But you don't have to believe in anti-devil crosses and zombie-melting holy water in real life in order recognise how freaking cool it is, for crying out loud.

They really impoverish their stories with these weird little insecurities.

Anonymous Legatus July 10, 2014 12:00 PM  

39 percent think the Earth was created late one Saturday night in October of 4004 BC.” He looks pained. “I can see I have some sermons to write on the subject of metaphor and creation myths.

Oh brother, this old chestnut again! The Genesis creation account is either too “literal” or it's a “myth”, without any allowance of any other alternative. If you actually read what it says, the alternative is neither, because the problem is not that it was interpreted too literally, but it was never, in recent days, interpreted literally at all, in fact, the “interpreters” seem to have not even read it, but made up their own “creation myth” with little regard to what was actually written. So what was written? Lets look...

All made in six days, hardly, the words used are Echad Yom, which can mean very long times indeed, and in other places clearly do, such as a prophecy that is currently 3000 old and counting, and was said to happen in an Echad Yom. And those genealogies used by some to establish 4004 years use a word that can mean “father” but can also mean grandfather, great grandfather, etc, so they were simply listing the famous people, those whose likeness their descendants still follow, or who invented something, or started some trend first (someone had to), so it can be very much longer. And evening and morning mean gradual ending of creative activity of a certain kind and gradual starting of another, these people didn't have clocks so gradualness and inexactness was the order of the day, time wise.

And what else does it say, does it look like myth or science? A simple reading of it, even in English, shows that the specified place was an earth that was “formless and empty”, earth in it's formative stage, and that the specified place talked about in the second verse and all following ones is “ the surface of the deep”, or as we would call it, sea level. Once you realize that, the rest becomes instantly clear. Simply put, the book was written for people, who live on the surface of the earth, mostly a little above sea level, earthling people, not space aliens, or deep sea critters (who can't read anyway), or anything.

The earth had just formed, and was still forming, from falling rocks coming down and volcanism spewing out because it was still very hot. It being so hot meant that the ocean, the water of which was present at this earliest time (as shown by the oldest dated rocks, zircon crystals formed in the presence of water) was unable to exist on the surface since it would evaporate off, and surrounded the earth in a thick, dirty cloud. Then, the volcanism and such died down and the clouds cleaned up, still thick but clean enough that some light shown through. So “Let there be light" is true in the context of this specified place and time, sea level of early earth. Thus the idea that this is myth since once could not have “the heavens”, including starts, without light is shown false, there was plenty of light, just not at sea level on earth at first.

Then the earth cooled enough that water could exist on the surface, hence the separation of the waters above from the waters below. This resulted in confusion since ancient readers did not know about water vapor or what formed clouds, and thus thought that some sort of clear dome was holding up liquid water someplace up there. The zircon crystals formed above showed up at this time, some 4.4 billion years ago, and show that everywhere they are found, they were formed in the presence of water.

Then, the crust of the earth cooled enough that it started to wrinkle, and dry land appeared. Nothing mythical happening here, move along, move along.

All this is spelled out every clearly elsewhere, as here Job 38:8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, Job 38:9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, Job 38:10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, Job 38:11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?

Anonymous Legatus July 10, 2014 12:04 PM  

Part two:

After this plants are formed, no mention is made of exactly how, or how long it took for modern plant types to form. However...what it does say, exactly, is Then God said,(said, IE transmitted information, method unspecified) "Let the land produce vegetation”. Now, when I read that, I see that it suggests that the land did it, IE a natural, earthly process. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “that sounds like evolution, which is impossible”, and your right, except for one little thing, “is anything impossible with God?” Yes, science has tried for decades to make life from non life, and has run into a dead end, having proven that the various needed ingredients (to say nothing of somehow stitching them together) are formed in mutually contradictory conditions, thus to get all the ingredients together in one place is statistically impossible. But statistically impossible is still physically possible, so if you have access to the beginning of a universe, and an infinite number of possible universes beginnings to choose from, you can choose the one where the statistically impossible happens anyway. God takes a large handful of dice of various kinds, throws them out there with careful skill, where they roll and rattle around for 9 billion years or more, and all arrive at the specified place and time at once, so that one moment there is no life, and the next, there is. God does play die with the universe, however, when he does it, it's not gambling. Note that I am talking about a point of view from outside this universe, where things can be observed without effecting them, and perfect knowledge of all possible futures, which cannot be known inside this universe, or by us. Thus you may say “that is scientifically impossible”, and you are right, by us, inside this universe, but not from outside of it by something that is not us.

Then all those early plants (or more properly plant ancestors) worked their change on the early atmosphere, converting it into the nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere we know and love, resulting in the first appearance of blue sky as seen from the specified point of view, sea level on earth. Thus, the idea that the sun, moon and stars where created at this time is false, they were simply visible at this time from the specified point of view.

Then more life appeared, in the same order we see in fossils, sea critters, birds (formerly known as dinosaurs), mammals and other post dinosaurs, and finally mankind.

Anonymous Legatus July 10, 2014 12:05 PM  

Part three:

Finally, it does not stop there, but goes into a second chapter, covering the creation of mankind in more detail, which it specifies was different than that of the other critters, even to using a different word to emphasize that. It also makes a place for them, a garden, which, being a garden, must have been different than the wild and uncultivated lands outside it . It specifies that that garden was planted, not created out of nothing or anything, so this is not a second creation story, as some say.

It starts with the creation of a man, after which, God has to have a little talk with him. You know, birds, bees, that sort of thing. Fortunately, he has actual birds and bees he can use for examples, so he brings them, and the man sees that some are more like him than others, and those come in two flavors, male and female, and he sees their way with each other and the children produced, and he sees that he is male and can guess what a female would look like. Then we wakes up and there she is, and he, uh, knows what to do.

Then there was that whole 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, probably a perfectly ordinary tree with ordinary fruit (it is not specified to be anything else, anyway). God then says, “don't eat that, that would be evil”. So they reached and ate, and by the reaching, decided that what God called, evil, they would reclassify as good, and thus claimed the knowledge of good and evil to themselves. Now God knew that they would decide for or against what he said sooner or later anyway, so he made that tree so they would get it over with in a way that was visible and thus understandable, and so he could make that tree of life to show them what they get if the decide for him as apposed to against him, a visible symbol being more understandable.

Now you see that IF you read exactly what it says, word by word, and do not read in anything not actually said, it sounds like what science is saying. That doesn't sound like myth, and there is no need to call what looks like science metaphor.

This is the short form, I can go on about ancient Hebrew words, their usages here and elsewhere, links to scientific evidences, etc, but that would get rather long. I can say, however "Be on guard against giving interpretations of Scripture that are farfetched or opposed to science, and so exposing the Word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers." St. Augustine. In modern days, people have forgotten that.

Blogger John Wright July 10, 2014 10:10 PM  

"(And I don't care what those nerds say, Batman is at least a deist. He's the gothic knight, man, it goes with the territory.)"

Amen, brother! Preach it! I have always held that Marvel comics is clearly in a pagan universe, where Thor walks around on Midgard (Earth) and the universe is run by creatures like Eternity, Death, The Living Tribunal, and such; whereas DC is clearly Christian, since the freaking SPECTRE sits at the table of the Justice League next to the aliens, vigilantes, and the Amazon babe. Not to mention Alan Moore's SWAMP THING run and Gaiman's BOOKS OF MAGIC and SANDMAN and wherever John Constantine showed had tons of Jewish and Christian lore and background, not mention scenes in Hell, and it was Hell, Hell, not Hades and not Unspecified New Age Bad Place.

George Orwell in his review of CS Lewis' THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH once complained that having Heaven takes sides in a drama spoilt the drama because then the reader knows who is going to win. It is a foolish complaint, but DC comics must have felt a similar fear, because they solved the problem (at least in the Moore and Gaiman stories) by the typical modern cop out of having the devils be morally equivalent to the angels, so that the angels were so stern and annoying and indifferent that they were not any more likeable than the devils.

Jim Butcher, at least, does not commit this flaw with his angels, but treats them with a degree of respect that is so refreshing it is shocking.

But I, too, am sick of this United Nation Nations version of poly pantheism were EVERYTHING drives back vampires if you believe in yourself. I would have written the scene in FRIGHT NIGHT, that started this whole theologically unsound trope by having the vampire grab the crucifix out of Dr Cornelius's hands, and leer, "You have to be BAPTIZED for that to work, pagan boy!" or, better yet, "You have to ATTEND CONFESSION REGULARLY, do your PENANCE, have no MORTAL nor VENAL sins on your soul, and tithe ten percent of ALL YOUR WORLDLY GOODS to the Church for that to work, you slacker!"

On the other hand, I am not completely immune to the appeal of the United Nations of Faiths. I want to see the Jew in the party undo the Golem by effacing one letter on its tongue while the Christians stand around useless and peeing themselves. I would not even mind seeing a Muslim or a Jew driving a screaming Genii back into his brass jar with the Seal of Solomon. Then when only an ancient Egyptian goddess can destroy a mummy, or a Taoist priest cast out an 'oni' I will be satisfied.

Blogger Duke of Earl July 10, 2014 11:32 PM  

Legatus, thank you for demonstrating how eisigesis works.

Blogger Duke of Earl July 10, 2014 11:38 PM  

John, I see DC having the same pantheons in its writing, Wonder Woman (now) is the daughter of Zeus. There is definitely an angelic presence and an idea of heaven though, while Marvel seem to be more, "which circle of hell, and which representation of the devil, do you end up with?"

The closest they got seemed to be the Punisher becoming an agent of heaven, or at least the angels, for a while, but I think any heavenly force recruiting Frank Castle must be pretty grim indeed.

Frank Castle and Steve Rogers are my two favourite Marvel characters though. I wonder what that says about me.

Anonymous Legatus July 11, 2014 1:18 AM  

Duke of Earl
Legatus, thank you for demonstrating how eisigesis works.


So, reading into the text what is not there, some questions:
*Which parts are reading into the text what is not there, and which are not, be specific.
* If I am reading into it what is not there, well, then what IS there, in the original language? Be specific, back up your conclusion.
*What do you suppose "the surface of the deep" means, if not sea level? Be specific, demonstrate your conclusion.
*Who was the bible written for, space aliens with a point of view from outer space, or people who live on earth at about sea level? If it was written for humans, from a point of view humans will understand, what does that mean about the point of view of Gen 1? Does understanding that change your view of the meaning of the text?
* Demonstrate your understanding of the ancient Hebrew words Echad Yom, where was it used, did it always mean "day"? When Echad Yom is used in Genesis 29:20, where Echad Yom refers to a period of seven years that Jacob served Laban to obtain Rachel, that was what, a mistake, a spelling error? If it can mean different periods of time, show how it can only mean "day" here.
* Describe the formation of planet earth, including it's atmospheric changes, it's oceans, the stages of life, etc, how do these compare to what Gen 1 says about them?

Currently, this is just a blanket condemnation which merely means you do not emotionally like the conclusion, not that you have any factual or textual reason to disagree with it. And if you have no factual reason to disagree with it, you cannot even demonstrate to yourself why you disagree. You will never know whether you are right or wrong until you actually look, really look, at the question.

Blogger Duke of Earl July 11, 2014 4:03 AM  

Your entire essay above was "read into the text" because it certainly wasn't written there.

Yom has same range of meaning as "day", the light portion of the day/night cycle, the period of time encompassed by the day/night cycle, an undefined but finite period of time (as when we speak of "my father's day"). We have God actually defining a Yom in Genesis 1:5, being the combination of a light period and a dark period. Absent any other information there's no reason to believe any other definition of Yom in mind throughout the rest of Genesis 1.

In Genesis 29:20 it is being said that Jacob found working for seven years (sheba) to be like working for a few days (yom) because of his love for Rachel. That comparison would make no sense unless the word actually meant day, because saying Jacob found working for seven years to be like working for a vast eternity of time would be completely ridiculous. You do realise how pretentious you sound when you can't even understand a basic comparison yet talk about understanding ancient Hebrew. It's readily apparent that you don't.

The "great deep" would be the water before God brought dry land out of it, as, you know, it says in the text.

All you've really managed to demonstrate is that you're a second rate intellect and a pretentious twat.

Anonymous Mudz July 12, 2014 12:54 AM  

DC is clearly Christian, since the freaking SPECTRE sits at the table of the Justice League

Kingdom Come was basically a giant love-letter to the book of Revelation. That actually surprised me, that Spectre straight up said he was the hand of God, with apparent perfect synchronity between him, Dead Man's, and the priest's beliefs.

I just always assumed it was a Christian universe, because it'd be weird to think of Superman in a universe where there was no God. I don't know about lately, but when I was growing up, he was basically the 1.5th coming of Christ.

"You have to be BAPTIZED for that to work, pagan boy!"

Hah! I did watch some kind of horror spoof, that's always stuck in my mind, precisely because the two very much less-than-moral adolescents went to Church and confessed all their sins so they could sneak into the House of Evil without being seen. But screwed themselves by accidentally swearing.

That scene's always stuck with me. They definitely should use it.

On the other hand, I am not completely immune to the appeal of the United Nations of Faiths. I want

Yeah, it doesn't bother me that they have a fantasy universe in which all these theologies somehow seem to co-habitate, it's just that they're not exploiting the richness of material available to them. Gargoyles had King Arthur, Odin, and the Golem. Samurai Jack had a weird triumvirate of gods and every mythology under the sun. It all worked out fine.

I would still automatically assume God rules over everything anyway, so there's nothing to lose.

@ Duke of Earl

John, I see DC having the same pantheons in its writing, Wonder Woman (now) is the daughter of Zeus.

That's never been an issue really. Even in real life, the pantheons of lesser gods still fit fine in Christian theology. Personally, I assume that if they were real, they were Satan and his gang in his earlier attempt to rule the world. 'Pergamum, Throne of Satan' and all that.

And remember the Apostle Paul? When he and his buddy B were thought to be Zeus and Hermes, he basically went like this:

goeshulk: "No, I'm just a man!"
Instead of: "Lol, you guys believe in Zeus? Losers."

Plus, they keep writing Hades to be Satan anyway, so, c'mon, fantasy coalition of metalogic.

At worst, you can just think of them as the Original Superheroes.

And lol, Wonder Woman. One of the reason I can't get into the current comics, is that Superman is apparently anathema to them. Apparently, he only exists only in order to be torn down for the sake of other heroes, poor guy. And when it comes to Wonder Woman, it looks like Superman is being used as Patriarchal White Male, which means they keep amping up her stats so that she can 'kick-ass' on Superman's level.

That kind of stuff doesn't really make her look good. That just makes Superman look shit.

I'm sorry ladies, but making WW the daughter of Zeus isn't going to make me believe she can beat up Superman no matter how much feminism you throw at it. It's just going to make me think the writers are idiots.

If Superman was at the battle of Troy, he could have murderalised all of them, and be back before time-travelling Lois spilled her coffee. Zeus is the only one that might have the stuffing for it.

Anonymous Mudz July 12, 2014 2:19 AM  

Although, I wouldn't mind it if WW was played as a straight-up goddess with divine powers in the first place, or has magical items that'd smoke Supes. But it's obnoxious when she's just a superhero being given plot boosters to her physical capabilities just for the sake of not looking weaker than Superman.

C'mon. Superman.

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