Yesterday’s Blog: Not Fearing The Lord Is The Beginning Of Wisdom

I was reminded of this post yesterday and thought it was worth remembering. So here it is again.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
 Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
Psalm 111:10

I’d like to pass on one of the greatest gifts I was ever given by my spiritual mentors today. Mostly, it’s a gift I have from my father. It’s a dangerous gift; a gift that in itself is frightening, and is far less common than I believed, growing up. It is the gift of not fearing the Lord.

Of course, most Christians would say they know that the phrase “fear of the Lord” as found above and in other places in Scripture means respecting Him, not “being frightened of God.” But so many people, whether Christians, followers of other faiths, or atheists are very obviously frightened of God. And like any other fear, this leads to denial, anger, viciousness, and an obsession with safety that swallows up everything else a man or a woman is meant to be. And this places the Gospel of Christ in deadly danger.

Christians who are frightened of God are the worst witnesses that Christ can have. My father knew this instinctively, yet so many do not. And in my travels I have seen, met and heard of Christians who act as though their God is so small and so petty, that He will let their souls — yes, the souls he died for — slip through his fingers as though they were game pieces. We have in the Church Christians who are frightened of people who are gay, of people who are Democrats (yes, and of Republicans), of people who dress revealingly, of people who swear. We have people who are frightened of unbelievers, and people who are frightened, laughably, of getting a receipt that informs them they have been charged $6.66 for their fast food meal. And though this is pathetic and saddening, it is not yet damning.

What is damningly worse, is that we have Christians that are so frightened of God, that they dare not investigate their own faith, and ask questions of their own Scripture. The Bible is an ancient text (actually, the Bible is many ancient texts) written in very foreign languages to people who quite literally lived on a different planet.* It demands investigation and training to read it with wisdom. As I grew in the faith, I asked questions of my father about God and about Scripture, and I got answers. They weren’t always the answers that I wanted. They weren’t always answers that were satisfying. They weren’t always answers, I discovered when I was an adult, that I could accept. But I was never made to feel like a fool or an apostate for asking them.

What a different experience this was from that of so many of my friends who went to their parents, or teachers, or pastors, and were rebuffed, shamed, or even abused for simply having questions. Who were taught that asking a question of God was somehow tantamount to disrespect, or even heresy. Who were given no mercy for the crime of being curious children. I’ve met these people again and again and most of them have walked away from God, never looking back, because God was too frightening and too arbitrary to stay around. They found that the only safe course was to deny that God exists at all, because He was presented to them as a little tin dictator, dealing out death in return for questions. But I am not sure that they are the worst off. They may hear of Christ again, from better ministers and, having had the courage once to turn away, may find the courage to turn back again to the God who offers salvation.

What is worse than this is those who stay in the Church, frightened to death of their own God, desperately singing praise and preaching a Scripture they do not understand and dare not investigate, lest the wrath of their terrible and unforgiving God fall on them. They justly earn the mockery of the world because they don’t know their own religion as well as the people who hate that religion. They become a laughable parody of the Church: a faithful, quivering mass of followers too scared of their own God to know him as well as their enemies do. And they pass along their deadly fear of the Lord.

We must not fear the Lord, but live in a faith strong enough to challenge Him. Strong enough, like Moses, to ask to see God in the face. Strong enough, like Christ, to ask for a way out when the pain of the cross seems too great to bear, and yet to continue on. We must have the strength of Job, who, when he was alone and surrounded by cowardly friends, had faith enough to demand justice at the hand of God. And to do so in the face of his friends, who feared the Lord. They feared Him so much that they dared not ask for goodness from him. No, they threw their friend Job right under the bus of karma when he was suffering, even though he had never done anything but good to them. Because if Job did not deserve the evil that was falling on him, then they would have to face the more frightening truth that they themselves might not deserve the prosperity and health they were enjoying. They would have to face the fact that tomorrow they might be where Job was now. They would have to face the terrible truth that they too lived by the grace of God, over whom they had no control. So they told Job that what was happening to him was justice, to reassure themselves.

And what did God say to these fearful men? He said “Go and make sacrifice, for you have not said of Me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.” Job was right. He said of God the thing that was right, even as he demanded justice. And that is true faith: faith in God to be good to us. We have too many “faithful” Christians who are so afraid to do anything, that they do nothing, or worse than nothing because they fear that God is a hard master. Jesus told us what is happening to those who bury their talent, clutching their tiny bit of grace to themselves out of fear of punishment: they have no part in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 25). The world rightly laughs at this “faith” and shuns it.

It is a hard, hard thing to trust God. He expects a lot of trust, because He is ultimately trustworthy. Yet any faith that does not trust in this God is a foolish faith, and much, much harder.

Fear not, my friends. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, perhaps. But trust in the Lord is the end.

*Still the Earth. But a very different Earth. Stay focused, friends.

Dear Stabby: The Obedient Rebel

Dear Stabby,

Our patients have just had their first child, and the turn of their thoughts is horrifying. They are positively brimming over with thoughts of all the wrong sort! Impulses to support one another and their child. Long-term plans for reforming wasteful spending habits and sinful recreation! They are even considering the idea of spirituality — which they have long regarded as a joke — seriously. What do we DO?

Sincerely,

Panicked in Pennsylvania

Dear Panicked,

Calm down. Plans are easy. When the human vermin actually DO something, it’s time to worry.
First of all, whatever you do, do NOT fight their charitable impulses toward their child. The Enemy spent billions of years of the most disgusting effort imaginable to ensure that you would fail. In fact, even if you succeeded, you would be likely to awaken Shame, and that is the first step to repentance. Let them lavish their affections on their horrible larva. Encourage it to the exclusion of all else. In this way, they will have no time for each other’s failings or weaknesses. In fact, with very little effort, you can get them into a contest, in which they will both drive each other to exhaustion in the name of “the baby.”  It’s the best sort of game, because unless they BOTH refuse to play, the one that stops first loses. If you play your cards right, they’ll be divorced within three years.

But assuming you can’t do this, the child itself will quickly become your greatest ally, especially in the United States. It’s not really a person yet, just a cavern of Needs and Wants, and thanks to the first great victory of Our Father Below, all of these are utterly devoted to itself. And in the culture your patients are attempting to raise their child in, they are likely to find no help in making it anything else.

Now, the very fact that this is the first time you’ve had serious problems with your patients tells me that they have been brought up as Rebels. Rebellion has always been the fashion in that country, but until recently, it has been impeded by a real faith in something greater than itself. It is still one of the last great strongholds of the old Church, of course: we have never been able to make Revolution in the United States result in the great paroxysms of hatred that convulsed France, Russia and Germany. When it was not the Church that interfered, it was patriotism, or worst of all, the idea of fair play. The best we have been able to do is a slow boil of resentment, although the racial sentiment that is growing may finally allow us a real chance for genocide. But that is another matter.

Nowadays, the Rebels in the United States have taken over to such an extent that there is hardly anything to rebel against. They have won. But since they know how to do nothing else, that only means that they must seek out something to rebel against, or even create it. And that is pushing the whole country to extremes of behavior that would once have been unimaginable. Your patients’ children, brought up in such an atmosphere as this, will hardly be able to escape the impulse to rebel themselves. They have no other example, and practically nothing to obey.

Is it not a marvelous thing we have at last accomplished? The human cattle, believing themselves free, do exactly what we wish, which is to find more and more to rebel against. At any hint of opposition, or thought that they may have gone too far, they will explode in a sort of joyous rage: at last they are opposed. It is too wonderful to be borne! They will destroy that which dares to gainsay them. Or, as is becoming more likely, they will ignore and deafen themselves to it if they cannot, since it is hardly possible for beings without the least hint of discipline to actually persevere in a fight. Of course, we do not want them to fight. We merely want them to, in the words of an old joke, “knock over the pieces, shit all over the board, and declare victory.”

Keep this principle in mind, and you will soon have a family of victorious rebels, each free from the imprisoning desires and “love” of the others (for desire is all they can mean by love), each victorious, and each completely obedient to our call.

Regards,

Stabby

Ad Majorem Gloriam Dei

I hesitated to write this blog post. There were a number of reasons I didn’t want to write it. Part of me felt that it would be arrogant, or that it might come off as preachy. That I might be wrong. It involves some vulnerability, and it involves some risk. But in the end, it is true, and I felt called to do it. So here goes.

I don’t know any writer on the way up that hasn’t dealt with jealousy on some level. That hasn’t dealt with feelings of complete inadequacy, with the feeling that life was unfair. With the feeling that writers who broke out big did so unethically, or because of who they happened to know, or because of other people’s bad taste. I’m sure there are some of them: those who never really had to deal with rejection because their first novel was snapped up right away, and those genuinely good souls who are just virtuous enough to celebrate with others as much as they would for themselves. I wonder which of those two is rarer? I have no idea, but I dearly wish that I were one or the other of them.

We’re not supposed to talk about those feelings. And it’s GOOD that we’re not supposed to.  Those feelings may be inevitable, but they are made much, much worse when we speak from them or act upon them. We’re supposed to say success isn’t pie and that someone else’s success doesn’t mean your failure. Despite the fact that in some cases (such as competing for anthology slots) that’s exactly what it does mean. But it doesn’t matter. Ethically, morally, we should be glad for the success of others. Celebrate them. Lift them up.

I have failed at fighting these feelings a lot. I’ve struggled against them hard. I know I’ve done better than some and I know I’ve done worse than many. I won’t even speculate about “most” because honestly I have no damned idea how “most” people do. My failure is inexcusable. But it’s not unforgivable. Because that’s the nature of forgiveness: the inexcusable is what forgiveness is for.

Last week, I got some news. It has the potential to be utterly life-changing news. And it also has the potential to be nothing more than a high-level rejection. It’s good — unbelievably good — that I’ve risen this high. But I still have potential to fall all the way back down to where I’ll have to start all over again.

And talking about this? It makes me afraid. It makes me afraid because of stupid reasons, like superstition. If I talk about this, it won’t happen. Because of self-centered reasons. There are people out there who will be glad to see me fail. Because of paranoid reasons. There are people out there who might figure out how to sabotage me. And honestly? For moral reasons: Karma or God knows that I haven’t supported others like I should have. I deserve to fail.

But here’s the thing: I do deserve to fail. That’s not the end of it, though: as much and as little as I deserve to succeed, I deserve to fail. Because whether I succeed in this or fail in this, it really isn’t about deserving it. No one in this business deserves a career, deserves an award, deserves a publication. They get those things, or not. One of the pieces of advice that I value most highly , I got from the writer S.M. Stirling at DragonCon 2018. He said, “Most authors have no idea how they got where they are, and the role chance played in getting there.” I believe he is correct on this.

But if there’s been something I’ve appreciated as I’ve hacked my way up the great mountain of publication, it’s been those willing to talk about their failures, and what it’s done to them. In a sense, this blog post is about joining them, in the hopes that I will be helpful to others, as they have been helpful to me. One of those who deserves special mention is Steven Barnes, because of some recent posts on failure and success. Something he posted, and which I wish I could find now, but I can’t, talked about a recent failure of his: for a brief moment, he believed some lies. That he wasn’t good enough. That people were yanking him around just for giggles. And then he had to consciously remember who he was, what he had done, and what was important. And do the next good thing in front of him as a father, a husband, and as a writer.

Now that is amazing, for two reasons: one, because it’s the testimony of a man who has not, even through the kind of success I would (not really!) kill for, lost sight of what is truly important. Secondly, despite that success, he admits that he has not become immune to failure and the bad feelings it brings. He can DEAL with them, but he isn’t IMMUNE to them.

Right now, I am doing everything I know how to for this opportunity to succeed. And right now, there’s just nothing I can do except 1) Wait and find other good things to do, and b) pray like crazy and ask others to do so for me. I’m praying for this like I’ve prayed for nothing else in my life except for my marriage and my children. I want it very, very badly.

Now, I know exactly what the right thing to say is. The right attitude to have. The right thing to say is very old: it’s in the oldest book of the Bible. It’s what Job said: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

You know, it’s going to be devastating if I don’t get this. But so what? Job was devastated too. And he had far more reason to be.

But this is where I stake my faith. But not, and this must be clearly understood, upon whether I get good news or not. No, I stake my faith on the Lord, who promises that all things work out for good for those who love Him. But I’m still going to pray for what I want, and trust that eventually, that I will receive, that I will find, and that the door will be opened. This is where I pray and what I pray for. I know a lot of people would like to see me succeed. There may be some who would like to see me fail. Oh, well. If that’s what you find pleasure in, then I’m afraid I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a truly awful thing enjoy.

I suppose I’m a little afraid of what people’s reactions will be to say that I’m praying for this. Will they say, “If you get good news, will you say it’s because you prayed?” Hey, I don’t know how prayer “works.” I’ll be too busy being happy about it t even ask that question. Will people say, “Are you trying to butter God up?” No. At least I really hope not. God isn’t, in my experience, very butterable, although if you think that would work, I think you have a weird view of God. I’m also, I suppose, afraid that as much as I’m trying to do what’s right, I might still be wrong.

No, I’m staking my faith on just saying this. Because I can’t really lose: this victory is now won. This is the moment where I can say, before I know the outcome, that I trust (as best I can) God with it. If I get this, I will be overjoyed at the blessing, and God is glorified. It means I really enter the conversation that is literature, and on a whole new level, and I am blessed.

And if I don’t get it? Well then, though it will hurt like poison, then I have at least had this conversation. And that’s a different blessing. And I learned just a couple of days ago that more people are listening to it than I sometimes think possible. And along with John Milton, who is damned good company for a writer, I remember they also serve who only stand and wait. I may not be able to speak with much grace if that happens. I’ll be badly hurt. But I will have done this, ad majorem gloriam Dei. That’s what’s really important, and what’s right, even if I might forget it for a time. I pray that I will not, and that God gives me the grace be His witness in success and in failure.

New Stories and His Missing Materials: The Logoccentric Returns!

Hi, everyone! Well, it was a good vacation, but now I’m back! It’s the start of a bright new school year full of many good things! I got some great news in and around my vacation, so let’s get cracking!

First, if you’d like some real content, I’d like to direct you to my latest article published with SciPhi Journal (which is gaining readers by leaps and bounds) called “His Missing Materials” in which I take Philip Pullman to task for pretty much slandering the Christian faith.

As far as upcoming sales, I can’t name any right now, but it looks like I’ll have at east one if not two new announcements to make in the near future.

Finally, I’d like to share this awesome possible cover art for my next book, forthcoming as soon as I can get a small amount of edits back to the publisher:

Girl Who Wasn't

The Mirror In The Man

Tolstoy opened up Anna Karenina with the observation that happy families are all alike; that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But he got it exactly backwards. Only happy families are glorious in their uniqueness, because they’re the ones who are actually growing and producing individuals. It’s the unhappy families who are all alike, locked in a kind of spiritual trench warfare against themselves.

But it’s not surprising that Tolstoy got it backwards: that’s the instinctive thing to do when you’re looking in a mirror. Happy families look alike to those trapped in unhappy families for the same reason that rich people all look happy to the poor: poverty is so overwhelming that they can’t imagine being rich and still being miserable. Unhappy families look different because the words and the drama change while remaining monotonously the same. It is always the same people upset about the same things that they will never let go. From outside, it may look new: from inside, it always feels like, “not this again!” I remember the endless fights between my grandmother and grandfather. It was always a different issue but always, always the same: he was never doing what she wanted him to, or listening to her. And it was impossible for him to because what she was saying was never exactly what she was thinking, so why should he have even tried?

And the reason for this is that when God gives us a family, he gives us, in a sense, a mirror: another person who sees us from the outside and displays our virtues and our flaws to us. In fact, there’s two types of mirroring going on, and it’s hard to say which one is more intense, the active or the passive.

The active mirroring is easy to define: it’s when the people around you criticize you and react to your actions. They tell you they don’t like the things you love doing, or they do like the things you hate doing. When you do wrong, they let you know you’re wrong. And sometimes even when you do right, they let you know you’re wrong. They’re mirrors, and what’s more, distorted mirrors, but with some semblance of truth.

The passive mirroring is more subtle, but also more constant. We all have things we hate about ourselves. And because we’re all human, our family members will share some of those traits, reflecting them back at us. Talking too much. Slurping food. Hogging the biggest share of dessert. Passive-aggressively ignoring chores.

And our instinct in both cases is usually to smash the mirror for what we see in it. To attack and attack until the mirror shows us only what we want to see. This leads to knuckles cut to ribbons, and our image being smashed. It is far harder to do what we must: to change ourselves in response to that which we hate to see.

Of course, in any family, you’re not the only mirror, nor the only person. Sometimes, you also will be attacked for what your family members see in you. And while you may have to stop the attack, it’s vital to remember that they’re really not attacking you. They’re attacking the mirror, and trying to destroy the terrible image of themselves that they cannot bear. Because if they can make it your fault, it doesn’t have to be theirs anymore.

Oh, God, protect us in our families from our urge to break mirrors that have done nothing but show us as we are.

 

No Ordinary People: The Weight Of Glory And What C.S. Lewis Can Teach Us About Notre Dame

From “The Weight Of Glory,” by C.S. Lewis

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind… which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

I was thinking similar thoughts to this as I considered the destruction of the Notre Dame cathedral over the past two days. The loss of that incredible piece of art is simply unfathomable. And I was very glad to hear that the loss is not as bad as first reports led me to believe. I will be very glad if it is confirmed that the cause of the destruction was indeed accident, because I hope no one would wish to commit such a terrible act, or that those who do wish it would be prevented.

The Notre Dame Cathedral, like any incredible work of art, is not a person. In some ways, in fact, it is more than a person, because it has added to, inspired, and provided comfort for people in ways that another person simply cannot do. What art does is not what people do. If people could do what art does for people, then we would have no need for art. So it is not wrong to mourn the loss, nor to be shocked and saddened by it. Hardly any person could mean what great art means to so many people.

And yet, in the end, the Notre Dame Cathedral is so much less than a person. It is unique, and complex, and storied, and ancient. But speaking as an educated man, I know that it is less, not more complex than a single human being. Speaking as a Christian, I am bound to profess that not all the works of art on the planet can be equal to the story of a single unique human soul wrought by the Creator. And as Lewis reminds us, its ancientry is nothing measured against eternity.

The real tragedy is not that Notre Dame has burned. Not even if it burned to the foundations and was lost as utterly as the Library Of Alexandria. The real tragedy is that all of us not only assent to, but actively participate in, burning and destroying each other’s souls every day. Social media is only the most obvious battlefield.

I do not think that in our fallen world we can do otherwise. Scripture itself tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. So many of our temples are desecrated, by others and by themselves. Some of us seem determined to burn ourselves down. Our problem is that we live amid an embarrassment of riches: there are eight billion of us, and so many die, or worse, every day, that we can only notice the loss of those that are especially “valuable” (God, what a blasphemy) to the majority or to those in power. Or those who are close to us. Notre Dame we can notice: there is only one of it.

We know we must do better than this. The barest vestige of moral sense demands it. But it is beyond us. To do otherwise than as we do would be to be perfect. It is, in fact, not enough to do “better.” Ten times better, or a hundred, would still leave countless eternal souls burned and destroyed. Would still leave us walking amid the suffering shells of living cathedrals. But this alone should awake us to the terror of our state. To make us cry out for a Savior who can reconcile us to the God whose eternal children we daily destroy.

I suppose that this is why I wrote this. I am under no illusion that a blog post will stop human suffering, nor cause our species as a whole to stop doing what we do so well. But waking up one person? Well, maybe.

Postscript Note: I realize, of course, that not all readers will share my faith. Discussion is invited. Trolling is not, and will be removed or simply not allowed. Thank you.

Dear Stabby: The Unthinking Thinking Of Thinking

My patient is intelligent (for a human, anyway) and, on the advice of my brother, I attempted to develop him into an arrogant, spiteful intellectual. The patient is now a middle-aged scientist, and the results so far have been mixed. On the one hand, I have taught him to feel and express a biting contempt for anyone that he determines to be less intelligent, less learned, or have less sophisticated hobbies than him, with the result that he has alienated himself from countless friends and family. I have even gotten him to the point where, when the Enemy suggests that his actions are cruel and petty, he justifies his vicious insults on the grounds that it would ‘violate his integrity’ to let an error pass uncorrected or a foolish comment unanswered. But on the other hand, when he does think of religion and I try to divert him, he directs that same hostility-towards-stupidity at any diversion or irrational argument I offer. As such I find it is nearly impossible for me to forestall his trains of thought, even when they draw him nearer the Enemy. Is there any way for me to stop him from thinking while also maintaining his contempt for the thoughtless?

Best,

Asmodeus in Academia

 

Dear Asmodeus (incidentally, you’d better hope Asmodeus doesn’t find out you’re using his name as a pseudonym),

Good Lord Below, you’re not trying to use irrational arguments against a proud intellectual, are you? You’re practically shoving your patient into the arms of the Enemy. The longer you try that tactic, the more you run the risk that he will catalogue all the irrationalities, add them up and find that the balance favors the Enemy. But this is basic, and was handled far better by Screwtape in his unfortunately published correspondence that the humans got hold of. If you haven’t read it, you’d better do so immediately.

Diverting him is by far the safer course, but you say that doesn’t work either. Well, then the best course would be that which works on that mindtrap humans call the Internet. Use his pride to draw him down the same, trammeled arguments that have always worked in the past. Show him that he has already disproven all the wild claims about the Enemy. Draw him into admiring his own clarity of thought, his brilliance. Let him come to believe that he alone sees the elegance of these arguments, when they are in fact the same arguments that he absorbed in his college days, in the first flowering of rebellion against any form of authority. In this way, he will no longer be thinking: he will merely be thinking he is thinking, when instead he will be mired in self-congratulation.

In this, you will find that you have the assistance of his ego. Very few humans have the will or the confidence to truly take a fresh look at old problems when new evidence arises.  The consistency of their outlook is a great comfort to them, as it reassures them that they saw early a truth that their fellows come to late, or not at all. This sets them firmly, in their minds, among the ranks of the elite of their wretched race. Therefore, the opposite view, that they have come late to an old truth acknowledged even by the common folk, is almost insupportable. They will grasp at almost anything to avoid that humiliation.

Stabby

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Stabby: The Politics of Gratitude

Dear Stabby: I’m in the process of molding my patient’s political views. He’s fifteen and just waking up to the idea that politics are interesting. But which political viewpoint should I strive to instill in him. I know that the best way is usually to simply make him rebel hard against his parents’ political positions, but they hardly pay attention to politics. Haven’t voted in years, in fact. So I have little to help me there.
I can see little in America’s political situation to help me either. On the one hand, steering him toward the Democratic Party has the advantage of making him hostile to Christianity, and would put him strongly in the camp of a majority that generally despises the Church.
On the other hand, the Republican Party has the advantage of alienating him from most of his peers, and being just as hostile to the spirit of the Gospel while hypocritically claiming to support it. Which is better for making sure the vile little creature never comes to Christ?

Sincerely,
Wondering In Wichita

Dear Wondering,

What I’m wondering is whether you haven’t spent so much time among humans that you’re starting to be as dull and taken in by appearances as they are. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that you are beginning with the wrong question entirely.

For over a hundred years now, one of the grand strategies we have been pursuing is the division of humanity into two great warring camps. In fact, the beginnings of this struggle can be seen as far back as human history goes, right into their earliest codes of written law. And like all of our greatest attacks on their virtue, it has its genesis in the fundamental contradictions of their very creation.

As we and the humans share the distinction of being spiritual beings, we know that we are unequal to each other. The fact that the Enemy insists, in the face of every bit of evidence, that spirits are somehow “equal before Him” is the most ridiculous piece of propaganda He has ever spouted. But spiritual inequalities can be, and usually are, concealed by lies of our own. But humans are also animals, and they are, of course unequal in that plane of existence as well. And the absurdity of any pretense that they really are equal in strength, health, intelligence or cunning, let alone possessions and wealth, is what drives their separation into two camps: what humans often call the haves and the have-nots.

Now the human response, and ours, seeing that the worlds are unequal, is the same: war for conquest. What I have, I propose to keep. What you have, I propose to take. It is the only rational response. The Enemy, of course, calls these obvious truths Sin, as he always does when His irrationality is challenged, naming them respectively Greed and Envy. But whereas we disdain to conceal the truth, the humans, who never stop pretending to love “justice” and “virtue,” must conceal with any number of justifications, coming up with reasons that they are “allowed” to keep what they have and take what they want. Being an American, your patient will probably soon encounter the terms “the politics of greed” and “the politics of envy.” The fact that they are being discussed in such bald-faced terms is actually a setback for us: we would much prefer to cloak their natures in politically-obscure terms such as “conservativism” and “liberalism,” or “capitalism” and “socialism/communism,” or whatever fatuity the humans are espousing and denouncing today.

But so long as the humans are taught to refer to the other side as “the politics of sin” and taught to embrace their own sin as righteousness, we have already won. In America we are closer every day to the time that the humans in each camp will clutch their own sin to their breasts as they would their children (even tighter than their children. Their children, after all, might join the other camp) and fight for its triumph over the sins of their fellow humans. And therefore, whoever wins, we do as well. We have exactly what we want: two groups of people living in a house that is burning down, fighting each other over whether gasoline or kerosene will best extinguish the blaze.

The humans never even consider the Enemy’s way: that there might be a politics of gratitude. That there might be a politics of humility. It is, of course, written in that wretched book of theirs that they should take no thought for what they should eat, or what they should wear, and trust the Enemy to provide “daily bread.” But it is no more in their nature to obey such ridiculous commands than it is in ours. And if anyone ever does suggest that such qualities might be the bedrock upon which a strong state could be founded, as some Americans did two centuries ago (Yes, Americans!) then it is a simple task (which has taken far longer than it ought to have) to point out the hypocrisy of it, and to bring in those who will make others’ “gratitude” an excuse for their own hoarding, and others’ “generosity” an excuse for their own theft.

So rest easy and pick a side. It doesn’t matter how your wretched patient goes to Hell, just that he gets here in the end, believing that he is blazing a trail to heaven.

Your sincere well-wisher

Stabby

The Myth Of The Myth Of Religion: A Fisking

There are many good and intelligent atheists, among whom I count many friends. Some have attacked my religion with skillful arguments. This is not one of them. Rules for the fisking: Just to switch it up (and because I forgot my own conventions) the fisked article is in bold, and my responses are in italics.

There are at least 4,200 religions in the world today, and countless more have been lost to history.

Yeah, especially since to get that count you have to count every single different denomination of, e.g. Christianity as a “different religion,” even though the vast majority of their adherents would consider the vast majority of them to be variants of the same religion. I’m going to guess that’s true for a lot of the non-Christian religions as well, because you’ve already demonstrated that neither intellectual rigor nor honesty are features of your position. Most people don’t manage that by their first sentence.  

It’s obvious there’s a 0% chance all of them are the true word of God. Some thinkers have speculated that each religion is at least a little divinely inspired and holds a piece of the puzzle left to us by God to put together. But the only way to come to that conclusion is to ignore huge tracts of doctrine in each religion.

Hey, that’s one of three things in this drivel that actually makes sense.

Ultimately, none of them are compatible. If any religion is true, there’s only one.

What, NONE of them? Swiss Reformed Christianity can’t be the true religion if Dutch Reformed Christianity is? Wow, I was never told that. Filthy Genevan heretics!

This means at least over 6 billion people alive today believe in a religion that was written 100% by human beings and 0% dictated by the creator of the universe.

Wait, what? How did we get to this place? Why isn’t it theoretically possible that one religion IS, in part or in whole, dictated by the creator of the universe, and there’s some variants that are kinda distorted, and then there’s some others that are just made up? I mean, seriously, you just went from an actually accurate summation, to an indefensible particular, to something that in no way follows from what you said. Do you seriously not understand that? Or do you just trust that no one will notice?

A belief system written by human beings that has no bearing on the factual nature of reality is mythology.

And for a definition of mythology, we have: Wikipedia!! The final source for all your theological/philosophical needs. Not only that, but your definition doesn’t even match with theirs! Which is a lot more complex and includes: “the collected myths of a group of people, but may also mean the study of such myths,” with cited folklorists describing myth as “a sacred narrative that explains how the world and humanity evolved into their present form,” and “ideology in narrative form.” Notice how none of them render judgment on the truth or falsehood of the narrative?
So, basically, the way you go about “showing” that religion is a collection of lies is to lie about lies? Are you under the impression that a lie about a lie constitutes truth?

The cold, hard truth of reality is that the vast majority of the people alive today believe in mythology and dogmatically refuse to even consider the possibility that’s true.

Yes, you’ve definitely established your credentials as someone who can be trusted to determine “the cold, hard truth of reality.”

So if you believe in religion, there’s automatically a 99% chance you believe in mythology.

Wait, what?? You said only one could be true. 1% of about 4200 is about 42.

HOLY SHIT!! DOUGLAS ADAMS WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!!!

If you refuse to question your beliefs, there’s no way for you to know if they’re true, which increases the chance that you believe in mythology to 99.9%.

Whoa, hold on. This mathematics is really blowing my mind. So, back when I believed in one religion out of (according to you) over 4200, there was a 1% chance I’d hit on the right religion, and didn’t believe in mythology. Despite the fact that (you said) only one could be true. But NOW, if I refuse to examine those beliefs, there are only about 4. Or do you mean that if I DO question my beliefs, I increase my chances of hitting one of those 42 by a factor of 10?
Or are you just making up numbers in nice round factors of ten because it’s easier than math?

This number is increased to 99.99%

So now we’re close to “one.” Which is what you said would be the only possible number of “true” religions. Oh, I get it! This is what the true religion will look like! Pencils everyone! Write this down! I’ll test Christianity!

if your religion contains any of the following:

1: Human sacrifices

Well, it was only the one time. Not like it was a habit or anything. And it was a volunteer. Who was also God. Otherwise, it’s specifically forbidden. Do any religions really still have this as a feature? Because I’d think people would comment on that more.

2: Moral values that reflect the needs and wants of a specific primitive culture

Nope, pretty much all primitive cultures. And sophisticated modern ones. So, are you saying that specific primitive cultures can’t have true religions? Or that sophisticated modern cultures automatically have better moral values? Wow, that’s awfully insulting to a whole lot of people in the world.

3: Instructions to hurt, kill or look down on other people

No, all that’s pretty specifically forbidden, too. I guess Christianity can’t be the One True Religion. Or, wait, does that mean it still can? I’m sorry, I’m still pretty hung up on 42 = 4 = 1.

4: Reasons to look down on yourself

Well, on the one hand, I’m a sinner, and on the other, I was important enough for God to die for. So, not really.

5: A pyramid-shaped authority structure

A really flat pyramid: on one level, me and all the other Christians. Infinitely far above us, Christ. I guess it depends on whether your grasp of solid geometry is as shaky as your grasp of basic arithmetic?

6: Scientifically inaccurate statements

Well, how accurate do they have to be to count? Technically Newton’s Law of Gravity is “scientifically inaccurate” since Einstein came along, but we still teach it in schools, for the very good reason that it’s close enough to accurate to be useful to the people it’s being taught to. I’ll be very surprised if you see where I’m going with this.

7: Magical beings, powers or events that no longer exist

No, all the magical beings and powers described in the Bible still exist. Somewhere. As far as “events” go, are you aware that an “event” is something that happens for a finite amount of time, having a beginning and an end? (Merriam-Webster def. 4) Every scientific experiment consists of “events that no longer exist.”

Some people have speculated that it doesn’t matter what religion you believe in as long as you believe in something that gives you meaning, instructions and peace. But believing in something that isn’t real is the definition of insanity.

It really isn’t, according to Merriam-Webster. Definition 3b might stretch that way. Oh, I forgot! Our source for the truth of all assertions is Wikipedia! But wait:

“[a term] that describe[s] a spectrum of individual and group behaviors that are characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns.”

So I guess not.

It’s not okay to be insane just because you like it because it holds you and society back.

From what?

Believing in mythology is counterproductive if for no other reason than it’s a waste of time. It keeps you busy going through meaningless motions while ignoring real world issues that have real consequences to you and the rest of mankind. Your life and everyone else’s would be improved by you focusing on real problems.

According to you. But since that whole 42 = 4 = 1 issue, I don’t really want you prioritizing my issues, much less the world’s

To this, you might reply, “But how can we know how to live without religion?” Remember that most of the world doesn’t believe in religion; they believe in mythology. 

Except for the 42 real ones. Or the four real ones. Or the one real one. Whichever.

So the real question is, “How can we know how to live without mythology?” If mythology is just a belief system made up by humans, and you’ve spent your whole life living according to those rules, you already know the answer. We can make up our own ethics, and in fact, that’s what we’ve been doing all along.

We sure can. And some people’s ethics have been very good, and some of them have been very bad. 

We just haven’t been honest with ourselves about it.

As honest as someone who pretends that Swiss Reformed and Dutch Reformed Christianity are as different as Shinto and Orthodox Judaism, for example?

If taking personal responsibility for your own ethics sounds scary or haphazard, consider that mythologies can contain horrible rules that can lead you to hurt yourself or others, which makes it all the more imperative you question your beliefs.

In which case they are no more or less likely to contain “horrible rules that can lead you to hurt yourself or others” than a religion or a mythology is… except that you don’t have the benefit of having had those rules reviewed and interpreted by possibly millions of people over hundreds of years. So your quality control sucks.

This is especially true if you absolutely insist on believing one of our religions is the divine truth. Everyone wants to believe that their religion is the right one, but at least 6 billion people are dead wrong in their faith.

Only if you insist on dividing religion into 4200 parts because Wikipedia says so.

Statistically, you’re probably one of them.

Yeah, you lost the right to the use of the word “statistically” back up there where you were randomly assigning powers of ten to things because reasons.

The only way you or anyone else can find the right religion is to scrutinize yours objectively.

And it’s the second thing that actually makes sense, assuming we allow the caveat that humans are famously not good at doing that. But it’s a useful discipline to attempt, that’s for sure. Of course, you also have to scrutinize a LACK of religion objectively, or as close to that as you can. Will you? Or do you just assume that you’ve done it by virtue of being an atheist?

This may sound like heresy, but it’s probably not a coincidence that you were created with the capacity for reason, skepticism, doubt, and logic. For the billions of people who believe in mythology, it’s a necessity. If your religion can stand the test of truth, there’s no danger in putting yours to it. If your religion can’t stand the test of truth, objectivity is the only way you’ll ever free yourself.

Well, a lot of heretics have agreed with that. Real challengers of orthodoxy, like, you know, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Your quest for truth isn’t just about you. Most religions encourage you to convert nonbelievers,

Most actually different religions, or most of the 4200 you got from Wikipedia?

and even without actively proselytizing on the street corner, you passively send out the message that people should join your faith just by living according to it.

Okay. But by that argument, you’re actively leading people away from eternal life, or nirvana, or inner peace by living as an atheist, not to mention that you’re proselytizing that right here, so I’ll expect you to objectively own that.

If you believe in one of the religions that are mythology, you’re leading unwitting victims into a trap.

And if you don’t believe in the true religion, you’re leading people to Hell. Or at least back to samsara.

If enough people in one area buy into mythology, one way or another, their beliefs are going to determine social norms and even laws. This has a harsh real-world impact on people who don’t believe in that particular brand of mythology.

Oh, noes! The brave tough-minded atheists might get their feelings hurt! Or do you mean that you might be marginalized and persecuted by the bad, bad theists? Because that never happens to religious people in officially atheist regimes like the Soviet Union or Communist China. Oh, wait.

Another danger of spreading mythology is that some people will inevitably latch onto the most violent, oppressive, absurd rules within that belief system and use them to justifying hurting other people.

You mean like atheist communists did in the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia? Yes, that would be bad.

So before you go spreading the good word, it’s imperative that you make sure it passes the most rigorous test of truth, not just for your sake but for all of ours.

And to your credit, you make sense for the last time in the essay. But you really should start with applying that principle to the basics of arithmetic. Here’s your starting point: 42 ≠ 1.

Pure Energy

I’ve been thinking lately about why science-fiction seems to be very enamored with the Gnosticist flavor of mind-body duality. Star Trek and Star Wars popularized an idea that seems to have been old since at least Childhood’s End in science-fiction, and was an old religious idea millennia before that: that the truly advanced beings will be “pure energy.” Bodiless souls immune to the corruptions of the flesh, which will transcend evil (and perhaps good) and go on to heights of intellect that we poor meatsacks can hardly imagine.

I suppose it isn’t much of a mystery where this comes from. After all, it is our bodies that  usually die and get hurt before our minds. It is our bodies that hunger, thirst, and age. It’s tempting to believe that without them, without the constant need to care for them, that we could be so much more.

And yet, the whole idea smacks of the same kind of naive folly that leads Terry Pratchett’s Leonard da Quirm to conclude that humans granted the power of flight would transcend war and crime because they would no longer be limited by geographical boundaries. With the power of flight over a hundred years old, we can see the ridiculousness of that claim. But it’s harder to imagine what beings of pure energy would be like, and what crimes they might commit.

The interesting thing is that these energy beings aren’t usually portrayed as terribly morally good, just… advanced. And “advanced” always seems to mean more powerful, and seldom “better.” Perhaps a good analogy might simply lie in the classism that we often see in our own cultures that assumes that rich people who work — or steal — with their minds are better than poor men who must make do with their muscles. As below, so above. We see muscle without guiding minds about us all the time in the bodies of animals, and assume that the opposite — guiding minds without bodies — must be superior. The equally possible conclusion, that such an extreme might be as damaging to us as the animal state, does not seem to occur to us.

Why is it so hard for us to see that Dorothy Sayers called it rightly when she suggested that the calling of a manual laborer to do his work honestly and well is just as important as that of a clergyman to serve with integrity and piety? Is it simply because we cannot conceive of a moral duty without moralism? With a moral sophistication that has nothing to do with a physical sophistication?

If so, it is a failure of imagination, and not its manifestation.