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. 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.

Dear Stabby: Addicted To Good

Dear Stabby,

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my patient to stop practicing virtue! She’s just obsessed with doing good! As a child, she was nauseatingly obedient to her parents.  After tireless work, in her teen years I got her to rebel against her parents and teachers, but then she began standing up for students who were bullied. I got her to stop THAT because I convinced her she was burnt-out, and NOW she’s telling people about the importance of self-care. Every time I squash a new virtue, another one springs up in its place. What do I do?

Tired in Tartarus

Dear Spent,

Although it goes against my principles to comfort such a whiner as you self-evidently are, I’m going to have to reassure you. By happy accident, this young lady seems to be merely a tiresome little social activist, and no true threat.

The truth is, that while it should always be our goal, it is VERY difficult to get any human to completely leave the path of virtue. They’re addicted to the disgusting stuff, and for the same reason they are addicted to such material goods as food and oxygen: it is how the Enemy designed them. Furthermore, even those who HAVE been adduced to throw virtue away entirely and come over to our side must almost always be made to believe that they have not done so. Oh they SAY they have rebelled against the Enemy and His bourgeois virtues, but the second you try to get them to overtly indulge and worship themselves, they start justifying their lust and will to power with talk of  “the greater good.”

We do not – and unfortunately cannot – force Humans away from doing good. And even if we could, it would likely turn out to be a bad idea. What do instead is to turn those virtues that they insist on practicing into sins, which then become weapons in our hands. In your patient you have already noticed these things, but you have been trying to counteract her virtues by attacking them. I can even tell you how you did it. You awoke rebellion by fostering her resentment at her parents’ demands (helped, no doubt, by the teenage hormones that were driving her in that direction anyway). After that, you awoke sloth by fostering her resentment at the ingratitude and cowardice of the spineless victims that needed her help to fight the battles that should have been their own.

Instead of all that work, it would have been much easier and more effective to foster the sins she already had, entrenching them in her character. If you look closely at the soul of any Human you will see that much of what they think of as “virtue” is merely their own fear of punishment. You say she was obedient as a child? Probably that was because she was afraid to rebel. You should have fed that fear until it dominated her and became despair. If in spite of that she rebelled? It was because of resentment at having been dominated for so long. You should have fed that wrath until it became indiscriminate anger at any who opposed her and turned to violence. But as things stand you have taught her the deadly lesson that she can change. You had better hope that this does not lead her to true repentance!

But there seems to be still time to correct your blunders. She is preaching self-care, now? It is still because of resentment at her own exhaustion. Let her apply her own “virtue” to herself until it is all she thinks of. If you do it properly, you will find that she can be induced to turn her proper regard for herself as a person (which the Enemy frankly encourages) into mere indulgence of her ego. All gluttony can be excused, all requests for help (however reasonable) can be denied in the name of “caring for the self.” Done properly, you will even be able to make her resent the normal obligation of every human and turn her into a self-centered parasite who — and this is the wonderful bit — actually believes she is still practicing virtue! This really is the end goal of the competent tempter: to raise up humans who will defend their own sins to the death in the belief that they are really virtues.

If you doubt this just look at their social media, the greatest garden for sins since Hollywood. There you will find the legions of the envious proclaiming their fight for justice, the wrathful trumpeting their compassion, and the nakedly lustful shouting of their love. And should any truly virtuous person dare to question their devotion, they are savaged with the cold fanaticism of the worst of the Crusaders. It is an easy enough state of affairs to bring about with any sin. Just look at the wonderful job we have done with the word empathy. This word, which is at the center of the Enemy’s injunction to the Humans about the danger of judging one another’s hearts and motivations, has been turned into one of the most useful weapons in our arsenal. It is now a shield against any form of criticism. In the name of empathy, the Humans are made to deny plain facts, the confrontation of which would make others feel bad. In the name of empathy self-destructive habits are defended and indulgence is excused.  Have you impressed upon your patient how wonderful she is simply for following her natural inclinations? Fasten her attention upon it, and let her regard any request for aid, and especially any criticism, as a personal attack upon her. Soon you will have a patient who imagines herself virtuous, and who fights for her own corruption with the ferocity of an animal. Which is, after all, fitting.

Stabby.

Dear Stabby: Alone In The Crowd

Dear Stabby,

Thus far, the New Unreality Method has been serving me splendidly. My patient’s priorities register nothing as important that ranks higher on the reality register than her time in the state school, while her free time is entirely taken up by a digital “feed”, which she mainly uses in crafting a persona which is a nervous wreck, proud of it, and has been trained to regard any suggestion of improvement as tantamount to a boot upon her face. She is socially reliant on a fractious and treacherous “support network” of other digital denizens of this kind. She is stone ignorant of the Enemy, regarding Him as a bogey conjured by those who simply will not accept her inner beauty (with a theoretical but largely illusory extension to the beauty of everyone else.) It is, in fact, going so well that I have caught myself in complacency. Please apprise me as to any likely pitfalls or counterattacks.

Yours conspiratorially,

What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

Dear What,

You have clearly made excellent use of your opportunities and have your patient right where you want her. So much so that I almost suspect you of using this letter as an opportunity to advance yourself. The condition you have your patient in is exactly what we would like: a human who trumpets her own flaws as virtues, for the purpose of pleasing people she neither truly knows nor cares for. You plainly have her convinced that the sources of all her unhappiness are external, while the source of what happiness she has (or should have) is internal. This is a great triumph. Because as long as she is focused on the shortcomings of her acquaintances, or the World in general, she is rendered powerless by two main factors: Firstly, she is concerned with something that is mostly fiction. Oh, not that her acquaintances, or the World, do not have shortcomings. We have been hard at work seeing that they do! But her perception of what those shortcomings are all come from the narrow, parochial perspective that must be any human’s view of another. Secondly, that while she can do a great deal to change herself, she can do almost nothing to change others, still less the World.

But the major thing that concerns me in your letter is that you mention no relationships outside of the digital world. No family. If you simply forgot, that is very careless, and a blind spot you had better attend to before the Enemy does. Or, perhaps you have succeeded in isolating her from romantic love or strong friendships in favor of addiction to the digital world. This would be a positive step: we want the Humans to be frightened and alone, and you may think that the loneliness you have achieved makes your patient safe from harmful doctrine and addicted to pseudo-relationships. But there is one great flaw in this that is sometimes overlooked: the patient knows that she is lonely.

If she knows she is lonely, then she will tend to latch on to any real relationship that is offered.  Such as acquaintances inviting her to social gatherings or clubs disconnected with the digital world, or even (Our Father Below forbid) a church! The Enemy is adept at using tactics of this kind, and your patient does not appear to have any attachments that would prevent her from following any person who offered her true Friendship.

Now you might be tempted to make your patient a shut-in. A Paranoid, believing that any person not part of her digital circle is de facto an enemy. But this is harder than it appears, and if it collapses it tends to collapse utterly. Far more reliable is the temptation to Sex.

Sex is a wonderful substitute for relationships and very reliable. In the first place, very few humans are at all hard to tempt into sexual activity, and we have been hard at work making it even easier. I suspect, in fact, that you have laid the groundwork already, and that you will find that her digital circle will be entirely supportive of any and all sexual activity you can induce her to perform. We have taught the humans that, like fragility, sexual promiscuity is to be celebrated as a virtue: that it is bold, heroic, and defiant, rather than being an activity that practically all multicellular animals perform without a thought.

Of course, besides the fact that fornication is a sin (and we have practically eliminated both those words from their vocabularies except as jokes) it has excellent value for you as a means of ensnaring the patient. Firstly, while we have tried to downplay this factor as much as we can, sex ties people together, and female humans particularly focus on the relational aspect. If you play your cards right, you may get your patient to believe that sex is a relationship by itself. But even if you do not, you will be able to tie her to a partner, or better, a series of partners, with whom she will always be seeking fulfillment and never finding it. And the overwhelming advantage to this is that she will stop recognizing  she is lonely. How could she be, with another human always around to leech from, to fight against, and to hate for not valuing her as she longs to be valued? Even as unlikely a place as their own memes have recognized this and put it very well: “The worst thing is not to be lonely, but to be around people that make you feel alone.”

But you must never let her suspect the truth of this. Tie her into romantic and sexual relationships that she cannot find the strength to walk away from, and that can never fulfill her. The mere fact of having a partner whose feelings and schedule interfere with her own will make a true Friendship difficult, and an altered schedule a struggle. And if you have your patient as well in hand as your letter suggests, you should find it easy to guide her toward partners as shallow and empty as she is. Who will also demand that she fulfill them in the same impossible manner that she expects them to fulfill her. Look up the term codependent. Even better would be to make her a mother, and to tie her to children. Those whirling vortices of time and attention will make her unable to focus on anything — especially anything as ephemeral and unimportant as her own soul — for years. And, of course, they are likely, with such a mother, to grow up exactly like her. Hell does still need food, you know.

Sincerely,

Stabby

Dear Stabby: The Awful Beginning

By Stabigail Van Burnin

With, as always, apologies to C.S. Lewis and Screwtape.

Dear Stabby: Through no fault of my own, I have been assigned to one of the worst patients in the world: a young man who has been raised in a Christian household and who has kept up an interest in matters of faith and theology. He’s most of the way through high school and already advanced in the Enemy’s service beyond most adults. Where do I even start in the face of such a terrible beginning?

–Roasted

Dear Roasted,

First of all, no one wants to hear your whining about how unfair the situation is. Either you were assigned to this patient by random chance, or you weren’t paying sufficient attention to your superiors to influence them better in your favor. The first is just bad luck, the second is incompetence, and either way, no one cares.

The first thing to determine is whether your youth is really as advanced as you believe. Is he truly devoted to the Enemy, or is he merely loud about matters that he truly does not understand? Is he comfortable with the world in which he finds himself? When he is with friends who are not Christian, does he challenge them? Or even hold himself apart from them and refuse to agree with their worldliness? Or does he throw himself in with them wholeheartedly, pretending to be one of them, before going back to his family and his church, where he throws himself just as much into praising his God?

If it is the latter, then you truly have nothing to worry about: the wretched creature is merely imitating his surroundings, and once he goes off to college (I presume you ARE, at least, trying to get him into their colleges, the transformation of which is our resounding triumph of this century in that nation.) he will quickly fall away from any church and into your lap like the ripe — and dead — fruit that he is.

If, on the other hand, he complains that he is alone, and that he cannot find anyone with whom he can be honest: that he feels like a stranger in this world and longs for fellow-workers with whom he can share burdens and confide, then you will have a harder road, because you have a man who has actually begun to realize that loyalty to his God and to his own soul has a cost. This can, however, be fought on two levels.

The first and best is that of simple despair. Draw his attention toward the right kind of people: friends that hate all he stands for and yet are “nice to him,” or even better, “fun.” Draw his attention to how easily happy they appear and how they outnumber the people like him in this world we control. Never let him find like-minded people: if he runs into them, draw his attention to every defect of their characters (humans always have plenty), while downplaying those of the friends you want him to have. This way, when the crisis of faith comes (and it always comes, the Enemy foolishly allows them), he will have no support. In fact, his “friends” may even demand he abandon his faith in exchange for their support.

However, if this were going to work, you would probably already be seeing signs of it. Assuming you are not, then he is more tough-minded, your situation is worse. You have a young man who is already used to losing friends and being called a crank and a bigot for simply not agreeing with everything the popular people say. Therefore he knows that it is survivable. So the best thing in that case, as Undersecretary Screwtape once suggested, is to harp on his conscience and suggest that since he is being persecuted, he might as well dedicate himself to extremes of devotion that will turn him into one. Let him rail against all he comes in contact with. Never let him feel he has “done enough.” NEVER let him remember that the Enemy holds simple endurance to be a primary virtue; that, in the words of Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Although it’s unlikely he’s ever heard of Milton; we’ve got that fellow out of most of their schools. In so doing, you will, at the very least, make his beliefs extremely unattractive to all he may come in contact with, and you may be able to drive him into a cult.

But whatever the course of action, you must work on his emotions and the dread that every human has of loneliness. Do not let him notice the extremes of loneliness that so many followers of Christ went through. Let him believe that if he were really pleasing the Enemy, he would feel better. The Enemy wants the humans to discover the facts of the world and His spiritual principles, to base their actions on those facts and principles, and allow the results of their actions to shape their emotions. We, of course, want to invert this: for them to found their actions upon their emotions, and to choose or declare facts and principles based upon those. Since such “facts and principles” are as watery and formless as the emotions upon which they are based, they are thus open to every manipulation we can devise. We are aided in this by the fact that all human children naturally begin life in this way, and most of them on some level long to return to it.

Stabby

Are you a demon who has a question for Dear Stabby? Contact it at this link and submit your question!

 

 

Presenting, Dear Stabby: A Spiritual Advice Column.

By Stabigail Van Burnin

Host’s Note: Like a certain other author who managed access to an older and more personal format of such advice, I cannot provide any information as to how I obtained access to the following entries. Let’s just say they come from someplace that I will refer to descriptively as the Darker Web. I leave interpretation to the readers, and apologies to C.S. Lewis.

Dear Stabby: While researching ways to influence my patients, I came upon the following advice. The source is above reproach, but ancient, and I thought that since here you were running an internet advice column of all things, you might be able to tell me whether this was obsolete or of any practical use.

n00bilator

Fake CSLewis1

Dear n00bilator,

It’s hard to tell whether you’re more interested in being a demon or a troll from the tone of your question. Either way, you plainly need help, because what you’ve managed to do is call attention to your execrable research skills.

This quote is not, in fact, by the esteemed but vanished Under-Secretary Screwtape, but by one of his many imitators, which you would know if you had ever bothered to look at one of those “ancient” repositories of knowledge those of us in the business call “books.”

Nevertheless, in context (which means “understood correctly with all the other knowledge you should have,” n00bilator) the quote is nevertheless good advice for any demon in the process of leading humans astray. The problem lies in isolating the context and in the general sloppiness of human languages.

I draw your attention to the key terms in the quote. They are “fixated,” and “politics.” Firstly, keeping a human “fixated” on anything requires a great deal of careful balancing, with two possible and undesired outcomes. The most likely, but least dangerous, is that you will expend endless and wearying effort trying to keep the wretched creature’s naturally wandering attention on the incredibly tedious business of human power struggles. On the other hand, and far worse: should the creature possess any actual talent for such things, you may have inadvertently encouraged your human to become an expert and acquire skills at the use of power, which he will attempt to use for his own ends, or worse, for those of his fellow human. What you must do is to encourage your human to become a dabbler: one who feels passionately, and does nothing except scream endless abuse against his fellow humans. This odious activity can be excused by giving it the label “activism.”

Closely related to the first point is what is meant by “politics?” The danger, as I pointed out above, is that “politics” can have two meanings. Its true and robust meaning is the understanding and use of power. This can be gained by shrewd observation, and the careful study of economics, history, and law. That is what we must never forget and what you must never allow the humans to discover. Instead, they should be encouraged to think of politics as a kind of social warfare in which battles are to be won by having the purest and most righteous feelings, and expressing them in the most extreme terms possible, for the object of securing immediate and symbolic victories. They should think of every defeat as a glorious triumph over a subhuman foe, and every defeat as a threat to their very lives and offspring. In this way, we encourage them to make the twin goads of hatred and fear the gods around which they arrange their every act. We make the political personal and vital to them.

So it is obvious that when the author says, “keep them fixated on politics” he is correct in that we want to encourage the inhabitants of these democratic republics to behave as little microtyrants over their fellow men: to imagine that they should be able to rule over them at every whim of feeling, and to feel justified in being terrorized at every imagined setback. But we must never confuse that with humans who actually study and learn about the use of power, and devote their lives to mastering it. If they did so, they might rediscover impartiality, which we are finally extirpating from their minds. They might rediscover something approximating evenhanded justice. Better to keep that sort away from politics altogether!

I would also caution you about the false dichotomy expressed at the end of the passage. “Be sure the patient continues to believe that the problem is ‘out there’ in the ‘broken system’ rather than recognizing there is a problem in himself.” As if their puerile systems were not ACTUALLY broken! Of course, there are better and worse systems just as there are better and worse men. If the problem is ACTUALLY in a system, it does us no good to focus their attention on it! No, the core principle is to always push them away from the truth. In bad systems, we want men always trying to improve themselves, and in bad men, we want them always trying to improve the system. Which one they are loudest about improving should give you a fair idea of which one they feel the worst about.

–Stabby

 

The Heinlein Hypocrisy II: A Superior God

“Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.”

“Intermission: Excerpts from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long”, pp. 243-24

I’ve always found it funny that Heinlein wrote this twelve years after his most famous work, Stranger In A Strange Land, in which Heinlein’s attempt seemed very much to be to dream up a God (or at least an Archangel) superior to human religions. I will, of course, admit to seeing some truth in the statement. Pagan gods are famous for their sexual exploits and selfish behavior. When it comes to the God of the Bible, I am going to disagree with him, though I know that many readers will just as vociferously agree. However, the discussion of whether the God of the Bible is open to such charges and the refutation of them would be material for an entire column in and of itself, and as that is not the purpose, I will simply note my disagreement for what it unarguably is: mine.

The problem I have with Stranger In A Strange Land is not that it plays around with the idea of religion, especially organized religion. That’s fair enough. But what I find interesting, and a bit hypocritical about SF writers is this: when they try to create their own gods that are superior to the gods we already have, they inevitably do so by creating a fairly standard god and then subtracting the characteristics they happen to find irrelevant. I have already pointed out in an earlier column that Arthur C. Clarke does this in Childhood’s End  with the Overmind.  Like the God of the Bible, it is an immense, near-omnipotent force. Unlike the God of the Bible it simply can’t be bothered to notice anything more insignificant than a new species to be incorporated into itself and is quite happy to maintain a slave species in perpetuity to assure itself of growth. It kills without remorse or compassion, and exists without love. But surely, growth means that you become more, not that you become less. As an adult, I have learned to appreciate whiskey. I have not stopped appreciating ice cream. And while it is true, there are games that my children love which now bore me to tears, my inability to enter fully into those modes of play is a fault in me, not something laudable.

Heinlein’s case is more complex. Heinlein as a writer was far superior to Clarke in engaging the human condition. In my last Heinlein post, I acknowledged that Heinlein was one of my favorite agnostics/atheists, and this is one of the reasons why. As an aside, Heinlein’s inner monologue in which Jubal Harshaw considers the problem of perceiving the divine is one of the most perceptive and honest engagements with the issue that I have ever seen from the agnostic point of view, and his wry look at those who believe in random chance as a primary cause is just as cutting as his engagement with religion. Valentine Michael Smith’s Church Of All Worlds in philosophy is pantheistic: Thou Art God (and so is everyone else). In the novel, the simple act of learning the Martian language (although it is not simple, of course) is sufficient to imbue the learner with  a mode of understanding that makes people morally perfect and grants them godlike powers. And I have to admit that in this, I actually see a mirror of what Paul and Christ did teach. This is in fact what “being transformed by the renewing of your minds” would look like if the Church ever actually accomplished it (though the miraculous powers might or might not follow). Obviously, such accomplishments have been exceedingly rare and transitory if they ever existed.

So what, one might ask, is my problem with it? What is missing? I would argue that what is missing is any concept of justice. Now, to be honest, I am not sure whether Heinlein would ridicule the notion that justice is something that humans “need.” However, in Time Enough For Love, one of Lazarus Long’s quotes was: “The more you love, the more you can love–and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had Time Enough, he could Love all of the majority who are decent and just.” He also said “The only sin is hurting others unnecessarily.” This seems to imply that sin and justice are things Heinlein recognized. Then what is to be done with the sinners? Heinlein has no answer for this, it seems. The Church of the New Revelation that ends up lynching Valentine Michael Smith causes great hurt to others unnecessarily. And yet, it’s almost as though it doesn’t matter, because everyone is immortal anyway. Even Foster himself is an archangel in the end, just like Michael. And Digby, who poisoned Foster. And if someone like Foster can end up as an archangel, then one might reasonably ask what the point is of anything? If it does not matter, then why does it matter? What is the point of cherishing loyalty and duty, as Heinlein called them, the two finest inventions of the Human mind, if they produce nothing superior than that which would be produced without them? In fact, what seems to be produced by the Church of Many Worlds is not better, more just people, but only people who have more fun, overseen by what C.S. Lewis called, Our Grandfather In Heaven: “a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’” All well and good but we have ended up exactly where Heinlein started his objection: with a god no better than its maker.

It’s possible I’m judging Heinlein too harshly. He himself said of the book “I was not giving answers. I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers … It is an invitation to think – not to believe” (Vonnegut). Well, fair enough. There’s a lot in the book to think about. But surely it would be disingenuous to think that Heinlein was, if not giving a social blueprint, at least proposing what a “real” religion might look like, and if so, he has hardly met his own criteria for what a truly inspiring god might be like.

I think the author who has in recent years most closely approached the idea of what a god might look like is Lois McMaster Bujold and her Holy Family as portrayed in The Curse of Chalion. They are anthropomorphic, yes, but they are good, and while their expectations of humanity are not high, they are awe-inspiring for the lengths they will go to, in spite of their limitations, to care even for individual humans.

Vonnegut, Kurt, “Heinlein Gets The Last Word” New York Times On The Web. Dec. 9, 1990.

 

 

 

The Heinlein Hypocrisy Part I: What Words Mean

A late post is still a post.

“God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent — it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills.” (Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love, New York: Ace Books, 1987, p. 247.)

As a science-fiction reader, I find that Heinlein is absolutely one of my favorite atheists. I find his theology as fascinating and infuriating as his novels: often insightful, occasionally brilliant, and then suddenly descending into downright nincompoopery. The above quote is a perfect example of the latter.

Leaving aside for the moment that only the Western and Middle-Eastern monotheistic religions have come close to assigning the above attributes to God, even for Christianity (which is pretty plainly Heinlein’s target) my search of the NIV Bible for those terms returned precisely zero hits for any of them. So… what label would this be? However, to avoid argument, let’s stipulate that whether it’s stated or not, it’s pretty much believed to be true.

First off, there’s no actual argument, or even insight, here. This is what C.S. Lewis calls “flippancy” in the Screwtape Letters; the assumption that a joke or a point has been made. It works when you’re playing to an audience that pretty much agrees with you already, and at no other time. Why Heinlein thinks these things are mutually contradictory, I can’t say, since he hasn’t deigned to tell us. But I think I have a pretty shrewd idea. Unfortunately, it’s pretty tiresome, and it’s old.

I suspect that Heinlein’s reasoning would roughly run thusly: that a God who was omnipotent is a contradiction in terms, or at least in the observable universe, since God pretty plainly allows many things to happen that He cannot approve of without being very definitely not benevolent. Unless of course, He does not know of these things. Since He does allow them, He must be less than omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent.

The problem of course is that Heinlein, who would doubtless call bullshit (as well he should) on anyone using engineering terms, or military terms outside their professionally-known meanings, has only a tyro’s grasp of theology, which, as it doesn’t interest him anyway, Heinlein does not care about. I see this often in discussions with atheists. They’re not interested in how these terms have always been defined or discussed by thousands of years of faithful Christians or Jews. They’ve seen a flaw, and by Christ (or not) they’re going to point it out.

I shouldn’t really have to say, but apparently I do, that omnipotence means that God can do anything doable. It is no argument against it that He cannot accomplish paradox, such as the old saw about making a rock so big He can’t lift it. Likewise, God is not less than omniscient for not knowing things that do not exist (such as who is going to heaven based on choices that they literally have not made), any more than a mathematician is “humbled” by a five-year-old who asks him what color the number seven is. Finally, God is not open to the charge of failing in omnibenevolence if he visits punishment on the unjust, or allows other agents to commit injustice, if He indeed does have both the power to correct injustices and the wisdom to know what justice is. “Omnibenevolence” does not mean that God is good to all people at all times, still less that those people would always perceive the good being done to them accurately.

The dishonesty and ignorance here is for someone like Heinlein to insist on the absolute definitions of amateur or non-believers while ignoring or discounting those whose vocation it has been to discuss and study such things. To condemn religion as a game for fools by insisting that God doesn’t meet these definitions according to your interpretation of them is both ignorant and unfair. What, after all, would it look like if I criticized Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress for flinging goods Earthward by catapult as scientifically ridiculous… because I insisted that “catapult” must describe a machine that uses knotted ropes and stressed wood for its tension power, rather than a thirty-kilometer long, fusion-powered, magnetic mass driver? It would be like suing Nabisco for false advertising because one of their Fig Newtons doesn’t weigh 0.22 pounds in Earth’s gravity.

To such a discourtesy and to such ignorance, I imagine Heinlein would have told me to go to hell, and I would most assuredly deserve the invitation. And so does he, when he uses arguments that are just as specious and delivered from such an ignorant place. It is wise for us to remember that we cannot use such simple definitions, of course, and that theology requires some complex thought. But we must at least be willing to engage with that thought, or our theology – or our atheology – will be disastrously wrong as Heinlein’s.

The Antitheist’s Nightmare

 

For Sunday, another column I wrote for SciPhi Journal, with apologies to Bertrand Russell

The eminent antitheist and essayist Dr. Brussels dreamed that he died and found himself, against all expectation, at a pair of immense gates that shone like great pearls. He was shocked and rather apprehensive as he was met by a being that looked astonishingly human, like a king, with wings twice as long as he was tall.

“I see that I must be ill and hallucinating, or having an end-of-life experience,” he said. “For nothing else could explain the anthropomorphic delusion I am currently suffering.”

“You are not ill, but you are having an ‘end-of-life experience,’ said the being. “It is called Heaven.”

“Heaven could hardly exist,” Brussels replied, “And if it did, it certainly would not look at all like a mere Human conception.”

The being smiled. “Heaven can look as It pleases, though Its reality is indeed far deeper than any one species of the Creation could fathom, at least at first. You are expected.”

“But how could I be expected in Heaven?”

“That is hardly for me to judge, man,” said the being. “I am to take you to the Eternal.” And in no very long time, he was led through the glories of the Celestial City, where, to his great surprise, Brussels found himself standing in the Presence.

“My child,” said The Eternal. “You have come at last.”

“You cannot possibly judge me. Amid all the planets of all the stars of all the galaxies of the Universe, how could you possibly know who I am, let alone presume to judge my motivations, my circumstances, and my actions?”

“My dear child,” said The Eternal. “No one has yet mentioned judgment. But you devoted your life to the study of the Universe. How is it that you do not understand what “infinite” means? How could I possibly not know all about you? Is My time limited?”

“Of course I know what ‘infinite’ means,” said Dr. Brussels. “But I can hardly be expected to have spent much time upon speculation about Your attributes. My study was the facts of the Universe that were proven, and not about Your existence, which was entirely unproven.”

The Eternal replied, “And did your studies not teach you that the Universe I created had a beginning and was likely to have an end? And surely you learned that your own life had a beginning and an end: that was much more provable. You believed that because of your small size and short life, I could not possibly take any interest in you, and yet you devoted that almost nonexistent life to the study of the lifespan of a Thing that was also limited, but merely much larger. Did you think this a wise use of the time I had granted you?”

“Well,” he sputtered, “But You did not give me adequate proof of Your existence to make me think that studying You was likely to be of value.”

“I see,” smiled the Eternal. “And the fact that the vast majority of your fellow-humans spent a great deal of time on that very endeavor suggested nothing to you?”

“It suggested only that the ignorant love ignorance, for surely even You must agree that humans agree to believe things that are manifestly untrue,” Dr. Brussels riposted.

“Of course, child. You are correct. Tell Me, what sort of evidence would you have found acceptable?”

Feeling a little surer of himself, Dr. Brussels replied, “Any sort of physical evidence of your existence.”

“So you wanted Me, a Being larger than the Universe, to appear inside it?”

“Ah, but surely You could have made Yourself smaller, if You were indeed Infinitely capable.”

“So you believe I could have made myself small enough for you to perceive, but not that I could have paid attention to you? I could indeed have done so, and have,” replied the Eternal. “But then would you not have said that my small size proved Me an impostor?”

“Well,” said Dr. Brussels, “But You could have demonstrated Your power.”

“So, I might have come to Earth, perhaps disguised as a Human, and done miraculous works?” smiled the Infinite. “Or as a pillar of smoke and flame? If only there were records of such an event available for a learned man such as yourself to peruse.”

Dr. Brussels felt himself blushing at the trap he had nearly fallen into. “Records are hardly any use to a scientist concerned with truth!” he stated. “Only that which has been proven is acceptable.”

“I see. Then surely you, Dr. Brussels, performed every experiment of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, not to mention others we could both name, simply to make sure they were true. I am surprised, however, that you ever had time for anything else.”

“Of course I trusted the testimony of the great experts in my field,” Dr. Brussels said.

“But you did not trust the testimony of Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus?”

“Of course not. Their methodology was flawed and their results untrustworthy.”

“Ah. So the lived experience of scientists about science was trustworthy, even to the extent of trusting them to point out the flaws of less capable scientists. But you could not trust the writings of theologians about theology because you had not shared their experiences directly, and they disagreed with one another.”

“But why,” asked Dr. Brussels, “could You not simply be with us all the time?”

“I believe you would have discovered that the answer to that question in the records to which I earlier referred. I withdrew because humans did not want My company as much as they wanted to discover truth in their own way, regardless of how harmful that could be, both to themselves and others. And now that I have withdrawn, humans ask where I Am. What would you have Me do, child?”

“You could at least, if you are so powerful, present Yourself to those who are honest and would be amenable to reason individually, so that they might have a chance of knowing you!” snapped Dr. Brussels.

“Of course, I could, child,” replied the Infinite. “And it would need to be personal, direct, and in a similar manner, so that those enlightened men you describe would know that it was from Me, and would have cause to humble themselves, and follow.”

“Yes!” cried Brussels. “So why don’t you do that?”

And he awoke in his home.

“Strange, the delusions that will overtake even the most serious and scientific minds,” he muttered.

A Heroic Obedience

Another old Sci-Phi Journal column.

Science-fiction and fantasy tend toward the epic. In science-fiction, the sheer scale of the visible universe inspires the heroic, and in the fantastic myths tend to reward the heroes who single-handedly (or in the company of a band of brothers) take on the gods in the face of certain doom. And thus it is that the heroic virtues are the ones that our genres celebrate. Heroic valor, enduring faithfulness, unstained honor, even chivalric mercy cross our pages and screens.

Whether virtues exist, in any real sense, is one of our oldest debates. Very early on in human – and doubtless in prehuman – existence, we held to the idea that virtues were real. The idea that virtues and virtuous behavior do not exist, because they are a scam to trick the weak and the stupid away from grasping the power that could be theirs, is not very much younger, as anyone who is passingly familiar with Plato knows. From that time to this, the virtues that civilization has been built on have been periodically under assault, often in alternating pairs: thus, near the time of World War I and World War II, mercy and charity were regarded as spinelessness and treason by the great mass of the population. During the height of the Vietnam War, physical courage was often decried as brutality. And as a result of both of those times, one virtue has been beaten so low as to scarcely resemble a virtue at all: obedience.

Obedience receives little admiration from any side of the Western political spectrum, because of the aforementioned recent history, because of the Enlightenment’s valorization of liberty and freethought, but perhaps also because the study of politics concerns the acquisition and use of power to compel the obedience of other people. But that very fact, of course, compels us to take a hard look at the virtue of obedience. After all, what is the purpose of wielding, in Monty Python’s beloved phrase, “supreme executive (or legislative) power” if no one will obey it? Political power is predicated upon the idea that people will obey, and democratic republics are predicated upon the idea that they will obey, at least in the main, willingly. But obeying is not glorious or sexy, and it isn’t a virtue we generally see held up as an example in our heroic science-fictional or fantastic epics.

Of course, obedience features heavily in religious and non-religious myth, the Garden of Eden and Pandora’s Box being archetypal. Perhaps the first epic fantasist to play explicitly with the virtue of obedience near our own time was Milton. And he, writing on the very eve of the Enlightenment, makes of Satan a kind of epic hero that was embraced unreservedly by later Romantic poets. Shelley said that, “Milton’s Devil, as a moral being, is far superior to his God.” What Milton had meant as a tale of lost virtue, they turned into the embrace of a new one: the virtue of defiance. Not defiance for anything, but defiance in sich was taken to be a good.

After the Holocaust and Holodomor of the 20th century showed us the disastrous consequences of unthinking obedience to totalitarian ideologies, we should expect to see a celebration of heroic rebellion spring up. Surely it is no accident that the heroes of the most iconic SF film series of all time are part of “the Rebellion” against an evil and destructive Empire. But the recent crop of Young Adult fiction has developed pure rebellion to new heights. I have already in previous columns addressed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman is the heir of Shelley and Keats, preaching defiance against the Authority, and I think the generic nature of his epithet for God is telling. His heroes are not merely rebelling against a bad god, but against the very concept of legitimate obedience. This is taken even further with the more-popular The Hunger Games. Collins first throws Katniss Everdeen against the evil President Snow, who is determined to crush the Districts beneath his heel, even though he already enjoys almost limitless power. But when Katniss discovers the fabled District Thirteen, thought to have been lost in a war almost a century before, its leader, Alma Coin, is almost as cruel and absolutist as Snow himself, enforcing a starkly ascetic military regime. Katniss ends up executing her on the basis of her own suspicion that Coin will seek to assume the powers of the overthrown President Snow. In Katniss’s world, political power and authority quite literally are not allowed to be good, or to act as a moral force. Katniss’s own moral force comes from her willingness and compulsion to disobey (and destroy) every power that would seek her compliance, or even her allegiance. She, and she alone, has the power to determine what is right.

If we look back in the history of SF, however, we find a more nuanced approach from the antecedents of Star Wars, sometimes in the unlikeliest places. In that now almost-forgotten epic, the Lensman series, the Lensmen are cast as the agents of law and order, an outgrowth of the Triplanetary law-enforcement branch, not its military arm. The Lensmen believe themselves to be fighting against “Boskonian pirates,” that is, the agents of lawlessness. Nevertheless it is plain even from the outset that “Boskone” is actually a dictatorial and totalitarian state. The tension between the two is instructive and clear: obedience is an unavoidable virtue. You may not defy the Boskonian terror without obeying the laws of the Galactic Patrol. There is no way to defy one without obeying the other.
Tolkien develops the same theme, although he seemed reluctant to confront it fully. Frodo’s struggle against the Ring is almost always cast as a rebellion and a defiance against The Lord Of All The Rings, and the Ring itself. But in so doing, of course, Frodo is declaring his allegiance and obedience to Gandalf and the rest of the Council of the Wise. To obey them when the way is hard.
It is perhaps unsurprisingly C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle that come closest to a true celebration of obedience in Lewis’s
The Magician’s Nephew, where the fate of Narnia hangs on Diggory’s obedience to Aslan’s command, although that very obedience involves defying the Empress (and later White Witch) Jadis in the garden. Perelandra is clearest of all, being an allegory of the Biblical story of the Fall as it might have been. But L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door comes to its climax in an act of obedience, a counterrebellion, when the farandola Sporos dares to obey in the midst of his people’s rebellion, heeding the wisdom of the elder fara, Senex, and trusting the authority that says that he must Deepen and undergo metamorphosis to be truly free.

Even in Star Wars itself, of course, this paradox plays out. In order to effectively defy Darth Vader and the Emperor, Luke must obey Yoda. And when he fails to do this, he finds himself effectively obeying his enemies. Our heroes cannot defy without obeying, but they cannot obey without defying.

Heroes who insist on defying without obedience end up where Pullman’s and Collins’s stories leave us, and in each case, the place is not one that any sane person would envy. The protagonists are forever shattered by their victories: Lyra is separated forever from both the boy she loves and any prospect of eternal life, and Katniss, while she is together with Peeta, refuses to lead. And perhaps she must refuse this: becoming a leader would place her in a role of authority, which is evil. It would also entail her allegiance and obedience to law. She cannot truly be a hero because heroes are, almost by definition, those who give of themselves for that which is greater, that which they feel it is worthy to obey.