Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Whence Then Hath It Cockle?
An Insight Into Theodicy
Thursday, March 7, 2019 10:00 pm
I'm not put out by the existence of evil. That is, I do not think it is some sort of terrible mystery, nor a thing to make one doubt the existence of God. You have heard it said: "A truly good God would never allow this! So there is no good God; indeed, no God at all." But that is not an argument. It is a kind of tantrum, really. 

Still, let me offer a response — a parable I recently heard at Mass. True, a parable is not an argument either; but at least it is not a tantrum.

Jesus said (Matt. 13:24-30):
The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.
There you go. God plants the wheat. It is not He who plants the cockle. And why does God not immediately uproot the cockle? Because doing so risks uprooting the wheat.


"Suffer both to grow."

Again, the point of a parable is not a QED. Parables illuminate. Simply see it: Removing the evil cockle would uproot the good wheat. Not because good requires evil; but because good would be ruined by the act of removal. And though one could here begin a great exegesis, leading to some great theodicean schema, that endeavor would be against the spirit of a parable; and of a post in a blog.

Now at Periblogion
Soon I Will Orbit Away Again
Monday, March 4, 2019 4:16 am
So, I wrote a sequel to Some Things Missing From Her Profile. I submitted it to StoryHack (which originally published Some Things). I've been trying to write this sequel since 2017. I only finished it twelve hours before submissions closed on January 1st. Since I perfect as I write, only the last few pages were "first draft." A few days later I sent a revision, which was graciously allowed. I am awaiting judgment now.

Then I wrote a story for an SF anthology about asteroids. Submissions for that closed on March 1st. Also awaiting judgment.

Meanwhile, word is that the Pluto anthology, which will include a story of mine, has resumed production. Presumably that means the Luna anthology, to which I also submitted, has also resumed production; but no official word on that, nor on whether my Luna story has even been accepted.

Last fall I submitted a story to Stupefying Stories. It nearly made it. They liked it but couldn't quite fit it in. I am re-submitting when submissions re-open April 1st.

It would make me inordinately happy if all five of these stories got published. I am fairly optimistic about the four that are undecided. I could use a happy year.

Anyhow, I think I'll post a few more things before I resume my negligence of this blog...
Religion as Fraud Is Boring
Why Not Try Harder With Your Conflict?
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 3:48 pm
There's a couple of things I dislike about the Ori arc in Stargate SG-1.

First, it is facile and cowardly to cast Origin, the religion of the evil Ori, as a sort of medieval Christianity. Of course the Ori instigate a crusade against our galaxy. Why not a jihad? Because modeling Origin on Islam and having Stargate Command oppose a jihad would, I suppose, be mean to brown people. Or something. Mustn't be phobic! Except, of course, against Christians. Natch. 

Second, the Ori offer enlightenment and outright ascension to their followers. Those who heed Origin will themselves become gods! But then it is revealed that this is a lie. The Ori want followers only to literally consume the energy of belief. Ascension will never be granted to anyone. Origin is a fraud.

This, I think, I dislike even more than the arc's implicit Christophobia — which, these days, I'm somewhat resigned to. Haters gonna hate. Amirite? But to posit a religion as a fraud? That is artistically tedious.

The modern screenwriter, being so far removed from true religion and bound, by his university-credentialed brilliance, to the truths of SCIENCE! alone, cannot even imagine religion as anything other than fraud. Gods aren't real; God isn't real. How do I know? The SCIENCE! tells me so!

We might, as Good Liberals, indulge the ethnic employment of religion. Aren't those Mexicans adorable with their Signs of the Cross? Aren't those Blacks adorable with their Gospel Spirituality? And my, the little bon mots we can extract from the religious expressions of these adorable ethnics! Despite the fraudulence of their silly religions.

But imagine the Ori weren't lying. Imagine that ascension truly awaited the followers of Origin. Imagine that Origin was not a fraud. Suddenly the Ori arc is interesting.

It's easy to fight charlatans. The moral high ground is so very high. But what if your foe is not a charlatan? Where then is your moral high ground? Is it right to oppose the dissemination of enlightenment? When the rewards are so great? The truths so real? True dilemmas arise. It's not so easy anymore. The Crusade has a point after all. It is bloody, yes. But not pointless. The conflict between the Ori and Stargate Command is suddenly deep.

Or at least not tedious.

Since I actually like the trappings of medieval Christianity, I mostly enjoy the Ori arc even as it irritates me. They squeezed a lot of decent adventure into two seasons. (Squeezed perhaps too much: One potentially deep and interesting story — the implantation of a Goa'uld into the incarnated avatar of the ascended Ori — was somewhat flaccidly disposed of in a single episode. That story should have been a three parter, the very climax of the Ori arc. Oh well.) I also like Tomin, and Vala's relationship with him. And finally I have one word for you: morenabaccarin.


Ageless Ideals, Not Outworn Machinery
What The Crown  Neglects to Tell
Wednesday, October 10, 2018 1:15 pm
Whenever you watch a historical drama, of course you wonder, "What is true in this?" Especially when you see the bend of the narrative, you wonder what has been left out as unhelpful or distracting. Now, there is nothing wrong with editing history for the sake of a tale; it's just best to treat any historical drama as fiction.

The Crown, the Netflix series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, definitely has a bend. It is firmly on the side of "the modern" — that is, the Modern as worshiped these past many decades: the casting aside of all acquired wisdom because, well, we're not stuffy and oppressive anymore. 

In particular it goes on and on about how the prohibition against divorce, and the disdain for divorced persons, is just so cruel. Never once does it explain why the prohibition exists or why people might think it a good thing. For The Crown, the prohibition is just a manifestation of adherence to outdated thinking.

In general, The Crown is all about the modernization of the monarchy. One could say: the steady erosion of its dignity. The royals, especially Elizabeth, are shown as people beset and powerless. She is a Queen with no constitutional power who, because of the supremacy of the Modern, finds herself bowing to every modernization.

As drama, The Crown is actually really good. And it is not disdainful, as such, of the actual dignity of the monarchy itself. By and large, especially with its honest (if agnostic) acknowledgement of the place of the Divine in the whole scheme, it avoids caricaturing the monarchy as merely some gilded vestige. Elizabeth is presented quite sympathetically. And yet, its greatest praise for her comes when she modernizes; not when she awkwardly tries to protect the monarchy as it has been.

And I think that, in adhering to its bend, it shows Elizabeth as weaker than she truly was. While there is no question that this second Elizabethan age has been a disaster and Britain is truly dead now (frankly, because of its descent into the Modern and, of late, its actual contempt for actual Britons), the real Elizabeth may have tried a little harder to resist.

In one episode (and in reality), Elizabeth concedes that there is something distant about the monarchy and agrees to the televising of her Christmas message. In the broadcast she says the following:
Twenty-five years ago my grandfather broadcast the first of these Christmas messages. Today is another landmark because television has made it possible for many of you to see me in your homes on Christmas Day. My own family often gather round to watch television as they are this moment, and that is how I imagine you now.

I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct.

It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. A successor to the Kings and Queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home.

That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.
To this point her speech has been identical to her actual speech in 1957; at this point, she then goes into a reading of a passage from Pilgrim's Progress, the same passage she read in reality.

However, in reality, there was much else between "all around us" and Pilgrim's Progress. I wouldn't expect The Crown to repeat the entire broadcast, not least because it included some dull state-of-the-Commonwealth stuff. But some rather meaty content was excluded. Here is how the speech actually went:
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.

But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.

They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.

At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.

Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.

It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.
The Elizabeth in The Crown would not say this. If she did, she would be resisting the narrative itself. Note especially how she calls out those who would have "morality in personal and public life made meaningless [...] and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint;" those who, in other words, would commit their adulteries, fornications, and divorces and then get all tetchy about any objections to or consequences for their actions.

I think it sad that the show did not depict this Elizabeth, the one who at least cried out as she was being struck down. But The Crown doesn't want to engage the arguments of the real Elizabeth. Rather it accepts submission to the Modern as inevitable and decides simply to depict the human drama of the Crown's submission.

P.S. A silly thing The Crown does is reckon Elizabeth's sex as a rationale for the modernization. You know: Women are breaking free of so much in this glorious new age! And now even the Monarch is a wahman! As if the monarchy had no provision for a female Monarch; as if two of England's greatest Monarchs were not women; as if only a half century before Elizabeth there had not been Victoria. Very silly.

Bowdlerizing Myself
So Maybe Han Didn't Shoot First
Wednesday, October 3, 2018 11:59 am
My collection of stories The Spare Midge has been revised a couple of times since its initial creation in 2007. I've dropped and added stories and changed their order. I've changed the title itself. Each story has also been polished a bit, to remove some or another infelicity.

One consistency, however, has been the tone. 

It's not a happy collection. This is because the author was not a happy person. I, that author, am not necessarily a happier person today; but the strand of fatalism in The Spare Midge somewhat bothers me. The things I am writing now, especially since The Giant's Walk, are just tonally different. Tonally better, maybe. Yet my old stories are still good. I wouldn't be presenting them otherwise.

It has crossed my mind, over this past decade, to maybe brighten the collection a little. Inserting The Endless Batteries was one brightening move. Yet even that tale has a bittersweet ending! And really, there's no way to brighten something like Tainted by Grace without nullifying the story altogether.

One story, though, that seemed susceptible to brightening was the eponymous The Spare Midge. I actually didn't have to change much. I didn't want to change the tragic outcome, but I did want to change the narrator's reaction to it. I also wanted to remove one crude aspect.

The crude aspect was trivial. The narrator referred to sex as a "wet." My intention was to be crude, to be reductive, and to suggest a cyberpunkish alteration of sex into something called a "wet." But the current me dislikes the crudity. As an author I have not forsaken crudity. But this one thing... ach, it's gone, and good riddance.

The narrator's reaction is a deeper issue and more directly a matter of the story's original fatalism. I realized that I could make The Spare Midge a hopeful story by changing and adding only a few sentences and words. I didn't have to rewrite substantially. The story comes to a very clear fork; and instead of going left I now go right.

No, I haven't given the story a happy ending. But the utter fatalism is gone.

Then the question becomes: Am I betraying the story?

If I had made this change when I was originally writing the story, it would simply have counted as editing. An author regularly decides that a character should do A instead of B — even though B was in the original drafts.

But if the change is made fifteen years later? After the story has already been presented to the public?

Well, first, I don't imagine more than a handful of people, perhaps no more than two, have ever read the entire prior version. In some sense I am still in the editing phase.

And second, much as the original fatalism bothers me, my reaction to it now isn't merely a kind of bowdlerization, as is certainly the business with "wet." I truly want the story to be better. I'm not making Han shoot second because, somehow, I've grown fond of the character and think it icky that he might have shot first. Nor have I undone my narrator by making her do something she wouldn't have. Rather I have placed her on a hopeful path. It is the ending I changed, not the beginning or the climax; and indeed, the new ending plays off an earlier moment of hope that was always one of the strongest moments in the story. That moment is no longer in vain.

I have not betrayed the story. I have saved it from itself.

I'm not going to be specific about what has been changed. I've probably called too much attention to it already. I suppose when I die the legions of literary scholars, intent on the intentions of the great David Skinner, will unearth the earlier drafts and identify my changes. Know ye, scholars, that I disavow the earlier drafts! I am happy with The Spare Midge as it now stands.

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