Category Archives: Christianity

My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 2

jesus_armwrestles_satanEditor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

In Part 1 I detailed my falling out with Christianity as a young man. So how and why did I decide, from a position of agnosticism, that religion is important?

First and foremost, despite my disillusionment with religion, I’ve always maintained a belief in morality. Specifically, I’ve maintained two distinct beliefs about morality. First, society as a whole is far better off with some kind of code of morality than without one. We can argue about the specifics of which code of morality, but I think it’s pretty hard to argue that society is better off without morality. Indeed, I think it’s quite likely that civilization as we know it simply can’t exist without a shared moral code [Editor’s note: I believe this even more strongly now than I did then]. Second, I believe the overwhelming majority of individuals are better off following a code of morality, especially if others in society are doing the same. But they’re also better off even if nobody else is following such a code. There are some clear exceptions to this rule. Kings, rock stars, and a few others might be materially better off ignoring the rules – but even here, that’s not entirely clear. A king who pushes the boundaries too far often won’t remain king for very long.

It’s a hard point to argue that individuals are better off following a code of morality even if others around them don’t, and it’s something I’d have had a hard time explaining even just a few years ago. The benefits aren’t always immediate and obvious. But the short answer is that a clear code of morality makes it easier for others to interact with you and trust you, even if they don’t follow your code of morality. All they have to do is understand your code. If they understand it, and know you’re serious about it, it gives them a clear understanding of exactly how far and in what ways they can trust you. Being too trusting is a good way to get taken advantage of, sure. But being very trustworthy is a good way to build up social capital. Trust is a huge bit of grease that makes the mechanics of socialization go more smoothly, and we need other people (if only to serve as minions in our evil overlord schemes). Even pagan societies pushed men to be trustworthy, and they benefited from it. Our modern hedonistic culture often loses sight of this.

I’ve always had a strong sense of this, and as an adult I haven’t really felt like I needed a church to tell me about it. I also very firmly believe that you don’t need religion to have morality. But my marriage brought with it a new challenge. When the kids eventually come, how do you teach them to be moral? Sure, I can lead by example. But frankly, religion is very valuable as a teaching tool for this. I know from my own experience growing up that church, for all its flaws, helped teach me what it meant to be a good and moral person.

Religion also plays another role in society that we should all recognize by now: it tempers the worst sexual impulses of both men and women. The emphasis on faithful marriages that all religions traditionally have keeps both female hypergamy and male promiscuity in check, and that’s good for everybody – especially children. Oh, and there’s convincing research that married couples that regularly attend church together are quite a bit more likely to stay married.

Also, over the years I’ve come to believe something about human beings: we’re not the rational creatures that we pretend we are. Of particular relevance to the topic at hand, people need religion. I think it’s biological. A more devout Christian would argue that God gave us that need. An anthropologist might argue that we’ve somehow evolved it. I don’t think it much matters which is the case. We need religion. In the absence of anything else, we’ll start to Worship the Thunder God [Editor’s note: this was a reference to a comment left on the original posting of part 1]. We can’t help it. It’s part of who we are. The most striking modern version of this is the modern west’s cult of liberalism. Make no mistake, it’s every bit as much a religion as fundamentalist evangelicalism. Indeed, the two faiths are more alike than they are different.

George Lucas of all people once made a comment in an interview in Time magazine that has always stuck with me. I tried to track it down, but Time appears to have taken it offline. Paraphrased, he explained that we could think of the old cave man days as being a 1 on the religious scale. Things like pagan mythology could be considered a 3 or a 4. Modern religions could be viewed as somewhere around a 7 or an 8, and we’re pretty proud of ourselves for that. The thing most of us don’t realize is, the scale goes to a million.

For all of the man’s pompous asshattery (and there’s kind of a lot of it), I think he had a pretty valid point here. Not only is there a lot we don’t understand, but we don’t even have a good idea what it is we don’t understand. But there’s another good point buried in here as well, and it’s one that he probably didn’t even intend to make. Indeed, it’s a point that most of the modern educated elite seems to completely miss as well. It’s a simple and clear point, but it’s completely and utterly politically incorrect. If you even try to utter it the multiculturalists will jump down your throat for it. But if you study them abstractly for any length of time you’ll come to the inescapable conclusion that the dominant religions of the modern world are more advanced than other, older religions. And I don’t mean that in a tribalistic, “we’re better than you, neener neener” kind of way. I mean in some clear and distinct ways.

But that will be part 3.

The Whole Series

My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 1

Editor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

My conversion to Catholicism is best described as an uneasy alliance. I am not the best Catholic out there, and I’m not likely to ever be. I still have issues with the church, its theology, and its dogma. But my wife and I jointly came to the decision that it was the best choice for our family. I can’t speak for her. If she wants to tell her tale, that’s her business. I suspect that it was at least in part because she was following where I led, but she’s bright enough and educated enough and strong willed enough that she never would have let me lead her there if she didn’t want to go.

I was raised as a Protestant. Specifically, I was raised Methodist, but I don’t think it really matters much. The nit picky details of their theology may be different, but the different branches of modern liberal American Protestantism are more or less indistinguishable from each other on a day to day basis. The church I was raised in was more or less like any other SWPL protestant church, only more so. In the almost two decades since I stopped attending, it’s grown substantially, to the point where an old friend of mine once referred to it as “Fort God.”

Like most children, I didn’t much question religion when I was small. It was what all the adults told me, so it never even occurred to me to question it. Unlike most children – at least then – I was introduced to the concept of atheism fairly young. A good friend of mine declared in late middle school that he was an atheist. Like most bright people, being introduced to the concept of atheism forced me to rethink everything. And frankly, once you start thinking about it, there’s a lot to find issue with inside Christianity – especially modern “Churchianity.”

Though I didn’t understand it very well at the time, there’s also a lot of social pressure toward atheism, agnosticism, or “Christianity lite” from our “educated” classes. I was most definitely born a part of that class and lived most of my life within it. You could describe my mother’s family fairly accurately as “educational aristocracy”, but the term might not make any sense to anybody who doesn’t know my mother’s family or people like them. I didn’t have the words to express it in my youth, but at a base level “Churchianity” always seemed just silly to me. And growing up in the American south, the other flavor of Christianity I was routinely confronted with was fundamentalist evangelicalism. Although most fundamentalist evangelical Christians are nice people, and many are quite bright, frankly, the kind of thought (or lack thereof) that leads to that particular breed is… well, to me it’s always been the counterpart of radical feminism. Both breeds of “thought” are vapid, empty headed, flim flam that ignore large portions of reality.

Atheism couldn’t hold me for very long, though. Atheists will do all kinds of logical somersaults to avoid it, but true atheism requires a kind of arrogant denial of reality of its own. Like any other religion, atheism itself is an insistence that we know, definitively, all that there is to know about the universe. In a sense, every argument “proving” the non-existence of God has a kind of Black Swan problem. “God can’t exist because we have no evidence of him,” the arguments essentially go. Well, if all we ever see are white swans, we would conclude that there are no black swans. How could there be? We’ve never seen one. Every swan we’ve ever seen is white. Until whoops, along comes a single black one, disproving our argument that all swans are white.

The Christians hadn’t done a very good job of convincing me that God exists, at least not in the way that they described him. But the atheists couldn’t convince me, either. His existence being highly, stupendously, amazingly improbable is not the same is it being impossible. At the same time, it seems abundantly clear to me that there are forces at work in the world that we don’t understand. I don’t even necessarily mean anything supernatural. Relativity has been work in the universe since the beginning of time, but it’s only in the last hundred years that human beings have been able to understand it. What else is out there that science doesn’t understand yet? I’m guessing there’s a lot. Again, there are forces at work in the world that we don’t understand. God is as good a word for them as anything, and at this point in time, Science can’t explain them any better than religion.

Also, Science is still struggling with some deep and difficult questions that push up right against the boundaries of philosophy and religion. Where does conscious thought come from? What causes it? Science tells us it comes from neurons firing, but the simple fact of the matter is that we can’t replicate it. Despite decades of effort, we have no artificially intelligent computers. Indeed, we’re not really much closer to them than we were decades ago. We haven’t genetically engineered highly intelligent rats (to pick a random animal), and if we did, how would we even know that they’re intelligent? Or self aware? Science fiction has spent a lot of time dealing with this problem, but even there we find no real answers. Also, most of the hoopla about such and such an animal being as smart as or almost as smart as man is mostly bull. When you start to look into the studies, you do indeed find aspects of intelligence. But there’s nothing that brings with it the same capacity for abstract thought and reason that humanity has. Who is to say that it isn’t an eternal soul that gives us intelligence and self awareness?

Five years of undergraduate study toward a Philosophy degree didn’t really clear it up very much. Unlike most in the department, I could have skated through pretty easily. It could have been (and in some ways was) the easy path toward a college degree. For me, it was deadly serious. These were all issues that I cared a great deal about. I found a lot there to ponder: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Nietzsche. I found a lot to ponder in the field of science, too – especially modern physics, which – when it’s not being hijacked by Richard Dawkins types – is doing more interesting philosophical work than modern philosophy (which is mostly a bunch of pseudo-intellectual, New Agey, relativistic nonsense). I didn’t really find a lot of answers, but by the end of college I did know one thing for sure: I was not ready to accept full blown atheism.

True agnostics are rare. It takes a certain uncommon kind of strength to admit that you just really don’t know about anything, much less the really important issues like religion. But for a long while, that was me. The only thing I knew for sure was that there are forces at work in the world I didn’t understand.

Tomorrow in Part 2 – how and why I came to realize that religion in general is important.

The Whole Series

A Strange Blip in History

 

Make Death Proud to Take Us
Make Death Proud to Take Us

The future history of “The Fourth Fleet” (available in the anthologies Make Death Proud to Take Us and There Will Be War: Volume X) makes several assumptions about the course of historical development over the next century or so. However, they were intentionally left out of the story. They weren’t immediately relevant, and including them would have bogged the story down.

A big part of the setting of “The Fourth Fleet” is the course of history of the United States between now and the time of the story. The United States of America, at the time of the story (the specific year is intentionally left off in order to give me maximum story flexibility, but assume that it’s roughly 150 years from now) is no longer the nation that we think of today. It’s borders have changed but also – and more importantly – its government has changed. It is no longer a democratically representative republic. Unlike the government of today, which more often than not acts as an empire, the government of my future world is an empire. However, much like the Roman Empire of old, it strives hard to maintain all appearances of still being a constitutionally limited republic.

Some examples: President Covington is currently serving his fifth four year term in office. Before that, he finished out the term of his predecessor. It’s an open secret that he had his predecessor assassinated, but nobody very much minds because the man was a Nero-like lunatic. He was “elected” by the people in sham contests that garnered him vast majorities of the votes. He will never lose an election in the system as it exists in the books.

Simultaneously, the geopolitical landscape around the USA has changed. In the early twenty-first century, the powder keg we call the Middle East exploded (hmm…). After a time of constant warfare, much of the region was finally forcibly united under a single ruling warlord calling himself the Caliph, and the new Caliphate was born. World War between the US, Japan and Europe on the one hand and the Caliphate on the other left Europe mostly a smoldering husk, including a few literally nuked cities. It is no longer a hub of civilization.

China rose – but not as fast as many feared. Despite the calamity facing the rest of the world, China had its own issues – including economic issues that are unfurling now in the real world and massive wars for Asian dominance against India, Russia, and Japan.

Thus in the story you have a sort of triumvirate of global (and extra-global, as it is a space story) powers: the US, China and India. The severely weakened but not destroyed Caliphate tries to play in this power game as well, but is most often lagging behind.

I would’ve liked to have worked more of this directly into the story. But the reality is that it would’ve bogged it down quite a bit. Even here in this form it took 460 words to very briefly summarize. The entire tale of “The Fourth Fleet” is a mere 8,017 words. Expanding the story by literally 6% (probably more after working it into the story cleanly) just to add this backstory would have ended up being cumbersome, and the reader would have bogged down in details that were only loosely relevant.

Instead, the story provides quite a bit of clues to give the reader just enough of a framework to figure out the major balance of power. It then leaves the rest to the reader’s imagination.

There’s another part of the backstory that I don’t particularly mind didn’t make it into the tale, because it really was irrelevant to this particular story. I am also strongly of the opinion that the Protestant Reformation is an aberration (albeit it one triggered with good justification) and that eventually (perhaps much sooner than many would think) the majority of Protestants will find themselves rejoining the fold in the mother Church. The Church will eventually come to regard this as “that weird little heresy that lasted for a short blip there.” The church thinks on different timescales than you and I. To a two thousand year old church, five hundred years just isn’t the same thing as it is to us mortals.

There Will Be War: Volume X
There Will Be War: Volume X

I also believe that the Church will find itself mending the Great Schism and reconciling with the Orthodox churches, although that will likely be more complicated. The Great Schism wasn’t primarily over issues of doctrine; it’s proximate cause was political conflict with Rome. Egos will have to be soothed and face maintained. But I believe that will eventually happen.

Within the context of the world of “The Fourth Fleet,” the churches largely reunite when a future pope calls for a new Crusade to respond to the potentially world-ending threat of a nuclear armed new Caliphate.

Interesting as it may be, all of this is just the speculation of a sci-fi author, right? Maybe.

Then again, maybe not.

Christian Forgiveness

forgivenessLast week I closed with a discussion of the power of forgiveness. I think it’s worth following that up with some thoughts about Christian forgiveness – specifically, what it is and what it isn’t. The modern western culture has adopted some pretty specific ideas of forgiveness, claiming that this is the “Christian” ideal. It’s not. It bears no relation to any historical version of true Christian forgiveness that ever existed in any major culture… until the modern day.

First, the modern misconception of Christian forgiveness. The modern idea is that “true Christians” should forgive anything, anywhere, anytime, always and forever. As is typical of most modern misconceptions of Christianity, this isn’t completely off base… it’s just missed some of the details that turn out to actually be rather important. Amusingly, this version of Christian forgiveness is pushed the most heavily by non-Christians – very often the exact same non-Christians I derided last week for not wanting to ever forgive anything

But, you say, they’re not Christian – they don’t have to. But us, us Christians, oh, we have to. Well, no – they are dictating the rules of our own faith to us in an attempt to disarm us in the culture wars. And, as usual, they completely misunderstand our faith. Unfortunately, so do many Christians, which is why they can get away with it.

The nugget of truth is that, yes, by Christian dogma nothing is unforgivable. Literally nothing. It doesn’t matter how evil your deeds were. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve lived an entire life of evil and repent only right before death. By two thousand years of Christian dogma, God will forgive you. Those of us who are practicing Christians are supposed to also strive for this ideal – although the other part of Christianity, largely forgotten in the modern culture as well, is that we are fallen humans. We are expected to strive for it. We are also expected to fail.

Even so, there is another part to this that is completely forgotten (or, mostly, purposefully ignored) in modern attacks on Christians supposedly acting in an un-Christian way. The forgiveness isn’t free, and it isn’t automatic. Forgiveness requires three things:

  1. An acknowledgement that one has, in fact, sinned [or, in the case of forgiveness from someone other than God, acknowledgement that you’ve committed a grievance; for brevity, I will just say sin from here on out]. That implies a further requirement: acknowledging that what you did was, in fact, wrong. Being a good Christian does require that you try not to judge others, and that you forgive them if you do judge them. It does not require you to pretend that what they did was right.
  2. Contrition – an honest regret for the sin. You have to actually be sorry for having done it. As we learn in grade school, being sorry for “getting caught” isn’t enough. Neither is it enough to be sorry merely because our sin had a bad effect. We must be sorry for the actual commission of the sin.
  3. We must make an honest and true attempt to turn away from the sin. You can’t acknowledge your sins, confess them to God, and totally plan on doing it again tomorrow and expect to be forgiven – even if you’re really, really sorry. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re going to just go out and cheerfully do it again, well, don’t expect your forgiveness. Now, God does know that we’re merely fallen mortals. If we really mean to be good, we try to be good, and we screw up… well, he expects that. But we have to try.

Now, God’s forgiveness is infinite – and it’s not subject to our rules. If he chooses to, God can forgive us even if we don’t meet these requirements. But the entire history of Church dogma tells us that we’re only assured of it if we meet these requirements. In turn, we are not under any obligation to forgive others who don’t meet them. If we choose to do so anyway, that’s our business and good for us. But honest Christian forgiveness doesn’t require it.

This is the true nature of Christian forgiveness. The modern version of “forgive everybody everything even if they’re not sorry, don’t view it as sin, and plan to keep doing it forever” isn’t Christian at all.

The Power of Forgiveness

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Matthew 6:12

Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"
Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

An unfortunate side effect of the secularization of the western world is that we are losing our ability to forgive. There is power in forgiveness. Power for the one forgiven, of course. That much is obvious even to the most secular. But there is even more power for the one who does the forgiving.

Forgiveness cleanses us. Forgiveness allows us to move on. Forgiveness gives us a power over those who have wronged us. And yet forgiveness also allows them to move on.

The Christian teachings on forgiveness are one of the many reasons I finally converted to the faith and joined it. As with so many things, it turns out that the Christian understanding of the world actually models it pretty well. If the teachings of the church are so good at predicting and explaining human behavior, maybe they really are on to something.

There is a segment of our society today that seems to be incapable of forgiving anything. No matter how big or how small, every infraction is held as a grudge forever. It doesn’t matter if the infraction was real or perceived. It doesn’t even matter if the infraction was against them, against their family, against their friends, or even against a total stranger. They are literally unable to forgive anything, ever.

The burden they carry is tremendous. It is so large that you can literally see it when you interact with these people. They are incapable of being happy – or, worse, some of them are only capable of being happy when they have something to feel unforgiving about. Of course, this isn’t true happiness, only a pale imitation of it. Because they cannot forgive, they can never let go of the past. Because they can never let go of the past, they can never proceed into the future or appreciate the present.

For this, I pity them. And I would help them if I could.

But in the modern world this problem extends far beyond that. These people are now working to model our entire society after their own pathology. They wish to remake us into a society that never forgives. The slightest blemish, the smallest mistake can now ruin you for life. These people brought us that. The continue to work to make it even worse.

For this, I fight them – at every opportunity and with all my strength.

But first, I forgive them.

Good Friday

There is nothing quite like going to Good Friday mass during a thunderstorm with a couple of well-timed blasts of thunder.

For a moment, though, put aside religious beliefs. Whether you are a believer or not, I challenge you to read today’s scripture without being moved. Remember, the man they are putting forth is not only actually innocent of the declared charges, he’s also been declared innocent by the authority of the day.

So Jesus came out,
wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.
And he said to them, “Behold, the man!”
When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out,
“Crucify him, crucify him!”

Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him.
I find no guilt in him.”
The Jews answered,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die,
because he made himself the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this statement,
he became even more afraid,
and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus,
“Where are you from?”
Jesus did not answer him.
So Pilate said to him,
“Do you not speak to me?
Do you not know that I have power to release you
and I have power to crucify you?”
Jesus answered him,
“You would have no power over me
if it had not been given to you from above.
For this reason the one who handed me over to you
has the greater sin.”
Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out,
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.
Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out
and seated him on the judge’s bench
in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon.
And he said to the Jews,
“Behold, your king!”
They cried out,
“Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Shall I crucify your king?”
The chief priests answered,
“We have no king but Caesar.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Two thousand years later we are still crucifying people – people who are either innocent or who have committed minimal “crimes”. People who are later exonerated. We sacrifice them to the angry mobs in the name of “peace.”

When Progressives try to sell you on their Utopian future, remember that human nature has not changed one iota in two thousand years. We are no better now than we were in the time of the Romans. Why should we think that another social program or three will magically transform us into a society of perfect beings? Place not your faith in the institutions of man.

Every Party Needs a Priest

There has been a lot of supernatural fiction on both the big and the small screen in the last decade. As a fan of genre fiction, I approve… generally. Not all of it is good, of course. Some of it is downright unwatchable. Much of it is nothing more than soap opera or cheap romance fiction dressed up with genre trappings. But a fair amount of it has been pretty decent, and some of it has been really good.

But all of it – at least to my knowledge – suffers from a serious problem:

They need a priest in the party.

A lot of this discussion is going to center around the CW television drama Supernatural, because that’s the show my wife and I were watching when we first formulated the theory. But the basic premise holds across the genre – in its modern form, anyway.

So, as stated, let’s take the show Supernatural. For those unfamiliar with it, the show is about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester. Their mother was brutally killed by a demon when they were small children. As a result, their father dedicated the rest of his life to hunting supernatural creatures. When the series begins, Sam has rejected that life and set out to try for something normal – college, a career, etc. Then their father disappears and Sam is pulled back into the life of demon hunting, thus setting up the main premise of the show: the two brothers on a constant road trip fighting off demons, monsters, ghosts, and pretty much any other supernatural creature you can think of every week.

Personally, I found the first season of the show to be the strongest by a good margin. There’s a stereotype out there of shows getting bogged down in a “monster of the week” format, but that worked for Supernatural. The show is at its very best when it’s dragging up obscure myths and legends – whether the ancient or the urban variety – and just running with the concept of two brothers on a road trip helping people. When the series-long story arc begins is when the show starts having issues. Well, actually the issues begin before that but they’re livable. They ramp up to killing any value of the show after that – although clearly there are many who disagree with me, since the show is still running strong in the ratings on its tenth season. I stopped watching after the fifth season, and frankly both it and the preceding season were pretty weak.

Ultimately, though, the culprit of that began at the beginning: they needed a priest in the party.

Let’s start with season one. At this point, the show exists in a universe where:

  • The major characters know for a fact that demons, monsters and other supernatural creatures are real.
  • They have met such creatures.
  • They have fought such creatures.
  • The have used religious items – especially holy water – to great effect in fighting these creatures.

Despite these points, and especially despite these last points, Dean has no faith whatsoever and the best that Sam can manage is a kind of vague “there must be something” modern spirituality.

Excuse me for a minute, but what?! Imagine for a moment that you are living their lifestyle. You have no home – you live in a new hotel room in a new town every few days. You fight dangerous creatures all the time. You know, for a fact, that holy or blessed items help combat these creatures. And you have no serious relationships anyway.

What do you do? I know what I would do: I would find my way to a seminary and get my butt ordained. Even if you don’t actually believe in the religious teachings of the church, it clearly gives you an edge. Once you’re ordained, any water can become holy water in a pinch. You can bless your own weapons. You can perform your own exorcisms. The brothers do quite a bit of this anyway, but one would think in a world where holy water actually, you know, works that a priest would be more effective at exorcisms.

OK, so you’ve decided that becoming a priest is too hard. Or maybe it just takes you out of the game too long and people are getting hurt. Guess what? There are more than thirty-eight thousand priests in the United States. Get one to join the party. Or – at the very, very least – you make friends with a few of them. Stay in touch when you’re in that part of the country. Get them to provide you with stuff.

So why do the brothers never do this? Because the Hollywood producers of the show don’t take the Christian religion seriously.

The show borrows the mythological trappings of Christianity: crosses, holy water, exorcisms, and, in later seasons, even angels. But the problem is that none of these items working the way they do in the show makes any sense without the theological aspects of Christianity to back them up.

Holy water works in more or less the traditional ways. In other words, it’s effective against undead creatures like vampires. But why does it work? And why only on those creatures? Under traditional Christian theology and the traditional folklore of vampires this makes perfect sense. Vampires are creatures who have forsaken God, consciously chosen to damn their own souls, and chosen an unlife of wretched evil. Therefore holy water, crosses, and anything else sacred is the antithesis of their very being.

What are angels? In traditional theology they are messengers of God. The very word means messenger (it’s the same Greek root from which our word evangelize comes). And yet for the first three seasons of the show, God is only mentioned in the moments when Dean is explaining why he (very unbelievably, as described above) has no faith in Him.

Speaking of that, where do the demons come from? The traditional view, again, is that they are fallen angels. But what exactly does fallen mean? It means that they’ve turned away from God – who, as noted, is barely mentioned in the first few seasons. And if demons aren’t creatures that have turned away from God, then why do things like holy water work against them? Evidently the answer is, “just because.”

This is a problem that only gets worse in later seasons as the show tries to address this issue and finds itself getting more and more convoluted.

In the second season, Dean makes a deal with a demon to save the day. The deal is that the demon will take his soul. But what good is a soul to a demon without the Christian theology to back it up? What purpose does it serve? This, again, is never really explained.

In the third season his deal comes due and Dean’s soul is taken into Hell. A Hell that is distinctly Christian in type and likeness, although Christ is mentioned in the series even less than God. In fact, in the five seasons that I’ve personally viewed Christ is not mentioned one single time. Nor is he ever hinted at, referenced, or anything. So why does this kind of Hell exist? Because this is definitely the Christian version… unless it’s the Islamic version, although once more there is no reference to Muhammad, the Quran, or any Islamic theology. So why does this Hell exist?

In the fourth season the Angels show up. One of them rescues Dean from Hell, and – this is the good part – the rest of the season centers around the brothers trying to stop Lucifer from rising out of Hell. This is where things get really bad. Because up until now, you can kind of make a stretch out of it being a whole “religion of the book” approach and just trying to be a vague Judeo-Christian theological world. That’s still kind of lame, but you can almost make it work. But battle between Lucifer and the angels is unquestionably Christian in origin, coming straight out of the Revelation of St. John. Of course, they fail to stop Lucifer from rising so season five is all about defeating him. This continues stealing from the Christian mythological tradition by bringing in the archangel Michael.

Over the course of seasons four and five the real butchery begins as we discover that Sam and Dean are caught in between the warring factions of the demons and the angels. And that is the real travesty of the whole show. The angels and demons are reduced to nothing more than two warring factions, no different than, say, the Washington Redskins versus the Dallas Cowboys, Democrats versus Republicans or Red vs Blue. Without realizing that they’ve done it, the entirety of the show has now been reduced from (previously) being about fighting evil to… just fighting other factions.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not offended – although I do think there are grounds to be, if I was the kind of person who was easily offended. At least, I’m not offended for the sake of my religion. Christ is stronger than that and he can tolerate a bit of mockery. I might be just a tad bit offended over just how badly these issues damaged what was otherwise an enjoyable story.

This kind of thing bothered me before, back when I was an atheist, and for the same reason. It’s absolutely terrible for the story. The story would be far more enjoyable if they just made decisions that actually make sense with the elements that they’ve borrowed. OK, they don’t want to run with Christian theology. Maybe they want to create their own instead to fill the void. And from where they were going at the end of season five and what I’ve read past that, it sure sounds like they’ve tried. But Christian theology, mythology and folklore has two thousand years of history behind it. The kinks have been worked out, so to speak If you’re going to replace it, you’ve got a lot of homework to do.

But I don’t think this was a storytelling decision, or not a pure one. And the reason I don’t believe that is because this isn’t just an issue with Supernatural. It’s endemic in everything that comes out of Hollywood these days. It’s in very nearly every aspect of this genre. Can we get real for a minute and acknowledge that Hollywood has a problem with Christianity? When the decision happens this frequently and very clearly has this large of a negative effect on the story, it’s clearly not being done for the sake of the viewers. Hollywood has an agenda and Christianity isn’t part of it.

The thing is, they’re hurting their own stories more than they’re hurting us.

Reamde

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Last week I took some friendly advice and dove into the novel Reamde by Neal Stephenson. I will admit to being a little nervous. My experience with Stephenson’s novels has been a bit hit and miss.

My brother gave me Snow Crash for my birthday one year. I don’t remember which year, but it was a good while ago. Definitely before I was married, possibly before I even met my wife. He pushed me to read the opening segment with The Deliverator on the spot… and he was right, it really was one of the better sci-fi sequences I’ve ever read. And the novel had quite a bit more of that flavor of insane fun to add. On top of that, it had some really interesting ideas. Believe it or not, some of those ideas played a serious role in my conversion not just to Christianity but to the Roman Catholic Church.

But it was also kind of a mess of a book. I used the term insane fun for a reason. The book was kind of insane. Stephenson has a knack for penning some of the craziest, wildest, most amazing sentences you’ll ever read. And he can, at times, chain these together into some of the most sequences you’ll ever read. But putting them all together into a coherent story… in some of his works, that hasn’t always happened well. Snow Crash all came together, but the book bogged down a bit about three fourths of the way in and the resolution all felt a little weak to me.

And yet despite these complaints, it was an absolutely amazing book. Truly, the good parts were so good that they really made up for some fairly serious deficiencies.

However… I didn’t have such good luck when I tried to read more of his stuff. The Diamond Age lost me altogether about a third of the way through and I never finished it – or really wanted to. I made it through the first book of The Baroque Cycle. I found the concept interesting, really enjoyed his depiction of Benjamin Franklin… and totally and completely couldn’t get into the second book.

So when I saw such high praise for Reamde, I was a bit cautious. I had high respect for the source of the recommendation… but Stephenson had burned me before, and burned me hard. But then, also – Snow Crash.

So I downloaded the free trial on my Kindle and gave it a shot. And then when I finished that part, I paid for the full book. And then I didn’t come up for air for about four days (it’s a long book – 1056 pages in paperback – and I had quite a bit of work to do in between reading sessions).

Not once at any point did I want to put it down. I was thoroughly and completely engrossed from the moment I picked it up until the very end. The characters were interesting, the background setup was interesting, the plot was interesting. Unlike some of Stephenson’s other works, it was entirely readable all the way through.

And it was one big giant bundle of insanity. It’s not quite as audacious as Snow Crash. But really, what is? To this day, Snow Crash is one of the most audacious pieces of science fiction I’ve ever encountered. But it carried the same bombastic spirit of over-the-top craziness that fueled Snow Crash, kept everything firmly rooted in the real world (as opposed to Snow Crash‘s somewhat… fantastical plot driver), and just never let up.

Before I was about a third of the way through, the book had completely changed on me about three times. I thought I’d figured out what I was in for and then boom – here’s this other whole new element. I enjoyed that I couldn’t quite figure out where he was headed. Not plot wise – the basic gist of the resolution is obvious from pretty early on – but how he was going to get there.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I loved this book and highly recommend it. I do have two complaints, though, and I think they’re worth noting even though they were far, far from ruining the experience.

First, one of the major characters – Richard – has an inexplicable character moment about three quarters of the way through the book. After he’s spent most of the story manipulating people based on their emotions and pushing them to do what he wants, we’re suddenly informed by the author that he hates manipulating people and is a “doer” kind of person. Well, yeah, he’s been a “doer” all book. But he’s also been cheerfully manipulating people as if he were born to it. I chalk this up to an editing issue – the book is so big that there were probably some changes made during its construction and Stephenson likely just missed this. But it was a little jarring.

Second, the resolution… he should have spent just a bit more time in the aftermath. It felt a bit like running a marathon and then just stopping without a cool down walk. Doable, and it doesn’t exactly detract from the marathon itself, but you feel a bit rough afterward.

But these are pretty minor complaints in a book that is otherwise so fantastic. This is one of the best things I’ve read in many years.