FW &SF, or, On Faith and Works in Science Fiction
The fine folks at First Peter Five web journal (or 1P5 to you) asked me to contribute an essay explaining if and how and why my faith influences my science fiction writing. The editor asked to to answer in a thousand words or less, but we all know that was not going to happen.
The short answer is that I am eager and willing to make Christ the core of my art for two simple reasons: first, readers have asked, demanded, and begged that I do so; and second, Christianity is innately more dramatic that other worldviews, and Catholicism in particular is more mystical, magical and more-visually oriented than our iconoclastic brethren from heretical denominations. Rome invented Romance; Rome invented Science; and so the Scientific Romance is natural to us.
You may read it in it native environs here, or just click below the link.
But there was one area sacrosanct from my proselytizing effort. I did not use my science fiction stories to preach nor promote my worldview. I thought then that the honor of a gentleman, not to mention the pride of workmanship every craftsman should embrace, made it unseemly to preach my worldview when I was being paid to entertain. To use stories to spread my atheist views would be to impose on my customers, who came to me for a rollicking good space opera filled with exploding planets and colliding galaxies and stunning space princesses and stalwart space heroes. To give them a syllogism when they came for a space war, or an editorial when they came for an apocalypse, would cheat them of their hard-earned science fiction-buying dollar. To give them anything of the current world and its current controversies when they wished for escape into the future would be to play my beloved patrons false.
For I was one of those readers who oft had bought a book expecting a science fiction speculation and instead was forced to endure some rant about the issues that once upon a time absorbed the shallow attention of the intelligentsia. Since most of my reading consisted of books written twenty years before my time, I discovered that the only thing more boring than reading about the controversies of the day was reading about controversies long dead and written entirely by people long ago proved wrong.
Naturally, it was with considerable pride at my own cunning that I hid my personal opinions and paid attention only to the Muse, by which I mean I followed the needs of drama and ignored the itch to preach. Unlike other writers, as a newspaperman, I had an editorial page on which to scratch that itch to preach my opinionated opinions to the world.
When the Internet first came into my life, I assumed there was some danger that left-wing readers of mine would discover my journal and hence my opinions on the current issues of the day, but I hoped that I would gain more readers than I would lose, so I was never reluctant to share more strongly held beliefs on any topic.
In October 2003, the very first of my novels, The Golden Age, received its very first review. The reviewer excoriated the work, heaping every opprobrium on it, on the grounds that in the remote far future half a million years hence (which is when the story is set) the godlike beings who are our remotest descendants, commanding a technology which enables them to reorganize mind and matter and energy to any configuration at whim, did not seem at all concerned with environmentalism or racism or gender issues.
(I should mention that both race and sex were optional to the superbeings of this era, as was whether to have a physical body at all, and that death and extinction could be reversed, so that there were no endangered species and no non-artificial species.)
However, the more vexatious vehemence of the termagant reviewing the work was reserved for the climax. The fact that the hero won the heart of his estranged wife and had a second honeymoon was anathema to this particular critic. She did not criticize the plot, character development, word choice, or any other element of the craftsmanship. She took a personal detestation to me because I wrote about romance and marriage as if romance and marriage were good things. This particular critic hated love, romance, marriage, and all good things in life.
This was when it first was driven home to me that some readers were orcs — that is, beings to whom fair is foul and foul is fair — in terms so strong and plain that they could not be denied. There were people who claimed to be science fiction fans who had absolutely no interest in science fiction at all, but merely in the news of the day and in the long-dead abortive philosophy of the Victorian crackpot Karl Marx.
Then in August of 2009, I became the target of a Two Minutes Hate organized by an editor at a rival publishing house.
She combed through back issues of my journal and found a month-old editorial in which I mocked the SyFy Channel for caving to political correctness and vowing to try to put as many sodomite and lesbian characters onto their failing channel as possible, no doubt in an effort to alienate their non-far-leftist fans. The point was not that I cared one way or the other about the sexual misadventures of other people, but that the SyFy Channel, by showing the white feather to the thugs of political correctness, had in some small but real way encouraged an informal political censorship and made it harder for science fiction writers like me to sell my wares.
I did not like people telling me what to write. I thought in my naivety that all red-blooded Americans would feel the same way, and that all science fiction readers — a genre that prides itself on nonconformity — would even moreso. In my response, my joshing was — in my typical fashion — honest and blunt, and I called the perverts perverted.
There is one thing Leftists hate more than honesty, and that is bluntness.
So at the urging of this business rival, some 40 or 50 people who were not readers of mine wrote to tell me that they were boycotting my work. I attempted to point out that one cannot boycott wares one has never purchased. I soon realized that logic and sweet reason would not influence members of a worldview whose main selling point was a false promise to free the true believer from all limitations of reality and all obedience to social conventions, including the conventional behavior of honesty, forthrightness, and sanity. They reacted with the weak and womanish fury of the guilt-ridden, hacked my Wikipedia page, my TVTropes page, and generally made a lingering nuisance of themselves. They pouted and said they would not be my friends no more.
The sheer, shrieking, screaming, dishonest foulness — combined with the putrid crudeness and puerile tantrum-tactics of these orcs — slew forever even the slightest desire I might have had to entertain them or earn my bread from them. I was 41 years old when I heard an argument that convinced me to no longer to support the pro-homosexual position. Logic forced me, very much against my inclinations, to adopt the pro-chastity position. I was not a Christian at the time, nor was I destined to become a Christian for quite some time. But I had mightily offended Christianity’s main rival religion in America, which is a death cult called Secular Progressivism. And Progressivism is a jealous God. A pro-chastity atheist is not welcome there. At the time, to be honest, I thought them large in number, not merely loud in volume. I thought my stance might require some fortitude on my part, or involve me in some financial loss.
This turned out not to be the case.
It was a logical argument whose meshes I could not escape that convinced me to depart from the camp of the sexual liberators and their sexually perverse mascots, but there was something much more powerful than a logical argument which drew me out of the camp of the atheists and into the fortress of the Church. After a series of miracles, visions, visitations, religious experiences, and being hit over the head by a divine two-by-four, I converted and vowed my life to Christ.
That matter was private, and I made no effort to spread the news, but when asked a direct question by an interviewer, I responded honestly, as a man must when asked such a question. I was hardly going to deny Christ before men, lest He deny me before a more august audience.
I told one amateur reporter from one amateur school newspaper about my conversion, and in a moment every webpage that mentioned my name now was aflame with hatred and contumely because I was a humble, meek, and mild follower of Christ, and I had vowed no longer to hurt or hate my enemies, but to love them.
I confess this was a little amusing to me, since my previous atheist self had no reluctance to duel or maim and small reluctance to kill or be killed when someone offended my honor, whereas all those expressions of the deadly sin of wrath were absolutely forbidden to me now. Why these strangers whom I had never offended and who know nothing about me, but who like to play-pretend they are my enemies, would be more frightened of me now that I was a milky and meek follower of the Prince of Peace and no threat to them whatsoever is a matter for psychological or theological speculation.
The wheels of the publishing world turn slowly. Several of my books, which I had written when yet a die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool atheist, came out after news of my conversion did. More than one editor or book critic, deceived by my desire to tell a story rather than promote a worldview, were convinced that my atheist books were Christian in tone. One of them even called a book containing a scene that rather unsubtly mocked Christianity a pro-Christian apologetic!
Readers, never tell yourselves you can determine an author’s personal opinions from his writing, unless he is, like C.S. Lewis or his warped antimatter image Phillip Pullman, someone who declares his partisan loyalty from the outset.
I wrote stories with nakedly religious endings of pure hope when I was an atheist because the story logic required such an ending. Likewise, I wrote stories with a nakedly atheist ending of pure despair when I was a Christian because the story logic required such an ending.
Meanwhile, the lamps of civilization are going out one by one. The more useful barometer of the life expectancy of any civilization is the degree to which the populace at large is willing to accept insolent, insulting, bare-faced falsehoods in their midst without umbrage and without objection. The more outrageously obvious the lie and the more tolerant the people are of it, the clearer it is that the unseen bonds of mutual trust on which society — any society — is based are relaxing and evaporating. The speed at which the society around me became addicted to lies was truly shocking to me, and still is.
The one limb of this rising swamp of untruth which sloshed over into my professional life was when the Science Fiction Writers of America began expelling members or firing employees for being unwilling to bow rapidly enough to the glaringly absurd pieties of the politically correct left-wing.
It was nakedly and openly political, and Christians and conservatives were told to shut up and pretend to be lunatics along with the screaming lunatics or else face the pretend wrath of the lunatics. (Their wrath, of course, is just as make-believe as everything else in their make-believe world, from global warming to Republican racism to the innocence of the Palestinians. In reality, they are cowards.)
I publicly and with great umbrage resigned from that suddenly fetid organization and shook the dust from my sandals, for it stank in my nostrils. SWFA has betrayed everything for which it once stood. These people are Philistines. May the Almighty smite them with emerods.
A time came when a small but bold publisher wrote me out of the blue asking if I had any stories, even one previously sold elsewhere, that he might republish. An anthology of my Night Lands tales — including two of the tales previously mentioned here, an atheist story I wrote while a Christian and a Christian story I wrote while an atheist — was published. And the readers and critics who reviewed the anthology loved the Christian story. (Yes, that one, the one I wrote while I was an atheist.) They wept. They had dreams about it. They praised it and overpraised it in such fulsome terms that I dare not repeat some of the compliments lest I be accused either of exaggeration or hallucination.
It was shocking to me. It was unbelievable.
And I made a sackful of money in a shockingly short time.
In rapid succession three things became clear to me:
First, I have a gift. I did not earn it, and I take no credit for it, but I can write a story that can make readers feel as if an eternal spirit has brushed them with the pinfeathers of her wings.
Second, we mortal men are chained prisoners with fetters on our feet and mind-darkening drugs in our bread and water for so long as we remain in this dungeon of the Fallen Estate of Man. We are patients in the lazaret, our bodies rotting around us, who have forgotten what solid sunlight and shining green grass or the wine of the wind feels like. It is the mission of the muses to remind us of these simple, wholesome, lovely and heavenly things: golden sun and emerald hill, blue fountain and white cloud. And it is the duty of the poet to serve the muses.
This means it would be wrong of me not to use the gift to its fullest measure.
Humans are homesick for Heaven. If I can remind even one faithful brother of his first true love, I might save him from being a Laodicean.
Third, the orcs are beyond mortal reach. Most are already below the feculent bottom of the fen of filth that forms this worldview and busily burrowing deeper, digging a grave.
If I wrote a book like Ayn Rand or Robert Heinlein and argued using merely mortal words and mortal logic, none of my words would reach this sunken soul. There is nothing there to get a grip on. All the normal human emotions, all the human organs to which I might address an appeal are long lost, rotted away.
But no one is beyond salvation. The orcs are damnable fools. It is sound theology to say so. But they are not damned fools. That is a sin to say, and Our Lord straightly forbids it. He can reach them with His pierced hands even though my human arms are too short.
Hence, if I write books deeply informed by the Christian worldview, and write on divine topics following divine teaching and perhaps a hint of divine inspiration, the muse might be able to reach the ear of an orc. An orc that mere stories about space princesses being rescued from space pirates by a space marine cannot possibly reach.
I am a philosopher. I know what philosophy can do. I also know what it cannot do. It cannot reach those who have cropped their ears. The lamp of reason has no light for those who have gleefully prodded out their eyes in adoration of the abomination of desolation, their sad idol.
Now, if I use my art to uphold the faith, will I offend anyone?
The question is meaningless. The orcs do not merely hate sunlight and happiness and romance, they think the weather is out to get them. They fear policemen and love wild bears. They think Mohammedan terrorists are the good guys and Jews are not an oppressed and hated people. They think two persons of the same sex can have sex and that this requires the sacrament of marriage to sanctify and celebrate their filthy unnatural sodomy.
They think common sense is a hate crime, and therefore they avoid it at all costs. These people LIVE to be offended. They BREATHE being offended. They LOVE being offended. To avoid offending them would leave them with nothing to do.
Merely by writing a story where the hero wedded the heroine, I offended the orcs. Good stories offend them because they are good.
The only stories they like – well, to measure what they like, see what they reward. Just look at those that won nominations the Nebula Award this year: a tale of despair about a bride imagining her comatose husband (beaten to death by Southern bigots) to be a dinosaur with no science fiction elements in it; a tale of despair concerning priests murdering a child with no science fiction elements in it; a tale of a homosexual offended by his bigoted sister with no science fiction elements in it.
The orcs don’t like science fiction. They don’t like the romance of progress nor the deep fears or high hopes of the future. They don’t like romance at all. Their world is dull and gray, filled with jagged red stabs of hate and the dripping black of nihilism.
Will I lose sales because I am Christian? I cannot impress upon you, dear reader, how blitheringly stupid that question is. Lose sales, indeed! Sales?
Perhaps those of you who were born in the faith do not realize what is written over the wide front gates of pearl next to the baptistery, those same open doors that invite all infidels to become faithful. I passed through those doors. Do you not recall? Really? TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME. That is what I was promised when I joined your army.
It does not say, “Take up your little pink baby blanket,” does it?
When I was confirmed I took the name Justin Martyr after Saint Justin Martyr, the patron of philosophers, my vocation. He was stabbed to death for refusing to recant his belief in his Lord. His crimson entrails were spilled out over the floor of the jail cell where he departed this world to his reward.
I can imagine some Protestants not understanding the cost involved in crossing that threshold. The Anglicans, after all, never faced persecution. They are always the fools and dandies of the State, for they were and are an established State religion. They were the persecutors, not the persecuted. And certain Protestant sects avoid graphic representation of saints and martyrs or ignore the saints altogether. But not the One, True, Apostolic, and Catholic Church. We cannot forget our roots. The world, and the Prince of this World, will remind us that we are strangers here if ever we get too comfortable.
The conclusion is this: The core of science fiction is stories based in solid speculation about the progress of technology and the nature of man, man’s place in the universe, and so on. They are stories of high hope or deep fear, tales of magic and imagination. The Catholic Church invented and nurtured the scientific method and scientific speculation, and outside the Christian worldview, science becomes politicized, pointless, and turns into Lysenkoism, Nazi race science, or environmentalism — that is, a harlot of the party in power.
Outside Christianity, outside hope of Heaven and fear of Hell, the hopes and fears are finite and watery.
Outside Christianity, the magic is not in life. For the pagan or neopagan progressive, life is pain followed either by endless nothingness or by endless reincarnations of endless pain. No good stories take place in the worldview outside Rome. Rome invented romance, hence the name.
Catholicism invented science fiction. Just ask Jules Verne.
I could not avoid telling stories in the Christian way for Christian audiences in a Christian spirit even if I wanted to. Seeing how aggressive and yet how foolish our enemy is, it would be unwise not to want to. The sky is growing darker and the sea is rising, and only a fool does not see the storms to come. There is no refuge outside the Church and no comfort.
Let me not be accused of being courageous. I am not. The only threat the enemies of Christ have so far brought to bear, despite the fact that I am as loud and clear-voiced about my faith as it is possible to be, has been a few weak-minded dribblers trying to voice witty insults. But their wits failed them, and they can only choke with hatred and humiliate themselves in public. They were not going to buy any books of mine in any case, no matter what. I could not write a story to please them — like their award-winning dino-porn about a homosexual child-murdering priest — even if I wanted to.
And their stories lack magic. I do not mean they cannot write a ripoff of the surface features of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. I mean that their stories are limited by their dull and claustrophobic world. They live in a coffin called Progressivism.
To them, life is a machine, and morality is caused by statically random mutations in the genes controlling the meat robot they call themselves. They are bodies without souls who live chasing vain pleasures, screaming at imaginary dangers, blind to real dangers, and who return to the elements at death like the beasts they think they are. There is no difference between male and female in their world, nothing is familiar because nothing is exotic, there is no justice and no injustice, there is only a meaningless struggle, a moment of disappointing pleasure-seeking, and death. Yes, it is a coffin. That is where they live. That is the kind of tale they tell. Coffin tales.
But I am a Catholic. In my world, every sunrise is the trumpet blast of Creation, more astonishing than the bomb burst, and every nightfall is the opening of a vast roof into the infinite dance of deep Heaven, where the stars and planets reel and waltz to the music of the spheres.
When I was in China, the tour guide saw me stop to give alms to beggars. He watched in wonder and asked me why I was ‘tipping’ the beggars. I told him our God walks the Earth in disguise dressed as a beggar, and any man who does not give alms with both hands is stricken with a curse and flung screaming into a lake of fire.
One might think that an odd reason to give alms, or even an impure or superstitious reason, but no one can say it is a prosaic reason. To see God in a beggar’s careworn and quotidian face is the very soul of romance.
Romance? Let me say something of the wild poetry that now rules my life.
I have a charm chalked on my front door to call a blessing down from wide Heaven. I carry a Rosary like a deadly weapon in my pocket and hang the medallion of Saint Justin Martyr, whose name I take as my true name, atop my computer monitor where he can stare at me.
Two angels follow me unseen as I walk, and I live in a world of exorcists and barefoot friars, muses and prophets, healers who lay on hands, mighty spiritual warriors hidden in crippled bodies, and fallen angels made of pure malicious spirit obeying their damned and darkened Sultan from his darkest throne in Hell. And I live in a world where a holy Child was born a secret king beneath a magic star, and the animals knelt and prayed. And from that dread lord, the small Child will save us.
You might think my world inane, or insane, or uncouth, or false, but by the beard of Saint Nicholas, by the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, and by the severed head of Saint Valentine, no one can say it is not romantic.
My life these days is a storybook story. If there were more romance in it, it would be enough to choke Jonah’s whale. Without Catholicism, there is no romance. Outside the Church, where are the miracles?
Should I hide this? Should I hide a world larger and more glorious than mortal worlds?
It is the only type of story worth a man’s time to tell or heed.