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.

The Novels of John C. Wright

 

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.

 

48 Comments

  1. Comment by TJIC:

    I enjoyed and agreed with this entire essay…with one minor exception (a quibble, really).

    > They fear policemen and love wild bears.

    I suggest that, as police kill more innocent people per year than do bears, the proper approach is to fear both. One should not be confused by the Platonic ideal of police into assuming that the actual police overly resemble them overmuch.

  2. Comment by Jump the Shark:

    Reading the essay even as I type, but a small quibble near the top of this page: I take no offense at your boldly stating what you firmly believe. However, every ‘heretical’ (my scare quotes, not yours) sect except perhaps for the Orthodox must by nature of existence implicitly claim responsability for Rome’s accomplishments prior to its fissioning off. The stance of my own, beloved, Confessional Lutheran church is that we are the true church catholic, and Rome is presently held by a usurper.

    At any rate, I know I have not offered here a substantial criticism to your essay or even that one line. I just wanted to segue into saying that you have recently spurred me into starting in on the Catholic Catechism, something I have always intended to do but put off.

    I ask that you pray that God guide me to truth. I’ve no little fear of discovering that you are right and I am wrong, but I’ve faced that down before. I was not always Lutheran.

    I have, on the other hand, always been jealous of the fact that Rome gets all the really cool toys.

    • Comment by Bruno Moreno:

      Jump the Shark:

      The Catechism is a wonderful book, not only to study, but also to pray with. Enjoy.

      As a Catholic, I hope that you will find in the Catholic Church everything you love in Lutheranism, but transfigured and somehow enlarged, as in the difference between longing and finding and between a comfortable room and a whole world full of wonders.

      Be assured of my prayers.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I am more than willing to pray for you, but I do not understand what you mean by claiming responsibility. I am not aware of any Protestant sect that claims to have apostolic succession, or even that has priests and bishops and archbishops. Without a priesthood, their priestly sacraments are invalid, and (as far as I know) most Protestant sects do not even claim to have any priestly sacraments, only the lay sacraments, like baptism and marriage. I know of at least one denomination that has no sacraments whatsoever: I would not even call it a church. It is an association of like-minded persons who gather for prayer meetings.

      I use the word heretic not because of its connotations but because of its denotation. It refers to a person who accepts some of the teachings of the Church, rejects others, and who rejects the authority on which those teaching are based. It is significant that the Orthodox Church is not in heresy but only in schism. I believe all their sacraments are valid.

      • Comment by Lee A Steven:

        I understand your use of the word heretic to refer to Protestants, and perhaps it’s correct, but then again perhaps not. The Cathecism makes it clear that “All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.” (818)

        And then there is the following from Pope Benedict (written before he became Pope):

        “Cardinal” Joseph Ratzinger, The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, pp. 87-88: “The difficulty in the way of giving an answer is a profound one. Ultimately it is due to the fact that there is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today (one could say the same of the relationship to the separated churches of the East). It is obvious that the old category of ‘heresy’ is no longer of any value. Heresy, for Scripture and the early Church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the unity of the Church, and heresy’s characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of him who persists in his own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the spiritual situation of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now centuries-old history, Protestantism has made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith, fulfilling a positive function in the development of the Christian message and, above all, often giving rise to a sincere and profound faith in the individual non-Catholic Christian, whose separation from the Catholic affirmation has nothing to do with the pertinacia characteristic of heresy. Perhaps we may here invert a saying of St. Augustine’s: that an old schism becomes a heresy. The very passage of time alters the character of a division, so that an old division is something essentially different from a new one. Something that was once rightly condemned as heresy cannot later simply become true, but it can gradually develop its own positive ecclesial nature, with which the individual is presented as his church and in which he lives as a believer, not as a heretic. This organization of one group, however, ultimately has an effect on the whole. The conclusion is inescapable, then: Protestantism today is something different from heresy in the traditional sense, a phenomenon whose true theological place has not yet been determined.”

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          they therefore have a right to be called Christians

          Of course. You can’t be a heretic unless you are a Christian.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          What are you talking about? All heretics are Christian by definition.

          • Comment by gettimothy:

            What are you talking about? All heretics are Christian by definition.

            This is why I love* you; God always has another door to look in, a new wonder (pleasures for evermore) and you are the guy three steps ahead of the group who says, “Hey! look over here in this one!”

            The sound of the word ‘heretic’ suggests something very different from its true meaning–the meaning you pointed out (look in this door!) its true nature. Thank you.

            Merely, yours in Christ.

            t

            (funny, how telling another man you love them has negative connotations these days–it wasn’t always such, but then ‘gay’ and ‘rainbow’ lacked the weight they now bear as well)

            • Comment by R.Carter:

              Oh, rainbows at least always had weight, it was simply of a more wholesome sort. For the ancient Norse the rainbow was the bridge between the mortal realm and the land of the gods. For the Aborigines it is a serpent and the creator-god which rules the Dreaming. For the Hindi it is the bow of the war god Indra. For the Hebrews and Christians it remains a sacred seal between God and men. And the list goes on.

              That the rainbow now represents perversion and sodomy instead of sky-bridges to the heavens, powerful spirits, and divine might is no accident. The LGBT Lobby recognized the rainbow’s cultural symbolism and decided to twist it to their own ends. That they succeeded is yet another sign that our society is in trouble.

      • Comment by Jump the Shark:

        Alas, it would seem I have been unclear. Perhaps given the impression that I took offense.

        I do not understand what you mean by claiming responsibility.

        As I understand it, the logic goes thus: 1) The true faith has always existed. 2) During the reformation, the church fissioned and the true faith was carried on by (arguer’s sect). 3) Therefore any cultural accomplishments of Rome prior to the fissioning off of (sect of choice) can be claimed as an example of said sect’s influence as much as that of Rome.

        I am not aware of any Protestant sect that claims to have apostolic succession, or even that has priests and bishops and archbishops.

        Some Lutherans have a priesthood. My branch is one such. However, we do specifically deny apostolic succession and therefore must deny that it is necessary for the ordination of priests.

        Without a priesthood, their priestly sacraments are invalid, and (as far as I know) most Protestant sects do not even claim to have any priestly sacraments, only the lay sacraments, like baptism and marriage

        My church has a different definition of the term ‘sacrament’ than the RCC which is, IMHO, a needless confusion, especially as we try to keep other things, such as our lectionary, in harmony with Rome as much as our creeds permit.

        I know of at least one denomination that has no sacraments whatsoever: I would not even call it a church. It is an association of like-minded persons who gather for prayer meetings.

        We are in agreement here.

        I use the word heretic not because of its connotations but because of its denotation.

        I am not offended by connotations, nor did I even consider them. I used the scare quotes because I cannot sensibly claim to believe that I am mistaken, and therefore cannot call myself a heretic until shown where I have erred. I do, obviously, believe at present Rome exceeds her authority, and therefore will be considered a heretic by Rome. If, contrawise, Rome exceeds her authority, she thereby rejects the authority above her, and must be considered heretical. I accept these things without rancor.

        Nor am I a postmodern. I know one or both of us must be wrong. That I belong to one side and am reading up on the other implies (correctly) that I suspect one or the other of us must be right.

        • Comment by Laura:

          When we were dating, my husband was notionally still part of the Covenant church, which split from the Lutheran-Lutherans over whether unordained people could offer the Lord’s Supper. Notionally, because his specific church had acrimoniously split (again) in a public argument over dinosaurs, and he had basically stopped having anything to do with any of them. Anyway, we were in the military and assigned to Europe; apropos of the Neuhaus quote below, he mentioned that you could tell the Lutheran churches from the Catholic ones, because the Lutheran ones had a rooster (proclaiming the word), or a weather vane (pointing the way the spirit was moving), whereas the Catholic ones had a cross. I made an off-hand joke that a rooster is just a loud chicken, and a weather vane will point in any direction if you wait long enough; I’d prefer the church with the cross. He took it more seriously than I meant it, though.

          We then did the compare-the-churches thing… he’d ask a question, and I’d look it up in the index of the catechism, read a paragraph or two, and possibly consult the footnoted documents. Whereas, he was never able to say anything certain, even about the most fundamental issues. He took to asking some of the military chaplains some basic questions, like, “Is Hell for real?” All of the Catholic priests said the same thing: yes, it’s real, and if you go there you’ll never get out; but you can only go there if you deliberately choose to commit a serious sin and then die without repenting (so don’t do that). The Protestants were all contradictory– Hell is real, is not real, is real but empty, almost all people go to Hell, you can’t help it if you go to Hell, Hell isn’t important, etc. Even within his own congregation back home, the two pastors didn’t agree with each other and got into an argument in front of him!

          He concluded that if he was looking for “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”, then he needed to quit looking in Protestantism. So he converted to Catholicism.

          I’ll let the Catechism do the teaching about what Catholicism is. But since we’re talking specifically about priesthood and sacraments, I’d suggest that you google the canons of the Council of Nicea (325 AD) and take a look yourself. This was the first rigorous attempt to define both doctrinal and disciplinary points for the whole church. Specifically, it states as fact that bishops must be ordained by three other bishops and approved by the metropolitan (in the West, this was the Bishop of Rome); priests and deacons must be ordained by the laying on of hands of their own bishop (only); clergy may be deposed for serious misconduct, but their ordination remains valid; only priests and bishops may preside at the eucharist; and that the eucharist should be given to anyone in danger of death.

          I think it’s clear that this document describes the practice of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but not any Protestant church. Nor were these practices “cooked up” by Scholastics in the 14th century (or whenever)– they were already considered settled practice early in the 4th century, and persist outside of Rome’s authority in the Orthodox and Coptic churches. Indeed, in terms of the apostolic succession, the churches have always carefully maintained a list of succession for bishops, even when being on such a list, or having a copy of such a list, was physically dangerous. (That’s as true of 1st century Rome as it is of 21st century China.) Protestants lost something that Christians considered essential for 1500 years when they abandoned apostolic succession. I have no idea what a priesthood would be if not what is described by Nicaea, in fact.

    • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

      Careful! That kind of thinking will turn you appalling Catholic. Then your only hope will be to hope it finally turns you all the way Catholic, a place I haven’t managed to find myself in. Right now I sound evangelical around Catholics and Catholics around evangelicals. I’m like the anti-Paul. The wrong thing to all people.

      • Comment by Mrs. Wright:

        Don’t give up! There is a place for anti-Paul’s too! ;-)

        • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

          Yeah. There is. I’m sure eventually I’ll either be Catholic, or called to scream at both sides of the fence about ecumenical unity. Who knows.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Except the Catholics, the universal Church, (the word catholic means universal) are the ones who scream for ecumenical unity. Remember, we are the guys who thing man does not have a right to start a new church whenever a doctrinal dispute strikes him, or he has a new vision of God or something. We are the ones who vote and abide by the outcome, rather than pick up our marbles and leave and start our own.

            • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

              Yeah, actually, I have to give you that. Vatican 2 produced a remarkable set of documents that left me feeling a lot of warm and fuzzy things towards Rome. There’s more than one acknowledgement that “truth and sanctification” exist outside the auspices of the RCC. Even though the section about Protestants in Unitatis Redintegratio (I think that’s where it’s found.) clearly doesn’t know what to do with them/us. “Welp. We don’t get them and we don’t want to be them, but God clearly works through those weirdos, too.” (In this, it reminds of the section of the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed dedicated to the Holy Spirit: “….and there’s this guy. Don’t know what to do with him, but he’s clearly God.”)

              My biggest concern is with seeing such an attitude filter through the whole body of Christ. We have so many other fish to fry.

              • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

                “There’s more than one acknowledgement that ‘truth and sanctification’ exist outside the auspices of the RCC.”

                Certainly, but it must be also remarked this is not news brought by Vatican II, I learned that in grammar school, before the Council: truth and sanctification, though they obviously happen outside the visible RCC, will never happen WITHOUT baptism, at least of desire, within the One true Church which is the Body of Christ. In the invisible order, Catholics in a state of unrepented grave sin have severed themselves from this Body, while every man of goodwill who truly repents his sins and engages his faith to God incarnate (whether in life or at the point of death) is saved through the one baptism in the One Church even if he is not baptized or the baptism he had is not valid.

      • Comment by Scholar-at-Arms:

        ” Right now I sound evangelical around Catholics and Catholics around evangelicals. I’m like the anti-Paul. The wrong thing to all people.”

        You and me both. A cradle Baptist, I realised recently that most of my Christian friends are Catholic, Orthodox, or High-Church Anglican and I’m far more comfortable discussing matters of faith with them than around most Evangelicals I know. A couple years of studying ancient and medieval philosophy will do that to you, I guess.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      You may find this 2002 essay by Fr. John Neuhaus, formerly a Lutheran pastor, to be helpful:

      [E]verybody knew that the way to tell the difference between Catholic and Lutheran churches and all the others is that Catholics and Lutherans put a cross on top of their steeples instead of a weather vane or nothing at all.
      http://www.firstthings.com/article/2002/04/001-how-i-became-the-catholic-i-was

  3. Comment by billthesimple:

    Deus lo volt!

  4. Comment by simplemind:

    John,

  5. Comment by simplemind:

    Sorry I should say Mr. Wright, but I feel like I know you because you know my heart. “humans are homesick for heaven”. Nail Head. Hammered.

    Having said that you are rather like the Hammer. You certainly applied the business end to more than just the usual morlocks. For what its worth, “more flies with honey” and all that . . .

    Your stories are truly inspiring, and I suspect apt to set someone thinking, who still can. You do reach people. I guessing the hammer approach on the blog may present a barrier to entry for some. I suppose you thought of this already. Still I mention it because you really are one of the most enjoyable authors writing SF today, and anyone with a slight interest in the field should read something you’ve written. I literally have read 6 of your books in a row (well I did sneak correia in there just recently). So, huge fan indeed. Frankly I want as many unsuspecting naïfs to read you as possible, and this blog post is going to make you much more visible, but more suspected… Still, you gotta be you.

  6. Comment by piraticalbob:

    A minor nitpick: were not the Anglicans persecuted during the brief reign of Queen Mary Tudor and her Spanish husband Felipe II?

    And James Michener, in his book Iberia, pointed out that sailors shipwrecked and cast away on the coast of Spain were subject to torture and death at the hands of the Inquisition (“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition,” etc) for being heretics, i.e., Anglicans.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I concede the point. Every Christian gets to enjoy what happened to Christ — false accusations and torture and death. I should have been more generous to my brothers in Christ.

      • Comment by frmkirby:

        It is also worth noting that Anglicans were persecuted by the Puritans leading up to and during Cromwell’s Commonwealth. King Charles I could have saved his life by assenting to the abolition of the episcopacy in the Church of England, but did not, for example. Before and after this a number of bishops (forerunners of the Anglo-Catholics effectively) and others were subject to varying degrees of persecution by Puritans inside and outside Parliament, e.g., Montague, who defended the legitimacy of the invocation of saints. And there have been a number of Anglican martyrs in the missions.

        Finally, it is worth noting that the persecution of RCs in England was an act of the English State, not the English Church, and was tied up with the belief that RCs, especially the missionary clergy, were committed to undermining the State or encouraging rebellion. Some were, but they tended to be the ones who were not captured, ironically, leaving the ones who honestly tried to balance their loyalties to the “mercies” of sometimes malicious agents of the government. These were men who just hated RCs.

        Fortunately, I seem to remember that during the Japanese invasion of New Guinea, Roman Catholic and Anglican missionary clergy and religious who chose not to leave for safety were co-martyred, so to speak. The ecumenism of blood.

  7. Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

    I think one reason some of the fiction you wrote while atheist sounds Christian is that you always loved romance, beauty and truth. At one point I had wearied of the sci-fi/fantasy genres entirely because I encountered “the big, bad male church” too many times, the heroine who walks away from her husband or children for knowledge too many times, and the easy, herbal birth control with no side effects or social taboos every time. Then I met Amelia Windrose, and remembered why I loved sci-fi and fantasy.
    As a child, fantasy books (and fairy tales and mythology) felt truer, or like something that ought to be truer, than the dull grinding of school and it’s petty schoolyard politics. It helps us cradle Catholics when one of our converted brethren reminds us of our treasures. We have wonder, magic and beauty right there, and we let the world wear it down. The world only replaces it with fear and ugliness.
    I want to paint this on my dining room wall, so I will see it frequently:
    “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.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I think one reason some of the fiction you wrote while atheist sounds Christian is that you always loved romance, beauty and truth.

      You flatter me, but in this case you flatter me truthfully. I disbelieved in God not because I was mad at Him (which seems to be the main motive for most Leftists) but because I heard an argument which, to the best of my considerable ability to ponder, seemed categorically to settle the matter in the negative. I disbelieved in God not because I hated God but because I loved truth.

      Imagine my surprise when truth turned out to have a human face, and turned, and looked at me.

  8. Comment by snarflemike:

    John, you are a true delight. It is clear that you have been called to be a sort of prophet, and you have accepted the call with gusto! To you and to all of your fans, I offer Churchill: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      You shame me. Churchill faced real enemies. I face no one and nothing. I argue with ideas and the people who imagine themselves to be offended with me (and who actually have not the slighted reason for being offended) have no ideas. There is nothing for me to fight.

      Also, they are abject craven cowards. Not one has the slightest likelihood of ever causing me any harm, financial, physical, mental or otherwise. It is as if you are praising a school teacher for being ‘brave’ enough to chide unruly fourth graders — who are talking to her over the phone.

      Or do you think John Scalzi is likely to show up at my house wearing the panoply of a hoplite, helm bearing both horns and crest, utter his ululation of war, speakers embedded in his knee-armor blaring out RIDE OF THE VALKYRIE, and I stand, blinking and gawping, will with huge uplifted arm of godlike might forthwith impale me with lance or bifork?

      Larry Correia, perhaps, John Scalzi, no.

      These people have nothing. No power, no ability to influence events, no magic art to force you to commit suicide when they ask or demand it. The guy who quit from Mozilla was not pried out of office: he caved.

      • Comment by HMSLion:

        I don’t think they are up to demanding the satisfaction customary among gentlemen, either. And I doubt they would give it.

      • Comment by Rainforest Giant:

        Larry would use a tetsubo. Now there’s an idea the evil league of evil could sell signature weapons, a big tetsubo for Larry, you get the rapier natch, give Vox a fighting dagger, and Sarah gets a nice El Cid type sword and steel buckler.

        Have them signed and sold for charity.

  9. Comment by ladyhobbit:

    I loved this essay: it is Chestertonian!

  10. Comment by robertjwizard:

    Loved the article. I bookmarked the site; looks pretty new, but I’ll come back to it.

    The “Coffin Tales” paragraph was very succinct, perfect.

    Personally, I don’t care if you make Christ the core of your writing or not as long as it comes with the usual heaping of space opera awesome-sauce. I care about story, go where the muse takes you, I only make one demand – story (and awesome-sauce). Then, again three of my favorite science fiction authors are devout Catholics (you, Wolfe and Lafferty) so you certainly won’t turn me away.

  11. Ping from DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » On Faith and Works in Science Fiction:

    […] John C. Write may or may not be a good science fiction writer (haven’t read any of his stuff, although I plan to) but he’s an excellent social commentator. […]

  12. Comment by Sean Michael:

    If I have not yet left any comments here that was because so many of the other readers who have deposited remarks here have already said why I believe this was a very good essay by Mr. Wright. Iow, it would be REPETITIOUS merely to repeat what they have said.

    But I have had an idea which may justify me leaving a comment here: a short listing of SF authors with one or two of their works treating religion seriously.

    Poul Anderson, “The Word to Space,” and “The Problem of Pain”

    James Blish, A CASE OF CONSCIENCE

    Anthony Boucher, “The Quest for St. Aquin,” and “Balaam”

    Edgar Rice Burroughs, THE GODS OF MARS

    Sir Arthur Clarke, “The Star”

    Walter Miller, A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ

    Gene Wolfe, THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN (4 volumes)

    I’ve no doubt other readers could add more titles to such a list. For example, I would include Poul Anderson’s THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN and THE GAME OF EMPIRE for a more complete listing; or even Robert Heinlein’s SIXTH COLU9MN. But this is long enough!

    Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I am utterly baffled that you list Edgar Rice Burroughs, THE GODS OF MARS as a book that takes religion seriously. It is a story where ever character who believes in the cult is being deceived by an outrageous and abominable fraud. It contrasts disbelief as the corrective to fraud, and not civilized religion as the corrective for fraud.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Dear Mr. Wright:

        What you said about the “religion” seen in THE GODS OF MARS is true and I should not have included that work in my list.

        What I had in mind was that as an early work of science fantasy Edgar Rice Burroughs was treating seriously the idea of DEBUNKING what you correctly called “an outrageous and abominable fraud.” That is, religion is so serious a matter that a fraudulent faith should not be believed in. Also, however negatively put, I think this work was one of the earliest in what became SF to use the idea of religion with any seriousness. I regret not saying so in a comment after listing Burroughs novel.

        Lastly, I wanted to include THE GODS OF MARS because of the great fondness I have for Burroughs’ Barsoom stories.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

        P.S. I forgot to include Frank Herbert’s DUNE in my list. But, your comments about a deliberately fraudulent faith now makes me glad I had not. Because what we see about religion in DUNE comes uncomfortably close to fraud. See how religion is manipulated by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood for its cynical purposes.

        S.M.B

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          Edgar Rice Burroughs was treating seriously the idea of DEBUNKING what you correctly called “an outrageous and abominable fraud.” That is, religion is so serious a matter that a fraudulent faith should not be believed in.

          By that standard, Richard Dawkins treats religion seriously. I suspect you need a stricter one.

    • Comment by robertjwizard:

      Well, if we’re going to do that, let me name a few of my own from one of my favorite authors!

      From R.A. Lafferty

      PAST MASTER
      FOURTH MANSIONS
      EAST OF LAUGHTER

      Some may disagree that the man takes religion seriously given the seeming insanity of his stories. But beneath the violence, comedy, and madness there usually beats a very somber religious thread – usually of rebirth.

      PAST MASTER and EAST OF LAUGHTER are very similar thematically -rebirth of the world. FOURTH MANSIONS is based on St. Teresa of Avila’s THE INTERIOR CASTLE. I think it may pay to read her work first before his, he threw so much wackiness into it I could barely gleam the meaning although the issue of rebirth was present as usual.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Hi, Robert!

        I do have an, alas, too vague recollection of R.A. Lafferty. And I checked a collection of stories edited by Reginald Bretnor to see if a story I recalled was by Lafferty. No, “The Spell of War” was by Randall Garrett. I’m not even sure now if I’ve ever read any of Lafferty’s works.

        I do recall reading that R.A. Lafferty was a devout Catholic and that his faith influenced how he wrote SF. Which means I should keep him in the back of my mind as an author to read. Starting with any of his short stories which may be in the various collections I have.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by luckymarty:

          Lafferty’s Catholicism tends to gleam around the edges of his fiction rather than being central.

          He has a few short stories that seem to have been anthologized fairly often — I’ve seen “Narrow Valley” and “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne” in several places each — and quite a large backlist that are seldom or never reprinted.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            Sometimes it is not there at all. For instance, THE REEFS OF EARTH is saturated in Irish and American Indian lore, but if any of his Catholicism was in it, it went past me.

            Although we are talking about Lafferty, it could have been staring me in the face; he is not an easy read. But of the novels I mentioned it was central.

            From what I have read about the man, he was religious to the point of being a bona fide mystic, and his study of Catholic theology deep and also obscure (I’d imagine he’d scoff at modern apologetics). He also deplored Vatican Two, and thought Lord of the Rings to be anti-Christian.

            Four of his stories are available online here http://www.freesfonline.de/authors/R.%20A._Lafferty.html

  13. Comment by VunderGuy:

    “as was whether to have a physical body at all…”

    Since energy in the sense you’re describing is a purely physical phenomenon, as e=mc^2 after all, wouldn’t it be more apt to say that they could have bodies that somehow overcame the entropic tendency of energy to become diffuse?

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