Friday, April 11, 2008

Never Ceese 6: Why It Matters

This has produced a bit more chat and less discussion than I had hoped. To clarify what I've said so far, I've repeatedly acknowledged that the book is well written. I do have problems with the logic and theology, and these are not based on whether certain models for werewolves and vampires are followed. Rather, the question is whether there is a model. From what I see, I doubt it. There are logical contradictions and theological problems:

Richard is both dead and alive simultaneously. His heart apparently does not beat, but his blood evidently circulates; he does not breathe, except when he does, and his physiology simultaneously is and is not normal.

His curse appears to be mere suggestion (his aversion to "holy" things acts like a psychological phenomenon), yet it has effects (levitation, not showing up in mirrors, etc.) that psychology cannot explain, unless we allow psionic activity, which is theologically troublesome.

The curse is also a problem because it can be addressed (at least partially) through non-spiritual means. It's like curing a demoniac with electric shock therapy. This implies that the spiritual is simply another form of the physical--a view that can't be reconciled with the Bible.

Then there's the matter of someone who has been convincingly declared dead getting all chatty at the end. ("Oh, yes, I was dead, but I'm better now. It was only the 24-hour death, you know.") All in all, a splendid argument for cremation.

Okay, so what? Why does it matter? Can't we just do simple fiction? Simple answer: no.

There are at least two reasons for this. To begin with, Christians are indwelt by the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the Universe; we have "eternal life," which properly does not mean merely life that keeps going like a drum-banging rabbit, but life that is from outside the Universe itself.

We can't be ordinary. Nothing we do can be ordinary. And it is nearly blasphemy to say otherwise: it's like saying the Atonement never happened.

One of the things that got Israel into a lot of trouble was the idea that they wanted to be like other nations, with idols, a human king, and so forth. It didn't work, because they were God's chosen people, and he wouldn't let them be ordinary.

Sound familiar? When we say that we want to produce dreck like everyone else (and we certainly try), aren't we doing the same thing? But we're called to a higher standard, and we can't escape it. (And for the record, no, I'm not calling Never Ceese dreck. I'm speaking generally.)

But there's another reason: we are our brother's keeper. You may say you're not a teacher, but just as we are all witnesses to those around us, so all Christian writers are teachers to their audience, especially if that includes the unsaved, which is hard to avoid. When they read our stuff, they'll say, "So that's what Christians think about X." Like it or not, we've just taught someone something, and given the various warnings about false and careless teachers in the Bible, we'd better hope we taught them well.

(This is why I don't think Christians should write unless it's part of their gifting as teachers, evangelists, prophets, apostles, or whatever. There are plenty of unsaved people out there doing their own thing; we don't need any more like them from our own crowd. We don't even need all the pagan writers we have! But people who write as unto the Lord are a rare gift.)

And thus my fussiness about details. We do all this as unto the Lord, so we should be careful, especially in theological speculation. We all err, despite our best intentions, and we must trust God to make up for our ignorance and folly. But we owe it to him to do our best.


Sue Dent said...

This is a book tour. Authors so often take a chance when they do one. I offered to do this one after talking with my publisher.

I don't think any author has a real problem with hearing from a reader who is disenchanted with their work for whatever reason. (although four days in a row is a bit much :)) It comes with the territory.

I often feel obligated to clear up discrepancies that a reader finds but not when they're so overwhelming and not when my explanations or reasons for not explaining are so easily put off.

I still contend that for you, Forever Richard would probably be a waste of time. I don't plan on explaining anything as much as it seems you'd like it explained. :)

God Bless,
Sue Dent

TWCP Authors said...

Okay, here is my contribution to discussion!

When they read our stuff, they'll say, "So that's what Christians think about X."

People read for entertainment, and especially young adults. Take Harry Potter for example, people don’t read it to learn magic, they read it to be entertained. The same old argument is suitable here: for young adults, there is a parenting issue involved; for adults, it is a matter of drawing the line between reality and fantasy. Yes, there is a real possibility that readers will assume “that’s what Christians think about . . .” but I don’t think any novelist can ensure that her/ his writing will be interpreted exactly as it was intended. For instance, C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of Aslan could be misinterpreted as something other than allegory or even fantasy. Doesn’t the reader have a certain responsibility to distinguish between fact and fiction?

If we are talking about an inaccurate representation of gospel, we have an obligation to correct it or challenge it, depending on our role.

Even all the doctorates in theology don’t agree on everything. What, for instance, is the correct interpretation of the end times if a novelist is writing about it in fiction? Pre-mill, post-mill and a-mill? What degree of theology is necessary to make a suitable work of fiction? What measuring stick should be used?

This is why I don't think Christians should write unless it's part of their gifting as teachers, evangelists, prophets, apostles, or whatever.

This comes across as very prideful. As I understand it, you are saying that people with a gift for writing shouldn’t write unless they hold one of these roles? This is a fine standard for non-fiction, but not fiction.

And thus my fussiness about details.

Yes, I have to agree with you. In fact, you are an extremely critical reader -- much more so than Never Ceese's young adult audience, and I would guess, more so than most adult readers. Perhaps it is the /curse/ of being so well-read, learned, intelligent!


Steve said...

My argument is nothing more nor less than
1. All media teach. This doesn't mean that readers go to the Potter books for an occult education, but they do get moral messages and pick up elements of the author's worldview. We know that people tend to imitate behaviors and concepts presented in stories, so that makes the authors responsible for their end of the work: the message as presented.

This does not require clone-like agreement or absolute accuracy. There are many areas where doctrine isn't clear. But there are many more that aren't clear only for want of clear thinking; in these, "Mere Christianity" may easily be discerned, and it is my standard in this case.

2. That all media teach entails that all media producers are teachers. From a Christian standpoint, someone who teaches about spiritual matters (as distinct from an academic subject) should have a teaching gift.

To say that this position is "prideful" is irrelevant. The proper question is, "Is it true?" I think this clearly is.

Sue Dent said...

TWCP said: This comes across as very prideful.

Steve said: To say that this position is "prideful" is irrelevant.

Good thing TWCP didn't SAY this position is "prideful!" Re-read it. While the word "this" could refer to a position I think here it refers to you in general. Most Christians steer clear of sounding prideful. :)

For those paying attention, this post was made at 6:21 P.M. central time on Sunday. This blog is under moderation and my last post took two days before it showed up.

TWCP Authors said...

Isn’t this subjective? What one person calls “Mere Christianity” another will call scripture. Where the line is drawn is subjective. Once you get past the creeds there is a lot of latitude. As an example of subjectivity, there are those who assert a young earth age is scriptural. By extension, any story that is set, say 20 000 years ago, would automatically be considered irresponsible.

Aren’t you crossing over into censorship? Authors should do their best to be responsible in entertainment, but who is to be the judge? I don’t think that a rubric exists that everyone can agree upon.

Steve said...

I had a very busy weekend as usual; I explained this in a private post to Sue Dent. There is no conspiracy afoot.

All I will say is that I am very ashamed--but not of anything I have written.

May God have mercy on us all.

TWCP Authors said...

Hey, I was engaging in a discussion and enjoying it! So, when you have some time (I know you've several deadlines and tasks to complete this week), I'd like to hear your response!

Oh, by conspiracy you mean posting the comments? No problem. I didn't have a minute to come back and check.


Sue Dent said...

No offense, but there was no private e-mail that explained anything to me. It was simply an extension of what is found here on ALL your blogs. Not sure I understand why you would say this but I did want to set the record straight. :)

I'm fairly certain no one believes or ever believed there was a "conspiracy" afoot. What's that about?

And I can't say as that you should feel ashamed about anything unless it was about "how" you wrote what you have written.

We should all strive to write respectufl of others. Intentional or not, you didn't do this.

But if you can be ashamed, (for whatever reason) then I can forgive without cause as that is the Christian thing to do.

*comment posted at 7:29 April 15th.*

Steve said...

As to further discussion of actual issues, I meant to do a post on "The Gift of Writing" and another on the point Melissa brought up about the undead. The first will be reasonably serious; the second will link to a cartoon.

Sue Dent:
I'm fairly certain no one believes or ever believed there was a "conspiracy" afoot. What's that about?

For those paying attention, this post was made at 6:21 P.M. central time on Sunday. This blog is under moderation and my last post took two days before it showed up.

I do not usually sign on to Blogger unless I have something to post. And I am under no obligation to publish anyone's comments. So kindly quit fussing.

As to e-mails, I have an annoying habit of keeping records. I can re-send if it will help.

I still don't see how I was "disrespectful." I had some questions and suggested answers, and I did so jokingly, as is my wont. I have consistently maintained that the writing is good and the story engaging. I see no disrespect there. I did get exasperated by some comments, however.

In any case, you made a point of asking me to quit posting about the topic here, and I have tried to comply. (Indeed, I had already decided that this would be the final post on the topic.) So as a fair exchange, how about knocking off the comments already?

Sue Dent said...

Sorry. This is a public blog and I have to respond to allegations raised.

So kindly quit fussing.
I was letting others reading this blog know that I respond quickly to post. That's called informing. Not fussing. Not many blogs designed for feedback operate this way. Some do but not many. But then maybe your weren't talking about me fussing in which case you can ignore my explanation. LOL :)

As to e-mails, I have an annoying habit of keeping records. I can re-send if it will help.

Hey, we have something in common. I keep e-mails too. *scratching head* But I don't remember saying I lost yours and needed another. I think what I said was that its content was different than what you implied.

I still don't see how I was "disrespectful."

I think the comment made was that people should be respectful not that you were disrespectufl. :)

So as a fair exchange, how about knocking off the comments already?

A cessation of comments would mean that the last comment made should be non-comment worthy. I'm game if you are. :)

For the record, I'll not put the time this post was made. I think everyone reading now knows it will post when you're able to post it.

Zookeeper Cat said...

You have now convinced me to read Superheroes. I'm interested to see what you've done with it.

The points you mention are things that niggled for me when I read Ceese, but I couldn't really frame them with enough clarity. I guess I can see huge potential for these types of allegorical figures with "the life (or death) is in the blood" themes, and some really fascinating character mechanisms that could engage people in the true, personal meaning of curse and redemption. People really don't get where Christians are coming from, b/c we don't take the time to relate it to the parts of spiritual reality that non-Christians *can* see "with their eyes veiled."

Metaphors and allegories have to be anchored to something concrete, or they don't function as intended. In order to propose biblical truth through an allegorical setting, the spiritual must be the solid and clear anchor, not malleable like the metaphor. If you mess with the biblical philosophy expressed, you're messing with your proposition, not creating a meaningful allegory.

It does matter how we do this, because people are the only thing we can take with us to heaven. The reader's soul is the heavenly treasure, not my writing, whatever the skill. Skill counts in its own area, but means and ends are two different things.

I don't see it as a matter of complexity/audience. My children understood their need for Christ at a young age. It's a matter of laying an effective foundation for further growth in truth as these young minds mature onward. That's actually harder than writing/teaching for an adult audience, because we can oversimplify to the point where the vagueness muddies or misleads further growth of the intended ideas in the reader's mind.

For myself, I can't really write anything without a defined biblical/propositional purpose in mind--it's not the way I'm made, b/c I came from the very-secular world into the Christian sphere, and I left behind secular ways and means, including subjectivism, for big reasons.

People are the treasure, but they're not the reference-point for truth. It doesn't matter whether a person calls it "mere Christianity" or "scripture" or whatever. It matters whether it can be verified or falsified by the Bible's propositions. And it matters whether we're using the Bible's self-supplied framework of idea-evaluation as the starting point--not just a point--for looking at the meaning and purpose of writing. I've been reading increasing numbers of CBA books lately which include Christianity without being at all founded in Christianity.

If we don't have that starting point, the spiritual impact of our storytelling suffers, and many hours of hard, sincere work will face a much more critical judgement than Stephen L. Rice's when we meet Christ. My "truthiness" really may not be as truth-filled as it could be, or simply not as articulated as it could be. That's my lifetime priority, because I have spiritually lost loved ones, and forever is huge and near.

So if someone sees flaws in my self-expression, I'd rather stop to exchange ideas about how to overcome the limitations created by chosen combinations of plot, world-building and characterization. It's about putting the reader first and serving them to our best as we go on to the next project.

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