Sorry, I Don’t Do Witch-Hunts

This is an unpleasant subject, and I will understand if many of my usual readers do not want to read about it (I don’t particularly relish writing about it), but as both an editor and contributor to Forbidden Thoughts it would be remiss of me to remain silent on the current situation with Milo Yiannopoulos.Forbidden Thoughts Front Cover

Just under a week ago, on a reddit message board someone announced that they had heard via a private mailing list that a major smear campaign was about to be launched on Milo, to destroy him with the label of pedophilia. On schedule, the next day a series of articles on major news websites announced that Milo appeared to defend pedophilia, with video evidence. (Immediately before doing so, some of those sites deleted some of their earlier articles that explicitly defended pedophilia, demonstrating that for them, the issue isn’t the issue). The video itself was deceptively edited, cutting out an explanatory segment (in which Milo expressly condemns pedophilia) and so splicing a question onto an answer to a different question so as to sound as evil as possible.

Imagine thousands of your conversations have been recorded and someone hostile to you can search through all of those recordings and clip together any question asked in your presence to any answer you gave to something completely different, or flippant remark you made in a different context. What are the chances any of us would come out of such a process without having “said” something inexcusably vile? Unless we never open our mouths, basically zero. That is the point of such a smear campaign – to silence its target.

Given the vast number of formal and informal conversations that a journalist with a grudge could choose an offensive comment from, Milo’s penchant for intentionally provocative taboo-breaking, sarcasm and gallows humour, the fact that the ones responsible for releasing this video felt the need to distort Milo’s words in this way to make their accusations speaks volumes.

Do I mean to say that what Milo said in the unedited video is fine? No, Milo himself admitted that in his recent press conference. He is not a promoter of pedophilia, he is a victim of it. He has frequently not just spoken out against pedophilia, but exposed three different pedophiles.

Critics who claim he should have named the names of those who he witnessed at a party with ‘very young boys’ fail to acknowledge the unfortunate legal reality. Simply naming names will lead to a defamation lawsuit from those he singles out and, especially if they happen to be powerful and well-connected individuals, to him being destroyed financially, as has happened in a number of past cases. It is a no-win scenario – to be destroyed for speaking up or condemned for not. He would need strong evidence to support such accusations, which he managed to acquire in the above three cases.

Combined with this is the shame that comes from admitting to being violated in this way and how a young boy can deal with it in the long term. Moira Greyland Peat, a victim of similar abuse by her predatory parents, provides some insight into the poor choice of words that Milo used as well as the counter-intuitive and distorted attitude towards his own abuse that he exhibited in the unedited interview.

http://superversivesf.com/2017/02/21/moira-offers-unique-insight-milos-words/

Sargon of Akkad provides a helpful summary of the wider context of these events

www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP7vi9oLk54

Milo’s very public explanation and apology for the things he said that were wrong can be found here.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABJo7w-efTA

In summary, then:

Do I agree with everything Milo said? No.

Would I have said the sorts of things Milo said? No.

Do I approve of Milo’s lifestyle choices? No.

I don’t need to, that’s what freedom and free speech means. Milo is a damaged and far from perfect man, and so am I, just in different ways. I don’t know how I would have coped with what he went through, and considering how fragile I turned out to be when the crunch came in my life, I cannot look down on him. What I can do and encourage other to do, is to pray for him to find true healing and the right path forwards. If he was guilty of a heinous crime, I would condemn him for it, but still pray for him and encourage others to join me in doing so.

In an earlier post, I said that I don’t do guilt by association. In my recent video, I promised to not abandon my allies, and Milo is an ally in the cause of free speech. As the title says above, I’ll add to that I don’t do witch-hunts, especially not ones based on vicious lies.

Forbidden Thoughts Goes Live on Amazon

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book
In fact, just plain thinking at all is not allowed.
You have been warned…

Forbidden Thoughts Front Cover Continue reading

A Confession and a Motivation

As promised, I would like to expand on something I glossed over in my interview on Catholic Geek Radio, but now that I look back on it, played a much larger part in my motivations as a writer than I realized. It concerns how I moved from one university to another. It is not something I am proud of – instead it is something I am grateful for, since reminding myself of it is an effective defence against pride. This post will involve some painful memories, so please bear with me. Continue reading

In Defence of Motherhood

In stark contrast to the glowing review by Marina Fontaine, another review of Beyond the Mist appeared at the Publisher’s weekly website last week. The review contains a large number of spoilers and is a mixture of muted praise and sharp criticisms. Some of those criticisms claim that there are structural flaws in the storytelling and weak characterization. Perhaps those are justified, perhaps not, I am too close to the text to be able to be unbiased in that regard – I leave it to those who have read the book to decide if the reviewer is being fair. Other complaints seem to flow from political disagreements with the themes and concepts in the work. One issue in particular I would like to respond to without giving away too many spoilers. Continue reading

Today’s Sermon

I was preaching in church today (and translating myself at the same time, since there were a lot of Americans at the service). I thought I’d share what I said here, since it touches on the Superversive Literary Movement.

Colossians 3: 22-24:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

In this passage the overall principle is clear, and we in the West are far better off than slaves, even though on a particularly bad day we might briefly forget it. We have even more reason to obey this commandment, and less reason to complain. This doesn’t make it any easier to obey, but it helps to keep things in perspective when we realise who this commandment was originally given to. If slaves are to obey their masters sincerely and in reverence for the Lord, how much more are we to do so, knowing the heavenly as well as often earthly rewards we will receive for our efforts?

It can often seem that we are toiling and toiling away at something with no positive results to show for it, or we see results, but fail to see how what we are producing is of any value, of any wider spiritual benefit. At those times it can be easy to lose hope and just go through the motions. I’d like to look at this issue from a slightly different angle, beginning with a quote from the ever-awesome C.S. Lewis:

While we are on the subject of science, let me digress or a moment. I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication.

 

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent.   You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.

This is what I try to do as a writer, to create works that stand on their own merits alongside other books by people with very different worldviews (I leave it to the readers to decide how successful I am in that regard), while at the same time as a member of the Superversive Literary Movement to tell stories that encourage people to build rather than tear down, to persevere rather than give in to despair, to notice, value and be grateful for the beauty we see all around us in all its forms and provide glimpses of the great truths behind this universe.

This principle not only applies to books, but to every kind of useful work, every productive industry. What if whenever someone wanted to find a good handyman, a good lawyer, a good engineer, a good doctor, a good researcher, the best options available to him, the most capable, the most trustworthy, were always Christians? What effect would that have on that someone, on the society as a whole? Wouldn’t it open up tremendous new opportunities for the Good News to spread? This is the context of Peter’s instruction to the believers in his first epistle:

1 Peter 3:13-16

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

In the culture in which this was written, pure altruism was unheard of. If you helped someone in some way, they were then literally in your debt, since honour and shame was a much more powerful motivating force than it is today. This sometimes made people reluctant to accept help, since they didn’t know what sort of return favour would be asked of them. So when a Christian helped a stranger and didn’t want anything in return, as Jesus commanded, the recipient of that help would be suspicious. They’d think, ‘Oh, they must be holding out for something really big from me’, and this would be the opportunity for the Christian to explain that they were expecting a heavenly rather than earthly reward for their efforts. It opened up a door to share that hope.

The two greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength and love our neighbour as ourselves. With all of our strength and our mind includes the work that we do, so it would be appropriate to say that we should love the Lord with all of our work. So let’s work on ourselves, educate ourselves, improve, become the best we can be at what we do. Let’s honour God, make his world a better place and bless others through our work.

 

God likes to work through us, to use us to achieve his purposes. Jesus said that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Let’s be part of that abundance that God has planned for others, and through our work give them a little glimpse of the abundance that only he can give. Sometimes this will open up an opportunity to share some of His good news, other times it will be enough to simply be that blessing for others, and give them a tangible foretaste of His kingdom.

 

This is a great challenge, one not to be taken lightly. I’d like to close with the closing instruction Paul gave to the Phillippian church:

Phillippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Why is it important to think about such things? Because what we feed our mind on forms our character, transforming us and our behaviour from the inside, so people can watch us and see the Gospel at work. If we can provide true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy things for other people to think about (as the Superversive Literary Movement tries to do), all the better.

If you want to sample some of my efforts in this regard, click on the images below:

all cover_f1_v13_frontsmall

Selected Verse - Heroes and WondersSelected Verse - Faith and Family Beyond the Mist

 

 

 

 

* After the sermon, someone came up to me to ask where I got the C.S. Lewis quote from. I had to explain that I went looking for a Czech translation of God in the Dock, in the end finding one, only to discover that it was a translation of a selection from that essay collection and the passage in question was not included. I ended up translating the passage myself together with my wife in preparation, and handed him the copy I had printed out for the sermon. For my tens of Czech readers, I provide it below:

 

Když už mluvíme o vědě, udělám malou odbočku. Věřím, že jakýkoliv křesťan, který je kvalifikován napsat dobrou popularni knihu z jakékoli oblasti vědy, tím dosahne daleko více než skrze čistě apologetické dílo.  Problem je v tom, že lidé budou často naslouchat křesťasnskému pohledu na věc třeba půl hodiny – ale jakmile odejdou z naší přednášky nebo odloží náš článek, jsou ponoření zpět do světa, kde se opačný postoj považuje za samozřejmost. Dokud tato situace trvá, nějaký dalekosáhlý úspech je prostě nemožný. Musime napadnout nepřítelovy komunikační kanály.

 

To, co chceme, není více knížek o křestanství, ale vice knížek křesťanských autorů o jiných předmetech, v nichž je křesťanství skryté, v pozadi. To lze nejlépe pochopit, když na to podivame z druhé strany. Naší vírou těžko otřese nejaká kniha o Hinduismu. Pokud bychom ale četli nějakou základní knihu o geologii, botanice, politice či astronomie, a jeji závěry by poukazovaly k hinduismu, to by námi otřáslo. Moderního člověka nedělají materialistou knihy napsané na obhajobu materialismu, ale základní materialistické předpoklady ve všech ostatnich knihách. Stejně tak nebude nijak zvlášť znepokojen knihami o křesťanství, ale bude zneklidněn, když kdykoliv bude chtít koupit levnou populárně naučnou knihu v nějakém vědním oboru, zjistí, že nejlepší dílo na trhu napsal nějaký křesťan. Prvním krokem k znovuobrácení tohoto národa je série knih napsaných křesťany, které mohou porazit sekularni alternativy na jejich vlastním hřišti. Křesťanstvi těchto knih by muselo být v pozadi, nevyslovené, a věda samozřejmě naprosto poctivá. Překrucovat vědu v zájmu apologetiky by byl hřích a pošetilost.

The Princess and the Goblin, Princess and Curdie

(Orignially posted at the Castalia House Blog)

Part 1 Part 2

Princess-and-curdie

The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie are quite different from the previous two books I’ve reviewed, in that they have strong characters and relatively well-crafted, engaging plots. They still have their weaknesses, and writers like Lewis, Chesterton and Tolkein far surpassed MacDonald in these aspects of writing, but these two books are a marked improvement. In some ways, they pair up like “The Golden Key” and Phantastes, in that the first book has children as the protagonists and a more child-friendly plot, and the second has adults (or near-adults) as the protagonists and many more mature themes and greater drama. The difference, of course is that in this case rather than merely exhibiting various parallels, the second is a genuine sequel to the first, and the protagonists are the same, only having grown up. Continue reading

Phantastes by George MacDonald

(Originally posted at the Castalia House Blog)

Phantastes

Everything I said last week about “The Golden Key” applies in spades to Phantastes. Though there is a tenuous common narrative thread through the book and continuity is kept, this book overall reads more like a stream of consciousness sketch show, but where the object of each sketch is not comedy, but to inspire awe. I’ll start with a little compare and contrast between the two.

Like in “The Golden Key”, in Phantastes the viewpoint character is a human that travels into fairyland from the human world, is warned about dangers and has many weird and wonderful experiences.

In “The Golden Key”, the protagonists are children who lived just beyond the borders of fairyland in full view of it, constantly aware of its existence, and they enter fairyland simply by walking out of the door (or climbing out of the window and walking there.

In Phantastes, the protagonist Anodos is an adult from the normal human world (a man from Scotland having just turned 21) totally unaware of the existence of fairyland. A little while after meeting a tiny magical creature that appears form his late father’s old secretary desk, he finds a path into fairyland through the designs of his bedroom furnishings turning into the things those designs represent: his washbasin turns into a spring that feeds a clear stream across his bedroom floor, his carpet which he himself designed to look like a field of daisies turns into an actual one, the carved ivy designs on his dressing table become real ivy etc. It seems not unreasonable to me that this inspired some of C.S. Lewis’ gateways into Narnia, such as the painting in the Dawn Treader coming to life.

In “The Golden Key”, the children carefully obey the instructions and heed the warnings they are given, and so the reader never really fears for their safety.

In Phantastes, Anodos basically ignores every warning given to him (about travelling in the forest at night, about an evil seductive beauty, about opening a certain door), a couple of times making me want to reach into the book and slap him. Ignoring these warnings gets him into serious trouble and facing some genuinely scary enemies (a vindictive ash tree that stalks him through the night, a hollow shape changer, an ogre etc.) The self-inflicted problem that sticks with him the longest is his evil shadow that plagues him with cynical eyes so that the magical things in fairyland appear mundane and worthless.

Anodos meets all sorts of creatures and people: beautiful women of one sort or another including a living marble statue that he falls in love with and rescues from its entombing alabaster through the power of song, a maternal figure, a young girl with a mystical globe, Sir Percival of Arthurian legend, a pair of princes who teach him how to fashion armour and together they take on three giants, there are also miniature fey creatures, walking trees, and brutal cultists.

He ventures through all sorts of places: through field and forest, river and sea, cottage and boat, a long and narrowing misty tunnel, a prison tower, a watch tower and a fairy palace with all manner of wondrous rooms and furnishings. In all of these places he meets fantastical creatures, makes fascinating discoveries or faces genuine dangers.

One of the fun things about this work is all the ways you can see it inspired other writers. Here are a few examples:

This little passage about the cynical shadow shows how it inspired the dwarves who proudly disbelieved in the wonders of Aslan’s Country in the Last Battle.

But the most dreadful thing of all was, that I now began to feel something like satisfaction in the presence of the shadow. I began to be rather vain of my attendant, saying to myself, “In a land like this, with so many illusions everywhere, I need his aid to disenchant the things around me. He does away with all appearances, and shows me things in their true colour and form. And I am not one to be fooled with the vanities of the common crowd. I will not see beauty where there is none. I will dare to behold things as they are. And if I live in a waste instead of a paradise, I will live knowing where I live.”

And this description of a forest I think inspired the wood between the worlds in the Magician’s Nephew:

But even here I was struck with the utter stillness. No bird sang. No insect hummed. Not a living creature crossed my way. Yet somehow the whole environment seemed only asleep, and to wear even in sleep an air of expectation. The trees seemed all to have an expression of conscious mystery, as if they said to themselves, “we could, an’ if we would.”

Scattered throughout the book are little asides, beautiful thoughts and insights, for example:

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?—not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass.

This is the sort of thing that G.K. Chesterton would later become famous for, blending his own stunning insights into his tales even more expertly; perhaps it is no stretch to imagine that he got the idea from reading MacDonald?

There are many more, and I’m sure those who are more widely read than I will see even more connections than I did.

C.S. Lewis once said that a certain quality of the story, a wondrous purity, a ‘bright shadow’ that the whole of Anodos’ adventure was infused with, he later recognised to be holiness. Not just the connotation of purity and goodness, but also the word’s original meaning of something being set apart for a higher purpose, otherworldly and different, yet reflected in the world around us.

As I have noted, the story is meandering, with a plot that is really a series of loosely connected short tales and scenes that perhaps both reflects the chaotic, enchanting, otherworldy and glorious nature of fairyland as well as MacDonald’s admitted shortcomings as a writer. The character growth of Anodos on my first reading also seems a little haphazard, while the supporting cast also lack character depth. The ending also felt a little sudden, though maybe it wouldn’t on a second reading.

Other writers took inspiration from his astounding worlds and combined it with compelling characters and well-crafted plots to produce some of the greatest literature of the early twentieth century. It is as if MacDonald mined a seam containing brilliant undiscovered jewels and presented them to the world, then others came afterwards to expertly cut and set those gems into exquisite jewellery. In the process those later artists became more beloved and popular than the one on whose shoulders they stood.

Even if it turns out that his particular style is not to your liking, MacDonald’s contribution to the world of literature is one that we should all be grateful for, and the above metaphor will become even more apt as we look next week at The Princess and The Goblin together with its sequel The Princess and Curdie.