Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mysterion, and the Thought Police

If you want a good review of the book with a synopsis of each story, read the review by Mike Reeves-McMillan. This is more of a personal meditation/reflection.

I read a LOT of books, and review quite a few of them. Some time in the past few years, it was pointed out to me that a lot of the books I was reading for fun (such as 'The Chaplain's War,' Monster Hunter International' and others) were members of the LDS (Mormon) Church. I filed that under as 'Interesting Trivia' and thought no more about it. Then, in a tiny, small, insignificant part of the world, a miniature firestorm broke out, attacking rather successful author John C. Wright as a misogynist and homophobe because he had written of his adherence to the doctrines of his faith as a member of the Roman Catholic Church., And following that opening barrage came attacks on the Mormon writers because of their belief system.

I want this next point to be perfectly clear: the authors were not attacked because their writings consisted of an exposition of the unique aspects of their denomination, nor of the elements common to many different traditions. Their works were just a straight solid application of the good parts of science fiction and fantasy. Some of their characters were people of faith, others weren't, in most cases, it wasn't revealed.

Thus, it was not the works which were being attacked, and certainly not on the grounds of religious dogma. It was the AUTHORS who came under fire, solely for being adherents to a belief system.
And to even MORE clear in what I am saying: They were not attacked because of their BEHAVIOR. They were attacked because of their BELIEFS.

If that doesn't sound like the Thought Police of '1984' to you, you haven't read '1984' recently enough.

I have written about this a bit before ,  in the only three part post I have written, which I wrapped up with a post after the murders at the Bible study at Mother Emmanuel. 

Now, I don't have anything else to say on the topic of attacking a person for their beliefs. Except to say it again: my BELIEFS are my own, and are off-limits. My BEHAVIOR is subject to sanction, if it violates the rights of others. 
There. Done.

L. Jagi Lamplighter, praise be unto her, and Sabrina Chase, praise be unto her, kicked open my brain following my discovery of the concept of 'Noblebright' fantasy. I have a boxed set, which is just lovely, and a stupid great deal at $2.99. Here's the definition of Noblebright fantasy, from the book:
Noblebright fantasy characters have the courage to risk kindness, honesty, integrity, and love; to fight against their own flaws and the darkness of the world around them; and to find hope in a grim world. 

And with the vile bigotry against the Mormon and Catholic writers still fresh in my mind, and thinking about the stated belief systems of some other writers, who claim to adhere to worship of the Viking gods (or something like that; I wasn't paying close attention), and the hopeful optimism of Noblebright fresh in my mind, I wondered: how does a person's faith inform their writing?

I floated a trial balloon on Facebook, but in the areas I frequent, religion is off limits. Except cats. Worship of cats is expected. And quite often, cats do appear in the writings of their worshipers, acolytes, devotees, whatever we are. But that limited set of data points was somewhat unsatisfying.

And then, 'Mysterion' appeared in my kindle library. I don't recall getting it, but I'm reasonably sure it came from Scott Huggins, because I've reviewed his work before, and he's one of the authors in the collection. The book seems to me to be an excellent partial answer to my question, both in the editor's introductory comments, and in the works themselves.

It's only the sort of work a thinker writes. Somebody who has to cut the grass, change the baby diaper, and coach the soccer team is too physically involved to have much time to delve into the awe-inspiring (and by that I mean 'frightening').aspects of the inner life. For this, they may be truly thankful. The kind of stories written here often have a taste of the abyss looking back.

And it does look back, you know. Do you remember when you wee a kid, and learned that the universe goes on and on forever? You still haven't comprehended that; you have merely adapted to it. Remember that time when you had to lie on the ground and grab two handfuls of grass, because you might fall off the earth? Yeah. That was the abyss then. 'Mysterion' is a look into the infinite abyss NOW. 

Not all of the stories are terrifying. There are even some which are cute. Others are downright creepy. But they all are examples of how an author's faith MIGHT impact their writing. I say 'MIGHT" because I do not know anything about the faith of the writers, I only know their work. The editors point out that they did not ask for information about anyone's belief system, and that they do know that not everyone identifies as a Christian. So, I don't know if any particular story is made better or more insightful, because of the author's beliefs about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

All of the stories deal with some aspect of God which is mysterious. Actually, every aspect of God is mysterious: the most influential Jewish-Christian writer EVER says that we know of the Creator because of the creation; he is addressing the most fundamental mystery. I will tell you this: if you start thinking deeply about the nature of God, you BETTER have two handfuls of grass available. If you don't, you are sooner or later going to doubt your own existence, due to the lack of trustworthiness of your own senses. It's not something to fool around with.

But it is something to take seriously. Let me give just one example.

G. Scott Huggins, praise be unto him, writes of an intense existential struggle taking place on an island on a far off planet. The players are a young earth woman, who is on an academic field study, and two members of an intelligent reptiloid race, known as Shrii or Rii. (I imagine them as  velociraptors, but YMMV.)
Caansu, one of the Shrii is a Christian. Aiierra, the other, and Shoshannah, the human, are not. And, under the current circumstances, this means certain death for Caansu. The Shrii reproduce at a fixed time in the solar cycle, by ripping out the throat of another, harvesting the single gonad contained there. (It's a somewhat similar process to the reproduction cycle of the angler fish.) And Caansu has adopted a non-violent form of Christianity, and refuses to consider killing Aiierra.
This horrifies Shoshanna, who considers Caansu to be her friend. She brings up objection after objection to Caansu, who methodically shoots them down.

Why accept a religion not from your race? 
“No teachers of our people promise what Christ promises. If we know we sin, how can we but follow One who promises forgiveness? To shun true religion because it is not ‘ours’ would be as foolish as shunning true science because you Humans brought it to us.”
Donald S. Crankshaw; Kristin Janz. Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 3203-3204). Enigmatic Mirror Press. Kindle Edition. 
But it's your life!
"But it's our soul. Which is greater?" 
If enough of you become Christian, won't your whole race die?
Caansu had laughed. “Yes, and if there were no more hungry, we could not obey the Lord’s command to feed them. I think this is a problem we are unlikely to face.”
Donald S. Crankshaw; Kristin Janz. Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 3214-3215). Enigmatic Mirror Press. Kindle Edition. 
Throughout the story, the constant is THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP.  Aiierra contrasts her race's reproduction with that of humans, by saying that since it does not require death in order to make babies, humans must care very little for them. It's a good argument. Caansu makes Shoshannah face her condescending attitude toward the Shrii, in a powerful monologue about what the Prime Directive looks like from the other side. When Shoshannah protests, and states that she herself will kill Aiierra and thereby save Caansu, Caansu breaks into a towering rage at the insult she has been given: Shoshannah has treated Caansu's willing sacrifice with contempt. And the message that a thing which costs nothing is valued at nothing is driven home, again and again, throughout the rest of the story.

So, perhaps, this example of faith informing fiction is the most cogent statement possible. It's not Sunday School material for third-graders, nor is it the sort of thing that a sophomoric moron of any age would embrace, because it ends with meaning and not nothingness. I found it to be quite respectful. I also classify this story, and the others, as 'worthy of further meditation' rather than 'fun reading.' Everything isn't for everybody, but everything is for somebody.

Or so I'm told. 

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