Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Story of Rivals

   A couple of months that feel more like years ago, I randomly signed up for a free ancestry site called FamilySearch. I didn't expect much, but thought it couldn't hurt. Now, my mom and I are blown away by the family history that has been uncovered that we never even knew about. Crazy, interesting stories and people we never would have guessed we were related to.
   All this mess that's been going on lately has gotten me thinking about these people in my past. Some of them no one would ever guess we were related to. One interesting thing we've discovered about our family is that, besides a somewhat odd tendency to always go by middle names (call me Marie, why don't you?), our family has an interesting tendency to marry the people our ancestors fought against, possibly with a long history of prejudice.
   Among my ancestors are several memebers of Germanic tribes, including Goths, Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Saxons, and others. There are several tribal kings, among them several Saxon kings and Frankish kings (who were probably named Louis). The bitter rivals of the Germanic tribes, not counting each other, were the Romans, and I am also very likely descended from a line of Roman senators and consuls which includes one dictator.
   Of my ancestors from the Germanic tribes, some are Britons who were left behind after the Romans abandoned Britain, and some are of the Saxons that invaded. I have ancestors that fought against the Norman invasion and ancestors that were Normans given noble lands and castles as a result of the Norman invasion and one ancestor that led the Norman invasion (William the Conqueror). I am descended from Vikings and the English king that kicked the Vikings out of England. I am descended from Irishmen and from Englishmen, who have a long history of hatred and prejudice towards each other (though it's mostly one way, the English oppressing the Irish) and from Welshmen, who are still being oppressed by the English, and from two of Robert the Bruce's sisters (their kids married each other, and yes, I'm grossed out), who were rivals with, you guessed it, the English. (Can we all agree that the English have a long history of prejudice and rivalry?) I'm descended from English kings and French kings who most definitely fought wars against each other. 
   My French and German ancestors fought each other, and so did my German and Polish ancestors. I have ancestors on both sides of World War One and an ancestor who tried to fight in the war for America and wound up staying home. I have an ancestor who's a Native American and possibly the daughter of Pocahontas and Kocoum, and several not-so-nice ancestors from Jamestown.
   And then we come to my hero, Elizabeth Key Grinstead. She was the daughter of a slave from Africa and Thomas Key, an English slave owner. At the age of six, her father was sued for paternity and forced to provide for his daughter. He made her an indentured servant and died shortly after. He was a jerk, but he did make his friend who held the indenture promise to treat her like his daughter and take her with him if he moved back to England. The friend did move back to England, but instead of taking Elizabeth with him, he sold her indenture to another man to pay off some debts. This other man kept Elizabeth nine years after her indenture was up. Elizabeth could have become bitter and angry. She could have hated the man who enslaved her and any of his nationality. She had no reason not to hate the English.
   When Elizabeth met a young indentured servant from England named William Grinstead, she didn't hate him. Instead, they fell in love. They got married, as much as they were legally allowed as indentured servants. They had a child named John. Then the man that owned her indenture died. Elizabeth and her son were listed as slaves. They were going to be sold off in an estate sale. But William fought for her freedom in court after court, eventually going to the House of Burgesses and convincing the court to free her. She received compensation for the nine years she was enslaved over the terms of her indenture. As soon as William's indenture was up, they were married officially and had another son, who was also named William. This is the man who was my ancestor. They lived happy lives, though short ones, because life expectancy was super short in those days. (Unfortunately, Virginia changed the laws after William's death so no slave could ever win his or her freedom the same way William won Elizabeth's freedom.)
   Some of these rivalries have died away, but some of them are still with us today. Hatred in this world is so common; it's rarer to find freedom from hatred and prejudice than to find someone that is ruled by it. I'm not here to judge who is right and who is wrong in the conflict that is tearing our nation apart these days. The rivalries my ancestors fought and believed in were legitimate rivalries on both sides. Some were more balanced than others in crimes committed against each other, and some were steeped in oppression of one by another (probably by the English, if we're all being honest). But these rivalries and long histories of hatred didn't hold some people back. In the midst of these crimes and rivalries, somewhere along the line, some of these people put aside their differences and their crimes and the crimes of their ancestors and decided to forge a new history, a different history, a history that ended in love and family and new life.
   I am not my ancestors. I cannot be praised for their good deeds or condemned for their mistakes. I cannot change the things I've done in the past, for good or for ill. Neither can anyone else. All we can choose to do is move forward and forge a new future. We can choose to react to horrific crimes in emotion and anger, we can perpetuate rivalries, or we can choose to move above that. We can react with kindness instead of anger, love instead of hate. We can choose to pursue justice without hatred and end corruption without corrupting ourselves. We can make a difference while being the difference.
   This year has been one punch after the other, and who knows if it's going to stop? Hatred is not going to stop. It's been in this world since the Garden of Eden and it's going to be here until Judgement Day comes and the trumpet sounds and Jesus comes back to this world to take us home. Crimes are not going to stop. Evil men are always going to exist. We can choose to live in hatred with them, as some of our ancestors did, or we can choose to live above that, put the past behind us, and forge a new future.
   After all, it's what my ancestors would have wanted.

   Recompense to no man evil for evil: procure things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you is, have peace with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord. --Romans 12:17-19

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. --John 15:12

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Your Argument is Invalid

   Ah, arguments. All of us get into them, and since this is a presidential election year, almost everything is going to turn into an argument these days, especially in the media. In this era of fake news, the ability to recognize when an argument has faulty logic is crucial. Faulty logic permeates the world we live in. Here are some of the most common examples. 

Ad Hominem Attack
   Ad Hominem is Latin for "To the man." This fallacy is when a person tries to attack an argument by attacking the person that presented it. 
   "Luke, I am your father. You have to eat your vegetables. Vegetables are good for you!"
  "That's not true. That's impossible! You're a Sith Lord and have murdered millions of people. Vegetables can't be good for you."
   While it may be true that Luke Skywalker's father is a Sith Lord that has murdered millions of people, that doesn't mean that vegetables aren't good for you. The content of your character doesn't determine the validity of your argument.
Via Pinterest
Genetic Fallacy
   This is when someone attacks an argument because of where it began, how it began, or who began it.
   "I never buy Volkswagens. If you buy a Volkswagen, you are an anti-Semite and a Nazi."
   "What? Why?"
   "You know who started Volkswagen, right? It was Adolf Hitler."
   Just because Volkswagen was started by Adolf Hitler to be a "people's car" for the Germans doesn't mean that the company today is an evil one or that no one should buy Volkswagens. 
The "Adolf Hitler" Attack
   This is often either one of the first two or a combination. The "Adolf Hitler" attack is when someone either brings up that Adolf Hitler believed that or simply calls you a Nazi and thinks they've invalidated your argument. "Nazi" is just a form of name-calling and easy to combat. Even if it's true, the Ad Hominem attack still applies. Just because you're a horrible person doesn't mean your argument is illogical. 
   "I believe we should build more highways that stretch across the country to enhance ease of travel for our citizens."
   "That's wrong. We shouldn't do that. You know who also believed that? Adolf Hitler. Ever heard of the Autobahn?"
   "So you believe anything Adolf Hitler believed has to be wrong?"
   "Of course! I think we can all agree that if Adolf Hitler believed something, it has to be wrong."
   "You do know that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, right?"

Tu Quoque
   Tu Quoque is Latin for "You too." This fallacy is saying someone's argument doesn't count because they do it too, or an argument from hypocrisy.
   "Darth Sidious, you shouldn't kill Luke. It's not right."
   "Oh, come on, Vader, like you've never murdered someone's son before!"
   Just because Vader murders people doesn't make it okay for you to murder people too. Two wrongs don't make a right. Besides, maybe Vader's seen the error of his ways and realizes murder is wrong and is trying to make sure no one goes down the path he did.

Faulty Appeal to Authority
   Appeal to an authority is saying something is true because an authority in the subject being discussed said it was true. A faulty appeal to authority is when we appeal to someone who isn't actually an authority on the subject being discussed. For example, in this pandemic, everyone's turning to Doctor Fauci to tell us what we should do in this pandemic. No offense to Doctor Fauci, I'm sure he's a nice guy and good in his field of medicine, but he isn't an epidemiologist, a doctor who studies epidemics, and he hasn't practiced medicine in twenty years. Not everyone who has a doctorate of medicine is an authority on everything to do with medicine. I could ask a podiatrist on whether wearing face masks is likely to stop the spread of a virus, but I doubt the podiatrist would know much more than I do on the subject.
   This is also what happens when movie stars' opinions on anything other than acting are appealed to, or when the topic is controversial and only one authority in the subject is appealed to. Just because one legitimate authority in the field believes something doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other legitimate authorities that have different opinions. This also applies to the example above.

Appeal to the People or Bandwagon
   This fallacy is when we claim we are right because a lot of people agree with us. As the Bluedorns say (see more on them at the end of the blogpost), "The general public is rarely a proper authority on any subject." This is also a common propaganda technique.
   "You should buy this car. Everyone's buying it!"
   "Everyone believes the Empire is a good form of government! You should too, my son."
   Just because everyone believes it doesn't make it right.
Straw Man
   This is when someone changes the argument or says their opponent is arguing something ridiculous to make it easier to refute the argument and then attacks that.
   "I don't think building the Death Star is a good idea, Tarkin. It's a waste of money, and using it will turn the rebels against us."
   "I can't believe you said that, Vader! The Empire must defend itself from brutal terrorist attacks. How can you say we shouldn't spend any money on defense?"
   Attacking an irrelevant position does nothing to refute the actual argument being presented. Vader is entirely right that the Death Star is a waste of money and actually drives more people to the rebellion than it deters.
   This is where people assume the character of the parts is also the character of the whole.
   "Look, Padme, I made this cake from the best ingredients money could buy. It's got to be delicious!"
   "You cooked it for so long the apartment caught on fire, Anakin. The cake is not delicious."

   Just because something is true of the parts doesn't make it true of the whole.

   This is the opposite of the part-to-whole fallacy. This fallacy assumes that because something is true of the whole, it must be true of its parts.
   "The Empire is responsible for the murder of millions, has enslaved trillions of sentients across the galaxy, and destroyed planets. Lieutenant Han Solo is a murderer, a slaver, and a planet-destroyer."
   The whole is much more than the sum of its parts. 

   This fallacy sets up a false dilemma between two choices when really there are many more choices than just two. For example, the media seems to be portraying the whole face mask dilemma as this: Either you are a Democrat and believe the CDC and are wearing face masks, or you are a Republican that refuses to listen to common sense and are not wearing a face mask. People could be refusing to wear a face mask for any number of reasons. For instance, I don't want to wear a face mask because my moderate to severe seasonal allergies restrict my airways to the point where I can't breathe in a face mask. Some people don't want to wear a face mask because it's 90 freaking degrees outside, or it soon will be, and they will pass out if they wear a face mask in that kind of heat. Some people don't want to wear a face mask because they are going swimming, and a wet cloth plastered over the nose and mouth is a key component in waterboarding. Others don't want to wear a face mask because they just don't like being told what to do. In many cases, there are much more than two sides to an argument or dilemma and representing it as an either-or option is misleading or downright false.

Hasty Generalizations
   Hasty generalizations are the reason I don't trust any polls that are reported in the media. A hasty generalization is generalizing about a class based on a small or poor sample. For instance, one poll on the previous presidential election that was reported as a national poll had a sample that consisted of 1,000 people from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, plus a handful of people from the suburbs and countryside of Oklahoma. Obviously, this is not a big enough sample size, and Oklahoma city dwellers are a very poor sample for the entire nation. In addition, many phone political polls hang up on anybody that answers "Yes" to the question "Are you affiliated with any political campaign, either now or in the past?" when, if you wanted a proper sample of voters, the people affiliated with political campaigns are the ones most likely to vote. Unfortunately, this type of polling is very common, which is the reason I don't trust polls.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
   Or, in English, "After this, therefore because of this." This assumes that because A happened before B, A must be the cause of B.
   "Anakin Skywalker slept shirtless, and not long after, he turned to the Dark Side. I think it's clear I need to go to Tatooine to make sure Luke never sleeps shirtless and turns to the Dark Side."
   "Pretty sure, I am, that the cause of his turn, that is not."
   This is akin to "Correlations do not equal causations." For instance, suicide rates rise when toothbrush sales plummet. Obviously, people are killing themselves because they have bad teeth.
Appeal to Fear
   And here we begin the manipulative propaganda techniques.
   "Every other prosthetic hand causes your nerves to die and your arm to rot. Buy CorusMedicine's prosthetic hands today!"
   "Leia, I want my prosthetic hand to be CorusMedicine. I don't want my nerves to die and my arm to rot off."

   This is all the commercials that try to scare you into buying their product or voting for their candidate. Don't fall for it.

Appeal to Pity
   *Sad music begins* "Many animals are left out in the cold every year." *shows videos of dogs shivering in the cold* "A small monthly donation of $19.95 to ASPCA can save these poor animals from a lifetime of misery."
   This is when commercials or what have you try to guilt you into doing what they want. Just because you feel bad doesn't mean the argument is sound. If you have enough money to film all those miserable dogs, why don't you use that money to help them?
   "Only three left in stock. Buy today!"
   This is when we are told we must go along with their argument because we don't have the time to do otherwise.
   "Head on. Apply directly to the forehead. Head on. Apply directly to the forehead. Head on. Apply directly to the forehead."
   This form of propaganda simply repeats something until people accept it as true.

Snob Appeal
   "The few, the proud, the Marines."
   This is when someone tries to convince you that you should do something because no one else is doing it.
   "Come on, Luke, only two people in the entire galaxy are Sith Lords! You should become one too! Then you'll be one of only three people that are allowed to learn the Sith teachings."
   Just because no one else does it isn't a reason for you to. Maybe there's a good reason no one else is a Sith Lord.

   Don't fall for logical fallacies. Just because an argument sounds good doesn't mean it's a good argument.

   Many thanks to Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn, whose book The Fallacy Detective taught me about many of these fallacies and encouraged me to think logically about the world around me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In Christian Fantasy, How Far is Too Far?

   I love fantasy. A lot. Some of my favorite stories are fantasy stories: Ilyon Chronicles, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (no, Star Wars is not really science fiction, it is a space fantasy, and yes, I will die on this rock). Fantasy, however, can be a mixed bag, full of Lewis knockoffs, Tolkien knockoffs (I swear, if I see one more stuck up nature obsessed absolutely perfect elf race that is so much better than humans in every way, I will throw up), or Star Wars knockoffs. Sometimes if you're especially lucky, you'll find one that is all three at once (Eragon, anyone?). Christian fantasies done well can be world-changing (see stories mentioned above except Star Wars), but done badly can be super cringey. However, worse than bad writing is Christian fantasy that attempts to work in Christianity in some way, shape, or form, but does it in a way that misuses the Bible.

   There are many ways to incorporate the Christian faith in a fantasy novel, but there are three different ways that are by far the most common.

1. Transplant the Bible into your fantasy world
   This first option uses a fantasy world but just doesn't change anything about the Bible. Jesus is called Jesus, historical figures like Daniel, King David, and Moses are talked about, etc. This is the option in the type of fantasy referred to as Kingdom Adventure tales and in any fantasies set primarily or exclusively on Earth.

No messing with the Bible.
No grey areas.
No blurred lines.
No worries.

No magical powers. Obviously, if you're working with the rules of our world, you can't just throw magic in the mix and expect people to be okay with that. If you want something like magic anyway, you'd better have a science gobbledy-gook explanation to pass it off as superpowers or something. Use lots of Latin words and mention anatomy stuff like mitochondria and the blood-brain barrier. Leave no ambiguity. There can be no room in here for demons, because, sadly to say, in this world, there are real things like witches and mediums that aren't always just con artists. 
No races other than humans. Otherwise, your theology gets stretched and weird and it just doesn't work. Bryan Davis tried to put literal dragons in his modern fantasy set on Earth, and he still wanted his characters to go around quoting the Bible and converting people, so he wound up having an ordinary human-dragon kid traveling to literal Hades (which is different from Hell in his books) and becoming a literal Messiah to lead the dragons to redemption because the last Adam-first Adam thing means that Jesus died for the human race (see Answers in Genesis articles about aliens), and without this random half-dragon kid to die for them, the dragons would be stuck in Hades forever. Yeah. Best just to avoid the whole thing. If you still want other races, see the next option.
The more obvious it is that your world is not Earth or a fictional country on Earth (a la Wakanda), the more you stretch your readers' suspense of disbelief. If this is clearly a fantasy world, there needs to be a really good reason why they're using Earth's Bible. You get a little more leeway the younger your target audience is, but if your target audience is teens or up, this obvious break of suspension of disbelief can ruin a story for some readers. 

2. Lewis's Supposal
   Next, you have the Lewis route. That is, you have the Bible and the Christian faith in your world, but everything is called by different names. The Jesus figure might be a lion. Everything is adapted to fit the fantasy world, but it's still clearly the Christian faith.

You don't have to stretch readers' suspension of disbelief to the limit.
Your world can have different rules than our world, as long as you don't bump against solid theological rules.
More races! (Just please...no elves. I'm begging you! And if you have to have elves, please, for the love of all that is holy, don't portray them as perfect and more holy and just overall better than humans.)
Your story can be very powerful with this supposal
More freedom with world-building.

As many ways as there are to do this right, there are many more ways to do this wrong. This creates a whole lot of grey areas and blurred lines, and it's hard to know what's right and what's not. There are quite a lot of pitfalls you can fall into. However, if done right, this option can be the most fun.
The different terms for familiar things can get super clunky.
Sometimes, authors seem to forget that their fictional representation of the Bible is just that: fiction. Fantasy authors that choose this option sometimes write dedications and even write internet posts referring to God with their made-up fantasy name, and it's somewhat disturbing. We should never forget while writing fantasy like this that our fictional representation is just a fictional representation and should never start worshiping our idea of God rather than God Himself.

3. Nothing At All
   This option is kind of the opposite of the first one. In this option, you keep Christian morals in your story, but forego any references to the Christian faith except the extremely subtle ones. This is the option Tolkien used in Middle-Earth in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings*. 

None of the sticky situations present in the second options.
No deciding which rules are specific to Earth and which are fundamental to the Christian faith.
A little more leeway on magic.
Lots of freedom with world-building.
Reaches a wider audience.

No obvious Christian elements (prayer, conversion, Bible verses, etc.).
Christian themes have to be subtle.

*Silmarillion not included. I feel like it doesn't really count.

   Option Three is the easiest one to pull off in the world of fantasy. No skirting around rules or inventing weird theology is necessary, just general Christian themes. However, as much of this frees up storytelling options in some areas, it also limits them in others. Sometimes, and especially depending on the author, option one or option two is the best way to go. However, as I mentioned before, these can get into uncomfortable theological situations that can cross the line and even sometimes border on blasphemous. So, how far is too far? Of course, it's impossible to know for sure, but here are some situations that should probably be avoided in most circumstances.

1. Putting a supposal on Earth
   This may seem a little obvious, but I read a Christian fantasy where seven random Earth kids were put in sleeper pods for no apparent reason and survived a nuclear war. They woke up to a post-apocalyptic Earth that was basically just a fantasy world with "radiation" to explain all the changes, and promptly meet "Goel", who's basically just Jesus. It would have been a decent fantasy series if set in another world, but to have this church-going kid and his new friends to immediately believe this mysterious dude who claims to lead a religion or something and then immediately start spreading "Goel's truth" to the world without even once making the connection that this sounds suspiciously like Christianity (and, on that note, immediately abandoning their presumed Christian faith for this new religion) was just weird. Also, post-nuclear war, there was no reason for Jesus to suddenly start walking the Earth again, except going by a different name. Plus, the Bible isn't really mentioned at all post-nuclear war, and the world eventually ends, but doesn't follow really any of the apocalyptic prophecies in Revelation. Don't use this option on Earth. Just don't.

2. Having entire scenes set in literal Heaven or Hell
   For this one, there are definitely exceptions. Notable ones are The Last Battle and Dagger's Sleep. But here's a hint: if your characters wind up seeing the literal Lake of Fire as described in the Book of Revelation, you've probably gone too far (especially if you're not even portraying a world ending, the characters just take a merry trip to see their enemies thrown into the Lake of Fire). A general rule for this is to use it super sparingly. After all, Heaven is perfect, which means there's not much room for strife in anything set in Heaven. Also, Heaven is indescribable and incomprehensible for us that are still on Earth, so the more you describe it, the less impact it's going to have. Finally, don't have a scene in Heaven as a cheap cop-out because you want to make readers feel better about the fact that you killed all your characters at the end of your story. You're not going to be able to recreate The Last Battle. Just acknowledge that you are a morbid writer. It doesn't make us feel better that your fictional characters went to fictional Heaven. They all died horrible deaths.
   Hell. I feel like I shouldn't have to elaborate on this, but apparently some authors haven't realized this isn't okay. First of all, Hell is literally Hell and way too freaky in its reality for any book scene. Second, you're never going to properly recreate Hell. Third, Christian characters should never ever take a visit down to Hell no matter what. Born-again Christians can't go to Hell. Remember Jesus telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus and how there's a gulf between the two places and men that can never be crossed? Fourth and finally, fantasy is a completely different genre than Pilgrim's Progess and Dante's Inferno. Those books are religious allegories, in which the setting of Hell is more appropriate. In pretty much any other genre, it's not.

3. Having an angel as a member of the questing party
   It's best to avoid having angels as characters at all, not the least because of the dangers of deus ex machina, but having an angel just...tag along on the quest? As a side character? No. No, no, no. Angels are not made in the image of God and do not have souls. They are not basically people. What angels actually are is pretty incomprehensible to the human brain. And you definitely shouldn't have scenes from the point of view of the angel.

4. In fact, it's probably best to keep angels and demons out of your fantasy story as much as possible
   Especially demons, and especially in the spiritual warfare vein. Either they're not going to be realistic and you're going to misrepresent them, or they will be realistic, in which case you're going to bring a level of horror to the story that most fantasy readers don't want. In addition, having a demon as the main villain is a bad idea for multiple writing reasons: First of all, it's simply tacky. Second, while you may think it raises the tensions and story stakes, it actually lowers them. After all, it's obvious the demon has to lose. (Sauron doesn't really count. Not only is he not even Satan, the readers don't know that he's supposed to be a demon unless they've already read The Silmarillion or live with an uber Tolkien nerd, and I hold that The Silmarillion doesn't really count.)

5. NO Biblical fantasies
   This pretty much applies only to fantasies set on Earth. Historical fiction set in Bible times is really good if done well, but fantasy shouldn't touch Bible stories. Don't ever, ever add your own fantasy twist to an Earthen Bible story. Any time you do that, it borders on blasphemous. Plus, it's really easy to get details wrong, which just doesn't look good. For instance, while I really like the character of Elam in Bryan Davis's Oracles of Fire series, it really bugs me that he was supposed to be Shem's son Elam. See, Elam in the series was kidnapped, wound up immortal, and was trapped underground for over a thousand years. He was kidnapped at too young of an age to marry or have kids, and yet Elam, Shem's son, in real life gave rise to an entire nation of Elamites which lasted for thousands of years until finally being assimilated into the Assyrian Empire.

6. The character of the Jesus figure doesn't resemble Jesus in the Gospels
   This one is pretty self-explanatory, but if your fantasy has a representation of Jesus, then the Jesus figure should resemble Jesus. You don't have to try and represent every aspect of Jesus. That's impossible. But it should be fairly obvious to readers, if not to the character, that the fictional character is supposed to represent Jesus. If you can go two-and-a-half books without the readers being sure whether the character is a generic Chosen One or a representation of Jesus, there is something fundamentally wrong with your representation of Jesus.

7. Scenes from the POV of the character that represents Jesus
   Yes, I have actually seen this in a book. Sadly, it's from an author I actually really respect. Although, I'm not entirely certain, because it's also the situation in the last scenario. However, the fact that I've gone over two books without being able to tell whether Telwyn is supposed to be the Messiah or not is disturbing. He's not enough like Jesus character-wise to properly represent Him, but there are enough resemblances for Telwyn to not be appropriate if he's just a random Chosen One a la Anakin Skywalker. Please, don't ever, ever have scenes from the point of view of a character supposed to represent Jesus. It's just wrong.

What are your favorite and least favorite fantasy stories?

P.S. I don't hate every story with elves. I like Legolas and Farrandel, and their respective series. It does, however, take a lot to win me over.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Nothing I'm Not Worthy Of

   The Greatest Showman was a worldwide phenomenon two and a half years ago. Coming out at the same time as The Last Jedi, it was...way less disappointing. Now, my family and I didn't actually watch the movie until very recently when it came on TV. I was less than thrilled with the movie itself, but that's not what this post is about. Even before I watched the movie, even while it was still in theaters, I had heard the music (I heard "Rewrite the Stars" so much in Spotify commercials I still hate the song). I really like "A Million Dreams", and I'm pretty ambivalent about the others (they're fine to listen to, but I'm not wild about them). One of these songs is the triumphant anthem "This is Me", a song I actually like quite a bit. However, two lines of this song really put a bad taste in my mouth, especially in light of today's culture.
   "You know that I deserve your love/There's nothing I'm not worthy of!"
   On the surface, these lyrics may seem innocent. Look closer, though. As a Christian, we are told to hold all things accountable, and does this really hold up to the standard of the Bible?
   "You know that I deserve your love/There's nothing I'm not worthy of!"
   Spot the problem now? If not, let me point it out. We, as sinners, don't "deserve" anything but Hell and damnation. We certainly don't "deserve" to be loved by anyone. And, deep down, we all know there are plenty of things we are not worthy of.
   Now, come on, you're saying. That may all be true, but it's only two lines in an otherwise great song. And that's true. I'm not saying you should never listen to the song or refuse to watch The Greatest Showman again. However, troublesome things in movies shouldn't be ignored, either. If we don't talk about them and parse why this may not be acceptable, we may end up simply accepting it. And these lines are only indicative of a larger problem.
   Think again about the song. It's about outcasts in society refusing to accept being put down any longer and believing they are more than all the insults. Now, it does kind of bother me that this song is sung by the one person that grew up normal and could choose at any time to not be a hated outcast (Bearded Lady; literally all she has to do is shave and no one would ever know), but, again, that's not exactly the point. The point of the song is to encourage hated minorities to not let the world and the culture get them down, which grows out of the recent "Tolerate" movement. Now, some things (and I know I'm going to shock some people here, but here we go) about that movement aren't that bad; namely, saying that just because we don't agree with someone's lifestyle doesn't mean that person should be convicted of a crime and thrown in jail or otherwise persecuted. However, we all know the movement doesn't even remotely stop there. This goes off of my post about what tolerance truly is. These two lines indicate that we should not just not persecute people we disagree with, we have to love them and support them, because "they deserve it". This idea isn't limited to just this movie either. In the new book-to-movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray shouts at her possessed brother that "I deserve to be loved!"
   Let's be honest here: is everything about you amazing? Do you love everything about yourself? Chances are, the answer is no. I know I'm not perfect. However, we have started encouraging commonly hated groups of people to overcome their persecution in the wrong way by essentially telling them that they are perfect. As Christians, we all know that sanctification is an ongoing process. We all have sins that we struggle with, some of which we'll struggle with all our lives. But telling people "God loves you just the way you are because you're perfect" robs us of so many things.
   I'm going to say it plainly here: Just because people hate you because of irrational prejudice doesn't mean that you are a perfect person in every area of your life. We all need to change and grow. Thinking of ourselves as "victims" leads us to believe that any criticism, critique, or angry words towards us is because that person is prejudiced against us because of our minority status as a woman or insert ethnicity here or what have you. Maybe that person really is mad at you because they're prejudiced against you. There are people like that out there. Or maybe, the critique is just a critique. Maybe that person is having a bad day and you happened to be a convenient target for frustration. Maybe you're just overthinking things, and that wasn't meant to be an insult at all and you should just calm down.
   I heard someone say once that the greatest thing about America is that we give people the chance to fail. I vividly remember little perfectionist me crying because I got words wrong on a spelling test and my mom telling me that she would be worried if I wasn't getting words wrong, that it was good that I was messing up because that was just opportunities to learn. She told me that my failures are indicators of what I just don't know yet. That's stuck with me ever since she said that. Failure is not enjoyable, but it's the way we learn. Failure isn't fun. But without it, we wouldn't be able to grow. In addition, this idea of "I deserve to be loved" puts all the burden of responsibility for change in tough situations on the haters and persecutors, when we can do things to change many miserable situations ourselves.
   Look. This world can be miserable and terrible. People can treat us horribly. But saying that we deserve to be loved robs us of the beauty of love. The beauty is that we don't deserve to be loved and yet God loves us anyway. He died for us because He loved us even though we don't deserve it. The misery of this world doesn't mask our imperfections, but there is someone that loves us not because we already are amazing, but in spite of our sinfulness. It's okay to not be perfect. It's okay that we fail. It's okay to acknowledge that not everything about us is wonderful, and that we need help overcoming something. The way you were made is not a mistake. But that doesn't mean we can't make mistakes. We can't be perfect. We're going to mess up. We're going to do something wrong that will only encourage the people determined to hate us that they were right all along. The beauty of love is not that we deserve it. We don't. We never can, not on our own. But that doesn't matter, because Christ loved us so much that He died for us even though we didn't deserve it, that we may be made like Him. Before Christ, we are all equal. Before Christ, we are all wretched sinners. Before Him, anyone can be saved by His unchanging grace.
   That is the foundation on which we should base our responses to prejudice. Not faith in ourselves and our false sense of perfection, but in Christ.
 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b) 

P.S. On a completely separate note, what is with the trend to make musicals about the jerks in history (Alexander Hamilton, P.T. Barnum)? Surely there are some nice guys in history that we could make musicals about.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Soial Distancing Fun

   Because quarantine is frying my brain, this post is going to be disjointed and random. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

   I saw a post recently on Buzzfeed about what people would do if they became God, and over half the people said, "Give proof that I exist." Obviously, that infuriated me, and while I could talk for a while about how much evidence there is for God's existence and how if God literally coming to Earth and dying for us isn't enough, nothing is, but instead, I'll leave all those people that complain about nobody being able to "prove" God's existence with this: Philosophers can barely prove that they themselves exist. They're not really sure about you. Everything else could easily be a fever dream; there's no proof either way. You really expect them to be able to prove the existence of a higher power? You expect too much of them, my friend.
   I'm the only history major in my Western Civ class, and so I understand that I'm going to be the student that usually knows the answers to the professor's questions, but some of the stuff is so obvious that there should be other people that know it, like what the Rosetta Stone is. There's one of two things going on here: either nobody remembers anything they ever learned in history, even if they just learned it a semester ago, or other people know things and I'm the only person who feels like speaking up. Either way, I'm not impressed.

   What is everyone else doing with their quarantine? I'm procrastinating.

   On the subject of quarantine, everything's shut down in my state right now, which means I get to keep the thirteen books I had out from different libraries for, like, about two or three months; in other words, long enough to actually read them all. Naturally, of course, instead of reading my library books, I'm rereading Ilyon Chronicles, listening to audiobooks I digitally borrowed, and doing my 2000-piece Star Wars puzzle. How can there be so many plain blue pieces in one puzzle?

   I'm also using this time to work on my current novel, which, somewhat appropriately, is a dystopian. Not featured in my novel, however, are pandemics, toilet paper shortages, or social distancing. Instead, I've been writing about brutal interrogations, labor camps, "brutal" eighty-degree summers in northern New York (so jealous, tbh), and impending medical experimentation. Included in my research for this novel is brainwashing, the effects of tasing, and the soil composition of New York. Also bench presses, for reasons.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Death of Platonic Friendships

Via Pinterest
   There seemed to be a bit of a movement a while back to recognize the importance of platonic (aka, not romantic) relationships for being just as important as romantic ones. But a groundswell has burst and suddenly platonic relationships in fiction are simply nowhere to be found. Even if there are platonic relationships in the piece of fiction itself, they are romanticized in the fanfiction. Case in point: Luke Skywalker in Star Wars is such a friendly guy, he makes platonic friendships with everyone. He's really close to Han and Leia, who end up being his sister and brother-in-law, which is a perfect representation of what their relationships ended up like. The father-son relationship between Luke and Vader is at the center of the entire trilogy. And yet, I have seen Star Wars fanfiction with Luke Skywalker having a romantic relationship with Han, with Leia, with Vader, and even occasionally with Palpatine. In fanfiction, you can find the strangest pairings imaginable, often based on the barest hints of platonic friendships between characters in the actual story. I'm not even going to open the can of worms that is the pairings in the Sequel Trilogy, but believe me, they are much worse than what I've just said about the Original Trilogy (and I haven't even gotten into the weirdness that is the Leia/Boba Fett ship. What even).
   This tendency to make everything romantic is obviously not staying in the realm of fanfiction. Tom Holland is accused of being gay because he has a best friend that is a guy whom he is roommates with now (which is just what Peter Parker did in the comics, moving in with his best friend Harry Osborne in college, and Peter Parker was very much a ladies' man). And this tendency is growing into the realms of the very disturbing; have you heard of the term "age is just a number" recently? In case you're wondering, this is a phrase excusing massive age gaps in romantic relationships. Not supporting this tendency seems to get people called homophobic, or worse. And yet, how many of us have had the relationships in our lives be solely romantic or sexual ones? Absolutely none of us. Most parents and children don't have a romantic relationship. Many siblings enjoy a close relationship and are never attracted to each other romantically. Sibling relationships are so very rarely portrayed in fiction, and yet when they are (Elsa and Anna, Thor and Loki), many see their relationships as romantic. I had a close best friend of my own age and gender for seven years, and never once was romantically attracted to her.
   My point is this: society today is trying to say that it's okay now to be whoever you want to be, and that women don't need a man to validate them, etc., but if you look at the way they treat everything as romantic these days, it's clear they actually believe the opposite is true. Everything in this culture seems to revolve around romantic relationships these days. If someone isn't attracted to someone of the opposite gender, they must be gay. If someone is close friends with anyone at all, no matter who they may be, they must be romantically involved. And it's incredibly damaging. We're essentially telling all the kids that they are worthless unless they have some sort of romantic relationship. And yet, of the demographics of romantic relationships, the ones the least properly represented is the one we all start out as: single. Everybody grows up single. Some people stay single, and that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with them, as the label "asexual" seems to imply. We all have incredibly fulfilling platonic relationships with people from all walks of life, with family, with coworkers, with best friends, with professors and teachers and anyone else that we may meet.
   It's okay if such-and-such relationship is platonic. It's okay to portray platonic relationships in media. It's okay for people to have best friends and roommates of the same gender and not be romantically attracted to each other. It's okay for men and women to have close, non-romantic relationships. And it's okay for you to be single, now, yesterday, and forever. After all, as the Apostle Paul said, "Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am."
   Let's not forget the value of simple friendships. We all have them, and sometimes, they're the most important relationships we can have.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Why the Movie Industry is Being Ruined

   What is the principle purpose of a movie?
   If you said anything other than "entertainment," you're doing it wrong.
   Many people nowadays would protest this. Movies these days should be promoting diversity, empowering women, revealing the flaws in our society, abolishing racism, fighting for minorities, trying to make a difference, they say. Many, many moviemakers these days are stating exactly these reasons for making movies. These kinds of moviemakers have made it into Star Wars. They've just recently made it into Marvel. They've been making DC TV shows for years and ruining many various sequels, remakes, and reboots. 
   What's the problem with promoting diversity, empowering women, abolishing racism, or just trying to make a difference in the world? Nothing necessarily, but let's go back to the core of why movies and TV shows exist. Tell me, what are they all a part of? The entertainment industry. Why do people spend their money on the entertainment industry? Is it so they can watch a feature-length sermon on why God exists? Is it to be yelled at for not recycling enough? Is it to watch a twenty-minute docudrama on the evils of war profiteering? Not likely. People go to the entertainment industry to be entertained. And it seems that the movies coming out of the entertainment industry just aren't very entertaining these days.
   Just look at Star Wars. The Original Trilogy was fun, and despite what the media claims, was beloved by people from all walks of life, not just fat nerdy fanboys who spend all their time reading comic books and oppressing women (or something like that). In fact, Star Wars became beloved all the world over, by people that couldn't be more different. Star Wars was entertaining, and its basic themes appealed to everyone. The Prequel Trilogy came out and wasn't as beloved because it wasn't as good quality (poor George really should have hired someone else to write the dialogue) and therefore wasn't as entertaining.
   Then along came the Sequel Trilogy. The Force Awakens was pretty good, and fairly entertaining. It was a fun new space adventure with more universal good-and-evil themes that appeal to everyone. It made fans were excited for the new Star Wars movie. And then The Last Jedi came out. Remember my comment about a twenty-minute length docudrama on the evils of war profiteering? Yeah, that was referring to this movie. The bulk of The Last Jedi seemed about war profiteering, animal abuse (but not child abuse, even though there were child slaves), how powerful women are (to the point of not rehiring all of the ethnically and species diverse men that worked for the Resistance in The Force Awakens, which took place in the story five minutes before The Last Jedi), and featuring a token Asian woman that had no relevance to the plot whatsoever. Most of the rest of the movie was just badly put together. It wasn't an entertaining movie at all, it was a dividing movie that wasn't fun to watch and felt very preachy. No escape was to be found here. Yet the primary force behind the movie, Rian Johnson, continues to insult fans that point out the seeming agenda and the failed writing in The Last Jedi, calling them racist manbabies, and ignoring that no one cares what the message is in The Last Jedi, they just don't want their movie to be about it.
   The divide between moviemakers' goals and moviegoers' wants makes me think, of all things, of a Trivial Pursuit question: What was Adolf Hitler's favorite movie? It wasn't a movie heralding the triumph of the Aryan race. It wasn't a movie featuring a Jewish person as the bad guy. It wasn't a movie about the successes of eugenics. It wasn't even a movie with Germans in it. It was the 1930s King Kong, and that wasn't because there are hidden Nazi ideologies in the movie, but because he thought the special effects were really cool and it was a really entertaining movie. Not even someone as good at propaganda as Hitler came to movies to be preached at. Even though the Nazis spewed out propaganda galore, Adolf Hitler's favorite movie wasn't a piece of Nazi propaganda but a universally entertaining movie.
   Why has making movies and TV shows stopped being about entertaining people and become about propaganda? If your primary motive is to champion a cause, you shouldn't make movies. You should start an organization, a charity, or a political movement. Movies, TV shows, and anything that is a part of the entertainment industry, exists first and foremost to entertain. If they fail at that, they are missing their primary purpose for existing. Remember, George Lucas wanted to promote New Age philosophy with Star Wars. He wanted to teach everyone about moral relativism with the story, but he focused first and foremost on making a good, entertaining story. He didn't exactly spread New Ageism all over the world, and he failed spectacularly in making Star Wars about moral relativism, but he made a really amazing story that is popular all over the world. He knew that the job of a movie was to entertain first and if it didn't do that, it wasn't worth making.
   So, if you want to make a movie, and your primary purpose is anything other than entertaining viewers, please, do us all a favor: run for office instead. If you want to make a difference, go into politics. If you want to entertain people, lift them up, make them smile, and give them a reason to keep going, by all means, make movies.