My Time in Calormen

I wind up talking about personal experience in the Middle East–and partially defending how C.S. Lewis portrayed Calormen.
on Feb 13, 2020 · 45 comments

Most readers of Speculative Faith will immediately recognize “Calomen” as the fictional land portrayed by C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia. A desert land south of both Archenland and Narnia, with exaggerated Middle Eastern customs, polytheism that has the vicious god Tash at the head of its pantheon, rigid social classes, strong divisions between genders, and slavery (here, if you aren’t familiar, the linked Wikipedia article summarizes it pretty well). At the time Lewis wrote it, some elements of the descriptions of Calormen clearly seemed intended to be humorous–but people of modern times are mostly not amused. It’s now broadly and routinely claimed that C.S. Lewis grew up in an overtly racist era and he was overtly racist himself. That his racism shines forth in his criticisms of the brown people of Calormen–and perhaps in some other ways as well, such as by portraying dark-skinned dwarfs (like Nikabrik) worse than lighter-skinned dwarfs (like Trumpkin).

I have of course never been to Calomen–how could I have been? It’s a fictional place. Where I have been instead (in order of my time there) is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Djibouti. These countries have many differences among them–they aren’t even in the same region, because Djibouti is part of the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan is in Central Asia and the rest are in the “Middle East” (or “Near East,” some people say). But one thing they all share in common is all of these nations are Islamic-majority nations. And I’m going to assert in this article that they really do have some things in common with fictional Calormen, drawing especially from my first experience in the UAE.

I’m here to tell my own story, but as I tell it, bear in mind my experiences point in a certain direction. Perhaps Lewis can rightly be accused of preferring Europe over the Middle East without really understanding it–which would be ethnocentrism and not racism per se. Or perhaps there were elements of actual racism in his thinking–I don’t know, because I can’t say for sure I know what he was thinking (certainly he had no trouble portraying pale-skinned villains, re: the White Witch). And certainly by modern standards some of his jokes may seem unfunny, like “may he live forever” called out every time the Tisroc is mentioned. But I wish to point out that included within all of that potentially negative motivation from Lewis comes some legitimate criticism of Islamic culture and deliberate contrasts with it and the aristocracy that Lewis believed in and praised in his portrayals of Narnia and Archenland.

The Tisroc, may he live forever!

So in 1989 I enlisted in the US Army Reserve (USAR). There’s a backstory of why I did that which includes the death of premature twin boys that put my wife (now ex-wife) and I into debt and me seeking college money, money provided by the Reserve GI Bill of the period. Now isn’t the time to tell that other story in full, but my enlistment in the USAR was in an entirely different context in 1989 than what it became.

In 1989, Reservists hadn’t been called up in significant numbers since WWII and none at all since the Vietnam War. When I went through Army Basic Training and medical training in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) I chose–“Cardiac Specialist,” which at the time was a glorified EKG tech with some elements of Army combat medicine thrown in–my expectation was to put in eight years in the Reserves, then boom, I’d be done. If there was going to be a war, all the talk among Reservists at the time was if World War III happened we’d be pressed into service. I was in the 5502nd US Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado when my training was complete and we always talked about getting “called up” if nuclear weapons fell on the USA and Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora were somehow still standing, then we’d be helping take care of massive casualties. A nightmare scenario that nobody could really plan for and we didn’t even seriously try, though we did get practice phone calls for mobilization to see if we’d reply to the calls on short notice.

But then on the 2nd of August, 1990 (just 7 months after I finished my Cardiac Specialist training), the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, decided to send his military into the neighboring oil-rich country of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia, who at the time had a minuscule, poorly-trained military, got very nervous that Iraq could roll right through and conquer them as well. And militarily, they could have. In fact, at the time, the Iraqis probably had the military capacity to conquer the entire Arabian peninsula if they’d wanted. So the Saudis called for help–and the United Nations authorized an international response.

US troops started moving to Saudi Arabia as early as August, which steamrolled into a massive buildup of US troops and troops from other nations. Still, mostly whole units were being called and we were assured the nature of our unit was such that it most likely would not be activated. Deployment was not our mission (we had too many diverse medical specialties designed for stateside medical care).

So when on December 22nd, 1990 when I got a phone call at the security desk of the high-rise building in downtown Denver where I worked, the first thing the administrator from my unit told me was, “You’d better sit down.” I sat and he gave me news that I didn’t completely absorb until later–I was one of only 10 out of around 500 unit members who had been mobilized. I was the only person in my MOS from my unit with activation orders. Oh, you had a baby at home, born on December 18th, just four days previously? “Sorry.” You have orders to report in Bismark, North Dakota on the 27th of December at your new unit, the 311th Evacuation Hospital. In just five days.

And by the way, “Merry Christmas!”

I didn’t even know the Army could pull people from other units to fill missions at will back then. Now it’s something that happens all the time, but then it was so rare I’d never heard of it.

Of course it was forty below zero in Bismark when I arrived, but those details are not part of this story. Nor is the trudging around waist-deep snow at the WWII-era barracks at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, part of this story either. Nor is Private First Class Perry shoveling coal into the stoves that kept us warm (before being made a driver) included in the tale. I’m not even going to give detail to the fact the unit went overseas but I had to go back to Denver, because I was a witness at a murder trial and had to testify (that’s a story for another time).

My unit was already in country when I flew in the back of a US Air Force C-141 Starlifter cargo plane from the United States to an air base outside of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. From the airbase, a truck took me and two other late additions to the unit to Mafraq Hospital, a hospital that the UAE government had built at a crossroads in an area ten kilometers from the city outskirts, in case of major emergencies and flooding along the coast (today a search for the old site on Google Maps shows the area is full of new buildings).

Unlike pretty much every other US Army medical unit that went to Saudi Arabia and a few other countries like the UAE, our military hospital unit was to share the same facility as a civilian hospital already in place. We were there in case of an overflow of US casualties (which never happened). We helped threat the regular civilian patients that would have come to that hospital anyway.

Our military hospital camped in tents by the hospital compound, though towards the end the UAE government provided us trailers. Because the UAE never expelled the Iraqi nationals who lived there, unlike Saudi Arabia, we were on full lock-down and couldn’t leave the compound and we in fact went to work in civilian clothing under the cover us of being “Red Crescent Volunteers” rather than US military. (Though we had to protect our compound with lower-ranking people like me pulling guard duty, wearing US military uniforms then and packing M16s–so I don’t think we were fooling anyone.)(One time I thought I would have to shoot someone while I was on guard duty, which was something I never believed I would have to do as a medic–but that’s not part of this story.)

Not my unit, but the same kind of tent and same uniforms from another USAR hospital during Desert Storm. Image source: Army Medical History

I wasn’t there quite three months before the unit got moved to Saudi Arabia in preparation for being sent back to the USA, but every day I worked with professionals at a hospital run to Middle Eastern standards, with Arab patients. Of course, most of the professionals were not from the UAE, only a very few were. The majority of the nurses were from the Philippines though many were Palestinian. Some were Arabs from other countries, mostly Egypt. Quite a few Pakistanis worked there, as did some Europeans, including Eastern Europeans (recall this was still during the Cold War, at the end, yes, but still). And poor guys from Bangladesh and India (especially Tamils) swept the floor and cleaned bathrooms.

I’d grown up in rural and small-town Montana. No exaggeration, I rode a horse to school in first and second grade and lived in a house that was half log cabin and had “outdoor plumbing” part of the time. But I’d also taken an interest in foreign language in high school and had been an exchange student to France for a summer. I spoke some French and Spanish and had studied New Testament Greek back in Montana and was just finishing my first semester of Hebrew at Colorado Christian University. So I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with foreign places and travel, but the Middle East was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.

First, slavery. Outright slavery is illegal, but the countries on the Arabian side of the Gulf routinely bring workers from poor countries, house them in poor conditions, and work them hard. They send most of the money back home–this is not the same thing as slavery of course, they can’t be bought and sold and while they are sometimes physically abused, it isn’t as routine as what enslaved people faced in the history of US slavery. Still, they are pretty close to being slaves.

Plus, there’s the trade in brides. With the UAE being oil-rich and its citizens getting a stipend from oil sales (before you ask, becoming a UAE citizen is hard), lots of people who at that time had been poor just a generation previous suddenly had unexpected riches. Since Islam allows men who can financially support their wives to have four of them (like Jacob in the Bible did), many UAE men wanted to have four wives. But there weren’t enough native-born women in the UAE to allow that. So, where do they come from? Bride brokers that go to small, poor villages, mostly in Pakistan but also Muslim parts of India and other places. And pay parents and village elders for beautiful young women, where they are married off. That isn’t technically slavery, either, but it’s quite close.

Social divisions? Enormous. Sure, there are huge social divisions in certain places in the West as well, but there is a massive difference between the opulence for an Emir (basically a king) of an Emirate and being the Bangladeshi guy who sweeps the floor. Plus many steps in between (nurses from the Philippines seems to occupy their own rung). The difference in opulence, rights, privileges (including the top guys in UAE society totally ignoring the four-wife-limit and having as many women as they want) and power is massive. Such a difference does not exist to the same degree anywhere in North America or Europe.

If you are a Western woman living in the UAE or neighboring countries, life isn’t too bad. In fact, being a wife of a wealthy UAE guy is certainly luxurious. But there are some massive gender differences. Of course, pretty much everyone realizes that. It’s possible to overstate the differences between Middle Eastern society and ours and the difference is bigger in some places than others, but still. The difference is, in general, huge.

The hospital I worked in, for example, had male and female wards and separation of staff. Only a few male staff were allowed to go to female wards, though women could work on the male side.

Elaborate formality? Traditionally, yes, though those influenced by Western culture are not that way so much. But there are certain polite greetings commonly used and accepted for a wide variety of situations. Nothing I know of is as elaborately formal as Calormen as Lewis described it. Some aspects of Calormen sound like Herotodus’s description of the Persian Empire (Lewis was trained in classics like Herotodus) more than the modern Middle East. Still, there remain echoes of the ancient past in that part of the world. Some things are said almost as a ritual, including saying “inshalla” (if God wills) whenever talking about the future.

Religion is an interesting topic. Perhaps I will surprise you here. 

As a young guy who eagerly studied foreign languages, I was anxious to try to learn Arabic. It was hard for me (Arabic is hard for Arabic speakers because it’s so diverse from country to country) but I picked up quite a few phrases. I talked to people. I asked questions. I was curious about them and their lives. And I talked to everyone. Even the Tamil guys (who often spoke English), who kept looking around worried, like they could get in trouble (eventually I figured that out and stopped talking to them).

I also was (and remain) something of a Christian zealot. My father drank heavily and was abusive at times (saying he was “alcoholic” would imply he was seeking treatment and at that time, he wasn’t), my mother was more abusive and when my parents divorced, that’s who I lived with (though she mellowed over time to a degree). I stopped going to church around age 11 and got immersed into the atheistic sub-culture of hard science fiction a-la Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein (while my older sister took the deep dive into fantasy that eventually led to her anti-Christian Pagan-friendliness) and loads of other lovely experiences–early exposure to pornography, plus other events like tragic accidents such as losing a finger in a woodcutting accident when I was seven and witnessing a gun accident in which a cousin shot my younger sister in the face when I was nine (my father was in charge when both these accidents took place). For me all of those experience I associated with “the world” and saw in Christ something better. The sin that drives the world I saw in sharp contrast with all that Christ can and will bring into the life of those who follow Him.

So for me, you might think I would have no patience with Islam. But what in fact happened is I saw a culture in which the idea of God really mattered, even if only in formality. A culture that eschews alcohol, which had caused so many problems in my family (though they do other drugs). A culture that prays publicly and formally from minarets with the Islamic call to prayer. In fact, I would often be up early, reading the Bible, when the first call to prayer would sound loud over the desert. My fellow soldiers would curse the noise it made, but I felt I had something in common with the person in the tower singing out in Arabic, “God is great.”

My positive impression of Islam was helped by one Dr. Namaan Baat (I’m not sure I’m spelling that right). He was a Pakistani cardiologist who worked I worked with frequently–oh, if you’re wondering why I was the only one in my MOS activated from my Reserve unit, it’s because this particular hospital had a cardiology department and they wanted a soldier who would be able to work there. (Plus I was in other ways more “deployable” than other people in my MOS–in good physical shape, good at my job). He and I had many discussions about Islam versus Christianity and I perceived him to be someone with genuine devotion to God and real love for people.

An Egyptian doctor whose face reminds me of Dr. Baat. Image source:

Like Emeth, the one good guy from Calomen accepted into heaven according to C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle.

Note that I would not say I believe Dr. Baat is going to heaven. No, sometimes I wish it were not so, but the Gospel message in the New Testament is clear enough about the need for personal faith in Jesus the Messiah. But I would say he seemed to me to be sincerely interested in God and sincerely seeking to please Him.  Unlike many of my fellow Americans, who mock and hate the very idea of the God of the Bible–people like Robert A. Heinlein.

So in spite of a recognition of genuine problems in the Islamic world, I walked away empathetic with it from my time in the UAE, with a sense that I as a devout Christian have more in common with Muslims than I do with Americans and other Westerners for whom faith has no meaning.

Though I’d return to the Middle East after that first trip. I entered Iraq on the exact same day, January 17th, that I’d flown into the UAE in 1991. Only seventeen years later. In Iraq, I met a few Muslims who seemed very sincere in their faith, but a lot who seemed to not care at all about it. There’s lots of whiskey-drinking going on in Iraq, which definitely left a negative personal impression on me, based on my own past. And that’s not all of course–there was lots of womanizing among some of the high-ranking Iraqi officers I worked with, loads and loads of that and other flavors of “ordinary” sin. Plus the “inshalla,” whose habitual use I’d appreciated, often was uttered not as a habit of acknowledging the importance of God’s will, but as a dodge to avoid making a commitment. (Though that’s not how they use it in Afghanistan.) Plus, I met Christian Iraqis afraid of persecution–a persecution that came upon many Christians as ISIS took over parts of the country after the US withdrawal from there in 2011.

The people you happen to run into randomly in life don’t qualify as a scientific sampling. But what you observe at least indicates some of what’s possible.

What I’ve seen is that the products of culture influenced by Christianity is in many ways better (of course, in my own evaluation of “better”) than what is found in Islamic culture. And I would say C.S. Lewis saw that, too. Probably not in the same way I did, but likely through things he’d read and perhaps via people he’d met.

I think there’s another possible element in Lewis’s focus on Calormen. That is, I think he may have received some criticism as being against individual liberty because he had warm feelings for royalty as in King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy. By showing Calormen, it may be he meant to say, “Yes, I support the idea of royalty. But not the most vicious and authoritarian kind.”

So why did I write this? Not just because I thought talking about my past would make for a short, easy article (Ha! How wrong I was!). But because I also wanted to defend Lewis a bit, to say that criticism of a region of the world based on things they actually do isn’t the same as racism. In my case, while I may criticize “Calormen,” believe me, I have plenty of criticism for my own nation!

Parts of the Near East do have certain things in common with Calormen. Though it’s true Lewis exaggerated and got a bit silly (in part by trying to be funny) and used stereotypes. But thankfully Lewis did not show all Calormene people as cookie-cutter villains. He also showed Emeth.

So what are your thoughts on Calormen, readers? Do you have any pertinent personal experiences you’d like to share?

Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.
Website ·
  1. notleia says:

    Yay, storytime with Travis!

    But Lewis was relying on Orientalist tropes already present in English lit. I don’t think he ever traveled farther than his stint in WWI France. He was repeating racist bullshirt that had already existed for ~200 years, which can but also doesn’t make it any better. Of course I have a vidya up my sleeve that talks about this:

    • notleia says:

      It’s weird how much you remind me of my dad, Travis, though you’re younger by at least 15 years. My dad coped with a dirt-poor, unplumbed early childhood and a somewhat irresponsible father by becoming Responsibility Incarnate (and somewhat control freak). Dad was doing most of the farming by his teens because Granpa had hayfever and also Lou Gehrig’s (that’s how Dad avoided Vietnam). They were poor, but like, PAINFULLY RESPECTABLE poor, dammit. My great-granpa might have been a verbally abusive asshole with a closet that smelled like whiskey, but they kept that strictly in private.
      Now that Granma’s passed and their going through her stashes and hordes (Depression baby who never threw a thing out if she could help it), I am discovering a lot of weird feelings from artifacts like $50 savings bonds from 1950-something, when they had four young children they couldn’t feed (WHAT THE FVCK, GRANPA, YOU SCRAPED UP MONEY FOR THAT BUT NOT YOUR CHILDREN).

      Y’know, we could make a thing out of telling dysfunctional family backstories, tho maybe that belongs in website of a different genre (de-mythologizing and de-romanticizing the American pioneers and salt-of-the-earth farmers).

      • Travis Perry says:

        Hmmm. Well. I think if you actually knew me I would not remind you so much of your dad. At least, the main details you share here are significantly different from my experience. My father was very irresponsible and nobody kept secrets very well. Few people would have classified him as salt of the Earth, though he was charming, clever, and courageous, so very much admired by some people (like me when I was itty bitty but less later on).

        I certainly feel that I’ve experienced the downsides of irresponsibility but I did not become a hyper-responsible type. I may seem that way based on the things I say here, but I have a natural risk-taking personality and have done some straight out dumb and irresponsible things. Especially but not exclusively while driving a car. My impulsiveness did in fact contribute to the fact I wound up divorced–though not in an obvious way that I care to explain here. In short though, I’m a long, long way from the emotionally-controlled type who has a specific spot in the garage for every one of his tools. Which is what your dad sounds like.

        I like American pioneers, but most of them were different than we think they were. Some of them were low-lifes. But even the old Westerns get that right–even though they exaggerate that fact at times for dramatic purposes–though new Westerns are only more realistic in that they are more graphic. But they aren’t more realistic in showing what people of that period would actually do. (I’m talking about Hostiles specifically–what a crock. History shows violence on the Frontier was mostly gone by the 1890s. The John Wayne version of True Grit was actually more realistic, as hyperbolic as it was.)

        • notleia says:

          “Reminds” is prolly the wrong word, cause you do have fundamentally different personalities. But you have somewhat similar origin stories.
          I mean, you’ve come around to a conservative viewpoint after years of doing dumb things and hoping that conservatism fixes or would have stopped you from doing dumb things.
          Whereas my dad never did dumb things but has that sort of personality that is naturally conservative because tradition is important and change is hasty and scary.

    • Travis Perry says:

      This commentary doesn’t impress me very much. Her remarks on the accuracy of particular customs shows very little personal knowledge. She declares things are “not accurate” but she doesn’t know what IS accurate. “Harem” means “forbidden” in Arabic–as in, “forbidden by Islamic law” because Islamic law only allows 4 wives and a harem isn’t just “women’s quarters” it can also refer to having more wives than that. And why the heck would anyone have more than four wives? Sometimes, especially in the ancient world, multiple wives was about alliances (handy in a situation in which hordes of small states had their own king–they made an alliance by marrying one of the daughters). But in Ottoman times, there were only a few other states they even cared about having alliances with. The harem WAS about sex to a large degree, though not just that–because, you know, human nature. (There are cases in Ottoman history of certain rulers becoming totally useless because they spent all their time in the harem. That’s a real thing, not imaginary, in Ottoman history.)

      Some of the things I mention in the blog post above are in fact second-hand accounts. Like, when an elderly UAE man was dying in the ICU and I was watching his heart monitor and his four wives where there to support him (supposedly), I saw some things directly but others I heard about. I first-hand saw the most elderly of the wife crying for him and the second wife comforting her and (much younger and clearly ethnically distinct) wives three and four stand there with a “whatevah” look on their faces. So the thought crossed my mind, “Where do all these extra women come from?” So I asked a Palestinian nurse about it later and she explained to me the bride market and young women are sold to husbands in Gulf countries. Though I’ve read the same thing in press reports from the very kinds of villages I heard about at that time. Which means sexual slavery. Or close to that. Still happening now and was happening before the Transatlantic Slave Trade got rolling and Europeans did their darnedest to out-slave the Islamic World.

      What the obviously intelligent and interesting commentator in the video seems to be doing is taking at face value complaints about old Oriental attitudes that modern Muslims make. But some modern Muslims are (believe it or not) about as reliable about their own cultural problems as a typical Mississippi mother of four talking about the problems in her local Baptist church. Oh, she will mention some things, more if she trusts you than if she doesn’t–but some topics are NOT open for discussion. And if you say otherwise, she will deny, deny, deny. (At least that’s MY impression of Mississippi Baptists–though I’ve actually known more Muslims!)

      As for Lewis, look, I can’t say I know for sure what he was thinking. It’s likely some of this stuff comes straight from Orientalist imagery. But, he was well-read. He knew about Ottoman history and the types who never left the harem. He also had read Herodotus and probably took the Greek historian at face value when it came to what he had to say about the Persians. Herodotus did some exaggerating, but we have some Persian documents confirming some things he said. And certainly the Assyrians were brutal and “oriental” in terms of hierarchy, as at least strongly signaled by their own records found in Nineveh, the early translations of which Lewis probably had read. Or was familiar with.

      So another way of putting all this is to say while Lewis exaggerated, he wasn’t totally off in some of his slights of the culture of Calormen. Or so I’ve said, based both on things I’ve seen and also things I’ve read.

      • notleia says:

        Funny you talk about Muslims and Mississippi Baptist moms about being in denial about the flaws of their culture, because that’s pretty much what I think about you and the assorted Calvinist-flavored dudes here.
        Denial is just a river in Africa /s

        • Travis Perry says:

          When A Horse and His Boy was written, the majority of the reading audience had been fed inaccurate Orientalisms and they applauded Lewis’s writing, the majority did anyway, and laughed at his jokes.

          Now culture has changed and we live in a time of political correctness in which Lewis said some things that are definitely not PC. However, the PC attitude is not really accurate, either. Lewis shows signs of not being a horrific racist–he portrays certain individuals from Calormene culture differently than the majority. And certain things he stated–by no means all, but some–reflect actual situations that are ongoing in parts of the world.

          I have listened to the PC crowd (which clearly includes you) and have considered the factual merit of what they have to say. And have concluded there’s a point there. But not as much as they think.

          My reasoning is based on (believe it or not) reason. Study, experience–you know, that stuff. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of the Zeitgeist of either the time of the past or the time of the present.

          You, my friend, a person I pray for from time to time, someone I feel compassion for, are a bandwagonier. Big time. Sorry to tell you that so bluntly, but I tend to be direct. You are in a crowd that thinks a certain way and you faithfully think like everyone else in your politically correct group–or that’s what I perceive in you.

          At least some of the “Calvinist-flavored” dudes you referenced are also “bandwagoniers,” but on a different bandwagon.

          By the grace of God, I’m not a crowd-follower. I examine stuff and consider stuff but don’t decide something is true or not just because a bunch of my perceived peers say so.

          I don’t see how that’s denial. Especially when I go out of my way to actually listen to and engage with people who disagree with me. People like you.

          • notleia says:

            If I was a bandwagoner, I would have stayed in the country, married the least annoying redneck I could find by 22, and had at least 2 kids by now.

            • Travis Perry says:

              You did change bandwagons, that’s for sure. But you started with one, saw flaws in it and switched to another.

              But you are pretty much totally modern feminist liberal ex-evangelical as far as I can tell. That’s a bandwagon.

              • notleia says:

                I know it makes you feel better to think that, but I imagine if that were true I’d have more tattoos.

                And does that make you any different? If you were headhunted by the late 80s, your wild sinful youth that you build your credibility on was not much longer than your teenage years to early twenties.

              • Travis Perry says:

                My point of “band wagon” is having a bunch of people you agree with–finding a clique you reflect to a large degree. Approaching 100%. You seem to me to be like that. Not said as a barb–it’s what I think I see in you.

                It would seem difficult to imagine me like that, because I’m pretty much not entirely in the same crowd as anyone else that I’m aware of. For example, I totally would have voted with Mitt Romney on the impeachment of Trump. The crowd of one.

                Though maybe the issue is me not being self-aware enough, though I doubt it. Maybe you don’t know that because you are probably only tangentially aware of how much I’m continually a fifth wheel or second left foot or odd duck or whatever we want to call it…

                Though you’re right that the young-rebelling-against-Evangelicalism-cynical-sarcastic types I’m referring to generally DO get lots of tattoos. And body piercings. For whatever reason. If you haven’t got any, I suppose that would make you stand out some in your peer group…

        • You and Travis are actually kind of alike, though. You both had hardships in your childhood and value what you perceive to be solutions to those hardships. And since the path to those solutions makes certain things feel obvious to you, it becomes easier to perceive the other side as being in denial, misguided, a bandwagoner, etc.

          But a lot of people go through that process of having hardships and learning to closely embrace whatever seems to fix them, and many come to vastly different conclusions. So while that whole process can give someone logical reasons to think and feel a certain way, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically right or that their opponents are actually that blind or in denial.

          • Travis Perry says:

            I can say I’m not a bandwagon guy because I for example don’t agree with either of the main US political parties completely (though I generally but not always vote Republican)…Notliea as far as I can tell falls pretty much in complete agreement within a well-defined sub-section of the Democratic Party.

            I don’t agree on lots of things with either one side or the other. I’m not a Darwinist and not a Young Earth Creationist, either. I both criticize and adore science. I both promote and warn about potential dangers of speculative fiction. I’m not a feminist, but I support women having combat roles. And there’s lot’s of positions I can quote like that, where I don’t fit into specific molds.

            Notliea is part of a movement of like-minded people as far as I’m able to determine. People who believe almost exactly what she does–“bandwagon” seems appropriate.

            • ‘Bandwagoner’ isn’t how I perceive either of you, though I don’t exactly describe people that way much. Bandwagoner kinda has connotations of someone that doesn’t think for themselves and only ever does things because everyone else does them. I try to avoid making such demeaning assumptions when the vast majority of people DO have reasons and circumstances behind what they think and feel, regardless of whether or not I believe those reasons are good. That said, even if I don’t usually see people as bandwagonERS, I do recognize that pretty much everyone might have times in their life when they jump on one bandwagon or other. That is normal human behavior, so as long as people don’t jump on a bandwagon that’s harmful to them, it’s probably fine.

              The reason I compared you two was because notleia said that she sees you/some of the Calvinist dudes on this site as being in denial, and I was pointing out that certain beliefs seem obvious to people based on their life circumstances, but most go through a generally similar process before reaching them. That makes it easy to PERCEIVE people that disagree as being in denial, bandwagoners, whatever. But that perception may not be true. So just because she sees you that way doesn’t automatically give her view more credence.

              Sadly, during social situations, that almost doesn’t matter. You may not be in denial, but she will treat you as if you are so long as she perceives you that way. Likewise, notleia may or may not be a bandwagoner, but as long as you perceive her as one, you’re going to interact with her accordingly.

              Having similar beliefs to someone else isn’t an automatic indicator of bandwagoning behavior, though. No two people completely agree or disagree with each other, even if they’re on the same side.

              I hesitate to say this because you put a lot of emphasis on having different beliefs than other people and I don’t want to annoy you, but in a general sense all/most of the beliefs you just mentioned having could describe me as well. So maybe an atheist that just stumbled across this site could assume we’re on the same bandwagon. Maybe since you’re older than me they’d think I jumped on the same bandwagon you did after reading your articles or something. But obviously that wouldn’t be true at all, because we formed our beliefs independently from one another. And then when we discuss the nuances of our opinions, we don’t mind disagreeing on a lot of details.

              But what matters more than sameness is why people form and hold their beliefs. If people copy someone else’s beliefs solely based on peer pressure or because it looked fun, without a thorough examination of those beliefs, calling them a bandwagoner would make sense. But if they truly study things and evaluate their validity before changing belief systems, and make their decisions based on themselves and not social pressure, they probably aren’t bandwagoning. Some of my beliefs are similar to my parents, for example, but over the years I’ve gone through and evaluated whether or not I want to keep those beliefs. So even when I might agree with my parents on a general issue (such as being pro life) I’ve kept that belief under my own volition and for my own reasons. I have no qualms with deviating and have done so with many beliefs (my immediate family is Young Earth Creationist, which is what I started out as, but now I’m an Old Earth Creationist)

              Likewise, people can hold the same belief, but vehemently disagree on details and execution. Two liberals could advocate representing more minorities in the media, but disagree on what defines good representation. Or, one might think it’s ok to yell at authors that don’t represent enough minorities by liberal standards. But the other liberal could advocate a calmer approach.

              That said, it doesn’t matter if someone’s beliefs are unique. Someone could have the most unique beliefs in the world and never join a bandwagon, but it’s all for naught if those beliefs are incorrect.

              • Travis Perry says:

                I agree it can be demeaning to say “you’re on a bandwagon.” It can also be demeaning to say “you’re in denial.” So we can say maybe I should have given Notleia the benefit of the doubt but brought out what I really think because she threw down the denial line. Which would be largely what really happened as far as I’m able to determine.

                I don’t hide my head in the sand on anything. If someone says they have facts that disagree with me, I check them out. I don’t live in an echo chamber of agreement. It certainly feels like I am carefully picking what I believe based on facts.

                I do notice Notleia citing facts and she is quite clever–but she keeps saying stuff that seems exactly like positions I’ve heard other young-feminist-ex-evangelicals say. It may be she has independently and thoughtfully arrived at the exact same positions millions of other people her age have run into…but that doesn’t seem probable to me. It seems a mass movement of people likely has influenced her.

                I very much hope to make her realize that’s what happened to her. My goal is to get her to question the assumptions she has bought into her thinking without thorough thought or analysis. Because some stuff she believes is riddled with logical contradictions.

              • notleia says:

                We do assume a lot about the others’ opinions, but I fancy I have a more accurate notion of the Grumpy Old Traditionalists than you do of the League of Ex-evangelical Harridans. I mean, you haven’t even talked to your sister since Obergefell, while my Fbook feed is full of both gay pagans and my traditionalist relatives who post pro-life memes.

          • notleia says:

            Oops, you insulted Travis by comparing him to me. But I’d be offended to be compared to his idea of me, too, if I weren’t so used to it.

            • notleia says:

              Autumn, you might be interested in this book about authoritarian followers by Bob Altemeyer:
              yay it’s a free pdf! Thankfully he tries to engage us plebes who don’t know how to read statistics tables, and he has a nice conversational style. It’s a touch old, from the Bush years, but still relevant about the psychology of people who are authoritarian followers (same thing as bandwagoners? ehh, kinda).

            • :p Everyone has similarities and differences, though. Noticing them doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

            • Travis Perry says:

              Nah, Autumn strikes me as wanting to be nice and finds things about each of us she can empathize with. That isn’t a bad way to be similar to you. I definitely don’t hate you. Though I do think you say some very destructive things at times–you have some very poison ideas that you do defend well that I feel the need to counter. Ideas, like viruses, can spread.

              Which is why you comment here, right? You have things you believe and you are hoping to persuade others. You know you probably won’t persuade me, but other readers following along might see things your way.

              Perhaps it is entirely coincidence that millions of young people agree with you. It doesn’t really matter. You’ve got some massive logical contradictions in your thinking you haven’t faced up to as far as I can see (re: the feminist position that gender roles are assigned by society vis-a-vis the transgender position that a person can intuitively know based on an inner sense that would have to be biological that they were born the wrong gender).

              If I can get you to think about your positions and really challenge them, I will. You believe logic and science and history are on your side. But they aren’t really.

      • notleia says:

        Another thought: Why is it that the four-wived thing is supposed to be titillating and romantically barbaric but Mormons are considered neither?
        I guess because anyone and not just rich educated nobs could spot some Mormons in the wild and see the blazing resentment the wives harbor for each other and/or the husband.

        • Travis Perry says:

          Mormons were considered titillating back in the day. For example, I recall reading a bio of Joseph Smith written in the late 1800 that made much rhetorical hay of the sensuous nature of the Mormon faith.

          Plus there was that series–was it on HBO?–Big Love. With an emphasis on titillation…

          • notleia says:

            Yeah, I’m thinking of Riders of the Purple Sage, which was written later. Maybe Zane Grey had met actual Mormons and heard the stories about Grandma having to marry a gross old man at 14 with 4 other wives and children her own age.

            But it feels like like it’s missing the forest for the trees, to frame it as a religious thing when it’s really an issue of gross old men (ie, patriarchy). Rich garden-variety Christians just had kept women without marrying them. Later they figured out that divorcing could net them a younger, hotter wife if the first didn’t conveniently die of tuberculosis.

            • notleia says:

              Expanding on that thought in an extremely cynical manner: in a society where women are legally property of their fathers or husbands, what is marriage except an elaborate form of sexual slavery?

              • Travis Perry says:

                First off, the legal situation didn’t exactly equal women as being property. Saying it did would be like saying minor children are treated as property of their parents today because parents have the right to make decisions for them. But they can’t kill and torture their children or sell them or make them perform sexual acts for money. The law will intervene or should.

                A husband or father of the past you reference could not force his wife for daughter into prostitution or kill her or a number of other things without that being illegal. Yeah, in practice the law didn’t always intervene when it should to help the woman but news flash–that’s still true.

                So your claim is so hyperbolic that it breaks down under minimal examination. Monogamy in which women got a voice in the man they married was not sexual slavery.

                Nice try, by the way, at persuasion that your modern feminist-flavored ideas are true. But unfortunately for your case, historical data mostly doesn’t support your claim. Because it wasn’t legal for a father or husband to do whatever they wanted with an unmarried girl or a wife.

              • notleia says:

                Except children were also property of the husband. Marriage was for the husband’s benefit and only incidentally the woman’s. “Sexual slavery” is overstating it in most cases, but marital rape was irrelevant until the last forty or so years, wives could legally be beaten by their husbands for a long time. Heck, if they had so few options to make an honorable and legal living without a husband, how much can we honestly say they were freely choosing to marry some dickhead they had little to no control over to stop him drinking his wages away?

              • Travis Perry says:

                And children are now de facto treated as the property of women at least in many US states, because they automatically get custody and the law keeps giving children back to women even if they are horrible. In some places.

                The status of children really hasn’t changed all that much from the past. The government is more interventionist, sure, but only to a degree.

                As for women not marrying in the past, it happened often enough. There was even a term for it–“old maid.” Any woman who didn’t want to get married could refuse. Though her job options were more limited, that’s true.

                That’s a long ways away from village elders selling a thirteen year old in India to a wealthy Arab whom she’s never met…

              • notleia says:

                No, they didn’t have a framework for anything so melodramatic. Just opportunist rape by their employers. Laura Ingalls Wilder was sent out to work at 12 or so and almost raped by the owner of the restaurant? inn? she worked at. Didn’t make it into her children’s books for good reason.

                But at least if they’re married they have rights, right? /gag

                Makes me wonder, too, about the children given up for Christian adoption rings. Do they find out if their kids are abused?

              • Travis Perry says:

                The opportunist rape thing was a reality back then but was not allowed for by the ideology of people. Nobody would have agreed it was OK for employers to do that. Hence why people like me talk about such as thing as “sin nature”–because people do evil even when they know it’s wrong.

                But do people act better when you tell them it isn’t wrong to have as much sex as you want, but it’s wrong to deny others consent?

                The fact is that opportunistic rape is a feature of our time by different means. Sexual tourism to Third World countries, where young women and young men are usually forced into prostitution is a very real thing (yes, the rape of young men seems much more common now than in the late 1800s).

                Immigrants are illegally smuggled into wealthy nations like the USA and Europe and kept as prisoners for sexual gratification purposes. International law enforcement types keep catching rings of this sort of thing, but know they’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

                And that isn’t because of prudish suppression of natural human urges. Germans are among the leading sex tourists in the world and the Netherlands is a top destination for sex slaves according to stats I’ve seen. Both countries have open, legal prostitution.

                The societal improvements on Evangelical culture are not in fact improvements. Sorry to have to bear you that news.

            • Travis Perry says:

              I don’t believe the majority of Christians had women on the side, though obviously, some did. Neither do the majority of Christians now divorce their wives to go after hotter, younger models. Though some have done that.

              Let’s contrast though the most devout members of the society of the past with the least devout. Were the least devout less womanizing than the those in church all the time, at the revival meeting all the time, devotedly following the sermons of, say Charles Wesley or C. H. Spurgeon?

              C’mon, give me a break. You aren’t even getting close to being accurate here.

              • notleia says:

                Then compare apples to apples, if we’re going with the Scotsman argument here. If you’re not analyzing Christian vs Islamic societies as wholes to each other, have you met a “real” Muslim to compare to a “real” Christian? Or did you only ever meet “cultural” Muslims?

              • I’ve met “real” and “cultural” Muslims aplenty. The cultural Muslims have been by far the better. The opposite has been my experience with Christianity. The people who really embody the words of Jesus (actually live it out, rather than cherry-picking) are the best people I’ve ever met. Not so with followers of Muhammed…

              • notleia says:

                Good data to throw in the pool, but I’d also want you to define how you determined which ones were “real.” Would they be the same people that other Muslims would think are real?

                (By heck, we are doing science to this PROPERLY)

              • Nominal muslims vs. devout muslims. They identify themselves quite readily.

              • notleia says:

                That’s handy. Of course, we need a wider pool beyond you to gauge agreeability and also just a wider sampling pool and a bunch of other considerations.

                The way you turn anecdata into evidence is by doing more science to it.

              • Lol… I know how statistical analysis works.

              • notleia says:

                Ha, it was more for the sake of any stray creationists who might be triggered by scientific jargon.

              • Travis Perry says:

                On the comment on Christians, I will grant you it is not always historically possible to find data that describes how devout a person was or was not. But sometimes that data is historically available. A certain person may have been known to attend church once a year. Verses people said to attend all the time.

                Judgment of peers matters, too. Not a single one of the conquistadors were nominated for Catholic sainthood that I know of–and why not? They had done so much for the church, right? Because they were known to be scoundrels, even by the standards of their day, that’s why.

                Though some people did us the favor of expressing in writing what they believed and didn’t believe. We have enough of Thomas Jefferson’s writing to say he wasn’t a Christian at all. He was a Deist, who believed in a creator God, but didn’t believe in Jesus or salvation or any of that.

                What I’m saying is if you compare the historic past of people nominally Christian or not Christian at all to those devoutly Christian, the nominally Christian are certainly no better, if not definitely worse. John Adams had strong Christian convictions. Thomas Jefferson didn’t. Which man acted better–which man treated women better? HINT: It wasn’t Jefferson.

              • notleia says:

                The Mathers, good puritans that they were, had slaves. George Whitefield, revivalist galore, used his influence to bring slavery to the Georgia colony and leave the poor white dirt farmers SOL. Also that whole slavery thing.

                We can play this game all day, y’know. I know you want to believe that if everyone followed the rules properly, that we’d have a nice Christian society. They tried that, tho. It was called the Victorian era, and all we got out of that was Freudian complexes.

              • Travis Perry says:

                You can play the game all day long–but I’m sure you’ll lose. Though no doubt you can continue to try to falsely make your case. Sorry to be blunt, but the stuff I’m talking about is based on facts. Slavery wasn’t invented by Christian people and some Christian people did participate, but Christian people yes, EVANGELICALS specifically, were the direct cause of the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the 1800s and drove the Abolition movement.

                The Catholics had earlier ended slavery in pre-Medieval Europe, but it revived in the Mediterranean in Spain and Portugal due to Islamic influence and was first taken by them to the New World. But argued against by Catholic thinkers like Bartolome de las Casas. No kidding!

                And the Victorian Era, while a nice shot at having a Christian-run society was on the one hand rife with hypocrisy (it never fully lived up to its own goals) and second, was vastly superior to 2020 in about 2/3rds of everything. Including having the lowest percentage of slaves in world history–because slavery made a massive but largely underground rebound in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Meaning slavery is on the rise, oppression of women is on the rise, worldwide, right now, as we speak. An inconvenient truth vis-a-vis your position.

                Though it is nice having antibiotics and modern medicine in general. Yeah, in public health and medicine and a few other tech-related matters, modern times beats the Victorian Era by a large margin. But in many other things, not so much.

              • notleia says:

                Women largely couldn’t own property in the Victorian era. Not even their own children, which were considered property of the father.
                Bruh, it seems you’ve got some serious blind spots of your own about what constitutes freedom and oppression and progress.

                Also, I grew up in pretty much the evangelical bubble you think would work so well. Then how did I end up the way I am? In my experience, even evangelical rules break down. You can legislate behavior to some extent, but how would you go about legislating belief in the evangelical version of God? You could maybe compel mandatory Bible reading and corporate prayer, but does that guarantee genuine belief?
                The fundagelicals dont even have a good track record at finding youth pastors who fish in the kiddie pool.

  2. It’s interesting to hear your take on this based off your personal experiences, so thank you for sharing. I agree that portraying negative things that actually happen in a culture isn’t automatically racist. I don’t know how I perceive Lewis himself on that front. Maybe Lewis had a few racist attitudes and beliefs, but that doesn’t seem to have bled into his work to a harmful extent.

    Aravis is probably pretty decent evidence against Lewis being a huge racist, though. She had a pretty prominent role in The Horse and His Boy, and was one of the more nuanced characters. Her flaws were shown as a matter of personality, circumstances and culture rather than skin tone or race. In a way, she was kinda portrayed better than several of the ‘white male’ characters in that more focus was given to her personality and whatnot. Like, Peter showed several personality traits, and, yes, he was called magnificent and treated as the chosen rightful king, but he’s much less of a three dimensional human being. In this series at least, Lewis seems to give quite a bit of depth to chars with redemption arcs.

    Of course there’s subsets of people that seem almost obsessed with finding racism anywhere they can, and would probably say that Lewis’ depiction of Aravis was extremely racist because she was only seen as ‘redeemed’ after she joined the more European looking culture. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. But it’s worth noting that even though Susan was truly European and a special chosen one, she sort of missed out on Narnia at the end of The Last Battle due to her obsession with vanity. But then I think Aravis was mentioned as being in Aslan’s kingdom? I dunno. Even if Lewis did have some prejudices, he seemed to care more about where people’s hearts and souls were.

    The Calormen had their own prejudices, too, calling the Narnians barbaric and truly considering them beneath them. But aside from seeing the Calormen as cruel and not approving of their religion and whatnot, the Narnians and Archenlanders didn’t seem to disparage Calormen much. At the very least they didn’t seem to have a problem with Aravis. It’s been a while, so maybe I’m forgetting something, but she was welcomed very quickly. Shasta’s father seemed to practically adopt her without hesitation.

  3. In a way, this topic with Lewis does bring up how people perceive authors in general. George R R Martin seems to have gotten a decent amount of accusations for being racist based on certain scenes. He seems to have responded it it pretty well, though, at least in this interview:

  4. I enjoyed this article, Travis. Have you read Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus? It’s a great story about a Muslim coming to Christ. A Christian befriended him in college. They often had more in common with each other than with the atheist teachers and classmates. The author, Nabeel Qureshi did want to know God, and his Christian friend challenged his thinking and the customs he followed and the why behind them. He challenged the truth about Mohamed and many other things. It’s a great book of redemption and it supports much of what you said here.

    BTW, how (and when) did you end up at Colorado Christian University? (My dad was a professor there for a number of years).


What do you think?