Let’s Talk About Race and Racism: The Space Traders-Science Fiction and Critical Race Theory

The Space Traders, a science fiction short story, lays out a portion of the case for Critical Race Theory. This post responds to the story.
on Oct 8, 2020 · 12 comments

Critical Race Theory has come to dominate how many modern people think about race and racism. I’ve mentioned this theory before, but have only offered a partial definition. Personal time doesn’t allow me a full explanation of the origins of Critical Race Theory (CRT), even though I think CRT is an important topic worthy of discussion. But it so happens that one of the founders of CRT, Derrick Bell, crafted a science fiction story called The Space Traders intended to illustrate the plight of black people in modern America. This post is a discussion of that science fiction short story and how its backstory stemmed from a number of the ideas central to CRT. And…by the way…we are finally on a subject that’s clearly on topic for Speculative Faith–science fiction!

Why Science Fiction?

The science fiction of Derrick Bell’s story isn’t particularly complex–the “science” element amounts to advanced aliens making an unusual proposal to the human race. Most of characters–well, all characters but one–are one-dimensional. Nor would I consider the story especially well-written. That’s not really surprising, because Derrick Bell was a law professor and not a science fiction writer.

But of course science fiction is the perfect medium for illustrating an idea. Science fiction has long been a means of social commentary by imagining counter-factual situations, such as: What if we are all in a computer simulation? (the Matrix) What if genetic fitness becomes the basis of a future society? (Gattaca) What if aliens invaded us in the same way we historically invaded colonial possessions? (the War of the Worlds) Etc.

As a short story, The Space Traders, first published in 1992, has been pretty successful. It’s been featured in several anthologies and was adapted for television once upon a time. (Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on the story and also a link to the full text of the tale should you want to read it–it’s just shy of 12,000 words long). But again, I’d say that’s because of the controversial nature of the subject of the story, rather than it’s style. (Though on the other hand, it’s not a terrible story, either. The ending is pretty powerful.)

What the alien ship might have looked like. Image copyright: The Atlantic.

The Space Traders Summarized

The central character in The Space Traders is Gleason Golightly, a conservative black man who is an economic advisor to a white Republican president. As I’ve said, he’s the only character in the story with any depth. Though the story doesn’t begin with him.

The tale starts in a near-future scenario–from the point of view of the Nineties–in which aliens mysteriously arrive on January 1st and offer the United States unlimited clean energy and vast wealth–with a catch. All the aliens want is the USA to hand over every single person in the country who identifies as black. For purposes unknown.

The tale begins on 1 January and counts up until 17 January–which in the story world is a Martin Luther King Jr holiday…and also the day the United States ushers all black citizens into the alien ship cargo holds. Irony blatantly intended.

The story says the aliens adopt a voice like the former president Ronald Reagan, which causes all white people to trust them but causes suspision in all black people in America. I’ll comment on this further down.

Action leaps to the White House and of course the conservative cabinet is all for making this exchange. After all, in this story world, their conservative policies have wrecked the environment and bankrupt the country–they despirately need the alien technology and wealth to rescue the country from its dire straits. (I won’t comment on this further, but yeah this bit of story backdrop is more than a bit over-the-top-politically-liberal.)

But they want to hear from their token black economics advisor–the story directly calls him “token” (and mentions black people see this character as an “Uncle Tom”). The concerns of the cabinet being: “How can we sell this exchange to the public?” and “How can we justify our actions?” and “How can make this work legally?” rather than, you know, the ethics of the situation.

The story says directly that if the aliens had asked for any other sub-group of people, such as green-eyed red heads, the exchange would never have been considered for a moment. I’ll comment on this in a bit.

Golightly naturally doesn’t want the exchange to take place. The story from this point forth is about his efforts to first avert the exchange but when his efforts fall through, to save himself by escaping to Canada.

His strategy to derail the exchange is that he meets with a group of black Civil Rights leaders and attempts to persuade them they should speak out in favor of the trade. If they could only show that black people are in favor of the prospect of being hauled away by mysterious aliens, then white people would themselves wonder why black people were for it, which would be their best chance to save themselves. Because, you know, if black people want the exchange, white people won’t want to give it to them. Reverse psychology.

Golightly fails to persuade the black community leaders. They think his idea is crazy–but he despairs when they don’t listen to him.

To legally get rid of all blacks, the USA needs to enact a constitutional amendment in which the military draft is applied to black people. So all will be drafted into “service” for the good of the rest of the country. Bell mentions a few legal parallels to this, specifically stating the US Constitution itself sacrificed black people for the purpose of making the USA, so the idea the nation would do so again isn’t unthinkable.

The story spends a bit of time talking about the Liberal opposition to the amendment allowing the exchange. Part of New York City is shown to be shut down for a while due to protests led by Rabbi Abraham Specter, with the cooperation of many American Jews. The story says at one point what the Jewish motivaton is–they don’t want to be the ones stuck at the bottom of the social order to receive the full ire of angry poor whites. So they want black people to stay.

Other, non-Jewish Liberals are referred to in that thirty percent of the USA is said to be against the amendment, while seventy percent are for it. Note that the US population of African Americans is about eleven percent, so nineteen percent of the rest of America were against the exchange. The Jewish population of America is less than nineteen percent and I can’t imagine Bell missing this detail, so clearly other, non-Jewish Liberals also opposed “the Trade.” The story never says who were the other Liberals, but it does assign them a motivation: Guilt.

A scene from The Space Traders in the HBO special Cosmic Slop. Copyright HBO.

Golightly attempts to make the case early on with the cabinet that white people will be extremely afflicted with a sense of guilt after the fact if they trade off all black people for the alien tech. This doesn’t affect the cabinet, but as far as the story is concerned, guilt is the only motivator to want to help black people other than not wanting to be at the bottom of the social order yourself.

The aliens warn the United States government that they if they let black people escape to other countries, the deal will be off. The story references a few getting away, but the USA mostly blocking any escapes. The federal government promises to send a few prominent black people to other countries in exchange for their help, including Golightly and his wife, but they take back this offer in the end.

The second to last moment of the story features Golightly trying to escape to Canada but being caught by the US Secretary of the Interior, a colleague Golightly worked with and knew personally. His wife wondered if black people would have been worse off if Golightly had managed to block the legislation, because black people would be blamed for the country not receiving aliens’ benefits. The story basically leaves this comment hanging.

In the end, the aliens require all black people to strip down to a single article of clothing before boarding the ship. The story pointedly says they leave the United States in the same way their ancestors had arrived. As ship’s cargo.

The Space Traders Criticized

There’s much in this story I disagree with, but I can summarize all my objections in three points. However, Bell made one point in which I believe he was entirely right to criticize the United States. I’ll mention where I agree with him last.

Disagreement #1. According to The Space Traders, all Black People are the Same

This point isn’t secondary to the story. All black people in the United States suffer the exact same fate. The protagonist Gleason Golightly in various ways attempts to escape his fate, but in the end, being black is something he cannot escape. He is turned in and taken away, just like every other black person.

The story is just a story and is allowed to engage in hyperbole for the purpose of making a point. But I don’t think Critical Race Theorists see any hyperbole here. All black people in their view are in the same boat. Which is on the one hand ridiculous–there’s a huge difference between Oprah Winfrey and a black man who’s a fourth generation felon in maxiumum security lockup. To suggest otherwise in absolute terms is again, ridiculous.

However, there’s a tiny particle of truth here. Both Winfrey and the hypothetical felon I mentioned can be subject to worse treatment than they might otherwise receive due to racism. That much is true for both. But for Winfrey, being subject to occasional racist slights doesn’t prevent her from being a billionaire and one of the most admired people on the planet. The guy in maximum security has a different life experience.

However, my objection to the “same fate” assertion aside, my biggest beef with the idea that all black people are the same is that Gleason Golightly (hey, look at this last name for Pete’s sake) in fact is just as cynical about white people as all other black people. He just knows how to manipulate the system to his advantage better. So the story leaves no space for blacks to actually be conservative. No, if they seem different, it’s because they are working the system.

This is observed in the opening scene. The aliens speak like Ronald Reagan, which white people in the story trust, but black people don’t. All black people. There’s no room in the story for some black people to have liked Reagan–no, all are assumed to be the same. Or merely pretending to be different, like Gleason Golightly. There’s no space for individualism or individual convictions.

Note, someone could also say the story also portrays all white people as being the same, but it actually doesn’t. Jewish people are in particular set aside from other white people and the story further implies that guilt-ridden whites might actually desire to help blacks. I think that’s hugely significant and will say more about it in a bit.

Note also that Critical Race Theorists do not hold to real racial differences. They believe race is a social construct and the biological differences in race are minor–I totally agree there. But at the same time, they hold all of the United States–and broader, the whole world to a lesser degree, basically is acculturated the same way concerning race. So the unanimity of racial experience this story treats and inescapble and I think CRT in general treats race and racism as inescapable.

Disagreement #2. Racism is the Central Axis of Oppression–Nobody Would Sell Green-Eyed Redheads?

The story flat out says that nobody would have considered for one moment a request from the aliens to take, for example, green-eyed redheads. Really? Such an assertion is easily shown to be false.

Remember the post I did on Speculative Faith that talked about how early plantation owners found out African indentured servants were more profitable that Irish indentured servants? Because the Irish died at higher rates from malaria? At the end of a period of seven years service, both Irish indentured servants and African indentured servants used to be set free, with a small “gift” of land and a few tools…which didn’t cost that much for the Irish, because a lot of them didn’t live out the seven years.

Whereas for the West Africans, many of whom carry a recessive sickle cell gene that makes them resistant to malaria (one of only a few genuine biological differences in races), that got too expensive. So the plantation owners pressured the colonial legistatures to change the legal status over time, so that black people would not be set free. To protect their profits. (Then the society became increasingly racist to justify their position of dominance.)

But let’s not forget that at one point in Colonial history, a certain number of green-eyed redheads were in fact shipped to the Americas and forced to work on plantations. White people did in fact sell white people.

And not just there. Slavs sold other Slavs down the great rivers of Russia for money (some people claim the word “slave” derives from the more ancient ethnic term for the Slavic nationality). Aztecs enslaved other tribes of Central Mexico. And West Africans in positions of power helped capture other Africans–and sold them to European slave traders.

The central premise of the story, of human beings selling other human beings to gain something for themselves is something we see over and over again in the pages of history. Sadly. Tragically.

But the idea that only because of racism would someone consider such a trade–that idea is false. Easily shown to be false.

Disagreement #3, White People Will Only Help Black People from Negative Motivations

In the story, there are only two motives given for white people to help blacks. One, to not be left alone at the bottom of the social order, specifically applied to Jewish people–which might make sense in the context of the story, but does it make sense in the real world? Do Jewish people help black people with the notion that doing so will always keep black people inferior to them?

Actually, if we imagined this to be true of white people who help blacks in general, it would be subversive to CRT, or at least I think it would be. Could it really be that white people believe helping black people will keep them eternally superior, social-standing-wise, to blacks? Ugh.

Look, I have no trouble perceiving that human beings are riddled with evil motivations, but that’s some awfully dark stuff right there. If this idea were to be taken seriously, even the so-called white “allies” of black people are not to be trusted. They are really doing it for themselves.

Lest someone say I’m reading too much into the story, Derrick Bell directly said that the only time white people help black people is when “interests converge” so that white people are getting something out of it (he said so in multiple ways, but for an example, follow this link).

Hey, is it true that a lot of what human beings claim is helping others really has a lot of selfish motivations, at least most of the time? Yes. Again, I agree humans are sinners. But is it always true that the only time any white person helps blacks is for self-interested reasons? Is this particular kind of self-interest worse than all other kinds? No, it isn’t. (Or else white people would not have gone through cycles of helping and oppressing one another in Europe before the Transatlantic slave trade ever began.)

And the other motivation the story give? Guilt.

White Guilt But Not Empathy

The Space Traders doesn’t portray a single white person showing genuine empathy for black people. Rabbi Specter seems empathetic for a bit–but then his true motives of self-interest are revealed in the story.

Guilt is mentioned as something white people will experience after the fact of betraying blacks–but isn’t guilt at least somewhat related to empathy? Isn’t it possible to appeal to those white people who have suffered in life based on their hardship that black people are also suffering? Some of whom are suffering worse? All of whom who are subject to random racism?

But that’s not the argument CRT makes. Instead it talks about “white privilege” in the singular, as if all white people have the same life experience as one another. A proposition which white people who have suffered more than normal in life find especially distasteful.

Doesn’t tapping into “white guilt” seem to be the motivation behind mentioning “white privilege”? So The Space Traders and Critical Race Theory acknowledges there’s such a thing as a guilty conscience. That in spite of being sinners, we have this grace that can lead to repentence.

This is very important to undestanding Critical Race Theory in my estimation–such theorists want to help black people and other oppressed minorities. But in general, they only think white people will help them if they get hit between the eyes with their own guilt of racism.

Almost Like a Revival Meeting

Isn’t this almost like the old-fashioned Evangelical revival meeting? “You know you are a sinner! Come forth and repent, and you shall be made clean by the blood of Jesus!” And people got up and walked the aisle, thowning themselves down in repentant prayer.

“You know you are a racist! Disavow your racism and denounce those who have not yet repented! Then you can feel that you are clean!” So people come out, snarkily attacking anyone who dares question white privilege. Creating a divide, where the “repentant” develop true missionary zeal, but people who might be empathetic on racial issues become less empathetic, because they don’t believe they are especially sinful, thank you very much.

You know, I don’t want to deny individualism. I deeply believe in it. So I will not assert all white people who embrace CRT have the same motivation. Not so.

But if we are going to play the game of imputing motivations on people other than ourselves in broad, sweeping terms, such a method can make supporters of Critical Race Theory look as bad as anyone else.

A Point of Agreement

One thing The Space Traders pointed out that I agreed with and which I’d never thought of before. The story makes the observation that black people had been sacrificed for the nation before, so doing so again wasn’t unprecedented.

It specifically made mention of the US Constitution, which I also talked about in a previous post. I said in my previous post that the Constitution’s 3/5 compromise was a result of a political compromise between those who were against slavery and those who were for it. And so it was.

But The Space Traders pointed out that this compromise in effect sold out black people for the greater interests of the country. If the anti-slavery founders had been so anti-slavery, why had they not insisted on getting rid of slavery before making a federal union? Why hadn’t they refused to form a union with people dedicated to slavery?

We can say much about the history of the time, that the general expectation of many in the North was that slavery would come to an end on its own and that the Constitution actually reflects this expectation. Yes, I agree that was the common belief in the North and even some Southerners also agreed slavery would eventually end (though some disagreed with that very much). But so what?

It is actually true that anti-slavery Northerners sold out black people for the sake of making a single federal union. They compromised–in a negative way.

We could imagine things would be even worse for black people if there had been a Northern Union and a Southern Union from the beginning. But we can’t be sure about that–and it’s no excuse anyway. Yes, it really has happened in US history that black people were sacrificed for what some people considered expedient. Though not just black people–but Critical Race Theory applies to other groups as well, so there’s no disagreement here.

Conclusion

My next post will talk about some other things that I think Critical Race Theory actually has seen correctly (in addition to offering new criticisms of it). There’s actual evidence of structual inequality in America. But such inequality doesn’t quite run down racial lines like is often implied. Nonetheless, such inequality should be addressed in a society that wants to be a meritocracy–it’s not fair to make some people run a metaphorical race with weights strapped to them that others don’t have.

But that’s for next time.

As for this week’s post, who has read The Space Traders? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Do you know of other science fiction or speculative stories that address race in a way as meaningful (or more) than The Space Traders? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Is Pop Culture Like a Sewer for Your Kids?

From bad brownies to sewer-dipping, what “folk wisdom” about discernment still influences Christian parents?
on Oct 6, 2020 · 4 comments

For years, Christians have often spread several folk sayings about discerning good and evil.1 These sayings include the phrase, “If you play with fire, you will get burned,” or the phrase, “You reap what you sow,” which is based on Galatians 6:7.

But not every “common sense” or “folk wisdom” slogan is actually biblical wisdom.

For example, Christians may have heard the out-of-context quote of two words from Matthew 7:1, “Judge not,” as if that summed up Jesus’s teaching.

Other folk wisdom comes from evangelical or Western religious popular culture, such as “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Paul referred to similar slogans as “irreverent, silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7).

Let’s survey a few of these folk sayings that aren’t biblical, but that might still influence the minds of Christian parents who are challenged to see popular culture in light of the gospel.

‘You wouldn’t eat brownies with a little dog poop mixed in!’

“So what if popular culture contains some good? If someone mixed dog poop into your brownie batter, would you eat them? Even a little corruption makes the whole work worthless.”

This slogan has a ring of truth.

But what counts as the “dog poop”?

Christians might point out elements such as sex and violence. But by that reasoning, we would have to admit that the Bible is itself a poop-contaminated brownie, for it also includes elements of sex and violence.

Context, however, influences any “element” of a cultural work, just like context influences our reading of the Bible. Christians know the Bible is not just a bucket full of disconnected pieces. We know God’s word puts the sex, violence, and profanity it contains into a specific context. It never glamorizes or excuses the abuse of sex, violence, or language. And that makes all the difference in how we understand why God included those episodes.

Likewise, human culture is also more than a bucket full of disconnected “pieces” such as bad words, violence, or sex. Our stories and songs are much more like human beings, complex networks of ideas and images, mixtures of good and bad.

After all, each piece of popular culture came from a person or group of people, and their imaginations are messy mixtures of truth and error, good and bad.

Every one of our entertainments, whether made by a non-Christian or a Christian, is like this. In fact, every human being is like this.

Would we compare every individual person to a poop-infested brownie?

Would we outright reject each one of them because of their flaws?

Jesus did not reject people this way, and we do not reject our children because of sin. Why not? Because we respect them as image-bearers, those entrusted by God to us. Can we not also show respect to popular culture that is made by God’s image-bearers, even while we take caution to avoid elements that pose exceptional risks to our children’s hearts?

‘You don’t need to swim in the sewer to know what’s in it.’

Past generations certainly seem to have enjoyed drawing their popular-culture metaphors out of the toilet.

But this saying is just as flawed as the brownies-with-poop folk wisdom.

It implies people can become “clean” if only we avoid nasty culture, ignoring the truth that our hearts are more like the polluted sewers, and we cannot avoid it.

It also slanders popular culture as if it’s only a filthy sewer. This, of course, ignores the truth that popular culture contains God-given fragments of grace and truth. And it ignores the call that Jesus gives Christians to go even into the actual sewer-like places of the world.

The Christian life is not about avoiding dirtiness to keep ourselves clean. It’s about receiving God’s love and sharing that love with those around us. That means we must be willing to deal dirty people, as well as our own inner-dirt. And it means wisely engaging the culture around us to love the people who are formed by it, even if that culture is dirtier than we’d like.

‘Government agents learn to recognize counterfeit bills not by studying counterfeits, but by studying the real thing.’

In this metaphor, non-Christian popular culture is counterfeit culture, and Christian culture counts as the “real thing.” And if non-Christian popular culture is a counterfeit, we have no need of it. We should stick only with Christian cultures that, we assume, only celebrate truth.

But in fact sin lurks in every cultural work, no matter who creates the work.

And the grace of God shines to some extent in every cultural work, whether made by Christians or non-Christians.

The folk saying also bypasses the fact that our true standard, the Bible, itself challenges us to compare its truth with the world’s counterfeits. For example, see Psalm 34:8, “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and Isaiah 44, which compares God with people’s idolatrous worship of wooden blocks.

Treasury agents are certainly trained to recognize counterfeits. It is true that they start by familiarizing themselves with real money’s appearance and texture. But they don’t stop there. They also compare and contrast real money with known counterfeits in circulation so that they can easily distinguish between the real and the counterfeit in a fast-moving vocation.

Disregard ‘folk wisdom’; acquire biblical wisdom

We could consider several more Christian folk wisdom sayings about popular culture. But these three are sufficient to make the point: What passes as biblical wisdom is sometimes neither biblical, nor particularly wise. These pithy phrases too often oversimplify issues that deserve nuanced consideration. Too often they reject real cultural discernment for an easy, less demanding counterfeit of discernment.

There are no shortcuts for exercising biblical discernment. When you hear examples of Christian “folk wisdom,” whether about popular culture or any other topic, be sure to always compare the slogans with what Scripture really says!

The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ

Parents often feel at a loss with popular culture and how it fits in with their families. They want to love their children well, but it can be overwhelming to navigate the murky waters of television, movies, games, and more that their kids are exposed to every day.

Popular culture doesn’t have to be a burden. The Pop Culture Parent equips mothers, fathers, and guardians to build relationships with their children by entering into their popular culture–informed worlds, understanding them biblically, and passing on wisdom.

This resource by authors Jared Moore, E. Stephen Burnett, and Ted Turnau provides Scripture-based, practical help for parents to enjoy the messy gift of popular culture with their kids.

Order The Pop Culture Parent from:

  1. This article is adapted from material in older drafts of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ. I’m coauthor of this new nonfiction book, with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore. It’s available from our publisher, New Growth Press, or you can order from Amazon.

Finalists – 2020 Spec Faith Fall Writing Challenge

In alphabetical order by last name, our 2020 Spec Faith Fall Writing Challenge finalists are as follows:
on Oct 5, 2020 · 1 comment

Here are our 2020 Spec Faith Fall Writing Challenge finalists and the poll in which you may vote to make the choice of winner.

Just a reminder. This is NOT a popularity contest. We really do want to acknowledge writers who have honed their skills and demonstrated their ability in this little exercise. So, those who vote in the poll, please be sure you read all three of the finalist entries and give a fair assessment.

Special thanks to all who entered and all who gave their feedback.

We haven’t had as many comments as I would have liked, but it’s not too late. If readers can give some feedback that would help the writers, that would really make this writing challenge valuable.

We did have a tie, so there are four finalists. In alphabetical order by last name, our 2020 Spec Faith Fall Writing Challenge finalists are as follows:

  • Darlene N. Bocek
  • Shari Branning
  • Ann Milo
  • John Sweeting

All that’s left is to select the winner, and that’s also in the hands of our visitors. Choose from these finalists and vote in the poll at the end of this post for the one entry you think is best.

The entry receiving the most votes will be the winner, and the author will receive a $25 e-gift card from either Amazon or B&N. (In case of a tie, I’ll draw for the winner).

Voting will last until 8:00 A.M. (Pacific time), Monday, October 12.

And now the finalists’ entries (reformatted as necessary).

  • Darlene N. Bocek

      Stuffing the last item of clothing into her travel bag, Octavia glanced out the window once more to be sure that no one was on the road in front of her house.
     “Meow.”
     Octavia froze, eyes on Frank.
     His nostrils twitched. A rush of terror flooded over the old woman. How could he know? Impossible. He’d been out when it happened.
     She cleared her throat and zipped up the duffel bag.
     Frank rubbed his furry black hip against her bag, mewing. His tail flicked the zipper.
     Frank knew. Sweat beaded on her forehead. And if Frank knew, she’d never get away with it. Not again.
     She lifted him to her chest. “Sweet Frankie. We’re moving on.”
     The Mancoon brushed his forehead against her chin. She held her breath, but stroked his back.
     How am I going to escape if he knows? 
     Octavia’s eyes darted around the room, catching on a trunk. The trunk. 
     If he knew, he’d turn, and she’d be caught. Guaranteed. Frankie was like that, demanding, controlling, ready to snap. He’d have to stay, poor thing.
     She took a slow step toward the trunk, and a sour whiff of what was inside sent shivers up her spine.
     Through the doorway she could see everything ready in the kitchen. An accident, like last time. She placed her hand on the lid of the trunk. She’d need to move fast, to get Frank in there with…”her.” 
     I hate doing this, buddy—she kissed his temple—but you leave me no choice.
     With feline swiftness, the cat bit her throat. Octavia yelped and dropped him. He ran out of the room and jumped onto the kitchen counter, next to his food dish—she gaped in horror—next to the candle. Yes. He knew. 
     She’d never get out alive.

– – – – –

  • Shari Banning

Stuffing the last item of clothing into her travel bag, Octavia glanced out the window once more to be sure that no one was on the road in front of her house. 

Torren Blackpaw, werewolf and jerk extraordinaire, had been stalking her for the past month. He’d claimed her as his mate. At least he claimed that he claimed her. Leave it to a werewolf to wield the antiquated, toxic tradition of claiming mates like the proverbial neanderthal’s club to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, what he wanted was her. But she had no intention of succumbing to that club, proverbial or otherwise, and getting dragged off to his cave. Or den. 

His ploys wouldn’t have caused her more than an eye roll if her clan actually backed her for once and cried poppycock. But whether he had them that bamboozled, or whether they were afraid to cross him, they had made it perfectly clear that she was on her own. 

Bag packed, she hurried across the road and slipped into the shade of the thick forest beyond. A few miles’ hike through dense underbrush brought her to an ancient, lightning-struck oak with a cleft in the trunk big enough to walk through. She stepped into the cool shade of the tree, gripping the rough, scarred bark at the edge of the cleft. Inside the tree she could see nothing but black. So it was true. A rift had opened in the ancient tree. Well, let Torren follow her into the human world then. 

With a deep breath and a final glance behind her she stepped through the rift into a different world. 

– – – – –

  • Ann Milo

Stuffing the last item of clothing into her travel bag, Octavia glanced out the window once more to be sure that no one was on the road in front of her house.

Poof! Angel appeared on her shoulder.

“Don’t go,” he whispered. “Don’t do it.”

Poof! Devil appeared next to him.

“Hey! What’re ya whispering for? She can’t hear ya!” Devil pulled out a megaphone. “GO! You should go!”

Angel covered his ears. “Pipe down!”

“WHAT?” Devil whipped around, bonking Angel with the megaphone and knocking him off Octavia’s shoulder.

Angel flapped along by the hem of Octavia’s pants.

“Ha!” cried Devil, prancing around.

Angel fluttered back up and landed on Octavia’s other shoulder. “Oh, dear! Where were we? Oh. Don’t go!”

Devil put his megaphone in Octavia’s ear. “WHY WOULD YOU LISTEN TO HIM? He’s wearing a skirt!”

“It’s called a robe,” cried Angel. “Don’t listen to him! He’s holding a fork!”

“Yes! Listen to goody two-shoes!” laughed Devil.

“Hey, where’re we going?”

Angel and Devil looked down as Octavia darted out the driveway.

“Hah! She’s getting away!” Devil hopped around, waving arms and legs as though on fire. “If you’d talked about something other than a fork, she might’ve listened to you.

Angel leaned over. “Don’t do it.”

Octavia crossed the street.

“She did it.”

“Why’re you so evil?” Angel cried.

“Well, when I was a little devil, I fell from Heaven.”

“That’s too bad,” sighed Angel.

“Anh, shut up!”

Bump!

Devil and Angel went airborne and landed on their faces. Above Octavia’s shoulders, a scarlet banner fluttered over a covered tent reading “Charity Drive”.

“Hello!” Octavia pushed her travel bag across the counter. “Here’s my donation.”

Angel’s and Devil’s mouths dropped open like two hinges.

“Aha!” exclaimed Angel. “’When you give to the needy, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.’”

– – – – –

  • John Sweeting

Stuffing the last item of clothing into her travel bag, Octavia glanced out the window once more to be sure that no one was on the road in front of her house.
    Bag slung over her shoulder and small travel chest in hand, she raced through the empty villa to the courtyard. Shamus, the only remaining house servant, held the reins of her chariot. Leaping aboard, she shook out her long wavy black hair in the sharp breeze. Her straight nose, fair skin, dark almond eyes, and lithe frame betrayed her Roman ancestry.
    Why didn’t Father take us from this island when the Legions departed? Now I am stuck here protecting his secrets when all the new King’s knights seek them, and me!
    “Fare you well, My Lady,” Shamus called as she shook the reins and her two mares, Spitfire and Lightning, broke into a trot out the gates.
    “You too, Shamus. Try to hold the villa if you wish. Its all yours now!”
    Scarcely had Octavia gone a mile, and she came around a bend to find four horses with riders blocking the way. Three were knights on their dark chargers. The fourth was a young woman on a white palfrey.
    “Hello, Dindrane,” Octavia addressed the women. “Did you really need three escorts? Percival, Galahad, and Bors, I believe?”
    “Give us the scroll, Octavia,” Dindrane ordered. “We know you have the secrets of the Sword, the Ship, and the Tree.”
    Percival dismounted and said, “Or just tell us, Lady Octavia, where do we find the Grail?”
    Octavia laughed. Then, seeing their stunned expressions, laughed again.
    Catching her breath, she told them, “You ask, where is the Grail? You should ask, what is the Grail? For if you knew, terror would halt your search.”

– – – – –

Be sure to share this post and poll with your friends and family, your Instagram or Pinterest, your Facebook and Twitter accounts. The more voters, the better. And now, your vote:


I Respect C. S. Lewis, But Disagree with Parts of The Last Battle

C. S. Lewis was wrong to insinuate in this story that a man who worshiped a false god could somehow also be serving the true God.
on Oct 2, 2020 · 42 comments

I think I was in the fourth grade when I received a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia for Christmas. Then I’m pretty sure I read through them rather quickly. That actually wasn’t my first experience with Narnia, though. I remember watching an animated version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on television in my childhood.

Yes, I enjoyed the stories, and I think I read them more than once back then.

Still, I can’t say that they didn’t cause some difficulties in my thinking.

The Last Battle is the last book in the Narnia series, and it’s about the last days of Narnia and the world in which Narnia was located. The last king of Narnia, Tirian, hears rumors that Aslan has returned. But Aslan is acting very differently than the accounts say he acted in the past. Then, while the king is trying to learn about this supposed Aslan, an enemy nation invades and conquers Narnia. This leaves the king and his companions, including two children from this world, in a hopeless fight. Finally the real Aslan steps in, and the darkest hours of Narnia become the brightest of days in a new and better world.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book. The idea of syncretism, shown in the heinous idea of “Tashlan,” is displayed as ridiculous. Readers see heroism in a lost cause. The story focuses on where a Christian’s real hope should be: not on the things of this world, even the good things, but on Christ and the hope for a better world to come.

So, what about The Last Battle caused problems for my young mind?

In Aslan’s new world awaits one strange person, a Calormene man. He worshiped and was devoted to the god of his people, Tash, and hated Aslan. Yet when he arrives in this better world, he meets Aslan himself:

But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.1

And then Aslan explains further:

. . . For I and [Tash] are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? . . .

Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.2

I suppose Lewis is not the first person who has wanted to think there exists some kind of back door into Heave. Or that God will judge people by a standard like their intentions or hearts. Or that maybe even people who might have wholeheartedly served, obeyed, and worshiped a god other than Jesus might still be acceptable and find themselves in Heaven. I know when I read The Last Battle, I found the idea appealing. Being a child who had not yet gone far into thinking for himself and trying to find the real truth, I concluded that this story’s writer had to be telling me the truth.

It’s never easy to disagree with someone you respect, and it didn’t happen overnight for me. But there may come times when we must disagree.

C. S. Lewis was wrong to insinuate in this story that a man who worshiped a false god could somehow also be serving the true God.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

—Romans 3:20

To keep a vow is a good thing, it is obeying the law. And that is the point; it is a work of law.

The problem with that is, we do a lousy job of keeping the law. What if we even bypassed God’s Law and just looked at the laws we create for ourselves, whether in our societies or personal standards? If we are honest, if we could really see ourselves as we really are, even then we would conclude that we can’t keep those laws well.

If we had to depend on our own efforts to reach paradise, even through some kind of back door, we would fail.

Yet there is hope, as Romans 3 explains directly after verse 20:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith . . .

—Romans 3:21–25

Here is our hope, our only true hope: salvation, forgiveness of sins, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Christian readers have the responsibility to read with our eyes open, especially when reading someone we respect and largely agree with.

Authors must also make sure our writings, even our fiction, even our stories set on space stations located on the edge of the galaxy or in a fairy kingdom of elves and unicorns, to make sure even those things display, teach, and proclaim true Christian doctrine.

The Last Battle offers much that is good. “Tashlan” might almost be considered prophetic, if you want to explore the concept of “Chrislam” or any other extreme ecumenical compromises. But I’m a reader who was also affected by the bad ideas in this story. No, I do not say The Last Battle should be not be read. Just read it with your eyes open.

  1. Lewis, C.S.. The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia Book 7) (p. 90). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  2. Ibid, pages 90–91.

Two Classics

Even after that bitter end, I am sure: Dostoevsky and Austen are like each other.
on Sep 30, 2020 · 3 comments

I read two classics this past summer: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Dostoevsky’s Devils. I was maybe two hundred pages into Devils when I realized, with a measure of surprise, that the book reminded me of Jane Austen. Not the political revolution, of course, or the atheism and murder; the book’s conclusion, in which Dostoevsky briskly mowed down half his cast, shows everything that Dostoevsky is and Jane Austen is not. But even after that bitter end, I am sure: Dostoevsky and Austen are like each other.

The characterization in their novels has a similar texture: at once sharp and deep. Both Dostoevsky and Austen stand outside their characters in their narration, taking the tone of an observer of rare acuity and no inclination to cover over anything. Neither ever saw a fool without observing and declaring the fact. They are unsparing. At the same time, they draw so comprehensive a sketch of their characters that it feels a little like empathy. The fools may have been lampooned, but they were at least understood.

A broader similarity also plays into this likeness in characterization. Austen and Dostoevsky share a keen awareness of the foibles that seam human nature. The ordinary foolishness and common weaknesses of humanity are fully understood by both writers, and finely displayed. Dostoevsky is amused by people behaving absurdly, and Austen is positively delighted. They catch the comedy of foolishness. They catch, with even greater skill, its darkness. In this Dostoevsky is stronger, but Austen captures the same truth, that workaday follies can be both laughable and destructive. They carry, sometimes, a surprising cost.

Most strikingly, Austen and Dostoevsky root their stories in society. In many novels, society – the broader community, with its rules and workings – exists as little more than background. Events play out, and characters live, at a distant remove from the community. There is no sense of what ordinary life might be like. But to read Austen and Dostoevsky is to enter a society. The shibboleths are different than our own, but the organism is the same: the requirements and prohibitions, the expectations and interactions, all the self-conscious fussiness. Austen and Dostoevsky make use of the broad conventions of society, such as who shall marry whom. Their mastery is in how they use the minor conventions. They bring forward the weight of trivialities. It doesn’t matter, really, whether you dance or don’t dance. What matters is what other people make of you for either one.

In Dostoevsky, all these things are shaded more darkly. His psychological portraits sketch the reasons of murderers, his fools descend into wickedness and ruin, his grand ball dissolves in panic as the city catches fire. The similarities between his works and Austen’s are subtle and fascinating. The differences are obvious, and ultimately more important. So profound is the divide that one cannot imagine Austen even touching the subjects that Dostoevsky wrestled. Dickens might have taken up Dostoevsky’s themes, though with far more sentiment and optimism. But if Jane Austen had written about revolution, or moral anarchy, or the psychology of suicide, she would not have been Jane Austen.

And the world would have lost something. One may prefer Jane Austen; one may prefer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Either position is fair. But it is good that Austen was herself, and not Dostoevsky, just as it is good that Dostoevsky was himself, and not Austen. Such is the diversity that makes the world rich.

Yes, C. S. Lewis Actually Did Want His Fairy Stories to Teach Christian Truth

Christians often suggest, “We should create stories only based on images, and not try to teach readers.” But C. S. Lewis believed good authors do both.
on Sep 29, 2020 · 3 comments

C. S. Lewis once called a certain method of creating stories “pure moonshine.” He insisted this mechanical process wasn’t how he created his stories—and strongly implied that other Christians ought not use such a method either.1 But in response to this mechanistic method, some Christian creators err on the side of what they might regard as full creative freedom.

“We get to use our liberated imaginations!” they claim. “So let’s not have any of this stuff about how our stories should teach readers.”

Lewis, however, actually did not favor this approach. And I think sometimes we get wrong his description of how he created his own fairy stories. As a result, we might accidentally believe Lewis believed only in imagination and not also in creating stories to teach Christian truth! But first, we must recall the original quote from Lewis, and the very real truth it reflects even apart from Lewis’s original context.

How not to write a Christian fairy story

Imagine a board room of frowning and likely monocled elder nonprofit board members, sitting about a table. They are respectable. They are ministerial. On the wall hangs a large wooden cross, right beside the painted-on logo of the nonprofit ministry. Their leader rises to his feet.

“Gentlemen!” he proclaims. “We must find a way to say something about Christianity to children. Now, what shall we do?”

A spiritual hush falls over the room as the men confer in various subgroups. At the meeting’s end, they present their proposals.

“Continued presentation of slow, methodical Sunday-school lessons as before,” says group one.

“More sports celebrities and tastier treats in gatherings for teen-agers,” says group two.

Group three appoints its regent, who shyly raises his hand. “Well,” says he. “I hear that fairy tales might be coming back into vogue …”

Silverware clatters. Heads turn. And the ministerial chieftain pert near loses his monocle.

“Fairy-tales!” he exclaims. “Why—why, Johnson, that’s—that’s brilliant!”

Johnson is taken aback.

The chief minister flushes with excitement, jowls a-twitching. “Why, yes. This is the perfect chance to say something about Christianity to children. We shall use, as our instrument: the fairy tale! Now, what must be done about it? Ah, yes! Of course, we must collect information about child-psychology. We must have a subcommittee. Hire ghost-writers, as we decide what age-group to write for. Then for this tale’s outline, we must draw up a list of basic Christian truths. Ah, yes, and allegory! We must of course fill this tale with ‘allegories’ …”

Of Other Worlds, C. S. LewisLewis: ‘I couldn’t write in that way at all’

Of course, at the last I’m paraphrasing the very approach that C. S. Lewis specifically disavowed. In his essay, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said,”2 Lewis is making a larger point about a story-creator’s different identities. (More on this in a moment.) To illustrate, he refers to his own creation:

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.3

Keep in mind that last sentence’s first two words (“At first …”) as we note Lewis’s real rebuke to this mechanical, ministerial “teaching tools” approach. Even when he limits these phrases to a hypothetical view of his own creative process, it seems clear he views this as “pure moonshine” that is not just about himself. We might wonder what kind of letters Lewis received, or reviews he read, to result in this odd theory about his creative process.

That’s a lesson for Christians who might be tempted to view fairy tales with this kind of pragmatism. It’s not an approach I would ever endorse. If you try it, you might get a not-terrible story. But you won’t get a good or great story—and you won’t even get a very truthful story.

But Lewis doesn’t stop with the raw imagination

As I’ve said, however, some Christians repeat Lewis’s quote with a host of assumptions. I haven’t seen any of these very recently, and so I’m not singling out anyone. This is more of a meme I see shared about Christian-creative circles. It might be joined by assumptions like these:

  • “Lewis didn’t try to insert Christianity in his books, so neither should we.”
  • “We need creative freedom! Making stories is all about imagination, not teaching.”
  • “We shouldn’t try to be Christian creators, only creators who happen to be Christians.”
  • “If we let down our guard and consider any direct Christian purpose to our stories, we’ll end up becoming (gasp) preachy.”
  • “So let’s just focus on creating good things and let anything ‘deeper’ just happen on its own.”

If the pragmatic teach-first-then-fake-“imagine” approach is “pure moonshine,” as Lewis said, then we might call this response a weaker, watered-down moonshine. In fact, it represents another notion that Lewis specifically disavows in his “Sometimes Fairy-Stories” essay.

Three main reasons make this clear:

First, Lewis isn’t writing this essay solely to explain his Narnian behind-the-scenes. He’s exploring a larger theme about the creative process.

Second, Lewis is speaking about how a creator, including himself, starts a healthy creative process—but says the process doesn’t finish there!

Third, Lewis speaks not just of using one’s imagination, but explores the story-creator’s role at three overlapping stages: Author (imagining), Author (giving Form), and Author as Man/citizen/Christian.

Even C. S. Lewis’s phrase for an author’s first imagined images, “the bubbling,” gives form to this concept by describing it with a vivid image (and Lewis keeps building on this helpful metaphor).

Story stage 1: ‘The Author’

Lewis starts his essay by dismissing “the renaissance ideas of ‘pleasing’ and ‘instructing.'” That is, he isn’t interested here in the related question of whether the created work is meant to entertain or to teach. Instead he says:

All I want to use is the distinction between the author as author and the author as man, citizen, or Christian. What this comes to for me is that there are usually two reasons for writing an imaginative work, which may be called Author’s reason and the Man’s. If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.4

This sets the tone. Lewis is clear that he does want Christian creators to think not just as “the author as author” but also “the author as man, citizen, or Christian.” He’s calling the serious creator to consider not only the imaginative life, that is, the part where you get pictures and start giving them form. Lewis wants us to explore the author’s responsibility as a person. Lewis calls this Man, and loads into the label a biblical definition of a human being who has been redeemed by Christ for a higher purpose.

From here he talks about “the author as author.” This is the fun part.

As an author (or creator), you’re inspired to create something. You get images, usually unbidden, by using your imagination. Lewis speaks of “the bubbling,” what he calls this disorganized array of ideas and pictures. He says this initial creative rush is like the feeling of being in love.

Only then does he give a personal example about his own images: the faun in the wood, a witch on a sleigh.

Yet Lewis does not stop there!

Story stage 2: ‘The Form’

Lewis says of the initial outpouring of images and ideas:

This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with a longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play, or what not. When these two things click you have the Author’s impulse complete.5

Story-making doesn’t end with the images alone; otherwise you would have no story that others could enjoy. The form starts to organize these images and give them purpose. For the first story in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, he said the fairy tale was a perfect form for “what’s to be said”:

As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e. became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections, and ‘gas’. . . . The fairy tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.6

Lewis doesn’t explore this here, but this idea of “the form” fits perfectly with God’s original creation of the world.

Genesis 1:2 says “the earth was without form and void.” Then God intervened. Over six days, he gave his new world its form. Finally, on day six, he breathed into a living, physical form that would reflect back his own image, the imago Dei.

Then God calls his created humans to imitate his behavior by stewarding the Earth’s resources (Genesis 1:28). That is, men and women will act as God’s royal regents in God’s world, using God’s stuff to make stuff. They must take a luscious garden, and cultivate soils and plants and spaces. They take raw minerals and polish them into gems (the same kinds of human-shaped gems that later feature in biblical descriptions of heavenly cities). Later, they take true-life stories, and re-sort their elements into imaginary stories.

Such a concept long predates Lewis: the idea of cultivating our world. We take God’s gifts, and we train one another, share knowledge, and reshape these resources. For a story’s author, we don’t leave our images “raw” and hidden to ourselves. Otherwise we would have no story! We polish them, reshape them, turn them into stories proper—stories that can be shared for the benefit of many other people.

This is no sacrifice of creative freedom. It is an embrace of creative freedom. In Lewis’s case, he found his chosen form, the fairy tale, a great liberation for the potential of his images. It is through discipline, organization, and limits that any story finally breathes the breath of life.

Story stage 3: ‘The Man’

Finally we come to the moment that may surprise some Christian creators. Yes, C. S. Lewis does believe in expressing faith through imagination by intention. Yes, he does believe in “saying something about Christianity to children” on purpose. And yes, he does believe that in his creative case, while “at first there wasn’t even anything Christian about [his images], later “that element pushed itself in of its own accord”—and by his willful design as a Christian person!

Remember, Lewis has spoken of two earlier creative stages: the imagining of images, and then the cultivation of these images into a Form. These are the tasks of the “author as author.” Now comes the author’s final identity. Lewis calls this “the Man,” and associates this label with the terms “citizen, or Christian.” The first term represents a Christian creator as member of the community (or city, or country, or humanity altogether). The second term indicates the creator’s position as a new man—a person redeemed for Kingdom mission by Christ.

For Lewis, this identity of human/citizen/Christian is just as essential to making the story:

Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could. . . .

That was the Man’s motive. But of course he could have done nothing if the Author had not been on the boil first.7

Yes, Virginia, Lewis did want to create stories to “say something about Christianity to children.”

Lewis did eventually want his images, given the fairy tale form, to teach Christian truth.

You can affirm that fact about his stated motives, and yet reject the “Sunday school associations” that stifle our imaginations, or ruin authentic emotional response to the gospel. Lewis didn’t insist on some artificial, inhuman divide between imagination and truth. He stated that his own stories started with images and grew into a form, and then Lewis found these stories’ human/citizen/Christian purpose in helping “all these things,” biblical truth, “appear in their real potency.”

How does Lewis’s creative structure help Christian fans?

In this podcast episode, Zackary Russell and I suggest some specific lessons this teaches Christian story creators. Yet these truths apply far more broadly to Christian fans of amazing Christian-made stories. Lewis’s creative structure may help us grow beyond some cliches about creativity. He can also help us find, enjoy, and support the stories by Christian authors who don’t get stuck in false imagination/truth divides.

First, we need to grow beyond the impulse to apologize for enjoying stories that have overtly human/citizen/Christian purpose.

Second, we need to expect that Christian creators are not just split-apart imagination-machines, but are also Christian, human citizens.

Third, let’s expect great Christian-made stories to begin as embryonic images. Then we must also expect them to walk as upright “forms,” then mature into “adults” with clear Christian purpose. Neither Lewis nor Jesus Christ expects some false either-or purpose. It’s both/and.

Finally, let’s review and clarify Lewis’s quote near the essay’s beginning:

. . . There are usually two reasons for writing an imaginative work, which may be called Author’s reason and the Man’s [reason]. If only one of these [reasons] is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first [Author’s reason] is lacking, it can’t [be written]; if the second [Man’s reason] is lacking, it shouldn’t [be written].8

God the Author created his people. Jesus Christ the Son of Man saves his people.9 As Christians made in God’s image, we reflect all these identities. Therefore, in all our creative pursuits, we must reflect the Author as Creator and the Savior as Man, practicing our form-cultivated imaginations to share his beautiful truth with one another by design!

  1. This article is inspired by our recent Fantastical Truth podcast episode 35: Did C. S. Lewis Say It’s ‘Pure Moonshine’ to Create Stories that Teach Christian Truth?
  2. My copy of this essay comes from a collection called Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. You can likely find this essay itself printed online, even in full form (of questionable legality). Just search for a distinct phrase, like C. S. Lewis “pure moonshine.”
  3. C. S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said,” collected in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, edited by Walter Hooper.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. And of course, the Trinity’s third Person, the Holy Spirit, works “behind the scenes” to accomplish God’s purpose.

Evaluation Phase-Spec Faith 2020 Fall Writing Challenge

We want all the entries, even those that came in at the deadline, to have a fair shot at the finals, and an opportunity to receive the same kind of evaluation as the entries that came in earlier last week.
on Sep 28, 2020 · No comments

The Spec Faith 2020 Fall Writing Challenge is now officially closed to new entries. However, the evaluation phase continues. Why, you may be wondering. Why not close the contest to new entries and put up the poll so we can vote on the best one?

The answer is simple. We want all the entries, even those that came in at the deadline, to have a fair shot at the finals, and an opportunity to receive the same kind of evaluation as the entries that came in earlier last week.

Please take time to read and give your evaluation of the ones you haven’t seen yet. I’m speaking to myself here, because I have not had a chance to read and give feedback to all of them. You’ll find all the entries in comments to last Monday’s Challenge post.

Remember to indicate which you like best (no limit) by hitting the thumbs-up button, then reply to the entries with helpful comments as you see fit. In your replies, tell the authors what you like about their story or give them constructive criticism which might benefit them (whether you choose to give a thumb up or not). Remember, no thumbs down, please. Such negative feedback doesn’t help a writer know what they need to work on, so it is not helpful.

Next week I’ll announce the three finalists, based on your thumbs up during this evaluation phase and those given last week as the submissions came in. From those three finalists, I’ll create a poll, and we’ll vote for a winner.

The drawback of a readers’ choice challenge is that it might turn into a popularity contest. On the other hand, we need reader feedback for the challenge to be successful. With both these facts in mind, I think the best answer is for Spec Faith visitors to connect with family, friends, and followers (our share buttons make this quite easy) and encourage their fair and unbiased evaluation (as opposed to, “Vote for mine—you don’t really need to read any of the entries,” which I’ve seen from some other contests).

Thanks ahead of time for letting others know that their feedback is a helpful part of the contest.

And special thanks to each of the authors who shared their work with us. We have a nice variety. What fun reads!

To find the entries, follow any of the links in this article (such as this one)—the entries are in the comments section of that post. You might consider reading them last to first.

Fiction Friday: Brand Of Light By Ronie Kendig

There’s a price on her head, and it has everything to do with the brand on her arm.
on Sep 25, 2020 · No comments

Brand Of Light by Ronie Kendig

INTRODUCTION—BRAND OF LIGHT, The Droseran Saga Book 1

Winner of the following:

  • 2020 Realm Award, Science Fiction
  • 2020 Alliance Award, Reader’s Choice
  • 2020 Carol Award, Speculative Fiction

Synopsis
There’s a price on her head, and it has everything to do with the brand on her arm.

Tertian Space Coalition has blessed every planet in the quadrants with high technology, save one: Drosero. But in spite of their tenuous treaty with the ruling clans, TSC has plans for the backward planet. And they’re not alone.

After a catastrophic explosion, Kersei Dragoumis awakens in a derelict shuttle, alone, injured, and ignorant of the forbidden technology that has swept her into a nightmare. The brand she’s borne since childhood burns mysteriously, but the pain is nothing to that when she learns her family is dead and she is accused of their murders.

Across the quadrants, Marco Dusan responds to the call of a holy order—not to join them, but to seek a bounty. Gifted—or cursed—with abilities that mark him a Kynigos, a tracker sworn to bring interplanetary fugitives to justice, Marco discovers this particular bounty has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with prophecy. One that involves the hunter as much as the hunted.

– – – – –

EXCERPT FROM BRAND OF LIGHT BY RONIE KENDIG

PROLOGUE
KALONICA, DROSERO

The tap, tap, tap of rain drilled into Achilus’s brain, holding him captive against sleep. He flopped over yet again, kicking the confining coverlet, and stared into the darkness. Would this reek-cursed night never end?

A strange light fell from the sky and glided over the rain-pebbled window. Blinking, suddenly aware of a deep thrum that had run under the rain for the last several minutes, Achilus threw off the coverlet and scrambled across the mattress. He landed with a thump on the thick run and scurried to the large window that towered over him. Rain sprinted down the beveled glass, blurring his view. He squinted after the ominous blue light that now fled the palace, as if on orders from his father. But it was not the light itself—unnatural and clearly not born of any torch—that held him rapt, but the way it moved.

Flying.

Like an aetos from Mount Kalonic, which stood guard over Lampros City. Chills wormed through his bare feet as he watched the fading illumination. Fear played havoc on his stomach. What had it been? Why was it here in Lampros City? Was it dangerous? And it stunk. He held an arm over his nose, hating himself for being afraid and it for irritating his senses.

Blood and boil! Must the reek be so rotten?

“Riders!” came a shout from the watchtower. “Riders from the cliffs!”

Achilus stilled, breath trapped in his throat. The cliffs—that was the direction of the light! But people out in the rage of the Kalonican storm? The matter must be urgent. Pulling his unwilling gaze from the now-black night sky, he craned his neck to see the portcullis. Bushed onto his tiptoes. If he were just a little taller, a little older, he could see who disturbed his father’s sleep at such a late hour.

“Open the gate!”

Cursing his age and height, Achilus wished himself older. Father promised when he was ten Achilus would be present during receptions. Which meant he could stand by the great fire pit in the solar as the intruders presented themselves. Surely their news must be terrible for them to tempt the peril of the hour and storm.

At the clanging of chains raising the gate, he pressed his nose to the window. His breath bloomed on the leaded glass, fogging his view. With a grunt, he swiped it with his sleeve, looking past the raindrops sparkling like crystals. Torchlight scampered across the bailey. Shadows shifted but he could discern nothing save the drenching rain.

Noises in the hall yanked him around. Achilus threw himself at the door, catching the knob. With a light press against the brass, he eased it open. In the hall, Father’s broad shoulders faded as he descended the stairs. The sadness and anger trailing him drew Achilus into the open. Straining to discern what prickled the hairs on his neck, he stared into the recesses of his brothers’ rooms, darkened by the night. What had he—

A shadow moved toward him.

Cold dread chilled Achilus. Braced, he pulled in a breath and watched the shape glide across the black floors.

“Archilus?”

Air whooshed from his lungs as his younger brother shuffled closer. “You should be in bed, Silvanus.”

Rubbing an eye, his brother grunted. “The banging woke me.”

“Go back to the nursery. Check on Darius.”

He swatted at the air. “Aw, all that baby does is sleep. I don’t know why we needed another.”

“Go back. Now!” Jaw jutted, Achilus waited until his brother started for the nursery. Voices from the grand foyer turned him. He tiptoed to the balustrade and glanced over the rail. Two golden aetos twisted in battle glared at him, their tangled shapes set into the marble floor.

He descended, the smooth rail guiding him down the twenty-four steps. In the great hall, that chatter rose to a dull roar. Heart racing, Achilus stopped on the last step. Many voices. Many . . . smells.

Fear choked him. “I am in my own home—the castle, for boil’s sake! There is nothing to fear.” Jaw tight, he left the safety of the stairs and inched toward the great hall, breath harnessed.

Swirls of cool air slammed him, freezing Achilus just across the threshold, while his gaze swept the room. A whirl of black erupted—a man. Large. Eyes black and fierce. Shoulders larger than the great pit! Achilus gaped. By the Ancient, he looked as big as a Zeev! Long black cloak matched his pants, belted tunic, and hair slicked into a queue down his back. A faint blue glow came from his him—no, his wrist. Something he wore gave off dim light.

The man leaned toward him.

Though everything in him screamed to run, Achilus stood rooted. Balled his fists. Lifted his chin. Fury or friend, he’d fight.

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO—RONIE KENDIG

An Army brat, Ronie Kendig grew up in the classic military family, with her father often TDY and her mother holding down the proverbial fort. Their family moved often, which left Ronie attending six schools by the time she’d entered fourth grade. Her respite and “friends” during this time were the characters she created.

It was no surprise when she married a military veteran—her real-life hero—in June 1990 and recently celebrated their 30th Anniversary. Despite the craziness of life, Ronie finds balance and peace with her faith, family, retired military working dog VVolt N629, and Benning the Stealth Golden a short train ride from New York City.

Ronie has a deep love and passion for people, which is why she earned a degree in Psychology from Liberty University. Ronie speaks and teaches across the country and mentors other writers.

Let’s Talk About Race and Racism. White Supremacy Versus “White Supremacy”

Some are using the term “White Supremacy” with a new meaning. This post explains why I don’t think that’s a good thing.
on Sep 24, 2020 · 19 comments

For several weeks now I’m been promising a post with the title of “The Rise of White Supremacy,” saying that will be the next post. But I’m not there yet. In fact, God knows if I will ever arrive at writing such a post–perhaps I will cover the issues involved in other ways, getting there piece by piece. But even though I won’t write the post I planned, I do want to talk about the words “White Supremacy.”

This series so far mostly is based on the history of the world leading into the history of the United States. But this post stems more from personal history–well, personal recent events. Though I will reference history.

NPR

I have been doing quite a lot of travelling recently–I’ll mention why later in this series, God willing–and as I travel, I like to listen to NPR. That’s “National Public Radio” for people reading this living outside the U.S.A.–it’s a bit like the BBC but less apolitical, more left-leaning (though NPR broadcasts a “BBC News Hour,” which I enjoy).

NPR has been talking quite a lot recently about race, racism, racial justice and so on. I’ve been listening, thinking, evaluating. “Are they saying something true or not?” is how my thinking goes. Sometimes I do the same sort of listening with Conservative talk radio. For whatever reason, I find this much more mentally engaging and interesting that listening to music–and when I drive, being mentally engaged helps fight off doziness.

Anyway, NPR has had on black artists talking about their perpectives on race, also Hispanics or Latinos (or “Latinx” is the term NPR uses quite often) talking about similar issues. And Asians talking about being Asian, economists talking about wealth disparities according to race, continual mention of COVID 19 outcomes being different according to race, and so on.

I listen and apply things I know to the conversations as part of evaluating the accuracy of what’s said. For example, let’s take on the issue of a higher percentage of black people getting sick with COVID. More black people live in cities than is typical for white people–and more use public transportation. There are historical reasons for that–a migration of black people away from the South in the mid-20th Century, seeking then-abundant manufacturing jobs in Northern cities, lead to black people living in cities at a higher frequency than white people. The public transportation systems in most U.S. cities were created in the 20th Century by generally left-leaning people who saw public transportation more enegy efficient (in 21st Century terms, as having a “lower carbon footprint,”) in addition to helping out disadvantaged people. So more black people, on average, ride busses or trains or subways to work or elsewhere than white people.

People living in crowded cities, traveling on crowded busses and subways, in close proximity to one another, are more likely to get sick. This must be a major aspect behind racial disparities in regard to COVID 19. It’s not the whole story–unequal healthcare coverage is there too as is the fact fewer black people in America’s cities work jobs where they can telecommute than white people living in the same cities. Note, I never heard any guest on NPR mention the role of public transportation, though they did mention healthcare and jobs. Perhaps someone did mention public transportation and I happened not to be listening at that moment, but I have heard many references to healthcare and types of jobs. Which is not wholly wrong, but is misleading.

So I often find shortcomings with NPR coverage. However, they are not totally wrong–sometimes they point out things I would not otherwise know anything about.

A Conversation About “White Supremacy”

Last night a male interviewer was talking with woman who offered strong opinions related to Critical Race Theory on NPR. It would have been so much more helpful to this post if I remembered her name, but I don’t. Besides, I am in general much more interested in what is being said than who is saying it. (I did a brief Intenet search for the interview and found a reference to Barbara Smith who wrote an article for The Nation, but I am not sure she was the person being interviewed last night.)

A protester holds up a sign during Black Lives Matter protests in New York City. (Ron Adar / Sipa via AP Images)

The woman was explaining why “systemic white supremacy” is a better term than “systemic racism.” She felt in effect that “systemic racism” doesn’t strike everyone as being as much of a serious issue than the term “systemic white superiority.” She also talked about the need for a sort of Marshall Plan to eliminate “white supremacy”–hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, if not even more than that, to combat the different outcomes that fall along racial lines (Barbara Smith wrote an article on this subject, for sure). A plan nobody would enact unless they really take this issue very seriously.

You may have noticed that I’m putting “white supremacy” in quotes every time I use it in reference to what the woman I heard speaking say. I’m not being sarcastic here. Sarcasm is very much unlike me–I’m Mr. Very Sincere. Not 100 percent of the time, but close.

The woman being interviewed wants to use a term for the purpose of getting an effect. The effect being to totally transform our society, which she reasons will not happen unless people take the issue with utter seriousness. Which will not happen unless we use sufficiently strong terminology. OK. I get what she’s saying. But there’s a problem with her reasoning.

Actual White Supremacy

In the list of people I referenced in last week’s article about Scientific Racism, you get to names like Georges Vacher de Lapouge, Madison Grant, and Lothrop Stoddard, who openly advocated things like keeping races separate, suppressing immigration, engaging in eugenics to weed out unfavorable characteristics (including racial-based eugenics), and whose writings inspired the Nazis to literally go out and slaughter those they deemed to be inferior.

Modern white supremacists have lost much of their power, but they still burn black churches, defile Jewish graves, long for a race war in which white people will triumph (in their imagination), and are a dangerous fringe movement. Yeah, not every white supremacist is a bomb-tossing lunatic. Some are more rational, calm, and deliberate…and are rationally, calmly, and deliberately planning for how white people will resume colonial control of the entire world and will suppress people of other races.

Historical white supremacy really did feed into some of the reasons why there are racial disparaties to this day. It’s what I had planned to talk about with the “Rise of White Supremacy” post. Segregation was a big deal and its effects are not over yet. Likewise lynching and other violence against black people. It was done systematically in the history of the United States. The U.S.A. has changed a lot, but not all the way. But even if it had totally changed, the effects of actual white supremacy from the past still linger in our society. But that is not the same as our society being a white supremacist nation now.

It is not the same to live in a society that has in some ways favored white people, sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally (as in the public transportation example I used) as it is to live in a white supremacist society. Because “white supremacy” means something and it isn’t what the woman I heard on NPR says it is. Ask someone who lived in Nazi Germany to explain, especially a Holcaust survivor–some are still alive today.

The Danger of Conflating Terms

I of course realize that surely the woman I heard interviewed must know that Nazi Germany is not like the U.S.A. in many important ways. Though perhaps she might indeed say we have the same illness the Nazis had, but only in a less virulent form.

But that’s not what I heard her say in the interview. In the interview, she said the term “white supremacy” was better becasue it would strike people as a more serious issue. Who knows, if confronted with my reaction to what she said, she might change her tune or explain more fully in a direction I didn’t grasp. But even if she did, I think she said something true for other people.

People are using “white supremacy” in our country today not because they believe we are exactly the same as true white supremacists like the Nazis–but because they want to achieve an effect of mobilizing people, rallying people to their cause.

Intellectually I have a problem with that related to word definitions. If we call the situation in the United States today–and other places in the world like the U.S.A.–a condition of “white supremacy,” what shall we call the people actually plotting to destroy all non-white races? Super-duper white supremacists? Actual, like, no-kidding white supremacists? The terminology gets problematic. But there’s worse.

The Danger of Overreach, D&D Hysteria as an Example

The most serious problem with semantic overreach is not that it leaves us devoid of terms to talk about real white supremacists. The real danger is while some people rally to the cause of fighting racism because of the term “white supremacy,” others are turned off by. They in effect become hardened against helping resolve the lingering effects of racism, more hardened than they otherwise would be. Through over-use of a phrase, many people poo poo the idea that there’s any problem to deal with at all.

It’s a bit like the Chic tract I read about Dungeons and Dragons years ago. It claimed every Dungeon Master was a Satanist. I had been a Dungeon Master myself, so I knew that was nonsense. Many other people saw the claim was nonsense, too. However, that doesn’t mean a game with references to magic, gods and goddesses, but no references to the God of the Bible might possibly have an effect of pointing a person in the direction of modern Paganism. But the effect would be subtle, not guaranteed, not direct. It’s an effect worth talking about and worth considering–worth countering even by particular Dungeon Masters I know who are Christians who do things like have quests who explore the Seven Deadly Sins (for example). It’s a situation that should neither be ignored, nor over-stated.

But by overreaching, almost everyone I know mocks the idea that D&D ever influenced anyone in the direction of modern Paganism. Yeah, there are still a few true believers, but the false information, the semantic overreach, effectively steered people away from seeing there’s any truth to any problem at all.

In fact, “every Dungeon Master is a Satanist” is more ridiculous than “the United States is a White Supremacist nation.” The U.S.A. in fact went through a phase that was strongly white supremacist, though of course not 100 percent.

Nonetheless, blanket declarations of “White Supremacy,” while convincing to some people, strike others as nonsense. So they “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and deny there’s any truth at all to systemic racism.

But I would say systemic racism is not fictional–it’s just subtle. Worth fighting, but not the only issue our society faces. Worth treating seriously, but it’s not wise to inflate it into something bigger than it is. Note, the biggest predictor of your income is not your race but your parent’s income and how they raised you–yes, whole generations are born into poverty in the United States and stay there, yes this often falls along racial lines. But it doesn’t always. Generational poverty among white people also exists. We should ask “why?”

Conclusion

To deal with real problems, we need to correctly identify what those problems are.

Overreach, claiming stuff many people will see as hokum–that runs the risk of strengthening the hand of actual white supremacists…which is why I’m against it. While at the same time, I’m against seeing racism broad enough to call “systemic” as hokum…

What are your thoughts?