I've been remiss in not mentioning this to my f-list before, but if you're looking for a thoughtful and consistently updated blog about Christianity and Speculative Fiction, with a good variety of reviews, essays and talk about the craft and business of writing SF for the Christian market, Speculative Faith is a good place to start.

And last Friday (which I foolishly chose out of a handful of available dates, forgetting that it was the weekend of American Thanksgiving and hardly anybody would be reading) I had the opportunity to do a Guest Blog for them about why I chose to write for the general rather than the "Christian" market.

Primarily of interest to my co-religionists (as Lewis would say), but there it is.


And now, more to shore up my own weak resolve than anything else, I am going to announce that December is going to be a No-Social-Networking month for me.

I have a major deadline coming up for Ultraviolet, and the more time I devote to working on that, the better -- plus, we all know how many other things go on in December, especially when you are involved in church activities, kids' music lessons, and are hosting your family's Christmas dinner.

So that's it. I am disappearing for the entire month of December, apart from checking e-mail and answering any really urgent requests that come up.

Have a great month, everybody! See you in January!
I'm over at [livejournal.com profile] newport2newport's journal today, talking about The Intersection of Faith and Fantasy along with my good friend and fellow 2009 Deb Saundra Mitchell a.k.a. [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond.

If you're interested in how two YA authors choose to approach matters of faith and spirituality in their novels, or have some thoughts of your own to contribute about the subject, come on over and join us!
Okay, I have just come across the second book review in as many days which describes how, in the course of the story, a young person involved in an evangelical Christian church is struggling with doubts and goes to their pastor, a parent, or other trusted authority figure for advice. And what they are told, in both these books, is "Don't question, don't think, just pray and believe."

To which I say, what?

Now, to be fair, I'm sure this does actually happen in real life at times. I'm sure there are places where people are that ignorant, or that lacking in confidence about the integrity of their beliefs, that honest questions and doubts frighten them and they try to silence the questioner as soon as possible. So I'm not saying this scenario is implausible, as such.

That being said, I have spent my whole life attending conservative evangelical Christian churches, and I have NEVER heard anyone say anything like this. Not from the pulpit, not in small Bible studies, not in personal conversation. What I've always heard instead is that the Christian faith is reasonable and that there is good evidence for believing it, and that people who are struggling with doubts and questions need more information, not less.

Usually this is what happens... )

When John the Baptist was in prison and began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah (and the gospels tell us quite clearly that he did), Jesus didn't say, "Tell John I'm disappointed in him for his lack of faith." He didn't even say, "Tell John to remember what he saw with his own eyes when he baptized Me -- how the Spirit of God came down from heaven like a dove and the Father Himself declared that He was well pleased with Me." Instead, He performed a number of new miracles in the sight of John's disciples, and he said, "Go back and tell John what you have just seen -- how I have healed these people before your eyes. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

And then, instead of launching into a sermon on the evils of doubt using John as an example, Jesus turned to the crowds and began to talk about how great a prophet John was. He did not say one word of reproach against John for struggling with doubt. Instead, He gave John the encouragement -- and evidence -- that he needed to regain his confidence and hope.

That is a Biblical, Christian response to doubt.

Of course, if your whole point is to write a book about how Christianity is weak and unsatisfying and poisonous to the intellect, and how much happier you will be if you abandon it in favor of some other belief (because goodness knows people of other religions and philosophies never ever struggle with doubt or dissatisfaction about those beliefs, and it's not like self-questioning and uncertainty is endemic to mankind or anything) then I guess there's not going to be much room in the book to include things like counseling and apologetics, or any Christian characters who actually possess some degree of intellect, education and integrity.

But if you write a book like that, then I reserve the right to roll my eyes at your bigotry and walk away.

Helping Haiti

Jan. 16th, 2010 10:43 am
rj_anderson: (Doctor Who - Five - Tegan Comfort)
Being currently absorbed with trying to make a very tight deadline, I didn't think I could do anything to contribute to the [livejournal.com profile] help_haiti fandom auction, and was feeling sorry about it. However, [livejournal.com profile] sinstralpride pointed out that I could offer some signed books, and then it occurred to me that I could also offer to write fanfic after all, provided that the recipient understands I can't do it until April.

So here is my thread: Pro Author Offering Signed Books OR Fanfic. Winner makes a confirmed donation directly to a charity bringing aid to Haiti, and gets their choice of books or a commissioned story in return.


On a related but more meaningful note, the very talented [livejournal.com profile] penwiper26 has continued her series of Psalm-inspired poetry with this take on Psalm 4, dedicated to the singers of Haiti. Lovely and thought-provoking, and the link to the news article made me tear up.

It always amazes and humbles me when people in the depths of sudden and unthinkable suffering can find it in themselves to praise God in song. I can't help being reminded of the apostle Paul and his companion Silas singing hymns in prison after being beaten and put in stocks for preaching about Christ; or Job in the midst of physical agony, financial devastation and shattering personal grief saying to his wife, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" and refusing to curse God and die.

Those of us who live in relative comfort sometimes argue that it's impossible to believe in a good or a righteous God when disasters like the one in Haiti happen. Yet when some of the very people who are hurting the most are the quickest to turn to God in prayer and even in praise, it makes those arguments seem a little less compelling. Or at least it does to me.
Yesterday, thanks to the kind offices of Twitter, I followed a link to an opinion piece about the recent controversy in the Montgomery County school system, where a teacher is being challenged and accused of corrupting young minds because of the inclusion of certain books in her classroom reading list.

No, that isn't what I'm going to rant about. Actually, the article made some quite good points about the dangers of judging these things hastily or leaping to wrong conclusions about the people or books involved, so there's not much to complain of there.

The column was nevertheless responsible for triggering this rant, however. Because halfway down the page I came across the following statement:

"I believe consenting adults should be able to write, publish, read or surf almost any loony material they please (with the exceptions of child pornography and nuclear secrets), just as I believe they ought to be free to worship anything from the fire-spewing God of the Old Testament to pet rocks."

Think you know what I'm going to rant about now? You're probably wrong. Actually, it was the "fire-spewing God of the Old Testament" part that got my dander up, and not much else.

Is the author of this piece (a pastor no less) actually saying that the God of the OT is completely different from the God of the NT, and one whom only "loony" people would worship? I would hope that I am misunderstanding him on that point, not least for the sake of my Jewish friends. But whether the author means what he appears to be saying or not, he's far from being the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is somehow significantly different in temperament from the God described in the New. I've been hearing similar assertions from people -- not just skeptics trying to disparage the Bible, but professing believers as well -- all my life.

And quite frankly, it drives me crazy. Because I've been reading and studying the Bible since I was a child -- I've read it cover to cover several times and studied the major books of the Old and New Testament more times than I can count -- and based on everything I can see about God's character as revealed throughout the Bible, the idea that the Old Testament God is a big meanie and the New Testament God is jolly old Santa Claus is just not true.

First, let's have a look at God's character in the Old Testament... )

Not to mention the New Testament… )

You may or may not agree with any of this: you may not think the Bible historically accurate or even in some vague sense "spiritually true". It may be that as far as you've seen, you find both the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New to be unappealing and as such, the idea that they are one and the same hardly matters.

But I do hope this rant of mine makes it at least somewhat evident that the much-touted dividing line between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New is really no wider than a single thin, rustling page... and that the God of the Bible is -- to use a New Testament phrase -- "the same yesterday, and today, and forever," whether you choose to love and trust and worship Him for it or not.
Over the last year or so I've been reading through the Bible at the rate of about a chapter a day. I just finished Jeremiah yesterday, which is a really emotionally tough book if you identify even slightly with Jeremiah*, and as I was reading the first chapter of Lamentations I was struck by a thought that's been creeping up on me for a while.

Grief is not a sin.

Well, duh, you may say. Of course it's okay to grieve. We lose people or hear terrible news or suffer disappointment, we feel sad, it would be monstrous if we didn't react that way. And I think most people would agree that this is the case.

And yet it's easy to fall into the trap of expecting that grief, or lamentation, should only last so long or go so far. Just a nice neat little grief, not too long, something you can swallow back and force a watery smile and then put your chin up and keep marching with a smile on your face. Especially if you call yourself a Christian, because Christians are supposed to be full! of! joy! and count themselves blessed when they suffer tribulation, etc.

And for this reason people -- especially religious people, it seems -- can be amazingly cruel and dismissive toward others who are hurting, by trying to pep them up with positive talk and encourage them to stop focusing on all that negative stuff, or even (the worst) condemning and shunning them if they go on grieving and lamenting past the generally accepted time period for such things.

Where does this come from? Not the Bible, that's for sure... )

Sin, and all the things that have gone wrong with our world because of sin, may be the ultimate cause of every grief we suffer, and it's true that one day all tears will be wiped away forever and that will be a very good thing. But until that happens, grieving and lamenting and suffering over sin and hardship are not just tolerable or permissible to a certain limited extent -- they're actually good and right.

So the next time you're genuinely upset over something terrible that has happened to you or someone you love, and somebody comes up to you and chirps, "Oh, well, praise the Lord anyhow!" You should feel free to punch them in the face** hand them the book of Lamentations.

* Actually, I keep thinking there has to be a YA novel in there somewhere, because God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when he was just a young teenager. I'll keep you posted if I ever figure the plot of that one out.

** See, that's why I usually talk myself out of writing serious blog posts without spending a week editing them first.

*** No belittlement is meant by the use of this term, believe me; I would gladly have used "Tanakh" instead except that some of my non-Jewish readers wouldn't have understood what I mean by it.
First, let's watch a video. No worries, it's short. If you haven't seen it before, trust me, it's well worth watching; and even if you have seen it, I think it's worth watching again.

Right. Is your mind officially blown? I know mine was, when I first saw this and realized just how unimaginably huge VV Cephei is compared to… well, basically everything else in the clip, and yet how that single star is only one among countless others in this vast universe. I mean, space is big. Really big (thank you, Douglas Adams).

Which leads me to another video narrated by Carl Sagan entitled "Pale Blue Dot", which many have found to be similarly astounding and moving:

(Or if you're tired of watching videos you can just read the text of the monologue instead.)

What interests me about Sagan's monologue is that so much of it is undeniably true – and yet there's one crucial point on which I would have to disagree. Sagan, as many others have done before and after him, looks at the sheer inconceivable size and scope of the universe and comes to the conclusion that it is simply too big, and we are simply too small by comparison, for us to believe that our lives have any higher purpose, or that there is a God who cares about us.

To which I say, wait, what?

Further thoughts... )

So while I view the video about the relative size of stars with open-mouthed awe and a chill running up my spine at the unbelievable immensity of it all, and while I am also moved by Carl Sagan's appeal for human beings to be good to each other because our world is so tiny and so alone, I can't mistake either of these things as evidence that there is no God, or that God is too big to be bothered with the needs and struggles of puny human beings.

Rather, I believe that because God is so great – so vast and complex indeed that the size of the universe is just a tiny picture of His greatness – He is also infinitely capable of noticing and caring about you and me, far more than we humans are capable of noticing and caring for even the people we love best in the world.

Which means I can watch those videos about the immensity of the universe and the apparent insignificance of the Earth and humanity in the cosmic scheme of things, and then, with no sense of irony or self-contradiction, I can tuck my children into bed and sing to them:

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak, and He is strong.


Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ' flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ' they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ' wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ' lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ' ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed ' dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks ' treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ' nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest ' to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, ' his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ' nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ' death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time ' beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ' joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ' Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ' world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-89


I am, in general, not very good at appreciating poetry. I love beautiful language, but I'm also an impatient reader; I read very quickly, and I want to catch my meaning on the fly, not have to tease it out by lingering on every sentence. However, there are a few poets that get through to me more often than not, and Hopkins is one of them. (The others, for the record, are Donne, Herbert, and Erin Noteboom Bow.)

There's something so fantastically sensuous and vivid about Hopkins: he writes like a synaesthete (I wonder if he was?). And lines like "sheer off, disseveral, a star... but vastness blurs and time beats level" send shivers right through me, even when I'm not entirely sure what he means by it. But he gets something in his poetry that few religious writers in my experience really have -- the wild, uncontainable, passionate, burning glory of God. His poetry always makes me think back to my favorite parts of Isaiah and Ezekiel, where the prophet witnesses "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God" and is completely thunderstruck, jelly-kneed, down on his face in awe because it's so huge and alien and overwhelming. There's nothing in science fiction or fantasy to compare to a scene like that; and yet some of my favorite SF&F has moments that approach or evoke it.

This is rough and random because I've had a long day, but I hope you get some idea of what I'm trying to say...?
Did you know that Easter was not in fact a borrowed pagan holiday? I did not know this -- I myself had swallowed the line that Christianity took it over from some pagan spring festival. Hat tip to Jeff Overstreet for this one.

Also in the spirit of the season, [livejournal.com profile] tree_and_leaf pointed me to this fine article by John Polkinghorne on Motivated Belief and the Stringent Search for Truth. Which in turn reminded me of this poem, "Guard at the Sepulcher" by Edwin Markham:

I was a Roman soldier in my prime;
Now age is on me, and the yoke of time.
I saw your Risen Christ, for I am he
Who reached the hyssop to Him on the tree,
And I am one of two who watched beside
The sepulcher of Him we crucified.

All that last night I watched with sleepless eyes;
Great stars arose and crept across the skies.
The world was all too still for mortal rest,
For pitiless thoughts were busy in the breast.
The night was long, so long it seemed at last
I had grown old and a long life had passed.
Far off, the hills of Moab, touched with light,
Were swimming in the hallow of the night.
I saw Jerusalem all wrapped in cloud,
Stretched like a dead thing folded in a shroud.

Once in the pauses of our whispered talk
I heard a something on the garden walk.
Perhaps it was a crisp leaf lightly stirred --
Perhaps the dream-note of a waking bird.
Then suddenly an angel, burning white,
Came down with earthquake in the breaking light,
And rolled the great stone from the sepulcher,
Mixing the morning with a scent of myrrh.
And lo, the Dead had risen with the day:
The Man of Mystery had gone His way!

Years have I wandered, carrying my shame;
Now let the tooth of time eat out my name.
For we, who all the wonder might have told,
Kept silence, for our mouths were stopt with gold.
Taking a walk on the first warm day of spring is like listening to God Himself preach a sermon on the Resurrection.

There's a cemetery near my house, and it's beautiful. Paved avenues winding up and down the hillside, shaded by pines that rise tall as cathedral spires. A mausoleum like a Greek temple. Fields of scrupulously trimmed grass, sprinkled with gravestones of every imaginable size and shape. Flowerbeds freshly turned, just waiting for the annuals that will bring them to kaleidoscopic life.

I took a walk through the cemetery and breathed in the fragrance of rain-washed earth and new grass. I listened to liquid silver birdsong, watched squirrels spiral up trees and down again, and walked carefully between the graves to visit a cluster of just-wakened snowdrops. The flat green surface of the river, sluggish after the long winter, was beginning to eddy into life. And down the long paved sweep of the cemetery hill, four teen boys were lugeing on their skateboards, full of youth and strength and the folly of spring. One of them fell off, swearing amiably, and rubbed his sore bottom as he tramped back up to the top of the hill to try it again.

My father is eighty-four years old, stooped and thin-haired and leaning on a walker. His leg bends backward at the knee and he has to wear a brace to support it; he has a tremor in his hands that the doctor says is just old age and nothing to worry about, but he cannot stop them shaking. He is largely deaf, and his hearing aids can only do so much, so he has cultivated the art of sitting quietly and with grace in a room full of conversation he cannot follow. He preaches with all the thoughtful wisdom of a life genuinely lived for God, and spends most of his days studying the Bible and talking about it with others—from the pulpit, on the telephone, in letters and e-mails and magazine articles.

As often as the weather and his own good health allow, my father walks through the same cemetery where I walked today. He has a plot there, unmarked but reserved for him and my mother whenever either of them should need it, and when he passes he hails it silently, like an old friend. And today, when I went to help him with a computer problem he was having, I found that he'd been writing up the wording he'd like to put on his gravestone.

"I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [in death], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope," wrote the apostle Paul. He also wrote, "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

My father is in the autumn of his life, and he is not afraid of the winter. He is only waiting for the spring.
First, my brother just sent me a link to this article in the Times Online by an atheist reflecting on the place Christianity has in Africa, and as the daughter of a former missionary to Uganda (and also since I've been researching African missionary work for Wayfarer), I found it very interesting.


Second, and I can't believe I almost forgot to blog this, I discovered something about my oldest son yesterday. He'd been insisting for months that Grade 3 (which he's in right now) wasAn example how a synesthetic person might see ...Image via Wikipedia "a girl's grade". I thought when he first said so that he was trying to disparage it and say that it was too easy, the way that little (and some not-so-little) boys contemptuously dismiss things that aren't interesting to them as "girly". I corrected him and told him that Grade 3 was harder than Grade 2, and he hadn't said that Grade 2 was a girl's grade, so what was he talking about? He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Of course not. 2 is a boy."

Light began to dawn. I asked him to run through the numbers from 1 to 10 and tell me what gender they were. Without hesitation he told me that 1 and 2 were boys, 3 was a girl, 4 was a boy, and so on. Then I asked him, "What color is 8?" and he promptly replied, "Orange." 7 was blood red, 6 was beige, and 1 was a color he couldn't even describe and called "googleplexia" for lack of any better name.

Ladies and gentlemen, my oldest son is a synaesthete.

Not a very strong one, mind. We did the tests on the Synesthesia Battery and he only has color associations with a very few letters and musical notes (and some people's names). He has no taste associations, and sounds don't make him see shapes. It's mostly just that numbers have color and gender for him. But still, I am delighted.


And finally, my best wishes to all my online friends for a peaceful, happy and successful 2009!
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We woke this morning to a tranquil-looking world lightly blanketed in snow. There seemed no reason that this Sunday shouldn't be just as busy as I'd anticipated – rush out the door by nine, drive out of town to our little country chapel for nine-thirty, and then a whirlwind of meetings, piano playing, rehearsing and preparing for the evening's Christmas pageant. After setting up the stage with props and scenery we'd dash home for a late lunch with kids who would undoubtedly be cranky and restless by then, and then rush out again at five for the dress rehearsal and final performance. My husband and I often find Sundays hectic anyway; this one was bound to be exceptionally so.

But then the phone rang. It was one of the elders, telling us that due to blowing snow and poor visibility on the highways, the morning meetings at our chapel would be cancelled.

I knew that if I were a really spiritual person I would feel disappointed, but all I could feel was relief. No panic to get out of the house, no expectations, no programs. Just a relaxing day at home.

My father, however, is a godly man with a much better sense that "what is essential is invisible to the eye," as Saint-Exupery put it. He immediately picked up the phone and started calling all the chapel folks who live in our town, inviting them to come and meet together at our house. So my mother and my visiting sister-in-law and I bustled around preparing tea and coffee (but that was easy because I was working in my own kitchen), and making up platters of Christmas cookies and other snacks to share with our friends. And at ten-thirty this morning, twenty people – men and women, teens and young children – gathered in our living room, opened up Bibles and hymn books, and had an impromptu service.

It was simple. It was meaningful. It was relaxed. And afterward we all stood around and enjoyed food and conversation while the kids played together. Nobody was stressed out or in a hurry.

It was really, really nice.

So why don't we do this all the time? )

Modern Christians often assume that we are better off than the early Christians were because we can meet without fear of persecution, and make our buildings as large and splendid as we like. But I'm not sure that in separating our church meetings from the homes where we live our daily lives, what we've lost isn't greater than what we've gained.

* Not my church, by the way -- just one I photographed while in Wales.
** "…the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread and prayers" – Acts 2:42
Hee! Calling the two sections of his vlog on Science and Ethics "Intelligently Chosen Talks (Featured)" and "Naturally Selected Talks (Most Popular)" -- John Lennox, ILU.

And as someone who's memorized C.S. Lewis's poem "The Apologist's Evening Prayer", I especially enjoyed this short (2 min.) video on Argumentation: An Intellectual Game?

But really all the videos on Dr. Lennox's site are worth watching, I think.
Got this link from [livejournal.com profile] wittingshire a couple of weeks ago, and thought it an essay worth recommending:

When Others Pray For Your Conversion

To take the ideas in that article a little further -- my brother recently remarked that evangelical Christianity, if it is truly evangelical, is not a fearsome enemy of non-believers but rather the best friend that (say) a secular liberal person could wish for. Because, he said, a Biblical approach to evangelism demands that the Christian maintain an open and respectful dialogue with non-believers -- and never treat them as a lost cause, or as the enemy.

The good news about Jesus Christ cannot be imposed or enforced, either on individuals or on nations; it has to be sincerely understood and received by individuals of their own free will and in response to the Holy Spirit of God working in their conscience -- things that no external influence can compel. Therefore any Christian who claims to be "winning souls" by means of threats or bullying tactics, making false promises or offering bribes, withholding sticky facts or suppressing honest questions, or otherwise distorting the Biblical message is disobeying Christ's teachings and example. Rather, the Christian is to share the message of salvation through Christ freely, but always to do so "with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience," as the apostle Peter wrote.

The danger that many secular liberals and other non-Christians fear arises when people who claim to be Christians behave in un-Christlike ways, attempting to force legalistic standards of righteousness on those who do not believe -- but a Christian who truly follows Christ's example and teaching will not side with such people, but rather against them.


Apr. 15th, 2008 12:29 pm
rj_anderson: (Fearfully & Wonderfully Made)
Okay, I am not normally in the habit of inflicting random videos of other people's moppets on people, but this is actually quite amazing. Check out this two-year-old girl -- only a couple of months older than my own toddler -- singing "The Lord's Prayer":

I'm particularly fond of the conducting near the end.
C.S. Lewis, on the Resurrection:

Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. "Rum thing," he went on. "All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once."
-- Surprised by Joy

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.
-- God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

I believe in the literal, historical fact of the bodily resurrection of the physically incarnate Son of God, known on Earth by the common name of Y'shua --Joshua -- Jesus. But I also believe it to be the climax of the most wonderful Story ever told, about the most remarkable Character ever to grace the page.

He is risen, indeed.
If a godless totalitarian government ever takes over and forces us all to celebrate Take an Atheist to Lunch Day, I want dibs on Theodore Dalrymple. Mind you, that's assuming he's still available at that point, and not locked up as a traitor to the State.

Here's a sample from his recent essay on the books of Dawkins, Harris et al, "What the New Atheists Don’t See":

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?

Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.

And another, in response to Christopher Hitchens' assertion that "Religion spoils everything":

It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.

There are plenty more gems in the essay, but to appreciate Dalrymple's honesty as well as his dry wit, you really need to read the whole thing.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wittingshire for the tip.
As a parent, I try to be fair and generous with my children, but just the same, there are times when I say "no" to their requests. And not just the kind of requests that are foolish, extravagant, or ultimately harmful -- sometimes I find myself saying "no" even when what they're asking of me is harmless or even potentially beneficial to them, just because I'm too tired or don't have the money or simply don't feel like it.

But God is not like that. Here's why... )

I say this for my own benefit more than anyone else's, because I've just had some disappointing news about something that means a great deal to me, and it's all too easy to ask why. But I know that this is not the end of the story, or the whole of it either. And since it wasn't very long ago that a similar disappointment turned into a triumph I could never have foreseen, I am choosing to wait and trust God in this matter, too.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)


On a tangentially related note, I told [livejournal.com profile] jamesbow I would write a review of his new book Fathom Five, and I still intend to. But a new deadline has come up, and right now I don't have the time to give his story the careful attention it deserves. So, until I can compose a proper review, I'll just say that it's beautifully written, with emotional resonance and an intriguing, well-executed plot, and that you should go read it (and the previous book The Unwritten Girl, which I reviewed here, as well).

And now it is dinner time.
Contentment is the understanding that if I am not satisfied with what I have,
I will never be satisfied with what I want.

I want to feel happy and confident about my writing. I want to find an agent who is excited about my work. I want to see my books in print. But even without any of those things, I have a God who is faithful, and there is no excuse whatsoever for me not to be content.

Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World's strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened
me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

-- From "The Wreck of the Deutschland" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

*goes back to revising the opening pages of Indigo, just in case*
I heard this performance on CBC Radio last Saturday and although I'd never heard of Andy Stochansky before, this song completely wrecked me. I've been waiting for it to come up on the CBC site ever since so I could share the link:

One Day *

It's a beautiful arrangement with the chamber ensemble, and Stochansky sings it with raw earnestness. The words don't contain any particular religious references -- Stochansky could be an ardent humanist, for all I know. Yet for me the song evoked all the most beautiful parts of the book of Revelation: "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing... [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Excuse me, I have to go listen to it again and cry some more.

*Needs Windows Media Player to load. WinAmp doesn't work, alas, and I also had to unselect ASX from File Types in WinAmp before it would let Windows Media do its thing.


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