Monday Musings: Purgatory, Punishment, Purification, and Plumbism

Purgatory is a doctrine I usually have little trouble with. It is merciful in its own way, as one no longer has to either deem a sin meaningless or damning. Imperfection is a option.

Punishment, on the other hand, is not so simple. It has always been a topic no one feels comfortable discussing–or, rather, when someone starts eagerly talks about suffering is the time everyone slowly inches away and looks for the door. Some attempt to have a God that never punishes, or punishes only with Hell, and create a unjust god, not the one described by Scripture. Yet I find it icky nonetheless, as if God cannot be satisfied with an apology, but must continue harrying over something that can no longer be changed.

Purification, too, seems lame. As if God is not satisfied with punishing, but will never get off your case about that thing long ago. How easy is it to throw the word around–particularly in the same breath as a cliche of Job and hope, and how God will never give you anything you can’t handle, hope you feel better I’m praying for you goodbye–and not once has anyone ever celebrated that they are being purified. Perhaps the past tense, but waking up in morning praying for purification seems about as likely as waking up in the morning praying that the cancer will recur. Or the one who stands atop the roof, boasting of all the bad things in their life that God is so easily rubbing clean–a new form of Pharisee, the tax collector who boasts of being more repentant of that scribe over there.

Plumbism is the silly-sounding name for a very serious condition: lead poisoning. A child might eat some paint chips, or even be exposed to lead unaware–and their fault or not, their life is in danger.

My mother’s old nursing textbook mentions that applying two of the common chelation treatments (EDTA and BAL) every four hours for five days results in a total of sixty injections, for a child perhaps still in preschool. If any parent were to punish their child with sixty injections–for what they might not have known was wrong in the first place–we would rightly call them abusive. But it is not a punishment–said textbook notes that this must be communicated to the child.

The mystery of suffering is ultimately a mystery. But I believe there is a category of suffering that results from sin but is not punishment for it. This category encompasses greater sufferings, perhaps, then any rebuke. God is not abusive, whether or not the sufferings are far beyond any that a just being could countenance.

The Melancholy of Heaven

Are martyrs sad?

Standard answer: no. They are in Heaven by definition, and “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Any suffering they may have experienced is over, forever. Further, they will bear no ill will towards their tormentors, but rather pray for their conversion.

I agree. Generally.

Fifteen chapters earlier in Revelation, we read a less famous verse. “…I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had upheld. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge those who live on the earth” and avenge our blood. 11 Then each of them was given a white robe and told to rest a little while longer…” This is hardly the ideal of kind, forgiving martyrs, who have forgotten that nasty business about horribly dying in torture.

(Thus the hazard of reading the Bible. It may contradict one’s beliefs.)

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Don’t ask “What if Jesus was aborted?”

It is unlikely enough that your interlocutor is a Christian in the first place if he supports abortion. The moment the word “Jesus” leaves your mouth, Holy as it is, the pro-abort who is used to verbal warfare with Christians will simply raise his barriers least he hear even of Christ. The neutral onlooker will note you down as another annoying slogan-slinger using His Name as a battering ram, and the fellow warrior on your side does not care to hear of this tired phrase. It is simply bad tactics, if it was ever a valid one in the first place.

Ask, rather, “What if Osamu Tezuka was aborted?”

I pick his name out of the many who have lived full lives on Earth, for those of you who have not even heard of him have seen his works. He is called the God of Manga in Japan, the defining author who set the standards of Japanese cartooning and defined an entire genre of genres, opening the gates to thousands upon thousands of future creations following in his style. His works even lead outside of Japan, to those who have been inspired them across the world.

Had he been killed before birth, none of this would have happened.

*

I hear the objections already, and I will deal with the two non-objections first.

First is by those who do not like manga, anime, or anything animated originating in Japan, or homages thereof. So what? Others have. I have yet to hear the argument seriously advanced that because someone in the future won’t like your art, you yourself should stop, and should in fact die now. (Actually, I have, but I hope that those who say these things do not truly mean murder by their words.)

Second is by those who say that I had no reason to think Osamu Tezuka was in danger of abortion before his birth in the first place. So what? Our generation’s Osamu Tezuka, this moment in the womb, is in such danger. I ask if these people truly believe that anyone who has ever been threatened with the possibility of death before birth is therefore barred from any future success or ability to change the world for the better in the future. I hope they do not. Such beliefs lead to a form of hell in this life.

But, now, three arguments that, prima facie, appear to have merit.

Someone else would have invented this stuff!

Possibly, or possibly not, depending on what you mean by “stuff.”

Purely technical idea, such as drawing in perspective and Djisktra’s Algorithm, are inherent to nature, and therefore would occur to anyone as surely as the numbers four and five do. In this sense, are we not indebted to those who did discover these things? Possibly, though I don’t see why anyone would go to college if one was honored for reinventing the wheel in every generation.

But perhaps we mean that technical gifts are all there is to the world? The world would be as empty as a cathedral without ornament or stained glass, then. The moment the first brush is set to the first canvas, and the first drip of paint touches its surface, we have seen someone new and never-re-creatable enter the world.

More particularly, even the technical aspects of an artist’s work, or that of any figure throughout history, are contingent. Have you ever gone to a bookstore and seen a fantasy book? What we call “fantasy” in its modern form, with elves and dwarves and dragons, is mostly a series of homages to homages to homages to Tolkien. Had Tolkien not written of multiple races living together, I doubt we would have anything like our standard ensemble of heroic parties containing members of multiple cultures and races united against one dark lord.

OK, but what technical aspects are there to fantasy of all genres? I hear the shouted question from the back of the gallery. Many. Have you ever complained that a fantasy world’s fictional history is unbelievable, its languages clearly made-up nonsense, its quests and prophecies and riddles easily seen through, and its magic self-contradictory? Those very objects presuppose there is a nature of fantastic literature that must be obeyed. Theses technical aspects are not only unique to fantasy qua fantasy, but other genres, such as westerns and mysteries and romances all have their own unique technical aspects, which their progenitors decreed and its modern ancestors disobey at their peril.

But someone else would have made something just as good!

No. This is purely false. This is what Christians call a heresy and moderns call a delusion.

There are multiple forms of this, which are only facets of the same shard of glass proclaiming itself a diamond. “Some other idea would come, replacing this, replacing it so well we would have never noticed!” “See, this would happen again somewhere else, for your soul would arrive somewhere else on the Wheel of Life should you die too soon in this world!” “God would not let this gift go to waste–it would go to someone else!” All these voices are but the many whispers of the devil.

Exaggeration? Hardly. Let’s go one by one.

“But some other idea–”

Consider the genre of giant robots fighting other giant robots. There are western giant robot battle films. The idea of giant robots is not limited to the cartoons of Japan, stylized by Osamu Tezuka as they are. Surely those great artists who thought of giant robots and their violence against one another would have thought of it anyway.

Suppose they did. Where then, would be Mobile Suit Gundam, and its children of realistic space combat? Where RahXephon and Evangelion’s strange mix of mythic symbolism and monster battle? Where all the variations on these themes of themes, harkening back to the aching call of the past, that idea which we see and so desperately try to save a glimpse of before the abyss: proud machines like walking giants standing in a ruined city, fighting to the death.

They wouldn’t be anywhere. By definition, these ideas could not have come to be, just as much as you would not should one ancestor not have begotten another of your ancestors.

Here the second heresy, the more enjoyable, the more comforting: that we are as eternal as God. That even if we should not have lived, some idea, some spark of our essence, would be preserved, for it was never perishable.

Nope.

The logistical problems of reincarnation aside, it is false because it proposes a view of the world which is contradictory with that which we have. Of all the people you have heard of who believed, however sincerely, to be Napoleon reborn, how many have conquered France and declared themselves Emperor? You would think that Napoleon’s infamous abilities of leadership would be present in all of his other lives. If they do not, then how is it supposed to be Napoleon? Some faint memory of power, while everything else about this claimant to the throne of the Emperor of the French is different? Or is it simply false memories and wishful thinking.

But rejecting simple reincarnation is not enough. Some hint comes to us, the third claim, that these things are granted are simply granted to us because we are there to receive it. This is demonic on many levels, but I will only examine one.

Take any famous book or show. The Hunger Games. Star Wars. Sword Art Online. Each of them, had I been Director or Author or both, would be entirely different, starting from the same premises! In fact, The Hunger Games shares most its premise with Battle Royale, any space opera (and many other genres beside) could claim similarity with Star Wars, and the super-serious-online-game genre of Sword Art Online is shared by many other works, including one called Log Horizon which at the moment of writing is neck-and-neck in popularity on Crunchyroll, where both are available.

Yet, every single work I’ve cited is different from all the others.

Even, for a more “scientific” comparison, use Batman from depiction and Batman from another. In fact, the very fact I can phrase this sentence shows their differentiation, though we all agree exactly on the concept of Batman.

So what? God can then give the same idea to multiple people? It’s not the same idea. My vision of any premise is different from your premise, and even giving us the same things to work from we will make different works. To deny this is to deny causality, for it would mean that two different causes cannot lead to different effects.

Okay, but it doesn’t matter. The woman is more important than whatever art, because more art can always be made, if the art mattered in the first place.

And here we get to the meat of the matter.

In the womb, Osamu Tezuka could not be distinguished from any other child. Am I claiming that every child will effect the world as much as Osamu Tezuka. Yes, in some way.

To believe otherwise is infinitely more absurd. To believe that we can judge the value of all the life of a person we have never met, and all their unknown deeds spiraling forever into eternity, is to claim the prerogatives of God with none of His Attributes.

The variations on this theme are equally insane. This child will grow up in poverty, and therefore will do nothing of note, we are told. This child will grow up without a father, and therefore will do nothing of note, we are told. This child will grow up unwanted, and therefore do nothing of note, we are told. This child will have terrible quality of life, and therefore will do nothing of note, we are told.This child will grow up to live outside the womb only for a moment, and therefore do nothing of note, we are told.

We are told these lies by the Devil, the father of lies.

Go on, now. Find the poverty-stricken, the fatherless, the unwanted, the sickly, even the parents of the child who lived but a few seconds in their arms. Tell them they are worthless. You cannot? Then those words are pure lies.

And this is the truth: that all are wanted, all are needed, all are irreplaceable, never to be seen again in this world the moment of their death.

This is the truth: That all life is worth it.

On treating persons as objects

Normally, I’m not one for making this kind of post, but I’m making an exception, a first exception, for this.

Today’s culture treats persons as objects. Not “sometimes”. Not “usually”. The very nature of today’s society refuses to recognize people (that vague plural mass) as distinct individuals but instead as objects.

This was not always the case, (and if it was, civilization would never have been born.) Nor is this the first time in history that human beings have become human things—ancient cultures did not limit their sacrifices to animals. Nor is it true that all cultures of the present day dehumanize humans. But it remains true that today’s culture, the whole western world it seems, no longer treats men, women, and children as men, women and children.

By objects I mean that people have become less personalities with infinite depth and more a collection of properties. You are not a person, you are a white male Republican. You are not a person, you are a welfare queen. You are not a person, you are an illegal immigrant. You are not a person, you are rich. You are not a person, you are a fetus. You are not a person—and so the list goes on.

Opinions do not matter, except to label objects to dismiss them from having a point. Beliefs do not matter, except to label objects and dismiss them as against what is right and good—as we see fit. Emotions do not matter, except to label objects as to what medication should be applied to it. Physical state does not matter, race does not matter, ability does not matter. Charity does not matter at all, for this society cannot conceive of agape, and dismisses it as some kind of malfunctioning machine, or some secret motive, or something, anything, other than true love.

As for what this means, it means that society is not by and for the people, it is by objects and for objects. And objects can be anything. By money and for money, by idols and for idols, by ideas and for ideas. It no longer cares for anyone, only except as they fit into the machine.

I cannot believe that there is only one cause for this, one tipping point that turned this society into an abomination. There must be more than one, and I can think of two.

The first is lust. Lust in all its forms turns love into mere attraction, mere self-gratification. It is a horrible corruption, even if it is the least of the Seven Deadly Sins. Lust in modern society is that of consequence-free sex, “love-making” without love or making. Contraception is where it started, divorce, porn and abortion is where it has only begun to end.

Now, saying that contraception is at fault for the ills of this world is more than merely controversial, but I am not afraid to stand with Pope Paul VI on this. Sin lies, and the first lie it tells is that all things are permissible. The first step is to divorce marriage from procreation. The next, marriage from sex. The next, marriage from any form of objective reality. (Note how the antagonists of the traditional family rarely admit to the objectivity of marriage. “It’s a marriage because we say it is,” they say. Then why do they require that society recognize what they say?)

I say it begins to ends in divorce, porn, and abortion, because we have not hit the bottom yet. I have trouble imagining what could be worse than no-fault divorce, but I am sure someone will figure out a worse way to ruin marriages and harm children. But as for porn, the lax limits on what is permitted by human law will decay. (If you think that something like child porn will never be legalized, consider that one porn company was making child porn in the 1970s.) As for abortion, the logical conclusion is killing older and older children whenever their parents tire of them.

In all of this, persons have ceased to be persons. A prostitute is not a person for the one who pays for her, nor is the porn star. Nor is the fetus, nor is the child or the spouse in the divorced household.

The second reason for the loss of personhood is greed.

The free market is commonly blamed for the present economy. Capitalists say that the lack of a free market is to blame for the present economy. I say it is greed, no matter its form. Greed is an even worse corruption that lust, for “the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” When persons become less personality and more tool, then they have ceased to be human in the eyes of those who use them. And least it be thought that this is the fault of corporations or governments or their wretched combination, be it noted that only the owner can sell. We would not be used if we did not let ourselves be used. (Yes, even slaves have a choice of letting themselves be truly dehumanized or not. There is an infinite difference between the man who must work or be beaten and the man who wants to work so he can buy a shiny car.)

Greed is one thing when it is done by a person. It is another when it is institutionalized. The moment the first bailout passed, we went from the rule of law to the rule of money. See how intertwined money and power have become, and tell me this country is not corrupt rotten by greed.

As for the other five deadly sins, they are also at fault, but I can’t imagine they are as much at fault. Nearly every form of objectification in modern society has to do with either lust or greed, though I am certain this is not for lack of effort on the devil’s part. But no, these two sins have become embedded in our society like poison arrows, and will one day, if not treated, will kill it.

And how will we treat it? We must start with ourselves. For I, too, am guilty of this. It is much easier to live with only one person in the entire universe, and better yet, zero. A person has responsibilities; an object does not. An object may be abused for whatever reason; a personality may not. An object only exists, a person must worship God.

Spaceships in Fantasy fiction.

The War Against the Gods is a fantasy series. It also has spaceships.

Several drafts ago, the world of tWAtG was a set in a world of shards suspended in the ether. Special etherships would travel from shard to shard, as well as (what else?) dragons. Fortunately or unfortunately, I couldn’t quite make the physics of it all work*, as well as certain other spoilery reasons came up, and so it was axed.

I still wanted to have ships though, so now we have spaceships in a solar system, with magic added.

The problem, usually, with mixing high fantasy and scifi together, unless they’re in conflict, is that  is that that you end up with something resembling neither. Yes, I’ll enchant my rocket to make it fifty times lighter, and then strap a seven-league boot to its nose, so I can skip past all that rocket equation nonsense. Or, oh, you have a spell that will kill all life on earth? That’s nice, but I’ll just drop this here asteroid on your dark tower.

In practice, to avoid this, either the magic makes the science irrelevant or the science subsumes the magic under it.

In this series, the magic wins out. Though, it obeys its own natural laws, so I guess science has the last laugh?

Anyway, the spaceships are propelled by magic, but then we have the problem of Newtonian physics: namely, the space bombardment problem. This is fine if you want to have big explosions, not quite so fine if you want to have hand-to-hand combat on the steps of the palace.

In a previous draft, I solved the problem with point defense: ground buildings would simply shoot the objects out of space. Looking back, I realize this would not have solved the problem of sufficiently small rocks accelerated at a fraction of c, but there were other problems. I was inspired to consider that the mechanical adding machines** required to react fast enough didn’t fit the story either.  So I did what any good SF/F novelist does when encountering an intractable problem:

I “borrowed” someone else’s idea.

In The Mote in God’s Eye, space battles are kept from devolving into one shot, one kill, by adding the Langston Field, a sort of forcefield. Dune has the Holtzman shields to have sword fights in a SF novel. Neon Genesis Evangelion has the A.T. field to explain its mecha/cyborg things.

My version is called an aura: a field created by a stargem or a star weapon that is near-impenetrable by objects traveling at high speeds. The higher the speed, in fact, the harder the aura is. The easiest way to get past an aura is to easier to simply bring another aura to cancel it out. It is also possible to bombard an aura with enough kinetic energy, though this is more difficult. Auras have capacitance: the aura grows stronger linearly as more ethereal power is pumped into it, and it does not decay.

This means, in practice, that if I spend three stargem hours accelerating an asteroid towards your dark tower, and your defense aura has been up for three hours, the aura will just break—but so will the asteriod.

Smaller, weaker versions powered by ethereal crystals also exist, called psuedoauras, though they only last for so long.

Thus, space bombardment is impossible for anything important, and as a side effect, single combat becomes even more reasonable, as archers cannot pick off warriors with auras or psuedoauras from a distance.

Here’s to hoping this will fix things.

* It’s not as if I actually went and wrote down a physics textbook describing new laws of physics, but I’d like things to make some modicum of sense. For example, does a small shard have the same gravity as a large shard, and if they’re both at a standard 1 G, why? What about ships traveling between shards? Do otherwise normal laws of physics apply? Are there atoms? Does gunpowder work? et cetera.

** I refuse to have computers. Computers are one step too far for the series. I’m still thinking of ways to keep them out.

Assassinations, Just War Theory, and lower-case gods.

Their mission was simple: the capture or destruction of the false god known as the Regent of Breezes.

This was my first first line of my new novel. As the line suggests, the story is about a war against false gods, and what better way to start it than with the attack on one? It was the first first line because the more I thought about it, the less I liked it, and not just because of my obsessive-compulsive editing.

The problem lies within Just War Theory.

Traditional Just War Theory prohibits assassination attempts, for a variety reasons. Among them is that assassinations usually involve treachery, which is condemned for its own reasons. There is also the possibility of civilian deaths, such as innocents killed by a bomb blast or cup-bearers poisoned. Whether there is moral justification in killing the target, presumably a military or civilian leader (neither of which is usually considered an active combatant), is another question.  Lastly, there is no guarantee that assassination will have the desired consequences. A dead hero may bring more recruits than a living one, and peace talks are obviously hampered if one party requires necromancy to negotiate with the other.

These questions remain, or grow worse, when we add forces vastly superior to humans to the mix. Namely, if a being equivalent of an entire army is on the enemy side, is it right to attack solely for its death or capture? Perhaps it is. But what if this being is not an active combatant, but merely a potential combatant? The situation quickly becomes muddled. And unfortunately, the Catechism does not have a category labeled “Bizarre Hypothetical Questions Answered”, nor does the Summa or the Catholic Encyclopedia. The last does have an entire and quite interesting section on Tyrannicide, but a quick read through shows that this instance would fall into the second category of Tyrant by Oppression.

Now, why, you might ask, do I care about Just War Theory? Why not have our heroes simply ignore it and go their own way? Certainly the Allies did not always follow Just War Theory in World War II.

The problem is that I am writing for young adults, and I want to be responsible. Having the heroes on the first page go out and violate natural law on the first page is far from that. Yet my muse insists on the death of a god in the prologue. Thus my quandary.

It occurred to me that, however, targeted destruction or capture of property has far less rules to it. While still not allowing total war, there is no reason in natural law to prevent the theft, appropriation, capture or destruction of weapons of war, all the more so given their power. For example, a targeted bombing of a weapons depot, in the midst of a just war, is morally acceptable. Thus, if the target of our heroes was not specifically a god but his weapon, then there is no room for complaint. And if, I realized, for certain spoilery reasons, the weapon was more dangerous than the god, all the more reason to target the weapon instead.

As it happens, the Regent of Breezes is still doomed, though for different, and more moral reasons.

Thus, my new, for now, first line:

Their mission was simple: the capture or destruction of the Skybreaker, a star weapon—the sixth star sword, to be precise.