Monday, May 15, 2017

Special Update

I would like to extend special thanks to Peter Younghusband at "Reviews by Peter" for this recent review of Harvest of Prey. Link is below 😊

Monday, May 1, 2017

Special Announcement

Up to this point, my aim has been to provide new posts every Monday. As regular readers of this blog will no doubt attest, I have not been entirely successful in doing so, particularly over this last month. I'll take this opportunity to extend my apologies along with an explanation.

Recent developments have factored into my posting schedule. This last month, I have been presented with some very real opportunities for a publishing contract on Harvest of Prey and have since completed a full revision of the manuscript for review, which was the main reason for my sporadic posting during that time. I am awaiting a final reply as I write. As announced several weeks prior, I have also begun work on my next novel Talos, which at this point I am aiming to complete by Fall of 2018.

With all this being said, I must regretfully announce that my schedule will be similarly affected for May and much of June. With prayer and reflection, I have decided to take some serious steps in changing my current employment. As my bio states, I have been working in the banking industry for three years and am at long last ready for work more suited to my natural interests - specifically an opportunity to exercise and develop my writing skills while pursuing my long-term goal of becoming a full-time author.

Over the next month and a half, I will be intensively following a step-by-step job search and self-development process outlined in 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller. I will try to keep this blog active in the meantime, but my posts will likely be fewer and far between during this period. I have every intention of returning to my regular schedule once this is complete - hopefully, I will then be in a position to accelerate and enhance this entire blog as part of something greater.

I wish God's Blessings to everyone who has read and enjoyed my writings here as well as special thanks to those who have taken the time to share their thoughts. Prayers are appreciated as I begin this transition. May we all then continue our journey through the Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Does God Exist in Star Wars?


Astute believers will immediately see this question gets things backward. A sphere of reality (real or imagined) where God does not exist is logically inconceivable - God, by definition, precedes all planes of reality as their Creator. The more proper question should be "Would God have created the Star Wars galaxy?"

Disclaimer: I obviously do not own Star Wars, and what is presented herein is entirely my own opinion. Nor does this represent an exhaustive picture of the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe - just a cursory reading of what I personally find to be relevant source material. Also, my apologies in advance to any non-Star Wars fans reading this who might get lost in the unfamiliar terminology. I have included a link to as a reference tool. 😉


Like many fellow sci-fi nerds, my fascination with the Star Wars saga began in grade school and continued and intensified through my teenage years. When I came to Christ at age 15, it abruptly halted and entered a period of dormancy for years thereafter - I was putting away many aspects of my former life at the time, and such "childish" interests (in my mind as well as those around me) seemed unworthy of a mature believer. With the rediscovery of my passion for creative writing, however, it has since resurfaced as part of a more balanced range of interests - incidentally, this gives me the ability to better appreciate and enjoy it from an artistic point of view. At the same time, I can also recognize the more problematic aspects of its underlying worldview.

Let's start with the basics. The question of origins in the Star Wars galaxy is never meaningfully addressed beyond familiar evolutionary platitudes. Nor are we ever given a complete explanation as to the exact nature and origin of the Force. Where did it come from? How and why was it divided into Light and Dark? How did death and evil first enter this universe? The creators of the Star Wars franchise apparently expect us to maintain an agnostic outlook on these questions not unlike that of Buddhism. To quote the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, in his "Parable of the Poisoned Arrow":

"It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored... until I know his home village, town, or city... until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow... until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated... until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him." 

Image: Comic Vine
This is, however, a deeply unsatisfying framework for those of us with a Judeo-Christian belief system. There's a fundamental hopelessness at the heart of the Star Wars saga's moral universe. Light and Dark are portrayed as co-equal and co-eternal, engaged in an unending struggle where each gains the upper hand at different times but can achieve no final victory - with all the continued pain, death, and suffering that entails. The ideal of a "balance" between the further implies (and the unending storyline bears out) the lack of any ultimate triumph of Good over Evil.

Image: Tee Public
The Force, as a concept, is clearly inspired by Eastern mysticism, with parallels in religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Its described nature as an "energy field" also recalls contemporary New Age spirituality. George Lucas himself was up front about its place in the Star Wars mythology (quoted from

"I wanted a concept of religion based on the premise that there is a God, and there is good and evil. I began to distill the essence of all religions into what I thought was a basic idea common to all religions and common to primitive thinking. I wanted to develop something that was nondenominational but still had a kind of religious reality."

From a spiritual standpoint, this should at the very least inspire a healthy awareness among any Christians who otherwise enjoy the franchise. Popular entertainment is suffused with many such false ideas, which we must be prepared to recognize and reject. Now, does that mean that Star Wars has no redeeming value from a Christian standpoint? Not necessarily. The entire story arc resonates with classic themes of Good, Evil, Temptation, Sacrifice, Tragedy and Redemption, all of them illustrated in vivid ways, and all of which parallel key components of the Biblical message. The fact, however, that they all center around an impersonal "Force" as opposed to the Creator God robs them of much of their power while promoting a false view of spirituality. 

With that being said, I believe it is still theoretically possible to salvage the series from a Judeo-Christian viewpoint - even with the otherwise problematic concept of the Force. I know I've raised more than a few eyebrows at this point, so I'll ask you all to bear with me. 

With the right interpretative framework, the Force can actually be rationalized as a non-mystical concept. Again, its described in-series as an "energy field" - a term drawn from physics long before the New Age movement appropriated it for spiritual phenomena. "Force-sensitives" are people born with the ability to sense and utilize this energy field - something the prequels further reveal as the result of special microorganisms in their blood. From this viewpoint, the Jedi and Sith are more like X-Men-style mutants than the magicians and sorcerers they would otherwise be. The Force is merely part and parcel of the physical laws governing the created universe in which they reside. 

Image: Sci-Fi Stack Exchange
Of course, the most obvious problem with this view is the supposedly crucial link between the Force and the "afterlife" as portrayed in the Star Wars universe. Isn't this proof that the Force is synonymous with the spiritual realm? Particularly when we consider the role that "Force ghosts" play in all three of the original films and much of the Expanded Universe?

That's obviously what the series creators intended, yes. But I still believe there's an alternate explanation. I know I'm playing with semantics here, but perhaps people who re-appear as Force ghosts are not truly "dead" in the theological sense. We first see someone become a Force ghost in A New Hope, when Obi-Wan Kenobi is struck down by Darth Vader - and he simply vanishes.
Image: Sci Fi Movie Zone
Image: Reddit
I would argue that rather than dying, he used his mastery of the Force to convert his body into pure energy - his spirit, therefore, did not experience the bodily separation that defines "death." In the Expanded Universe - both Legends and Canon - it's revealed that he learned how to do this by studying the ancient "Journal of the Whills" with the assistance of his former mentor Qui-Gon, who had previously mastered this ability (some brief exposition here - it's a uniform belief in the Star Wars universe that this is the only a person's soul to live on after death; under the scenario I imagine, it is, of course, false).

Image: YouTube
I know, I know. Qui-Gon died quite unambiguously in The Phantom Menace. But... did he? What if, in fact, his studies from the Journal of the Whills taught him how to willingly place his body in a state of suspended animation, shutting down all extraneous functions while it diverted its energies to preventing brain death? There are real life instances of people who have appeared dead for long periods only to revive later - a link to just one example is available here. His body's final transformation into an energy form might then have taken place as it burned on the funeral pyre.

Image: Phil Noto
But what about Anakin Skywalker? Didn't he also unambiguously die in Return of the Jedi? Unlike Qui-Gon, he never learned the process of becoming a Force ghost and, therefore, would not have known any 'suspended animation' techniques associated with it - and he still became one.

This is not as insolvable as it may appear. Assuming the two prior solutions hold true in the case of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, we can also produce one for Anakin. The official Canon explanation for how Anakin Skywalker became a Force ghost without prior training is that Obi-Wan appeared to him as he lost consciousness and assisted him in the process. Perhaps this involved externally inducing the suspended animation and converting his body into energy on the funeral pyre just as we imagined with Qui-Gon? The whole scenario falls into place quite smoothly if approach it with the right presuppositions.

Let's now expand all this into at least the beginnings of a Grand Theory of Origins for Star Wars. What follows is another one of my "thought experiments" you've all come to know and love. 😊

Let's assume that the Star Wars galaxy was created by God at a point long before its recorded history (which varies significantly depending on whether you subscribe to the original Legends material or the new Canon). It could either be connected to our universe in a scenario like the one I described in Other Worlds: Fiction and Reality or, more likely, exist in a separate "Narnia"-type universe. Shortly thereafter, a Fall occurred in some manner paralleling our own. A promise of Salvation was given (perhaps handed down to the original Jedi Order or its precursor), but the knowledge of it was gradually lost or corrupted over the generations until the Creator Himself was forgotten (in our world, this is basically the story of all post-Babel religious systems). The Force then became the subject of idolatrous veneration ("the creature more than the Creator"), similar to how the sun, moon, and stars were worshiped in biblical times. This produced the Star Wars saga's defining cycle of an endless battle between Light and Dark, with both the Jedi and Sith having elevated the Force into a false Deity. The only true escape from this cycle is by a return to the Creator.

Image: Imgur
I remember toying with one particular "fanfiction" concept (my version of doodling) during a slow day at work. What if a certain Jedi Master, searching for inner peace by faithfully applying the Order's teachings, instead received a revelation from God? What if this opened his eyes to how far the Order had deviated from the original Truth by using the Force as a substitute for the Creator? Perhaps he would try to share what he learned with his fellow Masters only to be rejected as the Pharisees rejected the message of Christ. What if he was expelled from (or voluntarily left) the Order, taking a large group of followers with him to form an "Israel"-type nation on a "Promised Land" planet where they await the eventual coming of a Messianic Savior (the real Savior - not that bizarre "Chosen One" prophecy so needlessly tacked on to Anakin Skywalker's character in The Phantom Menace).

Image: Wikipedia
As the release date for The Last Jedi gets closer, we've been hearing a lot of plot rumors regarding explosive revelations on the nature of the Force and of the ancient Jedi. I, for one, would love it if the series were continued in a direction that explores the shortcomings of the Force as a religious concept, ultimately revealing the existence of a Creator God. It would be one of the single most powerful plot twists I can imagine in any science fiction film ever.

Image: Master Mind Content
Realistically, of course, I don't expect anything like this to happen in a million years.

Join me for our next installment as we continue our journey through the Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Human Horizons

Image: Mamietitine

The following expands on some thoughts I initially presented in Faith and the Final Frontier and Secrets of the Ancients. First, a little bit of background.

Some years ago (I believe I was about fifteen years old at the time), my family spent the night at a minister's house during a trip out of state. Following an evening meal, we spent the rest of the night until bedtime in extended conversation with our host and several other guests. Though I had made a beginning in my faith and was awaiting baptism, I was still a teenager in a room full of vastly older adults, so I listened as best I could while contributing little to the conversations around me.

As is sometimes wont to occur in such atmospheres, the topics drifted toward current events as well as recent historical ones. I still don't remember exactly how this particular subject came up, but at one point our host mentioned the first moon landing - and then went on to relate how his grandmother could never believe that God allowed men to go to the moon. He further stated that he never tried to convince her otherwise - to this day he himself will only state "they say we've been to the moon."


Almost anyone with a remotely similar interest to my own in both fictional and real-life human space travel can imagine what I felt inside at hearing that statement. But I kept those feelings to myself (and even tried to forget them). I was, again, a teenager in a room full of adults (none of whom were invested enough in this topic to back me up had I said anything) and was still finding my way after the great Change that had occurred in my life. In many ways, I was still unsure in many ways as to what exactly I believed - or rather, should have believed - when it came to applying Biblical precepts to my life and thought. For all I knew at the time, this minister's opinion was more scripturally-based than my own.

Several years after that, I recall listening to a sermon by another minister during yet another trip. His topic concerned what he regarded as the "signs of the times" pointing to the immanent return of Christ. He spoke on this for some time. Then he concluded with this opinion: if Christ chooses to delay His Coming for any significant length of time "He will annihilate all our technology."

These are extreme and isolated examples. The opinions of these two individuals hardly represent those of most Christians (including, I would add, those within their own denomination). But they do speak to a certain unconscious mindset among many sincere believers. That is, an instinctive view that God's plan for mankind involves constricted horizons. Technological aspirations (and sometimes, human creativity itself) are often seen as something inherently prideful and idolatrous, corrupting the mind from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Technology in Genesis

This trend of thinking has a long tradition, even dating back to early Christianity. The apocryphal book of Enoch, praised by Church Fathers such as Tertullian but ultimately excluded from biblical canon on grounds of authenticity, features the demon Azazel teaching pre-Flood Man the "forbidden" arts of mining and weapon-making (see The Book of Enoch, Chapter VIII). The first-century Jewish historian Josephus (not a Christian himself, of course, but whose works have been highly influential within Christianity) censures Cain as the inventor of weights and measures ("whereas [men] lived innocently and generously while they knew nothing of such arts, he changed the world into cunning craftiness") as well as for being the first city builder. Significantly, Josephus contradicts himself in the same chapter by praising the first generations after Noah for "the good use they made of [their lives] in astronomical and geometrical discoveries" (see Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 3). Does not geometry necessarily involve the use of "weights and measures?"

Some other Christian thinkers (both contemporary and historical) have made much of the fact that the Genesis account mentions Cain's (presumably sinful) descendants as the innovators and inventors of the pre-Flood world. The (righteous) descendants of Seth, by contrast, are never mentioned to be responsible for any such achievements. The implication is that a focus on technological development implies a lack of focus on spirituality - this was the opinion of one Christian author that I had a chance to exchange personal emails with. For those interested, his book on ancient technological achievements is available here.

I would point out, however, that the description of Seth's line in Genesis has an explicitly genealogical focus that is lacking for Cain's. It's purpose is to provide contemporary readers (those for whom Moses first composed it) with a clear picture of how God's revelation was handed down to Adam and preserved over the generations until their own day. Those mentioned by name in the Sethite line likely occupied a "priestly" role more significant than whatever secular activities they would have been known for. Incidentally, some clues in this regard can be derived from the very meaning of their names: "Cainan", for example, means "craftsman", and "Methusaleh" can be translated to mean "man of the flying dart" (see Rene Noorbergen's Secrets of the Lost Races). And, of course, at least one especially well-known Sethite was directed by God to become a Shipbuilder (Genesis 6).

The fact is, the Genesis account, taken on its own, assigns no moral judgment one way or another to the inventions of Cain's descendants. Extra-biblical traditions and texts are the only source of moral analysis on this topic. While useful to the student of biblical history, they must always be taken with a grain of salt in comparison to the canon of Scripture. In fact, Jubal, inventor of the harp and lyre, held a place of honor in the ancient Israelite religion. The word "Jubilee" is actually derived from his name (see link here). I also hardly need mention the use these inventions were put to by the righteous Hebrew kings such as David.

The Tower of Babel

Many others, however, point to the Confusion of Tongues at Babel as proof that God takes a fundamentally dim view of human advancement. The supposed "proof" of this is the reason given for why building of the Tower had to be stopped: "nothing will be restrained from them which they shall imagine to do." (Genesis 11:6)

But is that really a blanket statement applying to all forms of human progress? An interpretative lens I've found useful comes from Donald E. Chittick's The Puzzle of Ancient Man

"By having a bent toward evil and assisted technologically, man in rebellion against his Creator can turn his habitat into a living Hell. I was born before World War II and remember how technology was used to torture and murder and mutilate human beings. The Nazis in Germany performed horrible 'scientific' experiments on people. Philosophical justification for these atrocities came from their naturalistic, atheistic view of origins." (p. 150)

Considered from this perspective, the Confusion of Tongues was as much an act of mercy as of punishment. Most traditions (largely derived from Josephus) tell us that the building of the Tower was an effort to establish a unified world government in direct defiance of God's command to send out independent colonies to resettle the earth. Such a regime - dominated by a false religious (or "scientific") philosophy - may indeed have achieved great technological feats, but its "accomplishments" would likely have included mass surveillance, centralized social and economic planning, eugenics, organized mass murder and (perhaps) mind control. In short, it would have permanently extinguished human freedom (thereby destroying, incidentally, the basis for any continued scientific progress).

Image: The Liberty Conservative
A world where the Tower stood?

The fact is, competing, individual nations - with all their trade-offs - ensure an "exit option" when conditions in one nation (or group of nations) becoming unendurable. By extension, if you believe in the ideals of democratic self-governance, you almost by definition have to believe in individual nations as a matter of principle. These are, after all, the concrete structures that come into existence when people end existing political ties in order to erect others more suited to their needs. In a long-term sense, we could even say the dispersal from Babel actually galvanized human development by bringing these imperfect but necessary entities into being. 

Progress vs. Decadence

With all this being said, there are still many seemingly cogent arguments within church circles about the supposed link between "technology" and moral decline. There is merit in all of them. But they miss an important element of the big picture. Almost all of the social ills we associate with technology today don't come from its advancement but rather the illusion of advancement. The innovation we've seen over the past forty years has been exclusively in computing (the mostly entertainment-oriented "time-wasting" areas that receive so much censure in religious circles). Progress has been virtually stagnant in the aviation field and most engineering fields (chemical, nuclear, mechanical, electrical, etc) (see the following article here). Many of today's generation are retreating into cyberspace due to modern culture's overwhelming focus on "safety" and the growth of a bloated regulatory state to enforce this unattainable ideal. They simply do not have the opportunity to experience the "real world" in the way their recent ancestors did or pursue the same entrepreneurial channels. The result is a widespread feeling of "unreality" that pervades Western societies (which meet virtually all their citizens' physical needs while neglecting higher ones). It doesn't take much imagination to grasp that a life spent entirely in the "protected zone" can quickly become unbearable - with purely escapist fantasies being the most immediate coping mechanism. The fact that online virtual worlds such as Second Life are now so popular should be grounds for a massive societal wake-up call: they are the only place left where many people can experience the sense of accomplishment and adventure denied to them in the real world.

Image: rgznworld

We can expect these social trends to only continue and accelerate as the world becomes ever more inter-connected and bureaucratically regimented. And the avenues for continued human freedom will steadily vanish. Considerations like these, are - perhaps more than anything else - part of the basis for my own support for human space colonization. If - God forbid - the trends around us culminated in a single world-wide government, it would be a virtual imperative. There has to be some means of establishing new nations and the "exit option" they present to anyone suffering under a tyrannical regime - or wasting away under a more insidious despotism that provides complete satisfaction of all sensual desires but no avenues for one's God-given talents. Any place on Earth, no matter how remote (the oceans, Antarctica, etc), simply would not be enough. As Robert Zubrin points out in The Case for Mars:

"... at this point in history such terrestrial developments cannot meet an essential requirement for a frontier - to wit, they are insufficiently remote to allow for the free development of a new society. In this day and age, with modern terrestrial communication and transportation systems, no matter how remote or hostile the spot on Earth, the cops are too close. If people are to have the dignity that comes with making their own world, they must be free of the old." (p. 325)

The Final Lesson of the Tower

Many Christians, even those who become writers in the speculative genre, automatically focus on the negative side of technological discoveries. Both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, for example, suffused their writings with an underlying critique of industrialism and the modern age. As a writer myself, I am no stranger to this - most of my planned works have the abuse of certain technologies as an essential plot element. But we will be doing a great disservice to ourselves - and the gifts God has given us as human beings - should we ever carry this to the point of a generalized retreat from knowledge and creation. We should continue to remember Babel as a symbol - not just of warning, but of the life of freedom, exploration and discovery the Creator intended for us as beings in His image. It is, in fact,  the exact opposite of what the Tower's builders would have imposed upon the human race. 

Image: 10 spice

I invite you all to join me next week as we continue our journey through the Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Special Announcement!

This is to announce that I have officially started work on my next novel, Talos! The tentative release date at this time is in Fall of 2018. The preliminary info and synopsis is below:


From the heart of blood and darkness, a god is born...

Four people meet at the center of a storm. 

Mourning his deceased wife and carrying the scars of life-altering injuries, former Seattle detective Ronan Church has dedicated himself to the pursuit of a killer only he believes exists...

Rebuilding her life in the wake of unspeakable loss, former Vietnamese refugee Mail Li Tran, now established in her career as a 911 dispatcher, is tested to the limits of her skills even as she faces the demons of her past...

Widowed years before and raising a child alone, Sioux Falls, South Dakota police sergeant Michael Emmerich finds a quiet fulfillment in his work. But a bizarre series of murders and threats, steadily escalating to unprecedented levels, shakes his orderly world and brings his city into the grip of fear...

FBI counter-intelligence officer Petra Schiller comes to Sioux Falls on the trail of a major security breach at the U.S. military's DARPA research division. What she finds is a revelation more deadly than anything she could have imagined...

All soon find themselves ensnared in a web of terror and violence, conceived by architects whose ambition is nothing less than the destiny of the human race...

Man will be surpassed.

If this has whetted your appetite, I am currently seeking early reviewers who will receive PDF copies of the manuscript in advance of its official release date. All such advance reading copies are free - I ask only for a detailed review on Amazon! Sign up below to be added to the mailing list today! 

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Limited-Time Offer

The ebook version of Harvest of Prey is now available for free for a limited time only from Monday, March 27 until Friday, March 31. Be sure to get your copy and tell family and friends so they can also read and review!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Chrononautics 101: Time Travel in Fiction

Image: Zamanda Yolculuk

Given the perhaps over-serious tone of my last post, I though I'd return to a lighter topic this week. Since I've already gone down one rabbit hole (see my Other Worlds: Fiction and Reality post) why not hop into another? (I can hear everyone groaning at my bad pun this very moment).

So, time travel. Where do we start? Maybe with a brief definition of terms. Technically, we are all engaged in time travel just by existing - you have all traveled into the future since reading this sentence. But this is rarely what we have in mind when using the term "time travel." Rather, it refers to a concept in fiction (and some current scientific theories) whereby the sequential process of time is alternately suspended, accelerated, or reversed - usually from the perspective of a lone observer (or group of observers) carrying the unique status of "time traveler." The functional result is that a person is able to experience events in various periods of time outside of normal sequential order as well as the limits of their own finite lifespan.

Image: La boit everte

Thus defined, we can see that, broadly speaking, there are two main forms of time travel as it appears in fiction. We can label them "forward-directed" and "backward-directed", respectively. The first concerns travel from past to future (at a vastly accelerated rate across great temporal "distances") while the latter concerns its opposite. Both have a long history in speculative fiction. In contemporary times, we usually think of the latter, but, interestingly, early time travel stories usually involved the former (as in H.G. Wells' classic The Time Machine).

Within this basic framework, things get a little more complicated as we move into methods and effects. I'll somewhat suspend judgment on the former given the debatable nature of the science and engineering involved (I invite anyone with an even remotely feasible design for a time machine to step forward and allow me to accompany them to the Patent Office).

So what are the likely effects of time travel? I speak here of the backward-directed variety given that (one-way) forward-directed travel avoids the more problematic questions of cause and effect. Fiction writers (probably the only profession so far to explore this topic at any meaningful length) have largely settled on three main scenarios, each implying a different theory on the nature of time:

Image: Nerdhappy

Fixed Timeline. This assumes that any hypothetical "time traveler" is able to make literally no changes to past events. His journey to the past is simply part of those events. Someone traveling back in time to assassinate Adolf Hitler, for example, will instead facilitate his rise to power. While seemingly the most logical (if paradoxical) scenario, it carries the drawback of largely rendering human free will an illusion.

Image: Cult TV Lounge

Dynamic Timeline. This is basically the exact opposite of the fixed timeline theory. A time traveler's intervention in past events will produce direct, observable changes in his own time period (though he himself is the only one aware anything has changed). Attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler brings the desired result of his death (though almost always with an unforeseen outcome that is worse than the original). Incidentally, this is perhaps the most prevalent theory found in time travel fiction - "threats" to the timeline and how they're dealt with form the basis for the plots involved (as in the "Time Cop" franchise). The main drawback of this theory is that it begs the question of what exactly happens to the original, unaltered timeline. Most authors simply assume it's been "deleted" and provide no further explanation.

Image: Free HD Images

Alternate Timelines. As we've seen, the prior two scenarios almost necessarily do violence to either causality or free will. This theory seems to avoid both by incorporating a version of "many worlds" multiverse theory. A time traveler's intervention in past events, rather than paradoxically facilitating the events of his own time period (fixed timeline) or changing them (dynamic timeline) results in the creation of a parallel universe where outcomes were different than in the original. The main drawback here is the association (implied, but not logically necessary) with "many worlds" theory and its fundamental overtones of meaninglessness, particularly from a Christian viewpoint (our actions in life don't matter because in some other universe some other versions of ourselves will do the opposite).

Image: GoodFon
I should perhaps mention there is also the "Dr. Who" theory of time travel, which incorporates elements of all three scenarios. Some points in time are fixed, some are dynamic, and some (if changed) branch out into alternate timelines. It's interesting in a "chaos theory" sort of way, but makes little logical sense (like much else in that particular television franchise; not a judgment, jut a statement). 

As I hope I've made clear, my purpose is not to assess the actual, scientific possibility of any of these scenarios (I regard time travel in general as slightly less possible than extraterrestrial life). My concern is simply to identify which makes the most sense within a fictional storyline - and which fits the most smoothly with a biblical worldview. I'll point out that none of them are as awkward a fit as they might seem at first. One Christian novelist I've read, Alton Gansky, has pointed out that as the universe further decays from its original perfection, time and space are gradually losing their integrity. Paradoxes and anomalies are possible and could become increasingly prevalent. Would this make time travel (in any of these imagined forms) more of a possibility? We can only wait and see.

Image: Yang Fenzi
But I digress. Which time travel scenario do I specifically favor within Christian fiction? All of the backward-directed ones have their pitfalls. For that reason, I tend to lean toward the one-way, forward-directed variety, whereby information, objects, and (perhaps) individuals would be transmitted/propelled across several years or centuries instantaneously (from their own perspective) with no means of returning to their original time period (thereby avoiding the causality problem completely). Backwards-directed "travel" could take place via a "chronovisor" device allowing people in the present to witness past events rather than participate in or change them. 

It would, however, be quite unfair of me to completely write off backward-directed time travel as a fictional device without any consideration. What follows is yet another elaborate "thought experiment" from what I consider a biblical viewpoint. Again, this is not what I actually believe, but rather a construct for any interested fiction writers.

Image: Praban Japriyan
Out of all three of the scenarios we've covered, the one I personally favor the most would be "alternate timelines" - with the following two qualifications:
  • In its "natural" state, physical reality consists of a single universe (our own) rather than an infinite number of parallel universes with an infinite number of outcomes as postulated in "many worlds" theory ("Narnia"-type scenarios I regard as something else entirely - I'm sure most Christian fantasy writers will also grasp the difference). Artificial intervention by time travelers causes a "branching off" of "subsidiary" universes from the "primary" universe. Some people would have "counterparts" in the alternate timelines, will other would never be born in those timelines. Such a "double" would, in fact, be a separate person with their own soul and consciousness - the time travel intervention causes their "birth" at the point of divergence from the primary timeline. Up to that point, they have the exact same memories as the "original" person. To an extent, the process mirrors that by which a child emerges into a separate existence from its parents' bodies - a sort of "flash birth", as it were. 
  • Certain points in the timeline are not subject to such alteration. From a biblical standpoint, these would consist of events playing an essential, immutable role in the Grand Plan of Salvation (the Garden of Eden, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, etc).
Observant readers will see that this places virtually all biblical history "off-limits" as it were. That's one of the main reasons I favor forward-directed time travel scenarios over backward-directed. But at the same time, these limitations still leave a potentially rich playing field for scenarios involving post-biblical historical events (it would also mesh well with Gansky's theory on the universe's continuing decay - we could assume that the Old and New Testament eras occurred when the universe's structure still retained a degree of integrity that made artificial time travel impossible).
I believe there's flexibility here even if we consider future biblical prophecy. Ted Dekker presented a rather original perspective on this (along with the nature of free will) in his Circle series: prophecies are foreordained of God and will be fulfilled someday no matter what; but the exact times, events and people who fulfill them can be changed through conscious action and, presumably, the power of prayer. 

With all these being said, if time travel in this manner with these consequences was possible, it would probably not be an ethical enterprise. One consideration that's often overlooked in analyzing past events is that there are people alive today who would have never been born had those events not unfolded the way they did (even atrocities such as the Holocaust). Time travel would, therefore, almost necessarily involve the creation and destruction of human lives as a means to an end in a way similar to human cloning. 

Image: Movie Pilot
What a time traveler would ultimately become? 

This would, however, still provide a fertile ground for fictional plots - perhaps involving a villain seeking to create numerous alternate timelines for their own twisted ends and the protagonists trying to repair what damage they can. God is, after all, capable of bringing good out of man's evil - Pharaoh's evil facilitated Israel's journey into the Promised Land. Similarly, human clones and alternate timelines could be used for God's purposes even though He would not condone the actions that resulted in their creation. 

So there we are. That's my ridiculously complicated, over-analyzed, a priori perspective on time travel (in fiction) from a biblical worldview. Just a little something for other fussy writers like myself who feel irresistibly compelled to pursue every fantastical subject to its logical conclusion in the name of an ever-illusive "plausibility". I neither expect nor enjoin every fiction writer (Christian or otherwise) to adopt this model in their storylines, but I hope it can at least provide some imaginative stimulus.

Image: The Daily Beast
I invite you all to join me again as we continue our journey through the Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Faces of Evil: Totalitarianism in Fiction

This post grew out of a comment I made on back in January. This, as well as the original article I responded to, are available here. The subject regarded the use of Nazism - and fascistic ideologies in general - as a sort of stock villain in popular culture. The archetype of the Hitlerian dictator (and his regimented followers) is in many ways just as prevalent in contemporary speculative fiction (perhaps even more so) as the concept of extraterrestrial life. Imagined antagonists in this mold include the Galactic Empire of the Star Wars franchise, General Zod from the most recent Superman movies, the United Citizen Federation featured in the Starship Troopers movie, and myriad other villains found at various times within every major literary and cinematic series with fictional plots involving a political theme. If anything, the increasing distance of time from the original historical events has only fueled the cultural obsession. Amazon's original TV series The Man in the High Castle is wholly based upon an alternate timeline in which the opposite side emerged victorious in World War II (which seems to be the predominating plot throughout the entire genre of alternate history).
Image: Imgur
Officers of the Galactic Empire

Image: Green Ark Reviews
General Zod and his followers on Krypton

Image: NeoGAF
Sky Marshal Dienes of the United Citizen Federation

Image: Rapcea
Lady Liberty circa 1962 from The Man in the High Castle
I'll take a moment to state that I have many objections to popular entertainment on moral/spiritual grounds that will be familiar to anyone of a similar religious background. But as a fiction writer in the speculative genre, I have additional criticisms that go beyond blanket rejectionism. The entertainment world today (both written and visual) is not just profane and indecent, but profoundly lacking in both originality and genuine imagination. The plot of any major Hollywood film or television series is virtually always based upon recycled, predictable cliches derived from the same political correct sources. Stories in written form are usually better quality but suffer from a similar lack of intellectual diversity. Speculative authors, writing in what should be the most imaginative genre in existence, do a great disservice to their readers by lazily borrowing tropes from their Hollywood counterparts. While this criticism is primarily directed at secular writers, it also applies to the Christian fiction market - much of the content of which represents an attempt to produce nothing more than "cleaner", "safer" version of familiar mainstream storylines. I can sympathize with this effort and in many ways I support it. But Christian fiction as a genre is going to essentially nowhere if it's always waiting for its secular counterpart to produce original plots and then playing "catch up" by taking these very same plots and sanitizing them.

Image: Leo Peo
How most Americans picture Nazism - it usually doesn't get any more sophisticated than this. 

I've gone off the track a little bit, so I'll return to my original point, which is also my main one: Nazi-inspired villains have been used so many times in so many different venues that the concept has lost all originality and become little more than a cartoonish caricature. Few writers show any interest in seriously examining what Nazi beliefs actually consisted of beyond the familiar platitudes about race, militarism and eugenics. How many people are aware of its deep connection with socialist ideology (links available here and here) or radical environmentalism (link available here)? Or that Adolf Hitler's genocidal hatred of the Jews was based on a paranoid belief that they had created the capitalist system (see 'Nation and Race' chapter in Mein Kampf) - which is the basic story of anti-Semitism (and similar hatreds) throughout history (link available here)?

Polar opposites? Hardly. 

Why do most writers show not the least bit of curiosity when it comes to these details? For secular authors, the answer is fairly obvious. Given that artists and writers since the 20th century have overwhelming subscribed to a so-called 'progressive' political outlook incorporating many of these very same ideas, these kind of facts would directly threaten their pre-conceived worldviews. But many Christian writers show no higher level of interest. The classic Zion Covenant historical fiction series, for example, spends nine volumes telling the story of World War II and the Holocaust without once touching on the socialist aspects of the Nazi regime or its ideas. To be fair, the historical materials they doubtless relied on carry the same blindness (most contemporary historians adhere to the same preconceived ideas as most contemporary artists and writers). You have to dig deeper into the primary sources to find this kind of information. But in many ways, just that kind of digging should be implied in the craft of writing.

Victims of the Khmer Rouge

This brings me to an additional point. The overwhelming reliance on Nazism as a model for fictional villains obscures the fact that there have been other, just as significant, sources of evil in human history. The obvious one in recent times would be Communism, an ideology far eclipsing Nazism in the sheer number of its victims alone and causing just as nightmarish levels of human suffering. But Communism has nothing like the cinematic image of Nazism in popular culture. As it appears at all, it's usually with an instinctively sympathetic portrayal. Even those who do not subscribe to Communist ideology generally regard it in the light of 'good idea, poor execution'. Much of this is due to a sentimental tendency of modern times to consider ideas by their hoped-for results rather than their actual process or consequences. But I would add that most actual Communist leaders and ideologues did not have good intentions from the very beginning - I would further recommend a biography of Mao Zedong as just one example. There's an additional wealth of source material available to any fiction writer who cares to explore the crimes - and murderous ideas - of Communism. Just a few are included here:

The Gulag Archipelago - Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Black Book of Communism 
Death by Government - R.J. Rummel
Murder of a Gentle Land - John Barron and Anthony Paul
The Russian Revolution - Richard Pipes
Lenin: A New Biography - Dimitri Volkogonov
The First Guidebook to Prisons and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union - Avraham Shifrin

Felix Dzerzhinsky 
This man founded an organization as brutal as the German SS. How many of us have ever heard his name?
The primary distinguishing factor, of course, is historical events (had these been different much else would doubtless have followed). Nazism vanished from respectable intellectual discourse following military defeat and ideological repudiation at the Nuremberg Trials. Communism never experienced anything similar (there was no parallel in post-Soviet Russia or the rest of the former Warsaw Pact to the "de-Nazification" campaign waged by the Allied Powers in occupied Germany). Postwar images of it have been shaped accordingly.

Image: Public Radio International
This is bizarre and offensive. 

...but this is OK?

I'm not saying that all (or even most) fantastical stories must be parallels of reality. But the speculative genre (both secular and Christian) commits a profound act of self-impoverishment by drawing inspiration from only a single aspect of history. I think it's high time we started giving all of it's monsters their due imaginative representation.

I invite you to join me next week as we continue our journey through the Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Other Worlds: Fiction and Reality - Addendum

Lo and behold, it looks there is a writer out there more motivated to pursue this topic than I am. He has an entire blog and book devoted to it, and he's a fellow Young Earth Creationist to boot! Check it out.