Saint Death, second book in my Reagan Moon, paranoir series, has made it to the semi-final round of the Alliance Award voting. The Alliance Award is sponsored by Realm Makers and is a reader’s choice award, which makes the nomination even more special. In order to vote, you must be familiar with 2 of the books on the list. The voting for the Alliance Award is closing THIS WEEKEND! Sunday, April 30, is the last day for readers to vote. For those of you who have read Saint Death and are familiar with one of the other titles, you can vote by going HERE. Your readership and support is much appreciated!

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In a recent post entitled The Non-Partisan Author,  Dan Balow, President of Gilead Publishing, expressed what is a fairly common sentiment about writers keeping their mouths shut regarding politics.

The political environment has been toxic for author branding since the Internet debuted over 20 years ago, but has gotten significantly worse and more dangerous as social media grows in the last decade. When expressing opinions became as easy as a mouse-click “like,” authors entered a danger-zone.

Unless your author brand includes political commentary, or a focused societal issue, it is probably best to stay away from political expression in your communication. Even a “like” can be a problem to some of your followers who might leave you because they disagree.

The divisive political environment across the entire world makes it tempting to express yourself and take sides, simply because you so easily can.

But again, unless your author brand focuses on political interplay, or a focused societal issue, it would be wise to consider refraining from commenting on them.

Balow’s stance on this issue is uncontroversial. Many writers adopt this position, choosing to simply shut up about politics altogether. Why? Well, mostly to sell books. Which is also Balow’s bottom line:

The question is simply this; do you want to sell books to anyone and everyone, or just to those who agree with you on everything?

While some might quibble with this, labeling the “Non-Partisan Author” as a sellout, I don’t have a huge problem with the approach. I mean, in the public sphere, we are constantly navigating our interactions with others. Whether it’s your workplace or your neighborhood, sometimes it’s simply better to keep your opinions to yourself. Nothing wrong with this. I don’t need to air my thoughts about everything to everyone I meet. Same could apply to the novelist. Besides, I want to write books that entertain, scare, or inspire, not preach and propagandize.

Nevertheless, a couple very important things are worth considering here. One has to do with religion and the other has to do with social / political conservatism and the state of the art industry.

First, does “non-partisanship” apply to one’s religious beliefs, specifically Christian beliefs? Talking religion can be just as volatile as talking politics. So should the Christian novelist keep her mouth shut about her beliefs in order to not offend someone and sell more books? Yes, talking politics will lose you readers. But at some point, talking religion will cost you readers, too! Compounding this are the biblical injunctions for believers to not put their light under a bushel, but to speak up, testify, and proclaim the good news. No, I’m not talking about turning our fiction into a religious tract. However, there’s some things that novelists should not be silent about. Their religion may be one of them.

As a Christian, and a publisher of Christian fiction, Balow is already branded. Which is why I appreciated novelist Jon Del Aroz’s response to Balow’s thoughts in a lively post entitled The Trad Pub Mindset on Christianity.

It’s interesting seeing this [opinion] from a Christian literary agent/author. Already, with the branding of Christian, he has turned off a large segment of the population who doesn’t want any reminder of Christ or God in their lives. That’s already a controversial stand, and unfortunately when it comes to artistry, that brand has come with a scarlet letter of “L” for lame when it comes to the entertainment market. It may not be warranted, but it is what people see from the outside, and if the concern is about turning off a large swath of the market, that would be the first step to avoid. If you’re labeled a Christian Author, and published by a Christian Publisher, you have that brand riding with you, you have that divisiveness built into your career. You’ll be expected to be in a corner with the other lame Christians, not to be out in the world or in public discourse, because you should only be talking in Church about such things. That’s what the world tells us. 

…This mindset comes from the relentless push by secular society that good Christians should “turn the other cheek” by never speaking out. It’s what led to a complete decay morally and culturally of our society over the last few generations, as every few with any sense of artistry have been willing to stand up for Christ, produce good work, and say “hey, we’re on a wrong path.”  Part of it is because of the non-believer or Churchian induced guilt trip that we should be turning the other cheek, the other part of it is a fear of turning off people who don’t agree as Mr. Balow mentioned. 

The fear is what forces people to stay silent.

I’m pretty sure Balow would not suggest that a believer turns the other cheek (meaning “keep their religion to themselves”) in order to sell books. In fact, he admits that some social / political issues require us to speak up. Balow again:

There are some societal problems where any reasonable Christian or moral person should stand united.

Human trafficking is evil and wrong.

Child pornography is evil and wrong.

Killing people for their religion is evil and wrong.

Terrorism is evil and wrong.

We could come up with many more with very little thought.

But this still doesn’t mean you should venture into the political arena.

So some social / political issues ARE worth engaging. In fact, this may be especially true for the Christian novelist. Will taking a stand cause you to lose some readers? Probably. Is it worth it? Depends. Perhaps it simply comes down to what beliefs and causes one values as important enough to possibly lose readers over. I mean, speaking up about the abortion industry might cost me readers. But not speaking at all may, in the long run, cost me more.

Which brings me to my second observation:  The state of the art industry may demand that novelists who are socially / politically conservative actually need to speak up more.

It doesn’t require a close look to see that the arts — film, fiction, music, etc. — are largely driven by liberals and liberal causes. Just recently, I read about an alternative band, The Lumineers, who donated all the profits from their show to Planned Parenthood. Of course, most of the reportage was celebratory. Did they lose fans over this? Maybe. I have one of their albums and frankly, after this, don’t plan on buying another. Either way, I’m guessing that the band’s gesture did nothing significant to damage their fanbase. If anything, they gained some new pro-choice followers. But really, this is fairly typical of the music industry and their love for liberal politicians and liberal causes. Likewise, the predominance of progressive ideology in the publishing industry has been well-documented. (If you read one thing on this subject, read THIS.) A good example is the ongoing controversy about the Hugo Awards. The “battle lines” are largely drawn between those of more liberal and conservative stripe. The controversy arose when conservatives simply started pushing back, challenging the gatekeepers’ cheer-leading for liberal causes, censoring of conservative voices, and actively promoting “message” driven fiction.

My point: If conservatives and Christians DON’T speak up and push back, culture, politics, and the arts industry will continue their slide into the proverbial gutter. Remaining “non-partisan” may be good in the short term; it may enable you to attract more fans and sell more books. But in the long term, what is our “silence” doing for culture, religious freedom, the Gospel, etc.? The fact is, that the silence of conservative Christian artists is hurting the industry, the culture, and the Church. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we use our art as a megaphone for our beliefs, but that we not live in constant fear that our careers are toast if we let on about our convictions. Doing that just empowers the System.

You see, the suggestion that novelists remain silent on politics or religion is mostly aimed at conservatives. Liberals don’t really fear speaking up… because liberalism is the predominant ideological climate. Speaking in favor of gay marriage, abortion rights, open borders, gender fluidity, and free health care is not controversial in creative circles. Speaking against them often is. And this is exactly what conservatives have NOT done enough of.

All this to say, building a readership and marketing yourself is obviously a tenuous thing. Like many walks of public life, the broader the audience, the more we must temper what we say. To what degree we temper our opinions is another story. Either way, people come to fiction, film and music for what it does for them, not the political, ideological views of the artists. Of course, some of those views may or may not expand their audience. Still, a good story, well told, trumps ones political affiliation. As such, my stories are not political or religious tracts. I want to entertain, surprise, scare, and inspire readers. I don’t want to preach or propagandize through my stories. Yes, my worldview will come out. But at this stage in the game, I agree with Del Arroz that silence — whether it concerns politics or religion — may be costing us far more than just a drop in readership.

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That’s the name of the new project I’m working on. (The pic on the right is just a placeholder until a more professional cover is designed.) Aside from the fact that I’m fascinated by the intersection of pop culture, the speculative fiction genre, and religion, it’s the reception of my previous non-fiction work, “Christian Horror,” that has piqued my interest in a similar topic. Frankly, I’ve been surprised at the number of people who found my discussion on “the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre” so helpful and encouraging. Just last week, I received this email from a writer who was reading Christian Horror:

As a horror author and fan that gave his life to Christ 9 years ago, this book is packed with all of the explanations I have never been able to give words to when asked how I could love both Christ and the horror genre.

I had been published by a small press… a horror novel that was pretty grim and dark and with no real redemptive qualities. The same could be said for my short stories; while they did not promote evil, they certainly did not represent Christ, as I did not know Him.

Since then, I’ve continued to have some minor small press success (mostly Christian or faith-based horror). I have a new novel being released in June through another small press and am finding that while I’m still not at the success level I’d like to be, Christ has been rewarding me through my writing. He’s connected me with some great writers that have motivated and encouraged me (namely James Rubart and Robert Liparulo) and I’m continually amazed at how He can work through even horror writing.

I’ve had the Christian horror discussion many times, with believers and non-believers, writers and non-writers. And man, oh man, I wish I had already read your book. It’s not only better equipped me for those conversations, but has also given me more motivation than ever to continue trying to establish myself within this sometimes polarizing genre.

So again, thanks for your amazing book.

Wow! This is the kind of thing that keeps us writers going.

While the sci-fi genre may not be as openly loathed among evangelicals as horror, there is still a great deal of animosity and apprehension towards it. James A. Herrick, in his article Sci-Fi’s Brave New World, notes the profound impact that science fiction has had on shaping contemporary thought and even spiritually, saying,

…science fiction has played a disproportionate role in modern myth crafting. The genre has profoundly shaped not only the entertainment industry, but Western spirituality as well.

Indeed, much of sci-fi’s influence has been counter to that of a “biblical worldview.” While some more conservative believers have gone to extremes in their suspicion of the genre, others rightly note the influence of humanistic, pantheistic, atheistic, and anti-religious themes in much sci-fi. In their interview with sci-fi veteran John C. Wright, the National Catholic Register asked the author to “give some examples of successful portrayals of spirituality in classical science fiction and contemporary pieces.” Wright responded,

Hmm. Very difficult, because there are so few. All science fiction books are spiritual descendants either of HG Wells, a socialist atheist, soft SF that mock religion as a sham, or of Jules Verne, who wrote hard SF, where religious ideas do not come up at all.

Science fiction has always been leery of religion.

This animosity or suspicion continues to this day. David Laughlin at Answers in Genesis’ Science Fiction: A Biblical Perspective cautions that,

Although science fiction has predicted a number of useful technologies, the genre is permeated with unrealism, humanism, occultism, New Age philosophy, Eastern mysticism and evolutionism which are of no value in the real world and are condemned in the Scriptures. It is because science fiction has its roots in evolution that the false belief systems mentioned have emerged and thrive in the genre.

A high percentage of scientists have been inspired toward their profession by reading science fiction during their youth. Unfortunately, they are also influenced by its evolutionary worldview.

So is sci-fi antithetical to a biblical worldview? Must we tread with extreme caution when watching or reading sci-fi fare? Is the deification of Man or Technology, or an Eastern view of the Cosmos lurking behind the veneer of most contemporary sci-fi storytelling? Are there religious themes in science fiction that support a biblical worldview? How do believers writing and working in the genre incorporate their beliefs into their storytelling?

Like Christian Horror, I hope to divide this work into five main sections:

  1. Religious Themes in Science Fiction
  2. Science Fiction Themes / Elements in Scripture
  3. Evangelical Culture and the Science Fiction Genre
  4. Christian Science Fiction—Towards an Apologetic
  5. Objections to Christian Science Fiction

Likewise, I think it’s important to clarify my intentions — I am not seeking to establish a new sub-genre (“Christian Science Fiction”), but to encourage and facilitate authors of faith in fully embracing, both in appreciation of and participation in, the science fiction genre. C.S. Lewis famously said that “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.” In this sense, I am employing the term Christian Science Fiction as a catch-all for Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox believers of broad persuasion. Also, while I want to explore religious themes more broadly, this book is written from an evangelical point of view and will seek to address evangelical readers and publishers and the scarcity of sci-fi titles in evangelical circles.

Along the way I hope to discuss issues like:

  • Extraterrestrials, Sin, and Salvation
  • Transhumanism and the Deification of Man
  • Why Dystopian Themes Resonate w/ Scripture and Human Experience
  • Sci-Fi as Religion
  • AIs and the Soul
  • Bible Prophecy and Fluid Futures
  • Ancient Astronauts and Human Origins
  • Technology and the Search for Transcendence

Really, there’s much to cover and this guarantees to be a fun project. Along the way, I’ll be looking for articles, posts, essays, and books that touch on these subjects. (If you know of any, please contact me. I would greatly appreciate it.) In all of this, I am moving on the assumption that science fiction can be a powerful tool in asking questions, exploring the nature of Man and the Universe, discerning the nature of reality, and reinforcing the majesty of the Maker and His creation. Sci-fi is a genre that Christian writers should actively seek to engage.

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Apparently Donald Trump is making Doomsday Preppers out of those who once scoffed at the apocalypse.

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you must admit that the election of Trump has been revelatory. Although the U.S. economy and optimism indexes are responding favorably, other industries are lagging in said optimism. One such industry still trying to gauge the real import of the new President is the publishing industry.

Literary agent Janet Reid recently addressed the question, “Do current events affect what editors buy?” The writer asked,

In your years as QOTKU [Queen Of The Known Universe], have you see the tenor of publishing change as presidential administrations change? My agent told me last month that the fiction market has been tough — and she expects it to be tougher — because a lot of the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things the last two months.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. As I pointed out in my previous post, when comparing Democrat vs. Republican Occupations, under the category of Book Publisher, Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 100 to 0. So the notion that “the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things” since Trump’s election, is not that remarkable. Reid’s response, however, is still rather fascinating.

…we’re certainly seeing a sea-change since November. There’s no market for satire. Editors aren’t looking for much of anything that’s grim. There’s enough grim (at least to their way of thinking) on the front page of the Times.

I think we’re going to see an uptick in escapist fiction.

And I think we’re going to see a lot of Resistance Fiction, as writers begin to talk about what this new zeitgeist feels like to them.

So in the Era of Trump, satire is out, as is anything too “grim.” However, Reid predicts “an uptick in escapist fiction” and “a lot of Resistance Fiction.” While “escapist fiction” could encompass a broad swath of genres (from bodice rippers to Jack-the-Rippers), Resistance Fiction is another story. Though fiction has often been used as a tool to counter political ideas or climates, both Right and Left, Reid has a very clear Resistance in mind. The #Resist hashtag is, apparently, the one hashtag that is uniting Americans in the fight against Trump. What exactly must we #resist? Well, bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc., etc. Which leads me to conclude that Resistance Fiction is simply fiction that addresses those subjects. However, without some fairly clear attributions to the current administration, lots of fiction can probably fall under the Resistance label. Which leaves me a bit perplexed as to what kind of fiction is anti-Trump fiction.

Others see this #NewPublishingResistance in the resurgence of dystopian fiction. According to this article, Dystopian fiction has been selling like there’s no tomorrow.

Save the light reading for later. In 2017, dystopian fiction is all the rage. Gloomy classics depicting societies gone terribly wrong have shot to the top of best-seller lists like Amazon’s in recent months, including George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” prompting publishers to ramp up production decades after the books were first released. Others have followed close behind, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

So why the spike in dystopian tales? You guessed it. Trump!

Much of the renewed interest has followed the November election of President Donald Trump, which publishers and scholars say is no coincidence. “Definitely the election had an effect,” said LuAnn Walther,” editorial director of the paperback division at Knopf. “There’s fear out there about what is going to happen, and I think these predictive books are helpful to people who are looking for the dangers the future might hold.”

Never has an American President caused this much panic among publishers.

Dystopian tales have been popular for quite a while now. More recently, that interest has roots in the YA phenomenon, The Hunger Games, and the spate of similar novels that followed.  While most of those novels are typically aimed at expounding the evils of totalitarian governments, they are seldom directly tied to current political events. The renewed interest in dystopian fiction is different than the YA trend in that 1.) This trend is generated by disaffected adults (rather than youth) and, 2.) It involves older works, not new ones. Of course, at the top of the list is George Orwell’s 1984.

Shortly after the election, 1984 surged to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, fueled mainly by the political Left’s co-opting of the novel as a warning against the Trump administration. Which is quite fascinating. Especially when you consider that totalitarianism — re-framing speech codes and gender definitions, defining what is “permissible” thought, controlling media outlets, suppressing contrary opinions in science, academia, and the arts, censoring speech on campuses, growing the Nanny state, etc. — is currently more likely to be espoused by liberals, not conservatives.

In his article, The True Lesson of 1984, Nathan Schlueter describes the novel as “a warning against socialism.” He concludes,

…the person reading 1984 for insight into America’s current political situation should ask a number of questions: Which political party had a leading presidential candidate proudly declare himself to be a socialist? Which party’s president consistently sought to expand the regulatory administrative state, often by lawless means? Which party dominates the institutions of higher learning, where the possibility of truth has been consistently undermined by assumptions of skepticism, scientism, and value relativism, and where utility has replaced contemplation as the end of education? Which party controls America’s public-school system, where these same ideas are consistently promoted? Which party is most closely associated with Hollywood’s celebration of sexual liberation and sentimentalism? Finally, which party has sought to elevate the state over God by coercing private individuals to violate their consciences?

So what exactly is Orwell challenging us to #resist? Sexism? Bigotry? Xenophobia? All the more fascinating is how those on the political Left are using the election of Donald Trump as a call for this Resistance, while empowering the very structures that buttress the Party.

#ResistanceFiction has a long history. And if the sentiments expressed by many in the publishing industry are indicative, we should be prepared for more stories about dysfunctional societies and those who suffer in them. But perhaps the real question is why those stories did not seem urgent under the previous administration? One could argue that, under Obama there was a massive expansion of government, increased surveillance of citizens, targeting of conservative groups, and collusion with the media. Sure, there were nutters who framed this as evidence of Armageddon. However, the paranoia has now switched sides. The fact that a #Resistance has only now arisen makes me wonder where it was and who’s leading the charge. Then again, perhaps it’s Big Brother himself.

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Publishing-BiasIs there an anti-religious bias in publishing and the art and film industries? The answer often depends upon what side of the question you fall on. According to this breakdown of Democrat vs. Republican Occupations, under the category of Book Publisher, Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 100 to 0. For those of us who happen to be politically and religiously conservative, this is not a huge surprise. Thankfully, there is beginning to be a bit of pushback against publishers foisting a blatantly progressive agenda.

While I mostly believe that there IS an anti-religious bias in “secular” media — make that an anti CONSERVATIVE religious bias — it’s not nearly as vast as many claim. In fact, many artists of faith use this as an excuse to retreat from, rather than professionally engage culture. Which is a big factor in the maintenance of the “Christian art” industry.

That said, I recently stumbled upon a semi-pro sci-fi mag that is very up front about its bias. Crossed Genre Press is candid about its “progressive bent.” For example, in their Submission Guidelines they solicit stories containing:

  • Queer Main Characters
  • MC’s of Color
  • Women MC’s
  • Disabled MC’s
  • Science saves the day!
  • Far future
  • Stories set outside North America

Equally telling is what CGP is NOT looking for:

  • Stories based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real
  • Weak women being rescued by macho guys
  • “Science-as-villain”
  • Vampires, zombies, werewolves, Arthurian retellings, Eurocentric faeries, or ghost stories
  • Time travel

It’s hard to maintain that publishers are indiscriminate and unbiased when their submissions page flat-out says “keep your religion to yourself.” Sure, publishers are free to want what they want. Seeking to expand representation of a multicultural universe and dash steretypes can be admirable.  Besides, religious publishers do the same thing! They are blatant in vetting their stories FOR religious content. Still, I’d expect a bit of frothing if I announced that I was publishing an anti-Science anthology. The guidelines would read,

What we’re NOT seeking:

  • Stories based off the assumption that [Science’s] beliefs are real

In an age where Science has replaced Religion as our creed of choice, I’d be inviting ridicule and disdain from the smart kids. “Another anti-science conservative!” they’d bemoan. Nevertheless, here we have a publisher doing just the opposite. They don’t want stories where Science is portrayed as a “villain.” In other words, Science as Savior is a winning narrative.

Of course, you could argue that science and religion are two different things. Even though both require faith. And pitting science against religion is a narrative that conveniently services the secular POV. By requesting tales where Science is Savior and religion isn’t true, one can safely construct a god of our own design. While denying any religion theirs.

But from a writer’s perspective, seeking stories that are NOT “based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real” is problematic. For one thing, shouldn’t our religious characters act like what they believe is real? I have met very few religious folk who believe something while not believing it is true or real. I’m just not sure what kind of religion asks its devotees to believe what is fake. Furthermore, if someone believes that all religions are true, they’re essentially saying that there is no truth. Religions make truth claims. If a person believes that “no religions are real/true,” then they believe that THAT belief is true. So it’s a bit telling when a publisher wants its Science immutable, and its Religion squishy.

So is sci-fi “anti-religion”? Basing the conclusion on one indie mag is unfair. Fact is, there are plenty of religious themes in the genre and religious writers who are writing great stories. But if Cross Genre Press is any example, the only religion worth portraying is the one that no one believes is really worth believing.

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“Sensitivity Readers” — Love Your Neighbor 101 or Intersectional Nonsense?

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Last week, the Chicago Tribune published a piece about how Publishers are hiring “sensitivity readers” to flag potentially offensive content. Here’s how they framed the problem: Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized […]

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My 10 Favorite Soundtracks to Write By

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In his adaptation of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, prog-rock artist Alan Parsons employs Orson Wells to read some of Poe’s works. It’s a wonderful synthesis of lyric and melody. Against a dark orchestral background, the album opens with “A Dream Within a Dream,” which includes a reading from an […]

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Misc. Writing Updates — Feb. 2017

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The end of 2016 left me rather exhausted, but I’m finally getting back into the writing groove. The project I’m most excited about is the third book in my Reagan Moon series. It’s tentatively entitled “The Third Golem.” Here’s a brief synop: With the help of Ki, the Wayward Guardian, the Summu Nura seek to empower […]

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The God Above Gods? Limits of Polytheism in Fiction

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In response to a piece I wrote several weeks ago, Can All Myths Be Redeemed?, novelist H.G. Ferguson agrees that “myths can and should be redeemed, but there is a danger here.” Part of that danger, according to Ferguson, is “reproduction, not redemption.” More specifically, reproducing a polytheistic worldview instead of replacing it with a biblical, […]

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Morally Ambiguous Superheroes Only Reinforce Moral Absolutes

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Morally ambiguous superheroes are trending. Whether it’s Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, where no one character was unquestionably in the right, Batman v. Superman fighting each other for… I’m not sure, or Deadpool‘s R-rated schizophrenia, contemporary superheroes have apparently transitioned into our age of postmodern relativism. In ‘Spawn’ Reboot Could Refine Good vs Evil In Superhero Films, this Inverse […]

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Can All Myths Be Redeemed?

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Novelist Elijah David asks the right questions in his post at Speculative Faith, C.S. Lewis Redeemed Myths, and So Should We. Using Tumnus the Faun, Lewis sought to “redeem” what was an historically conniving character, and convert it to something less vulgar. “[F]auns in classical mythology were often far nastier than Lewis’ depiction.” Yet Lewis […]

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The Physics of Angelology

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In the Book of Daniel chapter 10, the prophet Daniel encounters an angelic superpower who arrives in answer to his prayers. However, the angel says he was “detained” for 21 days and had to be assisted by another angel, Michael, “one of the chief princes” (vs. 13). The reason for needing assistance has to do […]

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