Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jesus was no zombie, God was no necromancer

Okay, I have no idea if anyone finds my MBotF liveblogging interesting, but this post is just using that as a starting point. So bear with me and I'll be in broader territory soon enough...

Right now in Toll the Hounds, there is a lot of to do over a newly created God called the Redeemer. A few books back, a human soldier basically took all the sins of one of the undead demihuman races upon himself, died in the process and was reborn as a good.

However, since this is a fantasy novel, filled with cruel, distant, vengeful, whimsical or semi-retired gods, some of the characters are wondering what sort of god takes all his followers' burdens upon himself without demanding anything of them.

This is a weird development, since the universe these characters exist in is unrelentingly pagan in outlook. A few people get a pleasant afterlife, but a lot of them (including some of our heroes) end up as ghosts, or chained to an endless rolling wagon pulled by the souls of the dead or utterly annihilated from existence (even in a metaphysical sense). Just like the tragedy of King Lear is worsened by the fact that, in pagan England, Lear and Cordelia won't even face a better fate in the afterlife, so much of the death and destruction in the Malazan Book of the Fallen becomes more powerful. 

This is also a strange step because when I think of sword and sorcery or epic fantasy, there is either no religion or a bunch of pagan religions that might superficially resemble modern day faiths (but only superficially).

I wonder how much of this is down to the influence of Tolkien. After all, despite his deeply held faith, he refused to inject Christianity into Lord of the Rings (or at least overtly). Contrast this to C.S. Lewis, his contemporary and sometimes friend, who has Santa Claus show up in Narnia to accompany Thundercats Jesus. [I'm sorry, I think Lewis is a enjoyable writer and I have fond memories of the Narnia Chronicles, but only a child would find Aslan a subtle stand-in for Jesus].

I'm also sure that some of this is fallout from the 80s, when anything that smacked of darkness and magic (heavy metal, Dungeons and Dragons) was accused of satanism. I doubt that it was only religious parents that felt this way (even some agnostic or mildly religious families probably thought Ozzy Osbourne and Gary Gygax were encouraging suicide or the occult) but you merely have to surf the RPG blogosphere for five minutes to hear stories about church ladies taking Keep on the Shadowfell away from high schoolers. And as for metal (or punk or anything that wasn't "She Loves You") ...just watch a couple Behind the Music segments on Ozzy or Judas Priest, or listen to Jello Biafra's monologues on the PMRC.

I think it's pretty apparent that people suffered scorn from other sources than adults (parents, church leaders, teachers) for their hobbies, but bullies or girlfriends or peers can't actively keep you from playing a game/reading/listening to music. I also think that this is why so many people involved in speculative fiction or RPGs or alternative/metal/punk are dismissive of religion in general. Their development as adults and fights for independence are tied up in what they see as a struggle against religion. There's nothing like over-bearing, un-Christianlike Christians for creating overbearing, contemptous atheists/agnostics (and vice versa, I'm sure). 

And frankly, I think it has hurt both sides, poisoning discussion, turning bright and creative people against their faiths, and depriving lonely and misunderstood people of a place that is supposed to be a shelter for the lonely and misunderstood. 

I know I didn't feel the sting of this so much, personally. I didn't get into RPGs until college and my parents were fine with me checking out whatever books I wanted from the adult section at the age of 10 (including Stranger in a Strange Land). I have had conversations about the music I listen to and (weirdly enough) the Simpsons, but they've usually worked out well. *

It probably also helped that I was Catholic and our church (i.e. St. Francis of Assisi in NC) was not obsessed with the Bible as a literal Word of God.  I get the impression that all the Evangelical churches that obsess about the Earth being created in six days forget the fact that the Bible is full of metaphors, allegories and parables. 

More later, probably...

*I still remember getting Nas' Hip Hop is Dead and Sweeney Todd: The Original Cast Recording when I was home for Christmas a year ago. I was listening to Nas in my old bedrom when my mother came in to ask me something. She immediately said something along the lines of, "I can't believe you like that". I put in Sweeney Todd and she was fine with that.  Once again, Nas album about rap moving beyond drugs, violence and acquisitiveness = no. Musical about cannibalism, murder, and rape that suggests the world as a charnel house untouched by God = yes. The medium is the message, I guess.

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