Monday, February 21, 2011

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (February 2011) - Day Two

The God Hater, by Bill Myers.

Mr. Myers lays out a disclaimer in his author’s note: Then there’s that whole pesky issue of allegories. They only capture pieces of truth and are way too slippery to do much more. So, just as I would encourage you not to base your science upon this [the novel’s] science, the same should go for your theology. As I said in my novel Eli...if something doesn’t sound right or sticks in your throat, don’t waste your time reading this. Go to the original Source and see what it says.

This statement implies two things: that (a) at least some of the theology behind The God Hater may be wrong or (b) though it is not wrong, it is either confusing or contrary to the reader’s own views, in which case the reader is advised to go to the Bible and investigate the point of disagreement or confusion.

This brings us face-to-face with the constant concern of every Christian writer, that he conveys accurately the teaching of scripture on any given theological subject. Granted, there are theological truths that are difficult to understand, as Peter reveals about some of Paul’s epistles (2 Peter 3:16). And since we are not inspired writers in the same way that the holy apostles and prophets of the New Testament were (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21), we cannot guarantee that what we write is completely accurate.

Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to be as accurate and faithful to the truth of scripture as possible. If we find that we have difficulty in conveying that truth in the context of our novel, or through the imagery of its characters and events as in the genre Christian fantasy, it is better to abandon the effort and pursue something different.

A major difficulty for me is the employment of a Christ figure. Donita K. Paul’s Paladin of Dragonspell is an example. I found the character Paladin repulsive. The New Testament Christ was the one who declared (exegeted) the Father in all of his ways such that even a facial expression was revelatory, let alone body language. Paladin was a buddy-buddy type of fellow having none of the sacred sobriety of the biblical Christ. It is a questionable decision to include such a figure because it runs the risk of not conveying the character of God accurately; it tends to create a god in our image. It approaches blasphemy. A more extreme example is The Shack (Wm. Paul Young, a million-copy best seller), in which the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are fleshed out in terms of trite, crass behavior and profane human interactions, and the theology, in my estimation, is heretical blasphemy.

I want to trace broadly the events that take place in The God Hater from initial creation of a cyber-world to the intrusion into that world in the form of a cyber-incarnation. This is to provide a context for some thoughts on certain theological points that are affected by those events. Those thoughts will appear in my third post for this blog tour.

The cyber-world (c-world) is initially characterized by artificially intelligent cyber-humans (c-humans) capable of emotions, pattern recognition, free will, and holding contradictory views (p. 45). There must be no external interference. The free will of the c-human cannot be violated. Each philosophical system must grow organically from within the system (p. 67). This reduces to a survival-of-the-fittest mentality and as a result, c-world ends in self-extinction; c-humans kill each other off in the effort to survive (p 66).

Solution #1
Introduce dualism, the awareness that there is the material/physical on the one hand and the spiritual/metaphysical on the other. In Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie’s words, it is “the understanding that there are higher thoughts with higher standards than a simple materialistic world.” And, “It’s a belief in a greater good without the tyranny of a meddling dictator.” Travis’s lay interpretation is, “Just give them a sense of a greater reality.” Rebecca’s enhancement to Travis’s understanding is to give them “an interconnectedness to that Reality. They need to feel that what they do affects everything-- including themselves.” (pp 80, 81).

Solution #1 Fails
Exercising free will, c-humanity chooses nature over technology, i.e., nature is sacred and must not be meddled with. Travis astutely summarizes the three possibilities with regard to nature: (a) It is divine, (b) there is no difference between it and c-humanity, or (c) it is not real. Whatever view one takes, there is no compelling need to exercise authority over it (p. 97). As a result, rats are allowed to run wild leading to rampant disease, which results in the eventual extinction of c-humanity.

Solution #2
Rebecca postulates that the c-humans must not only be told about another reality (our world) but also about the humans of that world, about us, and that we have the answers for their survival. This is not considered cheating because it is telling the truth. Nicholas Mackenzie, the atheist philosopher, grudgingly acknowledges this inwardly:

“Nicholas’s jaw tightened. She was right, of course. The solution couldn’t be more obvious. At least now. And he hated it. He hated every aspect of it. An outside intelligence, a god, offering them assistance from outside their model. But it was true. They were watching and they could assist. Like it or not, that was the whole truth. And if Nicholas stood for anything, it was truth. Everything else was just fantasy and make-believe.” (p 100)
Again, free will must be preserved. Just inform c-humanity of our existence and give simple guidelines, nothing more (p 103).

The Implementation of Solution #2
Through Travis’s ingenious programming, Nicholas is able to speak directly to Alpha, a c-human (the cyber equivalent of Nicholas’s son who was killed years earlier) and thusly reveals his existence as Programmer, who programmed Alpha’s world. The immediate response of Alpha was to ask, “What do you want?” Programmer’s (Nicholas’s) reply is to exercise authority over his world. Alpha is sacred because he was programmed like real humans. The rats are not sacred; they are the cause of their dying. Alpha’s response to this revelation and charge is to react violently toward the rats and destroy them. Alpha is further charged to treat other c-humans as sacred, treat them as he would treat Programmer. (p 113-115)

The expectation is that Alpha would expound upon the basic rules of Programmer and apply them to various situations. This is exactly what happens. Alpha begins to develop a system of interpretation and application of Programmer’s basic Law. Programmer is elevated to a deity and a temple is erected in his honor.

The Introduction of The Virus
Rebecca places doubt in the mind of the c-woman, Saida, wife of Alpha, to question the authority of Programmer’s law and think of how appealing it would be to decide for herself what is right and wrong. She leads Saida to the back of the Temple where she presents a wealth of information via the internet. Saida and a growing number of others are drawn to this source of unlimited knowledge. Now, c-humanity has an alternate guide, based on an alternate source of knowledge from which they can pick and choose as they please. Programmer’s Law is no longer absolutely authoritative.

The Need for Personal Intervention, the Cyber-Incarnation
The virus infected c-humanity internally, in their minds. To erase it would be to interfere with their thinking and therefore with their free-will. The alternative is that someone speaks to them directly, that is:

“We create another member of their community. We download one of our own personalities into it so we can talk to them face-to-face; show them how they’re supposed to live.”

“You’re not serious?”

“Sure. That way, they still have free will. But instead of laying a bunch more rules on them, our guy talks to them in person. He stresses how important it is to resist the virus and follow our instructions. And--this is the kicker--he shows them how to live those instructions the way we originally intended.”
“It’s impossible to adequately capture every nuance of truth with words. To convey the truths of have to live that life.” (p 143-144)

Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie’s mind is recorded (via nanobots) and transferred into a newly created c-human. The c-human is the cyber-incarnation of Mackenzie.

The Nature of the Cyber-Incarnation

(1) Otherworldly insight. c-Mackenzie receives instant information about his world and certain individuals in it. He learns of personal things about his fellow c-humans that are known only to them. He knows what is in c-man:

Travis continued, “She ran away when they tried making her pay on the Grid. Ever since, she’s been living with whoever gives her life units.”

Nicholas motioned to the main screen, where the image of himself and the girl were still frozen. “Go ahead and tell him that. Let him know.”

This time Travis gave no argument as he worked the keys. “Transferring her bio to him now.”

When he’d finished, he hit another key, bringing the original scene back to life.
Nicholas blinked. With his sudden information, he addressed the girl. “You were just a child, Dortha. It was not your fault.”

Her eyes widened, then squinted suspiciously. “How do you know me?” (p 172)

(2) Otherworldly power. c-Mackenzie receives the ability to heal from Travis who programs it into his cyber makeup. But to heal, the pain of the injury must be transferred somewhere else in order to keep the integrity of the program. It can’t be transferred to a rock, because the rock can’t feel the pain. It can’t be transferred to the one who inflicted the pain because it would coerce them into obeying out of fear and destroy their free will. The only solution is to transfer it to the one who heals, to c-Mackenzie himself. But in order for it to be fair to c-Mackenzie, it must be voluntary; he must be made aware of the suffering it will cause him, and he must freely choose to take the suffering on himself. (p 195)

Free will is a recurrent them in this overview, and I would like to discuss it in my next post. Additionally, I would like to comment on the nature of the cyber-incarnation as opposed to the biblical incarnation.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour.


  1. For the record, Thomas, Donita Paul has repeatedly said, from the first blog tour we ran for her third book that Paladin is not a Christ figure. Eventually she came out and revealed that in her mind he represents the church, sort of a stand in, I guess you'd say.

    A very thorough, detailed summation of this part of the plot--the central part, certainly.

    Looking forward to your thoughts tomorrow, Thomas.


  2. Rebecca,

    Thanks for the correction regarding Paladin as a Christ figure. That does ameliorate the matter. Not sure when the blog tour was for her third book. I arrived at CSFF late and so probably missed it. I didn't participate in the 'Dragons of the Valley' tour either, which might have given me some heads up on the question.

    I'll have to reread Dragonspell with that in mind. Makes me wonder if the problem is me or her. What I mean is, am I so concerned about the problem of Christ figures that I see it too easily, or, was she not careful enough to develop the character in such a way as to avoid confusion. Again, thanks for notice.


  3. That tour was actually our very first of a book, which is one reason I have a soft spot in my heart for Donita. Her willingness to send out books to bloggers doing some unknown thing called a blog tour really helped get CSFF off the ground.

    I have to say, up through the first three books, I really thought Paladin was a Christ figure, but one I had serious problems with. I think because so many of us voiced that, Donita came out with the point that he was not intended to be so.

    I may have been looking for allegory too much. I mean her God figure, Wulder, was quite clear, so I just figured ... I haven't re-read the earlier ones to know how I might see Paladin differently knowing what I now know.