Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Prophesy Conference

There have been two times when I believe I've truly seen a prophet at work.

I've seen more than my share of dispensation diagrams. One of the first books I read after I quit being an agnostic/atheist was Hal Lindsay's Late, Great Planet Earth. But it was none of that.

The first time was when I was reading a book written in the 1940s by C.S. Lewis and he precisely described the contemporary NEA. The second time was when I was watching a 10-year-old clip from the 700 Club where Pat Robertson is interviewing Francis Schaeffer and the latter was precisely describing the mainstream media's groupthink. These guys had this amazing ability to say things that would have topical relevance decades later.

So, I was talking to one of my daughter's friends at Umich and learned he was reading How Shall We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer. I related that my job in college involved showing the eponymous film series in various spots on campus, and I had seen it about 3 or 4 times. As well as when I saw Francis Schaeffer in person in Indianapolis and saw the 10-film series then. He disclosed that the DVD was now available and soon after I had warmed up my credit card and purchased it.

Last night I was watching the chapter on non-rationality in culture. It had a lot of goofball 60s drug use stuff that looked terribly dated. And then he moved onto a description of Existentialism and the various post-rational modes of thought. Nothing new here, I thought. I'd been a student of such things back in the day and I'd managed to remember most of it. However, when Schaeffer moved onto neo-orthodoxy, he started talking about Kierkegaard and Heidegger, et alia in terms I found familiar. And as you would expect Paul Tillich and Karl Barth were right there. These gentlemen provided a Christian theological interpretation of religious existentialism. Also familiar.

And also much more interesting b/c I have an ongoing argument with my Sunday School teacher about the orthodoxy of Kierkegaard. I don't think he was. So, my ears perked up a little and then I heard Schaeffer say something I hadn't caught before.

Schaeffer had described the psychodelic movement and the proposals that people be given drugs like LSD to help them find their own truth, to find some truth inside themselves. (As opposed to objective truth.) Schaeffer then characterized these non-rational/post-rational religion users as using religion as a drug.

That's it. The old opiate of the masses business. Karl Marx and Francis Schaeffer agree about this sort of religion for completely different reasons. Marx believed all religions were bogus and fictitious--it just made its adherents feel nice because it was divorced from objective truth. Francis Schaeffer would never assert that all religions are fiction, but he would acknowledge that some are more or less so.

Religion is a drug when it lives outside rationality. Religion outside the bounds of reason to Schaeffer, and every Christian like him, is mere drug use. It's a mere palliative that makes the user feel good, but it does not engage reality any more than a drug trip.

Pope Benedict recently pointed to the rational nature of deity and encouraged others to use rational dialog as the basis of interfaith exchange. I'm not saying anything about Islam today, but I do find it interesting that reason, qua reason, is endorsed as valid in a religious context by both the Reformed Schaeffer and the Roman Pope.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reverse Engineering Hemingway


Consider "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." I recently heard an audio recording of a reading of this short story by Ernest Hemingway. When it was done, I went "Wow. What a great story! How could he write that?"

First off, a story like that with a WOW climax is designed from the beginning with Francis Macomber's sudden death. Step backwards, how does he die? His wife shoots him. Step back, why does she kill him? They have an unhappy marriage. Why? Because they despise each other. Why don't they divorce? Because he is terribly rich and she's too old to find a richer husband. Because he is a coward.

A coward, eh? What disturbs the status quo that causes her to kill him now? He finds his nerve. Not all cowards are doomed to stay that way, some grow up and become men. (Remember, this is Hemingway, and men are men and Women are cruel decoration.) If she doesn't kill him right now, he'll leave her.

All right, what setting will have a man manifest cowardice and shortly thereafter find his nerve? Hemingway likes Africa, the American reading public likes Africa, and a big game hunt is a pastime of the rich where there are lots of guns about. Easy enough to make the murder look like a hunting accident. And with Africa being fairly remote you don't have much in the way of law enforcement about, and African big game guides make for better characters than, say, Canadian Indian guides.

Moreover, Hemingway has spent his money from the other stories he's sold going to Africa and doing manly things there. He can use his journals as filler until he gets the word count he needs.

OK. If I were Hemingway, I'd have the outline of the story set (in my head at least and if I'm me, i'll have it on paper). With the outline clearly defined, we can drop a few clues to foreshadow the climactic murder scene, but give them a plausible non-murderous meaning in the immediate context so as not to spoil the surprise when Macomber catches a bullet from his wife.

All right, now Hemingway can start writing.

No, wait. Not yet. He needs a hook. Something that'll cast that "can't put it down" spell on the reader. Start with a celebration that has a dark shadow inside it. Yeah, they return from the hunt with the bearers carrying Macomber to his tent while he's miserable, his wife is openly sorrowful, but subtly contemptuous, and the guide is disgusted and wondering how the rest of the safari will go. OK. everybody's unhappy and the reader doesn't know why?

Great, start writing...

Wait, spin the ending so that the reader isn't quite sure if its murder or not. Yeah, ambiguity is good.