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Is politics an important part of your world?  Should I be searching for hints about the way you feel about capitalism or democracy, or should I be looking past these things as the ‘superficial’ layer of relationships, looking for a deeper reflection on civilization in general?

Political systems really represent individual beliefs, in particular how one’s beliefs impact how one should behave in the wider world and how you believe others ought to behave.  Ultimately, one cannot separate one’s politics from their worldview.  Since the Birth Pangs series is an exploration of worldviews, it follows that political musings will come, too.  A person who derives no political implications from their world view probably doesn’t even understand their world view or doesn’t really believe their world view.

Part of the problem in today’s culture is that many people have a worldview but then political beliefs that are inconsistent with planks in their worldview.  The latent idea is that one’s beliefs are private matters whereas how one feels about the government or governance is in a separate category.  Of course, one’s feelings about politics is in fact a belief, so even the attempt to compartmentalize fails in the end.  Somewhere, somehow, people’s politics relate back to a belief or two that they have.  Much of the heated discourse today arises because people from different political bents cannot trace their political ideas back to their core beliefs and then they present their political assertions as matters of self-evidently true, which of course they are not if you come from a different starting point. Read the rest of this entry »

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Continuing on with the interview:

Why pick a post-nuclear war setting to explore these themes:  first, the theme of human virtue and fortitude, and, second, the theme of ultimate truth?

Interestingly, what I wanted to do in the book decided this setting.  I didn’t start out wanting to have a Mad Max landscape.  A Mad Max landscape was the natural outgrowth of some of the purposes of the book.  What I wanted to get at is a point where everything is stripped away leaving only individual people striving on their own, free from the structures of government, church, and civilization.  There aren’t many plausible scenarios that can give you that and one of the things I wanted to remain is plausible.  I know that there are fantastic elements to the book… but under my argument (slowly revealed over all the books), is that everything in the books can actually be true in our own world.  So, how do we get from the world we are in now to a world in which every man has to fend for themselves, rebuilding what they believe and how they think free from peer influence?  A post-apocalyptic setting is required, unless I want to have a completely fantastic Perelandra world.

Now, I wanted that setting to help lay out virtue and fortitude and even ultimate truth because I believe we take the crutches of society for granted.  I am not saying that society’s influence is bad or improper, only that we shouldn’t take it for granted.  We like to think of ourselves as good and righteous and brave people, but really, what would we be like if there was no policeman to think about or no armies to concern ourselves with?  I think we need those curbs, but my point is that we shouldn’t fool ourselves about ourselves.  We may only be civil because it is imposed on us.  But what if those curbs weren’t in place?

If the curbs weren’t in place, we’d really find out the robustness of our virtues.  We’d find out if we’d behave if there was no policeman to tell us to do so.  We’d find out if we were brave when confronted with an injustice or a dastardly deed we had no policeman to call, but had to do something ourselves.

This ties in now with the question of ultimate truth.  You don’t have anyone telling you what is right or true anymore, yet each and every one of us has an innate sense that there are right or true things, though we grasp at them and nearly always fail to meet our own standards, let alone the standards of others (think CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the first chapter).  What are you going to do?  You can’t rely on authorities- authorities are gone.

In the Birth Pangs world, this is the real situation and the people struggle endlessly with them. But I do not think that our situation is much different.  We still have to answer the same questions, only now we might say there are too many authorities, too many voices telling us what is true and real.  Our problem is sorting them out and that basically requires the same process and methodology as starting over from ‘scratch.’

I should say that I had wished to make a clean slate in the Birth Pangs world, with literally everything stripped away, but found that I couldn’t.  The same principles I explore are the ones that demand that certain realities persist.  There are still lingering tensions from past hates, for example.  The UN has come in and taken away all of the guns, and a gunless world truly gives us an opportunity to be courageous and test our mettle, but I couldn’t realistically get rid of them all.  That meant an on-going discussion about ‘gun rights’ which couldn’t be avoided.  There are various political movements that surface that have their origins in our own times, and I couldn’t realistically suggest that they were completely gone, either.  What to do about them forms a backdrop to the series.

Still, the main objective I think was reached:  people found out what they were made of without the boundaries and crutches of ‘civilized’ society and likewise flail about for ideas on determining the source and nature of real truth.

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Four months later than I had intended, but there it is.  Now it is time for editing and all that jazz.  You can look for Book 2 to be released around Christmas of 2008.  As for the title… it will be released in due time, but if you have a guess, and are the first one to get it right, you’ll get a free copy of the paper back.  Although as of this writing, some are hot on the trail.

The book came in at about 154,000 words.


Book 2 hit 96,000 words last night and I expect to be at about 105,000 by the end of this week. After that I expect just another 40,000 or so. I think it is clear that I won’t be able to have the next book out until Christmas 2008. :(

Q4. Another major theme that creeps in the background is the role of truth, and how you have an average guy like Fides who could care less abut the ultimate truths and meta-narratives of history constantly having his conscience nagged by these demons, these demons of truth and history. This begins with his being given a Bible and develops with his relationship with Fermion, a mysterious traveler who seems to know a thing or two about truth. Can you speak a little to this overarching theme?

Gladly. From a big picture point of view I think we all tend to begin our investigation into truth against a backdrop of already assuming certain things are true. For example, we think that it is true that we even exist. We take it for granted. We take for granted that our senses don’t deceive us and that our brain accurately interprets the sense data and that our mind processes objective reality. Based on these assumptions we turn our attention to areas of inquiry such as religion, politics, philosophy, ethics, science, etc.

There is a serious flaw in this approach if we’re really trying to get to the whole bottom of things and that flaw is that our explanations for reality also have to explain the things I listed above. You can’t pick and choose what you want to explain. We find that we instinctively take much of what we think we know based on the authority of others. That is not necessarily an insult. Let’s face it, we only have our own narrow experience of reality and to fill out the broader picture we’ll need to hear about other people’s experience of reality- providing those people really exist too, of course. But taking assertions of fact about reality on authority exposes us to other people’s presumptions and things they take for granted, and of course they only have a narrow experience of reality, too.

So what is the average person to do? Provided he cares, that is, and Fides initially doesn’t care. But going against the grain of reality can start to hurt after a time, so eventually Fides has to address the issues. What can he do? The most important thing is not to prejudge things.

If we take an issue like the existence of God, it is easy to find atheists running around talking as though we were obliged to take a naturalistic view of things by default, and any assertion about the existence of God has to be backed up by extraordinary evidence, while any naturalistic explanation is preferable, even with no evidence in sight at all. Now, there is no way anyone can know such a thing without first knowing that there isn’t a God or that if there is one, he’s indifferent to us. You can’t prove this assumption, you can’t verify it, it is axiomatic. But if you’re starting over from scratch- that is, you’re beginning your investigation into reality with fresh eyes, then you know you can’t start with such axioms. Certainly if you have such an axiom it is hardly worth saying that you don’t believe in God and think the evidence for God to be weak. Of course you’d say that. Your axiom forces you to.

Now, the existence of God is certainly something that Fides is exploring but that is not the only thing he is exploring. For example, he is witness to realities such as honor, bravery, courage, beauty, love, and other intangibles. His account of reality has got to respect these things as realities requiring as much explanation as an apple falling to the ground. We explain an apple falling by invoking gravity. How do we explain gravity? See where that is going?

In this context, then, the importance of history in uncovering truth rather than relying on something like the scientific method alone, which is largely constrained to this present moment, is laid bare. For if you must rely on authorities to some extent and other people’s experiences of reality to inform your own experience of reality, then it is not enough merely to consult your contemporaries but also those who have come before you, as well. A contemporary might say something like “Miracles aren’t possible” but if credible voices in the past attest to seeing a miracle, you’re in a bind. You can’t know that miracles aren’t possible. But even if they’re possible it doesn’t mean they happened. And if they don’t happen to you, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to others.

Now, Fides finds out that these musings are important in other ways. For example, he experiences righteous indignation when witnessing the slaughter of largely defenseless travelers. If some other people want to kill some other people, what is that to him? Why is it all the more bitter when he sees that they are defenseless? Why should he care? But he does care.

This requires an explanation. Preferably a good one. Fidelis is largely a story of Fides constructing the best explanation for everything we experience, not just mechanical observations about the empirical universe, but also of loyalty in the face of imminent death and his own passions and longings.

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Knocked down another 15,000 words the last couple of days.  85,000 words is more than half way through the second book, I reckon.

Here is the second and third questions I was given to answer.

Q2.  Where does Fides come from?  Why bring Fides to life now in this point of your life?

Fides is the main character of Fidelis.  Well, if not the main character he is the one through whom the story is told.  The close connection between ‘Fides’ and ‘Fidelis’ should be pretty obvious.  ‘Fidelis’ is Latin for faithful or faithfulness, as in ‘Semper Fi’ the Marine slogan which means ‘Always Faithful.’

Some readers have noted an allegorical theme in Fidelis and that is not out of line.  In a pure allegory, there would be many one to one correlations… meaning that it should be safe to equate Fides with faith and to try to match Fermion up with something.   Well, you can’t actually do that.  Faith is the key to help unlock some of the main themes in Fidelis and Fides is at the fore front of some of those themes but he is also still his own character.   Fides is struggling with a deep distrust of himself, of people, and God.  In a word, he is struggling with cynicism. He grows into the awareness that faith is not blind, that it is grounded, and that it is compatible with reason and being reasonable.  This completely flies in the face of faith as understood by many people today, the most glaring example being Richard Dawkins who believes that faith is believing something without or even in spite of the evidence.  Even many Christians have a view of faith that is unhealthy.  Fides plays a key roll in the extended discussion on faith that Fidelis is.

Q3.  You open your novel with the words, “Hold steady, son.”  These words contrast sharply with the son’s first flashback, where his first thoughts are “away.”  This theme of the temptation to flee and the virtue of holding steady become very prominent as we see the main character, Fides, developing? Why this theme?  Why this constant assessment of Fides’ courage in the face of often overwhelming odds?

Faith contains an element of risk.  You are sitting in a chair.  It is logically possible that the chair might fail or even cease to exist, dropping you on your toosh.  Despite this possibility, you sit.  You sit because you have a relationship with chairs, and perhaps that chair in particular, and trust that it will hold you.  The risks involved in trusting chairs is mild compared to the trust we are required to put in people, our own selves, and ultimately, God.  If you trust a charlatan you might get burned.  Well, you will get burned.  One solution to this risk is to never trust anyone.

However, we can’t live that way. We literally cannot live a single day without putting some trust in other people.  Even if it means trusting that the US or some other nation doesn’t obliterate the world in a nuclear blast, we are trusting someone.  A life of reasoned and reasonable faith means stepping out and living your life despite the fact that there is a decent chance that you’re going to get betrayed.

For as many times as I’ve been betrayed, I realize that I have betrayed others.  I’ve let people down.  People have let me down.  So what could I do in face of that reality?  I could withdraw.  I could retreat. Running away from situations where we expose ourselves to the frailities and ambitions of people conceivably could keep us from getting hurt.  Fidelis asks, in its own round about way, is such a life worth living?  Despite the risk, is it not perhaps better to live the life of adventure?

That’s where ‘holding steady’ factors in.  Faith in the sense I’m talking about is not and cannot be a temporary and shifty attitude.  If you hold firm in one instance but run like a baby in another you’re asking for trouble.  Here I assume that we’re holding steady on things for good reasons.  I can see why people would want to ‘flee’ if they put their trust in something that they should have known would get them hurt. That’s why its important to have good reasons for the things you trust.

Clearly, this applies to our relationship with God.  Sometimes we feel like we have good reasons for trusting him and then something nasty happens in our lives, the lives of those we love, or on such a massive scale somewhere that we can’t help but notice.  We begin to wonder if perhaps God is like that person who constantly is letting us all down.  Well, if we do have good reasons for trusting him, then it is just at those moments that we need to have a trained attitude to ‘hold steady.’  How many people retreated just when they were on the verge of being helped?

You might say that many have been helped… but many have been hurt.  Grant it.  If your reasons for trusting God also give you confidence that he is aware of the hurt and is taking steps to deal with it, we are simply in a place where our trust is being put to a critical test.

I find that our ability and willingness to be faithful in relationships with other people is a good measure of their ability and willingness to trust God.  In some ways, I think life together is real time training for learning how to trust God. 

 Anyway, holding steady means not budging on the things that are important to you even though it looks like it is about to hurt you.  That means holding steady requires courage.

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