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If you are encountering the Birth Pangs series for the first time you may be wondering if you needed to start at the beginning, with Fidelis, in order to understand Spero.

Actually, the way that I’ve written the books they can each be read independently. You can read either or both and in any order.  This will be true for the remaining of the series, too.

Why?

The series is not linear.

In other words, Spero doesn’t start where Fidelis leads off.  For a number of reasons, I am writing the series with each book (except book 7) reflecting the perspective of a different character in the series.  The time frames covered by all of the books is roughly the same and where the characters of the different books interact, the same scene is present in each book, seen from that character’s unique perspective.  Where the characters depart from each other, the story branches off.  You might say that each book overlaps the others.

This approach allows me to lay ever deeper layers of meaning to the events in the books. One character will think nothing of an event in one book but in another book, another character will perceive the event as a turning point or startling development.

In short, you’ll be able to read any of the first six books in any order that you please.  Each is stand alone, but none are the whole story.

The seventh book will start, chronologically, where the first six books end, and proceed to tie up all the loose ends, weaving the six story lines into a single rope.

There are a number of reasons for why I took this approach.  One of them is that I perceive that our entire lives are like this.  Each of us is a character in a book.  There are some 10 billion books in the ‘series,’ with many of our ‘stories’ overlapping the stories of others. Taken together, our individual stories constitute one grand story.  This grand story contains elements that are astonishing, but in my view, missed if you take the stories of our lives one at a time.  At the same time, one cannot overlook our individual lives, for pieces of them are what make the grand story, the Mosaic, we’ll call it, what it is.

My seven book series is a very faint shadow of what I perceive is reality.  It begs the question:  if the Birth Pangs series are a mosaic of my authorship, who is the Author of the series of our lives?  Is there really no Author?  Really?  I don’t think so.  If you think that way, one of my aims is to persuade you otherwise.

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Are you interested in this topic? Then you really should consider buying my Birth Pangs series! That’s what the series is about…


As I’ve mentioned before, some readers of my series have indicated that they see resemblances in my series with some recent developments in the United States.  This article by a Russian analyst predicting the disintegration of the United States in 2010 brought in a couple of comments by readers.

So what do I think?

Well, I won’t rule anything out.  Anything can happen and can happen quickly if circumstances are right.  In the Birth Pangs series, it took between thirty and fifty years for events to unfold.  That remains in my mind much more plausible.  What Igor Panarin’s analysis omits is a catalyst of any kind.  In the Birth Pangs series, it was the destruction by atomic bomb of Washington DC.  I don’t see current events trending towards a disintegration any time soon without a suitable catalyst.

We also have to factor in logistics.  Panarin proposes that Russia will take back Alaska and that the Chinese will take the western side of the United States.  But in either case, for this to be accomplished, there have to be boots on the ground.  For Russia/Alaska, this isn’t very difficult.  But for China to dispatch the number of troops needed to occupy and subjugate the American West, there have to be transport vessels, a navy to defend those transports, and then suitable staging areas.  Without a catalyst leading to a massive debilitation of the American military, such conditions are unattainable in the near-term.  At best, China could stage an invasion from Mexico.

It is that kind of scenario that the Birth Pangs series envisions but even then Mexico has to want to go along with the Chinese. My series explains why Mexico goes along with the Chinese.  it is odd that Panarin thinks that the Mexicans wouldn’t take California and Arizona for themselves. Why would La Raza allow that?

Also, without the needful catalyst, it is difficult to imagine any kind of dissolution being followed by international occupation.  Panarin underestimates the cultural homogeneity that exists in this country.  I have relatives in numerous states in the union and have no particular loyalty to one American state over another.  To the extent that those in the US have rivalries, they are fairly benign, of the University of Michigan versus The Worthless Ohio Buckeyes type or the Packers versus the Bears or Dallas versus Everyone.  This is profoundly different than the British/Irish rivalry and Chechnya and Georgia versus Russia.

The American Civil War was over something of real substance and not on petty ethnic grounds.  Slavery was a suitable catalyst- no such catalyst is imminent… at least not as long as Hawaii keeps its iron grip on certain birth records.

Another thing Panarin underestimates is the Constitutional right to bear arms.  The fact that there are a lot of guns in this country might support a civil war hypothesis it weakens a foreign invader hypothesis- again assuming there isn’t a catalyst, and in this aspect, one that disarms the average citizen.  Foreign invaders would find it difficult to subdue the American people.  One finds themselves almost wishing someone would try to attack Texas.  I mean, good luck.

Finally, much has been said about the thinning of the American military but this isn’t really accurate.  Yes, we have American soldiers spread throughout the world but barring a global EMP assault (which would also undermine foreign armies) these soldiers could be quickly recalled.  Not only that, but the fact that they’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan means that American soldiers have something that most of the world’s armies do not have- battle hardened troops both at home and abroad.

Finally, thinking in Panarin’s terms, I see no reason why the upper midwest and the East coast wouldn’t remain largely untouched.  Canada isn’t known to be expansionist and precisely what European countries could conceivably lay a hand on the East coast beyond New York, where the only armed people are cops and criminals? Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia, etc, are easily a match to Eurpean attackers.

So, all in all, assuming things continue as they have been with no catalysts, I must pronounce Panarin’s hypothesis as untenable, and the similarities to the Birth Pangs series passing and superficial.

Here is Panarin’s map:

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This is a continuation of an interview done originally by audio. That audio is lost, so I am responding in text. This is question 9:

It is clear in your writing that you go to great lengths to develop masculine men and feminine women, yet you go to great pains to make your masculine men not macho, and your feminine women not submissive or needy in the least, while remaining very feminine. What draws you to explore these issues of masculinity and femininity?

I suppose there are two aspects of this question.  What draws me to explore these issues and how did this get reflected in the presentation of men and women?

The ‘draw’ is easy enough.  In my own life I felt that there were a missing components of ‘masculinity’ in my own life, like I was meant for something quite different- as a man- but for one reason or another I was not acting like a full man.  If there is a ‘masculine ideal’ I wasn’t measuring up.  There seemed to be others who felt the same way, even if their conclusions were different.  The extraordinary success of Elridge’s “Wild at Heart” I think illustrates this.  I don’t think that only men feel this disconnect, either.

At any rate, it seemed to me as I tried to find a way to resolve this issue that the very structure of our lives de-masculinizes and de-feminizes us. Read the rest of this entry »

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Please visit www.birthpangs.com/cart to buy Spero

(and Fidelis) from the author or from Amazon.com

Fidelis, my first book, is Latin for faithfulness.  The second book, Spero, is Latin for hope.  Spero is an exploration of what hope is and why we need it.  It is an exploration of what things are good to put our hope in and what things are bad to put our hope in.  In the fictionalized America of the future portrayed in the Birth Pangs series, all of the things that people have traditionally put their hope in have been brought low.  There are no government agencies, no schools, and not even churches.  In the face of daily perils, people have to figure out how where they are going to place their hope.

It is interesting to me that the political candidate running on ‘hope’ is also running on ‘change.’  I think this illustrates the root of the problem.  The best place to put your ‘hope’ is where it won’t shift beneath your feet.  Also, we need to be clear about what things we hope to overcome.  Nearly all of our systems and institutions are geared to address certain day to day realities that are important but not, I’m afraid, ultimate.  There is one problem that surpasses them all: death.

Spero is about people- even good people- putting their hope in lesser means to tackle lesser problems and being confronted with the consequences of that approach.  Spero is about being confronted with our chief problem and challenged to consider what possible solutions there might be to that problem… and whether any of these are within our control, or obtainable by our own effort.

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In the novel, you seem to be developing your own “pseudo-theology”, for lack of a better word: some type of Christian-based theology that certainly is fictitious, but is yet, well, orthodox.  Can you say more about this without giving away too much of the series’s secrets?

One of my underlying goals of writing the Birth Pangs series is to ‘re-imagine’ heaven.  The book of Revelation contains numerous images of heaven that I suspect would have resonated greatly with a first century Jew but bores our image rich, media saturated society.  It is to the point where I’ve heard people say that just about anything is preferable to heaven, even hell.  This is ignorance, but it is somewhat forgiveable.  The language in Revelation is symbolic:  whatever it symbolizes will be much greater than whatever we can imagine.  So, you might say that I have cautiously tried to insert some new symbols that I hope will resonate with a 21st century American (or Brit!).

This process of ‘re-imagining’ is not constrained to ‘heaven,’ though.  ‘Re-imagining’ is going on with the Nephilim and the Shadowmen, for example.  I wanted to take the concepts and doctrines that excite me and present them in a way that will excite and inspire others.  Basically, I get the idea that a lot of people think that Christianity is dull.  It isn’t so much that they find the evidence for it uncompelling as that even if it were true they wouldn’t be impressed.  Read the rest of this entry »

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This is the seventh question posed to me in a now lost audio interview which I am answering now in text.  Many of these questions and answers apply to the whole series and this one in this entry does as well:

A large part of the last few years of your life have been devoted to exploring theological issues on your website sntjohnny.com. Have your experiences in that forum informed this novel?

There is no question that my Internet ministry has informed Fidelis and the entire Birth Pangs series.  The Birth Pangs series has many purposes and one of them is to provide a tool for me to communicate in story form what I have attempted to communicate elsewhere in argument and discussion.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the series is entirely designed to reflect back on my apologetics experiences, though.  The series is equally informed by events in my life, events in history in general, and my overall way of looking at the world which is distinctly Christian.  While I think it would be fair to say that many characters and events in the BP series can be tied in some way to a forum discussion, or a particular musing about reality in my own life, I’d urge some caution in trying to interpret the whole book and everything in it in that way.

The reason for this is that one of the things I was particularly sensitive to was to make sure that the story was enjoyable on its own terms.  Readers have to be able to relate to the characters and events in the story.  That’s the whole point, really.  I want them to put themselves in the places of the people in the story going through what they’re going through and have them more or less compare what the characters do with what they would do.

The Christian overtones I think are hard to miss but it is my hope that they are not so overbearing as to turn off a secular or even atheistic reader.  In fact, I think readers like that will enjoy some of the fun I have in addressing some of their challenges.  🙂

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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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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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I was pleased to learn today that Jean Heimann at the Catholic Fire blog had reviewed my book, Fidelis and posted it to her site. Jean writes and reviews from a distinctly Christian point of view so it is no surprise that she caught onto many of the Christian themes in the book, as well as some that I thought I had reasonably well buried. 🙂 That I am a Christian becomes obvious to anyone who knows me and that Fidelis has Christian overtones and undertones is clear to anyone that knows to look for them. And yet it pleases me that it can be read and enjoyed by non-Christians as well. As Jean says on her review, “Both Christians and non-Christians alike will find Fidelis enjoyable, as it focuses on man’s universal struggles of good vs. evil and truth vs. propaganda.” And a long time atheist friend of mine reviewed and enjoyed my book showing that Jean is right (to read his review, click here, but NOTE: there are SPOILERS).

I might ask my atheist friend how it comes that there are universal values that humans can mutually relate to… 🙂

This is the second reviewer that I’ve noted compared Fidelis to Harry Potter. Obviously, that makes me happy, because that puts me in good company. At least in Fidelis (what later books might be like, I won’t say) it seems to me that there are more affinities to the Lord of the Rings series than the Harry Potter ones, but one can certainly see both (Jean does). The magic in Fidelis is of a different sort than that in Harry Potter, but certain themes certainly are shared: loyalty, courage, virtue, self-discipline, good is superior to evil- even if good ‘loses’ (which it never does!). It would be fair to say that Fidelis is not meant to be a knock off of Harry Potter, or the Lord of the Rings, or any other fantasy type series you might envision but that Fidelis is deeply inspired and influenced by such series is definitely true. In fact, the astute reader may see that the inspiration runs deeper then one might expect.

At any rate, for Christian readers out there who may have read my open letter to Christian Muggles, you can confident that when Ms. Heimann titles here review as an alternative to Harry Potter, she does so correctly. Feel free to buy my book instead of the Harry Potter books all you like. 🙂

In conclusion, Ms. Heimann makes this interesting comment: “There is a prophetic message presented in this first book of seven in the BirthPangs Series. …. Fidelis only hints at the possibilities, but it certainly poses a relevant concern for the future.”

Relevant, indeed. Boy, I can’t wait until I can talk freely about all of this!

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