I Am A Villain

For a time in my life, I gave up reading science fiction.

This is a big thing. I would read literally ten books a week as a kid. I would walk or bicycle 20 minutes to the library and come back with more books than I could carry. I mean this literally; I’d break the handles of the plastic bags they would put them in. I read voraciously and widely, but then I stopped.

The reason why has two parts. The first part is that I simply couldn’t believe in the futures that were presented to me any more. I remember Snow Crash being the book that made me realize this.

In Snow Crash, there was a chapter about the owner of a Young Mafia franchise, and it was heartbreaking in how the poor guy was trapped. It made all the fun times about the idiot protagonist and Y.T. and lol Alaskan glass knife guy villain look silly. I realized that I couldn’t love a future that gave power to the cool rule-breaking kids while making it hell for everyone else. And a lot of SF does this; the great man is perceived as being better compared to petty bureaucrats, and gets freedom to do a bunch of cleverly immoral things like have lots of sex and do drugs. But these are so false; they are fantasies of an adolescent mind that wants to be free from rules and do what they want costs be damned.

The second part was realizing that I am a villain.

What’s the worst thing you can be in a SF book? A fundamentalist.

I am a fundamentalist.

Therefore, to the books I read, I am a villain.

I think Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books were when I realized this. It was then that I started noticing how beleaguered my belief system was in SF. We were always the anti-science villains who had to be defeated. Maybe if the author was generous we could be converted to TEH LOVE OF SCIENCE!!! but usually we get killed. Hard. There is a joke if you play Japanese RPGS that if you ever see a church, you better assume that the head of it is a bad guy or age old-evil, and you get the same sense in SF after awhile.

I think this realization transformed me in a way that still has profound consequences now.

I find I can’t connect to a lot of mainstream geek culture because of this. These are the people who use fundamentalists as villains. Why should I listen to you any more? You get fundamentalists wrong, and I should care about your worlds when I’m not and never will be a part of them? With SF now I can hold this in abeyance to a certain level, but the days where I would read atheistic SF novels without batting an eyelash are gone forever. But there’s more.

If you’re a villain, you don’t care about the “good” people.

In fact, (a point hammered to me by those same SF books) a “good” person often isn’t. I just did a triple twist. They wanted me to think that good was bad, but I went around to good being bad being good. To realize that no, the “good” secular culture really is bad, and should be fought or at the least be wary of. They see me as an enemy? Well I am one, but because they made me it. Not because I live up to their lies.

I think you can explain a lot about me by this. Why I’m so contrarian, for one. Why I isolate myself. To a Christian, the world is an enemy. We “know” it, but what happens when you go beyond and know it? When you realize to truly hold the faith, you become an enemy to people? I don’t mean living up to the caricature, but just by believing. It’s a lonely realization that you can’t fit in, that the illusion of the world you had is gone. That you can’t talk about the same things with others without reservation, or that books will rarely ever tell your story, but those of people who hope you and what you believe disappears; that’s something that’s hard to take.

I think this is why its so important to have Christian SF. A place where we aren’t villains, and aren’t hidden either. Where we can see our own faces outside of the dirty mirror of secular SF. But sadly it seems not many people care about it. I’m not sure how to feel about that. It’s getting better, but it used to be that Christian SF fans were double villains. Damned for believing in Christ, damned for liking godless fantasy or accused of opening up doors to Satan. Fitting in nowhere.

I don’t know though. Maybe this is Christianity; to be always seen as the villain for holding the truth. It gets hard at times, though.

20 Comments on “I Am A Villain”

  1. bainespal says:

    I don’t completely share all of your feelings and experiences, but I share some of them.

    What I do understand: feeling like a villain. There’s a double sense of condemnation, coming from the secular world and from the Christian world. Maybe most Christians experience this, or maybe it has something to do with being an abstract thinker, or with being a loser boy-man. But I was taught not to simply accept what the world wants me to believe, and I have made that part of my personal quest for truth.

    The thing is, I realized that I can’t be honest without also applying the same philosophy to what the church wants to believe. That’s why I agree that I must not merely accept the theory of evolution at face value because society approves it, but I equally believe that I must not accept Young Earth Creationism at face value because the Evangelical establishment approves it. That’s only one example out of many. I’m too cowardly to stand up for my beliefs often, but on the rare occasions that I do, I’m a heretic at church and a religious fanatic at secular college.

    When the Bible condemns “the world” and calls us to separate from it, I firmly believe that the religious culture is part of the “the world,” including Evangelical and Fundamentalist subcultures. (This is another truth that Evangelicalism has taught me, but I have turned it around to criticize Evangelicalism with it. Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches preach that not all professing Christians are truly “saved” and that the religious culture of the old high-church traditions such as Catholicism are corrupt and worldly.)

    But I’m not just criticizing the viewpoint of others when I say that I’m a heretic and a religious fanatic. There’s a part of me that really believes that I am both too heretical and too religiously zealous. I have to hold this self-doubt and perpetual guilt, because I know that as a flawed human and as a sinner inevitably guided by selfishness at some level, I am bound to be wrong about things. I know for a fact that both the church and the world are wrong. If I ever forget the even more certain fact that I am also wrong, I will have lost my soul.

    If I were to speak deliberately about faith in a secular setting — such as starting a conversation with a stranger specifically to try to convert that person, as I used to do — I would probably feel guilty afterwards. I would doubt my motives. Likewise, if I were to speak up in Sunday school about how I think Jesus is a better “Word of God” than the the Bible or how I don’t believe salvation is as simplistic and identifiable as Evangelicals make it out to be, I would definitely feel guilty and question my motives. I have the potential to become a true religious zealot — a hypocritical, legalistic Pharisee or the equivalent of an Islamic jihadist. I also have the potential to become an apostate or a cultist. My guilt and self-doubt are important to me, because they preserve me from falling into either of those two errors.

    I’m not a very happy person most of the time, and maybe that means there’s something wrong with my Christianity. However, I think this is how I’m supposed to feel. This is why death is lighter than a feather, and duty is heavier than a mountain. This is why we need to take up our cross and bear the pain of death every day. I could be a monster, and I choose to see that wickedness in myself and to hate myself for it. That’s why I feel I have the right to criticize both the church and the world. The church is wrong, and the world is wrong, and I believe that I am piece of shit fouling both. But maybe if I never forget the fact that I am wrong, God can use me to correct some of the wrongness that I see, in some small way.

    But I kind of doubt it. And I realize that I’m probably sinning in many ways by posting this comment. I hope you’ll forgive me for my worm-mongering, but I sensed that you and I understood each other enough to be frank.

    • dmdutcher says:

      Oh, I also forgot to mention this. If you haven’t, you may want to read Walker Percy. He’s literary fiction and not SF, but he also knows a bit about what you are feeling. He couldn’t fit in with the evangelical culture in the south, but disliked the atheistic culture even worse.

  2. dmdutcher says:

    I don’t think it’s a sin to speak frankly. A lot of times things like these boil inside a person, and what good is the net if not to let them out?

    You’re right about evangelical culture. There is a strong cultural element that has risen up alongside modern Christianity in reaction to modern unbelief, and at times it can be harmful. I think we both know that it’s really not a matter of doctrine in this case, but the accident of time and place. Kind of like the judaizers Paul warned about in the epistles, where the message was at risk of being absorbed back into a cultural identity. I think for me the danger is idolizing it, because I live in New England and never really had the culture to fit into. But there is strong tension to be pressured into belonging into a camp.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself though, man. Yeah, we’re sinful. Yeah, we have facets of our personality that suck. Yes, it’s good not to fall into false certainty. But there’s a difference between healthy introspection and chasing after your burden as it rolls down the hill after Christ has removed it from you. Paraphrasing the verse, a loser in the world is Christ’s winner, and a winner in this world rejoices in counting it all loss for the sake of Christ. We have to accept that we are flawed, but not obsess over it; we aren’t perfect and won’t be any time this side of heaven, but all we have to do is try.

    So don’t let guilt tear you apart. If duty is heavy (though His yoke is surprisingly light) we don’t have that luxury. Best to give it to Him in a way similar to seeking the Void in the WoT books.

    • bainespal says:

      I think for me the danger is idolizing it, because I live in New England and never really had the culture to fit into. But there is strong tension to be pressured into belonging into a camp.

      Well, I’m from the Northeast too, and I didn’t grow up in any broad Evangelical culture, just in a small community of Evangelicals. I guess I stopped believing that my little Evangelical community was much different from any other small, close-knit community existing within the world. We love each other, but a the members of any kind of obscure club can love each other too. I once became strongly disillusioned when I first realized that there was serious politics and backbiting going on within my community, but of course I now know that that happens everywhere. I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say that our Christianity made our divisions less sharp than they would have been if we weren’t Christians.

      Best to give it to Him in a way similar to seeking the Void in the WoT books.

      Ah, so you’ve read WoT! I think that element of WoT has more Buddhist overtones than Christian, but I see what you’re saying. Tam’s mental trick of feeding all fears, feelings, and ambitions to the inner fire that then leaves the Void is analogous to the Christian’s acceptance of all things by surrendering to divine destiny. The thing is, the Christian version of surrender involves embracing suffering — bearing our crosses — and I think that’s where Christianity differs critically from Buddhism.

      Thanks, though, D.M. I was terrified after I posted that I might have offended you.

      • dmdutcher says:

        I read WoT up to the eighth or ninth book. After that I had epic fantasy fantigue and stopped. I think Mat’s experiences with the Seanchan soured me on the series, too.

        Yeah, I know the context is Buddhist, but it’s not so much reaching out to saidar/saidin I meant. It’s more not letting the self get in the way of what you want to do. You just give those feelings to God and let him carry them.

        There’s nothing in the post to be offended by. I think this sense, and the guilt that comes from it, may be because you are so used to a small group and its unwritten rules to keep peace and order. A bad part of fundamentalism is that it can focus on keeping the harmony in a small group over actually being useful to the members of the group as such. So it starts creating acceptable and non-acceptable targets and people get wrapped up in guilt because they don’t match the role they are supposed to take in order to promote harmony.

        This has zero to do with Christ, and a lot to do I think with the legacy of fundamentalism as born in small towns and communities. Those places have to be stable, and stability becomes the main value.

        It’s really a tough thing, but no worries man. I don’t get offended by people speaking the truth about how they feel.

  3. notleia says:

    I’m no longer a fundamentalist, as in fundamentalist in the sense of good little Southern conservative yellow-dog Republican who bitches about gay marriage and welfare recipients. There’s just so much senseless tribalism in it. I can’t doubt your sincerity in your convictions in fundamentalism or that you have to turn separatist, but it seems so *unnecessary* to me. Jesus wasn’t separatist. He interacted with Samaritans and Pharisees and told us to render unto Caesar.

    And, bainespal, I’m having that urge to stuff you with Prozac again. Mostly what I want to do is reassure you that it’s okay to struggle with this, and with life in general, but I’m not sure how to phrase it in a way you would find convincing. I have no idea if reading blogs like http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/ or http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/ would help you like they did me. There are choices besides Evangelical jihadist or belligerent atheist.
    You’re not a loser boy-man. Or at least, any more of a loser that I am with a minimum-wage job in a grocery store deli, frying chicken, after earning my bachelor’s degree just several months ago. I did/sometimes do feel like a failure and a loser, but I’m hoping to do something about it. I’m gonna try to get certification at a vo-tech and get a job that pays a freaking living wage. Eventually I’ll try to date again once I have enough emotional distance from my failed engagement, but who knows, maybe I’ll still end up a cat lady, and I want to be okay with that possibility. I want to hope, dammit, and I want you to hope, too, because I identify with you.
    And I don’t even know if that screed makes me sound like anything other than some overemotional weirdo, but screw it, I’m gonna roll with it.

    • dmdutcher says:

      It’s not a matter of separtism or tribalism. Increasingly, I find the post-christian or non-fundamentalist people to not be any different from a secular non-christian where it counts.

      Like gay marriage is different not because we’re senseless bigots, but because to accept it in a Christian sense (as opposed to “we can’t tell unbelievers how to rule themselves”) is to have an attitude that the Scriptures must be subservient to the popular secular idea of the day. That’s a fatal idea. and I notice increasingly that even the Christian aspects of SSM in their eyes get degraded too; it goes from “Allow SSM” to “Monogamous marriage is unfair to gays” to “polyamory is okay for people.” Seriously, I got kicked out of a Patheos thread because of the latter-Christians defending polyamory.

      If you’re a serious believer in the Bible, you get driven to a form of fundamentalism by default. It’s not the southern caricature of it that the secular press tars us with (I’m northern myself, and we have just as many conservative Christians here) but the type of faith which is at odds with the world.

    • bainespal says:

      There are choices besides Evangelical jihadist or belligerent atheist.
      The thing is — and I think this was part of the point of D.M.’s post — people classify us as one or the other. We can’t escape being stereotyped by the secular world if we have any sincere convictions at all. We also can probably count on being socially ostracized by our religious communities if we think outside of the subculture or question presuppositions.

      Don’t worry about sounding emotional. I just did the same thing in my previous comment and had the same reservation before posting.

      And thank you. The two of you are two of the best friends I’ve ever met on the Internet, if I may say that.

    • dmdutcher says:

      Yeah, also don’t beat yourself up notleia. The world has changed so rapidly in so little of a time that if anything your experience is normal. The recent generations, gen-x and millenials, have seen the rules of life change to a degree no one thought possible. These days we really need to hope in Christ because the world is not entirely rational any more about how it makes its rules.

  4. bainespal says:

    Increasingly, I find the post-christian or non-fundamentalist people to not be any different from a secular non-christian where it counts.

    We really need to discuss a common definition of “fundamentalist.” The use of the term “post-christian” is quite loaded, suggesting that everyone who leaves fundamentalism is also no longer Christian.

    For my part, I’ve more or less respected fundamentalists, despite disagreeing with them. My community is Evangelical, not Fundamentalist, and the hardline Fundamentalist fire-and-brimstoning seems a little more authentic and sincere to me than Evangelicalism’s artificial niceness. I capitalize both “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist” to indicate that I’m using the terms in a denominational/historical sense, rather than as the term of the month to refer to real, true Christians who really, truly believe the Bible and are really, truly going to heaven.

    • dmdutcher says:

      Fair enough. I think that evangelicals actually are fundamentalists. The term was coined from a series of essays called the Fundamentals in the 1920s, which resisted the mainline idea of Christianity at the point. Most of those wouldn’t seem outlandish or out of place to most, although high-church evangelicals might disagree on some. Evangelical in the modern sense is a positive rebranding, fundamentalist has been negatively branded with the idea of being a reactionary.

      Post-Christian refers to things like emergent Christianity or the weird sort of Rob Bell like thing where you have people outright denying key doctrines of the faith yet still identifying as Christian. Non-evangelical isn’t probably a good term to use; maybe mainline, cultural, or liberal Christian may be better terms.

      • notleia says:

        I haven’t read much Rob Bell, but I remember that I don’t agree with him on all points, whatever those points were. I’d followed a link from the Slacktivist’s blog on Patheos.
        Anyway, I read a brief history of the beginnings of the Fundamentalist movement at some point, and I think at its core it is reactionary, against Modernism (20th century Modernism, not the general modern age starting in the 1700s) and specifically German higher criticism, where they started rejecting literal interpretation (and insert the substance of that one inerrancy argument I had with Burnett over at Spec Faith).
        And I think I ran across that polyamory thing on Patheos. Was it on the Unfundamentalist Christianity blog? About three inches into the comments section and I saw it was gonna be a hurricane of YouTube proportions, except better spelled.

      • bainespal says:

        Non-evangelical isn’t probably a good term to use; maybe mainline, cultural, or liberal Christian may be better terms.

        It really does seem like labeling and semantics are at the core of our problem.

        I don’t want to label myself. But if I had to define my own heresy based on the “Church History” curriculum I once had, I would have to call myself “Neo-Orthodox.” The fundamentalist definition of that term is generally something like “traditional Christians whose belief in the Bible is compromised by acceptance of higher criticism and scholarship.” The definition doesn’t fit me exactly as I don’t accept the authority of mainstream academia, but fundamentalists call many of the writers and thinkers that I like Neo-Orthodox.

        notleia wrote:

        Anyway, I read a brief history of the beginnings of the Fundamentalist movement at some point, and I think at its core it is reactionary, against Modernism (20th century Modernism, not the general modern age starting in the 1700s) and specifically German higher criticism, where they started rejecting literal interpretation (and insert the substance of that one inerrancy argument I had with Burnett over at Spec Faith).

        Couldn’t Modernism be said to be reactionary too, though?

  5. dmdutcher says:

    It was that blog. I don’t usually bother with progressive blogs, but that in particular is a line that no Christian should cross. It’s one thing to argue that gays should have the right to the same type of Christian marriage straights do, being monogamous and faithful till you die. I don’t agree with it, but there’s some semblance of Christianity in the idea. Something like polyamory though is purely non-christian by all means that matter, and for progressives to embrace it is self-destructing.

  6. notleia says:

    Honestly, I don’t really care about polyamory. Anymore, consent matters more to me than whatever the heck “Biblical marriage” is supposed to mean. I can’t see that it’s harmful if done well — and the interviewee’s unit seems to be done well — and I don’t think it would be terribly common, as opposed to run-of-the-mill casual relationships, because they are committed in their own way and it sounds like a ton of work to maintain all the relationshippy communication and whatall. I think the only reason that the Mormons made it work on such a broad scale was because of patriarchy. But I doubt you find that reassuring, so I’ll move on to blathering about Modernism for bainespal’s benefit (or torment). *Puts on English major hat*

    Modernism is a little more complex than a mere reaction to Victorianism. The beginning, right around the last decade of the 19th century, was more straightforward a reaction against Victorianism, but after WWI it was pretty well its own thing. Different focus, different style — stream-of-consciousness became a thing — different themes. It has a lot in common with Realism (which was more of a thing in America than in England) and Naturalism (which was more of a thing in America and France than England).
    Also, you could say that Victorianism was an extension of Romanticism, which was a reaction against the Enlightenment, which was a reaction against the grandiloquent Renaissance, which was a reaction against Medieval thought with the rediscovery of Greco-Roman stuff.
    But anyway, I consider the Fundamentals to be more a reaction than otherwise, mostly because I don’t think they really did anything new. Literal interpretation of clobber verses had been used to justify slavery since before the Civil War. There were already denominations that did away with a lot of high-churchy stuff, such as the Quakers. Sola scriptura was already a thing that existed. I can’t think of any other specifics, but if I’m missing something, by all means bring it up. I’m perfectly willing to reevaluate.

    • dmdutcher says:

      Simply because two people consent to something doesn’t make it not a sin in God’s eyes. Neither is allowing the world to define what Christian morality is. Neither is defining morality solely as whether or not it harms people; a lot of immoral things have no immediate harm to the actors, and enlightened self-interest is not a basis for Christian belief. The reason why I’m up about Christians accepting this is because of that; it replaces Christian belief with a pseudo-secular one.

      In the end, it winds up supplanting and destroying the faith. It turns it into this intellectual belief that has no difference in behavior from what the secular knowledge class holds. You get people looking at it, and saying “why be one? It’s not any different from what I do now.”

    • bainespal says:

      Literal interpretation of clobber verses had been used to justify slavery since before the Civil War. There were already denominations that did away with a lot of high-churchy stuff, such as the Quakers. Sola scriptura was already a thing that existed.

      Right… part of my disillusionment with Evangelicalism came because of the obvious historical fact that Evangelicalism/fundamentalism is a very specific movement within Christianity, and Christianity as a whole is so much more. I can’t believe that conservative American Christians from the 1920s just happened to get everything right, and that older traditions are wrong to varying degrees.

      But I’ve always loved Christianity itself, and I always wanted to be orthodox. I never intended to become a heretic.

      I don’t think we need fundamentalism anymore, because cultural Christianity is dead. There isn’t really a nominal Christian culture that we need to exclude. Even when there was a nominal Christian culture, I’m not certain that the fundamentalists were right to exclude it so thoroughly.

      • notleia says:

        You say orthodox, does that mean Eastern Orthodox, or just something high-churchy? I’ve started going to a United Methodist congregation, and they do stuff like altar rails and call-and-response and creeds that my home Disciples of Christ church never did (DoC was started specifically to be non-creed). It’s a bit of an adjustment, but I can see why people like the ritual and the sense of community and continuity it brings. Though if United Methodist is an adjustment to me, I’m sure that Episcopalian would be intimidating, never mind Eastern Orthodox.

      • bainespal says:

        You say orthodox, does that mean Eastern Orthodox, or just something high-churchy?

        I only meant that I accept the ancient creeds and believe in traditional Christian theology at the presuppositional worldview level. I do have some personal high-church tendencies, because the abstraction of ritual seems mysterious and profoundly symbolic to me.

        I think the fundamentalists had a noble motive in trying to retain the ancient core of Christian theology. The irony is that the theology had already been affirmed centuries before, and they really did throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  7. bainespal says:

    Looking back over this discussion, I’m fairly sure that I disagree fairly significantly with both of you.

    On the one hand, I don’t believe in the human ability to discern spiritual realities without uncertainty. That’s why I don’t trust fundamentalists to draw the line between real Christians and cultural non-Christians or between Christian culture and secular culture. Also, if beliefs inevitably affect behavior, isn’t a non-Christian who behaves like a Christian at least closer to Christ than a fundamentalist Christian who doesn’t?

    But I also think that morality exists independently of human definition. I believe that there is a common universal morality and that it is a Christian morality. Thus, the world will separate itself from Christians who follow truth.

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