“Forgive Us Our Boo-Boos”
Saturday, September 1, 2012, 5:56 PM

My friend Anthony Sacramone of the Strange Herring blog posted a rare serious article today, expressing his dismay over recent statements by Father Benedict Groeschel, with whom he’s personally acquainted. Father Groeschel told the National Catholic Register that victims of child sexual abuse—as young as 14—are often “the seducer.”

Mr. Sacramone says:

I have no great need to defend Catholic clergy or (heaven help up) the bishops (whose skulls, as John Chrysostom stated, pave the floor of hell). I’m not on the road to Rome, despite the best efforts of some very smart, devout, and good men. Nor do I think the sheer awfulness of what Groeschel said in this one interview should be defended in any way, shape, or form. But the man is 79 years old. Take the “excuse” about his recently hitting his head for what it’s worth (I do wonder why he would agree to an interview at all if he was not himself). About eight years ago, he was hit by a car and almost died; before that, he suffered a serious heart attack. In other words, this is a man no longer playing at the top of his game.

I don’t have anything more to add on that subject. But I note that one of Father Groeschel’s lifelong vocations has been counseling. That’s a valuable calling, but it seems to me it has its inherent dangers. The French proverb, “To understand all is to forgive all,” may work very well in ordinary situations. But not in every situation. Christians need to understand that there is such a thing as evil. (more…)



Klavan’s ‘Crazy Dangerous’ is Crazy Good
Friday, June 22, 2012, 8:17 PM

Andrew Klavan has taken a small (but worthwhile) detour in his writing career over the last few years, producing top-notch thrillers aimed at the Young Adult audience, published by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. His previous four books, The Homelanders series, brought the Christian YA field to a whole new level. All in all, I think the stand-alone novel Crazy Dangerous is even better.

One improvement is the narrator/hero of Crazy Dangerous, Sam Hopkins. Unlike Charlie West, the hero of the Homelanders books, Sam is not an adolescent James Bond, outstanding at everything he does and equipped with a black belt. Sam will be far easier for most kids to identify with. He’s a smallish, not very popular, not academically outstanding, not very athletic teenager, struggling with the challenges of being a preacher’s kid in a small town in upstate New York. When he receives an odd offer of “friendship” from three of the shadiest kids in his school, he gets involved with them, just to escape the public expectations that face every PK. (more…)



Book Review: “The Skin Map,” by Stephen R. Lawhead.
Monday, January 23, 2012, 12:00 PM

Stephen Lawhead has never been a conventional Christian author, or even a conventional fantasy author. He writes by his own rules. Sometimes I like what he does, sometimes not so much. But all in all I was pleased with his novel The Skin Map, and look forward to the continuation of the series.

The main character is a generally unremarkable young man, Kit Livingston, who lives in contemporary London. One day he gets lost and wanders into an alley, where he meets a man who claims to be his great-grandfather, Cosimo Livingston. Cosimo claims that there are invisible paths and portals (“ley lines”) throughout the world, by which knowledgeable travelers may travel through time, space, and dimension.

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The Dance of the Straw Men
Thursday, December 15, 2011, 7:59 PM

If you're a social conservative, chances are you’ve had a conversation something like this:

Conservative: “But if we accept homosexual behavior as normal, how do we retain other traditional taboos, like the one against incest?”

Liberal: “That’s just a straw man. Nobody’s going to advocate incest.”

Now, read this, from Tauriq Moosa, tutor in ethics, bioethics and critical thinking at the University of Cape Town, South Africa (courtesy of my friend Dale Nelson):

Thirdly, and oddly, people exclaim [incest is] “just” repugnant. We will examine this more closer later. Nonetheless, why should the sexual activities of two consenting adults concern us? This is the same question we can ask those who are ‘against’ homosexuality (which is like being against having blue eyes). It is none of our business what two consenting adults wish to do (as long as no one else is harmed/involved without consent).

Repugnance helped many things we now consider wrong to continue in the past, such racial and sexual inequality. We can’t rely on repugnance to justify our social policies, since our repugnance is simply that: our own. Besides which, people are repulsed by different things – and we cannot leave it up to the whims of our emotions to implement policies and laws which could, unnecessarily, cause suffering to other people, as is the case with gay people, women, and indeed the current brother-and-sister couple.

Pretty lively for a straw man, isn’t it?

Liberals—I want to share a serious word with you, in honesty and without malice. If you have any principles—any at all—I promise you that, if you continue on the Left, you will eventually either have to give them up or move to the Right. Because liberalism is not a position. It is a process. That process evolves continually. Nothing is out of bounds for it, given enough time. That’s why so many ‘60s radicals are Reagan Republicans now.

For years, people have been telling me (to take another example) that there’s nothing wrong with homosexual behavior because homosexuals are born that way (I’m still not convinced of that, but it’s beside the point for this discussion). The argument is, “If it’s inborn, it’s natural and right.” Christian liberals say it must be God’s will.

“Why would anyone choose to be gay?” the liberal says. “It’s penalized in our culture. So it must be inborn, and the gays have no choice in the matter.”

Bear that argument in mind when you read this, from Italy’s La Stampa.

A study conducted by neuroscientists at Turin University and researchers at the department of neurological science of the University of Milan asserts that pedophilia is caused by a defective growth factor called pleiotropic protein Progranulin (PGRN). The results were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry and presented during a recent convention of the Neurological Italian Society in Turin.

Now, if this theory is true, explain to me how the previously stated arguments for homosexuality don’t apply just as well to pedophilia.

And no, “You’re a Nazi,” does not count as a valid counter-argument.

 

Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Overesea.



“Hugo” Is a Children’s Movie Best Enjoyed By Adults
Monday, December 5, 2011, 7:48 PM

I made a point of catching Martin Scorsese’s change-of-pace movie, Hugo, because it was highly praised, both by film critic Michael Medved, and my friend Anthony Sacramone of the Strange Herring blog. My own response is ambivalent. This is a brilliant, fascinating, beautiful movie, suitable for all ages. Nevertheless, it hasn’t done very good business (I saw it in a theater almost empty), and that doesn’t actually surprise me much. As Sacramone notes, “…it’s a kids’ film for adults.” I don’t think actual kids will love it (that may not be a bad thing either, as I’ll explain below). But adults, especially ones who love cinema, will embrace it once they discover it. I expect cult status on DVD is in its future.

The titular hero is Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphan boy who lives in the Paris railroad station. He was brought there to live by his drunkard uncle, who took care of the station clocks. After teaching Hugo to do the job, the man disappeared. Hugo has been maintaining the clocks on his own ever since, afraid of apprehension by the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen in an interesting performance), who takes perverse delight in sending orphans to an institution.

Hugo lives off pilfered food, and also steals small mechanical parts, especially from Georges (Ben Kingsley), an old man who runs a toy shop in the station. He wants the parts for his ongoing project of repairing an automaton (a moving clockwork human figure), his only inheritance from his father. The two of them had been repairing it when his father died, and Hugo believes that if he can get it working, it will somehow deliver a message from his father.

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Klavan’s “Agnes Mallory” Will Break Your Heart
Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 6:58 PM

'Look,' she said wearily from the stairs. I was leaning against the stove, studying her stupid sneakers. My arms crossed, my soul leaden with sorrow. 'I just don't want to approach you too fast. I know you don't like journalists. I saw you on TV: slamming the door? That's why I was watching…'

'Oh, admit it: you were being mysterious and romantic.'

'Jesus!' One of her little sneaks gave a little stomp. 'You sound just like my father.'

Fortunately, this arrow went directly through my heart and came out the other side, so there was no need to have it surgically removed, which can be expensive….

Back in 1985, the young author Andrew Klavan had a novel published in England which didn't find a home in the U.S. This novel is Agnes Mallory, which is now, thankfully, available in a Kindle edition from Mysterious Press.

The narrator of the story is Harry Bernard. Harry lives in a secluded cabin, outside the New York suburb of Westchester. He is a recluse, a broken man, a disbarred lawyer who has left his family behind.

He wants nothing to do with the young woman who follows him home one evening, in the rain. Klavan introduces her in such a way that the reader isn't sure at first whether she's real or a ghost. And that's appropriate, since this is a kind of a ghost story—but the ghosts are the memories we carry with us and the dreams we've buried in the cellar.

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Flagging Enthusiasm
Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 7:37 PM

This article by Soeren Kern at The Brussels Journal reports on an effort by the growing Swiss Muslim community to remove the famous white cross from that country's red flag.

An immigrant group based in Bern has called for the emblematic white cross to be removed from the Swiss national flag because as a Christian symbol it “no longer corresponds to today’s multicultural Switzerland.” Ivica Petrusic, the vice president of Second@s Plus, a lobbying group that represents mostly Muslim second-generation foreigners in Switzerland (who colloquially are known as secondos) says the group will launch a nationwide campaign in October to ask Swiss citizens to consider adopting a flag that is less offensive to Muslim immigrants.

Here we have, in a nutshell (it seems to me) Europe's current cultural problem. They're desperately trying to find a continental identity, and just as desperately attempting to keep their distance from the one and only thing that historically united them in a cultural sense—the Christian religion. If Europe is not the home of Western Christendom (excluding the Americas), then what in heaven's name is it?

No one seems to have any idea.

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Getting to the Bottom of the WELS Flap
Monday, July 18, 2011, 6:39 PM

I’ll come clean. I have to admit it. I am a Lutheran.

And that, at least according to Joshua Green at The Atlantic, would seem to be pretty fringey stuff. Definitely outside the realm of respectable opinion in today’s world. (Which must be a surprise to all those Garrison Keillor fans.)

Or… maybe I’m not a Lutheran at all, really.

If you were to speak to an official of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, to one of whose congregations presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann used to belong, they’d probably tell you that my own church, a member of a conservative but pietistic fellowship, isn’t really Lutheran in the proper meaning of the term. We’re insufficiently sacramental in our focus, and so not truly Lutheran.

And you know what? I’m OK with that.

Among ourselves, we other Lutherans laugh at the Wisconsin Synod sometimes. You might call them our Hasidim. A little strict, a little stiff by our standards. They have their own ways, which sometimes can even cause offense, as when we visit their churches and are denied communion.

But at bottom we respect them. They have their principles, and they stick to them.

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Book Review: “Auralia’s Colors” by Jeffrey Overstreet
Monday, July 11, 2011, 7:49 PM

I am tentatively prepared to declare Jeffrey Overstreet, author of Auralia's Colors and its sequels, the best Christian fantasist working today (Walter Wangerin is doing other things). Possibly even better than me (!).

What are the things that irritate me about contemporary fantasy generally, and Christian fantasy in particular?

First of all, contemporary fantasists tend to use words badly. They strive for the same effects as Tolkien or Lewis, but lack the rich erudition of those scholars. Their prose is stilted and artificial, their word choices poor.

Overstreet does not suffer from this problem. He uses words deftly, as Rembrandt used brushes and paint. Every description is vivid, every image apt. It's a delight to read his prose. I was reminded of Tolkien's use of Old English names to evoke unconscious meanings in the reader. Overstreet doesn't use that technique, but the whimsical names he gives to humans and beasts had a similar effect on me.

Contemporary fantasists tend to be derivative. When you read their work, you can easily detect a) which favorite writers they are trying to ape, and b) their political and social beliefs and prejudices.

Overstreet's work is as original as a new baby. He goes his own way, telling his own story. The only thing Auralia's Colors reminded me of was—in a general way—Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books, but the resemblance is superficial. Where Peake portrayed a grotesque world, barely concealing the disease under its skin, Overstreet creates a world full of wonder and beauty, its potential buried under the weight of destructive ideas.

I won't give a synopsis of the plot, except to say that it involves a country stripped of all color by law, where a miraculous young girl named Auralia, working in the wilderness, gathers and weaves together wonderful hues that remind the people of a better life and give them hope. It would have been easy to make the characters in this story black and white, but Overstreet's creations have the stamp of real life on them—in their various ways they all think they are doing good, and they often commit their greatest sins in full assurance of righteousness.

Some readers will be tempted to allegorize Auralia's Colors. This would be a mistake, I think. It needs to be allowed to speak on its own terms, to work secretly in our dreams.

Auralia's Colors is a book to savor; a book to break your heart. Not for young children (a little too intense), but highly recommended for anyone older.

Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea. The trailer for West Oversea can be viewed here.



“Frankenstein,” Son Of “That Hideous Strength”
Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 8:13 PM

“The pages [of the original Frankenstein] reek with your bottomless self-pity so poorly disguised as regret, with the phoniness of your verbose self-condemnation, with the insidious quality of your contrition, which is that of a materialist who cares not for God and is therefore not true contrition at all, but only despair at the consequences of your actions. For centuries, I have been the monster, and you the well-meaning idealist who claims he would have undone what he did if only given the chance. But your kind never undoes. You do the same wrong over and over, with ever greater fervency, causing ever more misery, because you are incapable of admitting error.”

“I've made no error,” Victor Immaculate confidently assures him, “and neither did your maker.”

Looming, the giant says, “You are my maker.”

Thus Frankenstein's monster, now known as Deucalion, purified by suffering and made truly human, addresses Dr. Frankenstein, so corrupted by power and pride that he has ceased to be human at all, in Frankenstein: The Dead Town, the dramatic climax to Dean Koontz' five-book deconstruction of Mary Shelley's original narrative.

I'm pretty much in the bag for Dean Koontz. Not the greatest prose stylist around, he is nevertheless one of the few authors whose writing has gotten constantly better since he became a publishing superstar. He creates amusing and engaging characters who know how to talk to each other, and keeps them in escalating peril, mesmerizing the reader. He's optimistic without being sappy, and can deal with tragedy without inducing despair.

In this book, all the main characters who first met in New Orleans, the detective couple Carson and Michael, the genetically-engineered Bride of Frankenstein, Erika, along with her adopted child, the troll-like Jocko, Deucalion the monster, and Victor Frankenstein (or rather his clone) all come to a final showdown in the town of Rainbow Falls, Montana. At the end of the previous installment, an army of Victor's genetically engineered killers had cut the town off and begun murdering and “reprocessing” the inhabitants, as the start to a program to destroy all life on earth (Victor judges it messy and inefficient). Humanity's only hope is Deucalion, who was endowed at his creation with powers over physical space. But he needs his human (and somewhat human) friends to help him. Victor Frankenstein has also failed to anticipate the difficulties involved in overcoming a population of God-fearing, gun-owning American westerners.

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