Review: Haunted Man by Charles Dickens - Intro. by Dave Swavely

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Review: Haunted Man by Charles Dickens - Intro. by Dave Swavely

In Haunted Man by Charles Dickens, Redlaw is tormented by memories of his tragic past. When a demonic spectre appears and offers to take his haunting memories away, Redlaw accepts. He spend most of the book visiting people as passing his gift (i.e. his curse) along to them to disastrous results.

What’s the moral of the story? Well as C.S. Lewis said, “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” Okay that’s not really what Dickens is saying. But there is something to be said about looking back and remembering your life, whether pleasurable or tragic. Either way, it produces virtue. In the case of Redlaw, retaining his difficult memories brought him closer to Christ once he took the time to see their value.

Haunted Man is a novella published in 1848, twenty years before Dickens died. I mention the date in relation to his death because I was often wondering if there was a correlation as I was reading. I don’t know a great deal about Dickens, but until I’d read this version, which includes an introduction and afterword by Dave Swavely, I’d assumed, like most, that Dickens was not a Christian. His portrayal of organized religion and “religious” types in his novels was not always favorable. Swavely argues that the explicit Christian content in such stories like this one (and some others) proves that, despite his dislike of religious hypocrites, his affair, and separation from his wife, Dickens was, in fact, a Christian. Or at least possibly a Christian. So as I read, I sometimes wondered if he wrote this near the end of his life after repentance. Instead, he didn’t separate from his wife until ten years later. I think this only heightens Swavely’s point in his novella, Next Life, that heaven is filled with saints who were no stranger to sin on Earth.

This version is abridged and includes a fascinating commentary by Dave Swavely. I love his proposed idea that Dickens could have been a Christian and it makes me want to read more from this prolific author. I’ve seen a number of BBC film adaptations of Dickens novels but have only read Great Expectations so far.

I also highly recommend the 2017 film (also a book), The Man Who Invented Christmas, available on Amazon Prime. Although partly fictional, it offers a lot of good tidbits on the life of Dickens as he wrote A Christmas Carol—a similar story to Haunted Man.

This is one of three fictional titles from Cruciform Press

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Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

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Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

My article, Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, was featured on Speculative Faith. I make a case for why Thanos could not have truly loved Gamora, because love is not just affection—it’s self-sacrifice.

"It’s been months since I sat down to watch Thanos wield Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War.

[Editor’s note: Beware spoilers, starting in the very next sentence.]

And it’s taken me nearly as long to fully wrap my brain around Gamora’s death. It was meant to be disturbing and heartbreaking, yet there was something much deeper at work than the evil of Thanos..."

Read more at Speculative Faith.

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Review: The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne Scott

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Review: The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne Scott

The novella, The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne Scott, follows Christian girl, Addy, through the ups and downs of teenage life and . . . time travel! Addy is an artist and covers her room--as teens usually do--in posters. When one of da Vinci’s paintings hanging on her wall wooshes her back in time to the year 1500ish, she finds herself befriended by none other than Mona Lisa. Or at least the woman who is thought to be Mona Lisa.

The unexpected twist (no, not a spoiler) was her being shortly thereafter whoosed back to her own life. This happened a number of times throughout the story, parallels between her two lives appearing along the way.

The writing was enjoyable and engaging. I particularly liked that Addy was a good little Christian girl, yet her thought life still rang true to teenage temptations and immaturity. Yet, those thoughts and temptations never went overboard or became inappropriate for a young reader. I loved every scene that Addy spent in Italy and wished I could have just marinated in that time a whole lot more!

A major theme in the story was sexual abuse. (Like I said, there was nothing explicit.) This is where most of the parallels arise. Addy is dealing with her own close call of abuse in 1500 while her best friend, Lace, is being molested back home. All turns out well and the abusers are caught (in a way). Lace learns from the story of Joseph in the Bible and from Addy’s time travel stories that what others mean for evil, God means for good. After reading up on the author, Latayne Scott, I noticed that she has another book coming out next year on how to protect your children from sexual predators. It’s clear from this novella that Scott is passionate about this topic.

My only issue with the story was the lack of foreshadowing or clear plot progression. I felt pretty confused as to the point of the story or it’s themes until three quarters of the way through. Until then, Addy was just time traveling, hanging with her friends, living life, etc. I also felt derailed by the random subplot of evangelism and textual criticism. I’m all for a good conversion story (and apologetics for that matter), but this did not seem to fit the theme (that I later discovered) and added to my sense of aimless wandering. Hopefully this review will help you feel less lost.

This is a fun, quick read for anyone seeking Christian speculative fiction!

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Review: Next Life by Dave Swavely

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Review: Next Life by Dave Swavely

Dave Swavely’s book, Next Life, is a fictional account of a man dying, going to heaven, and then coming back to life. This is not your average heaven tourism book! Where those (supposedly) non-fiction books fall short (from Scripture), Next Life attempts a reformed, and more biblically faithful speculation on what the afterlife will be like. I would even go so far as to say this book was partly a critique on those “non-fiction” afterlife books.

Okay so I’ve been meaning to read those theology books on heaven . . . but they’re still chillin’ on my TBR list. I’ll get there, ya’ll. So I definitely learned a lot from this book. Be warned! It reads differently than your average work of fiction. The tone and style more closely resemble a letter or a journal. Swavely even left out all the quotation marks for the small smattering of dialogue!!! (Gasp!)

But that approach allowed him to be more open about his thoughts on the Bible as well as other books on heaven. He often mentioned other authors books on the topic—both positively and negatively. This was . . . okay. But I had to get past the unpleasant feeling that he was speaking as a real authority on the subject (he wasn’t because the book is obviously fictional) when he said such and such author was wrong.

My favorite thing about NL was its ability to put sin into better perspective. For example, the main character, Pastor Tim Carler, spoke about how much more he could see his old sinfulness when he got to the intermittent state (the IS being the place in which one goes before the finally coming of Christ). Yet, his “tour guides” were both serial killers while on Earth. This made for a heavy image of how gracious God is and how diverse the community will look in heaven. When Tim asks Jesus why he picked the serial killers to be guides, Jesus responded by saying, “because they love me so much.” No doubt.

This book put a rather new spin on both a theology of heaven and heaven tourism. My only real qualm was the main character’s assertion that everything in his account will be biblical. I think he meant that he isn’t going to be making stuff up like the faux non-fiction tourism books do. And that is definitely true. Yet, the story is speculative (as a fictional work of this nature would undoubtedly be). The good part about this is that all Swavely’s speculating is based on scripture and his interpretation. I think I would have borne any theological disagreements a bit more happily had I not been told up front that nothing within the story would function outside the Bible. How he could get away with not saying that though, I have no clue. . . . I’m not here to fix problems, but only to create them.

Overall, Next Life, was enjoyable, fascinating (especially the part where Charles Spurgeon and Charles Dickens hang out!), and informative! Give it a read and make sure to leave an amazon review!

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Drawn From the Water

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Drawn From the Water

Originally published in the literary journal, Greater Sum, this short story is now available in ebook format! Click here to purchase on amazon.com. 

Update! This story got a facelift thanks to the wonderfully talented graphic designer, JT Wynn, from stageandstory.org!

Drawn From The Water Book Cover v2.jpg

 

Twelve year old Lexi has been a date picker in the nuli valley for four years. She, along with her entire people, are slave laborers, collecting the master’s food, mining their planet’s energy source. 

Yet the birth of Lexi’s baby brother has put her life, as well as her entire family, in danger. Due to the growing population of the workers, the masters have ordered the death of every male infant in the nuli valley. 

Lexi lives each moment in suspense, praying the God of All Realms would spare her brother from death. She must decide the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to help her brother survive.

When ancient history encounters modernity in this classic tale of slavery and genocide, one family will learn what it means for the God of all Realms to have control of their destiny. Star Wars meets the Bible in this sci fi retelling of Exodus 1 & 2.

 

Reviews are really valuable to authors, so please rate and write a review. Thank you!

 

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Review: The Oracle by K.B. Hoyle

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Review: The Oracle by K.B. Hoyle

Click here to read my review of book one of The Gateway Chronicles.

In K.B. Hoyle’s The Oracle, the second installment of The Gateway Chronicles, Darcy Pennington returns to the magical land of Alitheia. Unwilling to face a future betrothal to Prince Tellius, Darcy asks an oracle if the prophecy is accurate regarding their fate. She is completely unaware of the magnitude of her request. Her petition magically tied her to the oracle and she must travel on foot for months to receive an answer. What she didn’t anticipated was the cost. The evil entity not only demands payment, but requires something far more valuable than Darcy could have imagined--or is willing to part with.

It is undoubtedly a rite of passage for a youth to make a mistake in ignorance that has more negative ripple effects than they could have ever dreamed. At first, we look down on their actions, condemning them for their selfishness and stupidity. But in reality, we as adults are no different. We’re just a lot better at hiding it sometimes.

Although Darcy faces immense shame and guilt for her rash act of petitioning the oracle, someone else in the story did the very same thing years before: the mentor character, Rubidious. I find it sad and ironic that Darcy feels so much shame when Rubidious must have been a lot older when he asked a selfish question of the oracle. And that’s what made this story so real. Not only does this situation humble those who are tempted to condemn others for their folly, it also shows how God instills wisdom through suffering and sin.

Another wonderful journey through Alitheia! I can't wait to read book three!

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Review: The Six by K.B. Hoyle

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Review: The Six by K.B. Hoyle

I read K.B. Hoyle’s The Six (The Gateway Chronicles) years ago. It’s been so long, in fact, that I was actually surprised by some of the twists and turns this time around. With the rerelease, new edits, and cover, I just had to delve back into the world of Alitheia again!

If this is the first time you’ve heard of this series, think The Chronicles of Narnia meets The Maze Runner. It’s a portal fantasy much like Narnia yet with a darker, zombie-esque antagonistic force that will keep the cast of characters on their toes through all six installments.

The Six (book 1) follows thirteen year old Darcy Pennington from summer camp in Michigan through a gateway and into a magical world. Once an achingly average teenager, Darcy finds herself, along with her five friends, at the center of prophecy of epic proportions.  

What is striking and brilliant about this installment of The Gateway Chronicles is how well Hoyle portrays the awkward and truly painful insecurity of a thirteen year old girl. There are cringeworthy moments throughout the book because it just felt so real!

There are few people in the world who wear thirteen well and I certainly wasn’t one of them. My adult self felt the depth of how ludicrous her mistakes and self-centeredness was. Yet, my pre-teen self was right there with her, feeling the injustices, the need for recognition and affection.

I love it when I find an author who truly understands her characters and the depth of human sinfulness. But also hope. There is darkness in this world just like our own. But there is hope too!  

I’m so looking forward to rereading the series again.

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Selfless Theater

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Selfless Theater

As a theater major at a Christian university, I found myself stuck in the cycle of theatrical pride and low-self image. I sought to glorify God on and off stage but continuously fell short. So I quit. This is my story.

Selfless Theater is a two part article featured on Stage and Story. Click here for part one and here for part two

Selfless Theater.png

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Lorehaven Magazine Debut!

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Lorehaven Magazine Debut!

I'm so excited about this new digital magazine, guys!

In the Spring issue, you'll find my article, "What If Your Kids Don't Read Fantasy?" In the Summer issue, you can read the follow up article, "How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?"

 Lorehaven Magazine finds truth in fantastic stories. This is the place where you will find:

- Flash reviews of excellent Christian-made fantastical novels.
- Book clubs to share these stories with friends and family.
- Articles that glorify God while exploring human imagination.

Subscribe today and get your free issue at Lorehaven.com!

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Review: Humble Roots

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Review: Humble Roots

Humility has long been my favorite of the virtues. (Perhaps because it's the one I struggle with the most?) I’ve slowly been “collecting” books on humility and this one might be my new favorite—or perhaps tied with The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness.

What this book has over Keller’s is thoroughness. (Although brevity is also a wonderful thing.) But I felt that Hannah Anderson defined humility better. Where Keller’s strength is his discussion on the ego, he completely neglects the importance of self-reflection.

Anderson doesn’t make the same blunder. Her metaphors were careful, biblical, and easily applied. Also props to her for using philosophy as well as theology!

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of humility.

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Every Woman's Silent Struggle

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Every Woman's Silent Struggle

FEATURED BY DESIRING GOD

"Being a woman who struggles with lust can feel like being alone in a crowded room. You think you are the only one tempted when you watch that movie and read that book. Yet the opposite is true.

We’ve been told that lust is when a man looks at a woman (not his wife) and desires her. That definition is both misleading and incomplete. If women don’t begin to redefine what lust means for them, they will continue to isolate themselves from each other, their spouses, and, in so doing, cripple their chances of overcoming temptation. . . ."

Read more on Desiring God's website.

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Review: Christians in the Crosshairs

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Review: Christians in the Crosshairs

Review of Christians in the Crosshairs: Persecution in the Bible and Around the World Today by Gregory C. Cochran  

 

What role should persecution play in the Christian's life. In his Christians in the Crosshairs, Greg Cochran explores the meaning of 2 Timothy 3:12, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Indeed, how are we to understand Jesus' statement that those who are persecuted are blessed and should rejoice (Matt 5:10-12)? 

In Cochran's very accessible book written to benefit laymen or pastors, he begins with a careful explanation of what persecution is and is not. The most general definition of persecution is that it is "a negative reaction to the incarnate presence of Jesus." This basic definition helps us begin to identify what is and is not persecution. It means that persecution is not when my coworkers are offended at my rudeness but when they are offended at my godliness.

Equipped with a definition of persecution, Greg leads his readers to identify persecution worldwide and "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body" (Heb 13:3). Persecution, Cochran explains, is the high cost of following Jesus and accompanies Christians wherever they are throughout history. Cochran closely follows biblical texts to show how God reveals that persecution is part of his plan and has been instrumental in spreading the faith and cultivating the righteousness of Christians. It fulfills prophecies, provides a witness, accomplishes God's mission, and produces strong faith. The Bible is clear that the testing of faith is to be considered a joy because it causes growth toward perfection of faith for those who respond in faith (see Ro 5:4; Jas 1:2-5). Cochran closes his book with further implications and applications regarding comfort in persecution and social justice.

Cochran's book succeeds in conveying a much needed exposition of the role of persecution in daily life and the worldwide church. Readers will walk away from this book with an eagerness to spread the good news, a readiness to face persecution in their own daily life, and an increased sense of solidarity with Christians worldwide. Pastors who read this book will also find encouragement and instruction on how to equip their church to endure, oppose, and share in persecution at home and abroad.

Reviews are really valuable to authors, so please rate and write a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere. Thank you!

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Looking for a clean read?

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Looking for a clean read?

After my article, The Dark Alleys in Young Adult Fiction went live, there was a lot of confusion over whether I was advocating censorship of speculative fiction as a genre. The status update on the Facebook post read, "Many parents think any book is better than TV, but the fantasy in some young adult fiction leads our kids to places we would never want them to go.”

I think whoever wrote that status to accompany the article probably meant sexual fantasy since that was what I was writing about. I meant only to advocate parental awareness of the sexual content in YA fiction. It was my goal to help parents and teens continue reading clean stories and equip them with the tools to find those books. Are you unsure if your child should be reading sci fi and fantasy? Check out my article on the topic at Speculative Faith

Yet since there was a lot of confusion about sci fi/fantasy genres, I've compiled a list (with the help of H. Halverstadt) of resources for finding speculative fiction written by Christian authors. I have not read all of these books, so please do not take this as my stamp of approval on the individual books you find on these sites. I encourage you to use the guidelines at the end of the Dark Alleys article linked above for every book you or your child picks up. Just because it's labeled "Christian" doesn't mean it's clean. You can also follow me on Goodreads where I frequently review fiction (and non-fiction). 

Authors, if you write clean speculative fiction, please feel free to spam my comments with links to your website!

Sites:

Lorehaven Library

Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore

Unicorn Quester

H. Halverstadt Books

Superversive SF

Noblebright Fantasy

Enclave Books

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Bulletin

Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards

Revell

Castle Gate Press

Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Facebook group

Christian Speculative Fiction Facebook group

Christian Books - Connecting Readers and Authors

 

Tips: 

Request that your local Christian bookstore carry more speculative fiction or a specific book.

Ask the library in your city to buy certain books/authors.

Found an author you like? Check their website for book reviews and recommendations.

If you're still unsure about a specific title, look up their publisher. They may have a content standard on their website. 

 

 

 

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Female Lust Survey Results

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Female Lust Survey Results

I recently took an anonymous survey on the topic of female lust. The point of this post is to discuss my survey, it’s results, and what some of my own conclusions are.

Testimonies of sexual addiction of more than ten friends in the past decade have made me rethink what I’ve been taught about lust. Thirty-one women filled out the deeply personal survey, and now more than ever, I think this is an issue that women in the church can no longer ignore. We have become isolated and alone in our temptations and sins which cripples our ability to overcome them.

We also persist in defining lust based on the more well-known sexual thought life of men. Are men and women really different in this area? I think they are. Take for example this article on love and respect by Douglas Wilson, this Newsweek piece on the emerging trend of feminist erotica, and this article from NY Times about the words men and women use when they write about love. Additionally, here is a study on the differences between children living in intact biological families versus homes with same gender parents. Their study found that children with lesbian mothers were eleven times more likely to be touched sexually than children in intact biological—opposed to children with gay fathers who were three times to be touched sexually than children in intact biological families. I discuss this briefly in my review of The Last Closet in which Moira Greyland writes about her childhood under the parentage of pedophiles. 

 

Here are a few stats from this survey:

  • 29 out of 31 struggle with lust

  • 25 out of 31 have dealt with sexual addiction at some point in their life

  • 25 out of 31 have masturbated

  • 22 out of 31 think that masturbation is wrong

  • 29 out of 31 say their lust is exacerbated by literature and television

  • All are Christian

 

Some weightier issues:

When asked if they had someone to talk to about their struggles with lust, the majority said they have only confided in their husband. More than half of the single women had never spoken to anyone about it. Is it any wonder why women are suffering alone in the church while men openly acknowledge the universal temptations for their sex? This can also be one of the reasons some women wonder if they are gay. (Ex: If lust is truly a man’s struggle, does it mean I’m gay because I struggle with it too?)

When asked if they have ever lusted while looking at another woman, 42% answered yes. But the question was more nuanced. It read, “Do you ever look at another woman (or picture) and lust, unsure of the cause, but on close examination realize it's because you want to be like her and not homosexual thoughts? Ex: See a picture of a female model in lingerie, lust, and imagine you are her while seeking sexual satisfaction from a male partner or masturbation.”

I believe this is one of the most misunderstood occurrences. As women, we are emotional and relational. Our lust tends to center around relationships—at least that's how it normally starts. So why lust when seeing a picture of another woman? This is another instance that would lead someone to think they are gay. But I propose homosexual thoughts are not at work here. Women want to be desirable and desired. Most women would say they are discontent with something about their physical appearance, so they assume their husband (or future husband) would be happier if they looked more like her. Whoever she is. We want to be her. We want what she has: a more attractive body, sexual freedom, attention from men. There is lust at work here, but the root of this sin is envy.

Another question on the survey read, “Do you ever feel burdened or tempted to be burdened by modesty or monogamy?” Surprisingly most people answered no. But I think that is due to not having examined this overmuch. After dialoguing with a friend about this, she was able to come to a striking conclusion:

“I think for me the real root of it is envy, but not even like I said that she’s sexualized so I want to be too, but I’m envying her sin honestly. Sounds crazy, but bear with me. I’m envying her sin in that she has the ‘freedom’ to be immodest and sexual and make herself a sexual object if she wants to. I think it’s a deep root of feminism in thinking that ‘freedom’ she has is something to be desired and to envy rather than chains of sin. So our response to that envy of her perceived freedom in her sexuality is to run out and immediately express our own in whatever way we can because we’re responding sinfully to wanting what she has. Even though it’s sin. It comes a lot I think in me from viewing modesty as a burden when I’m not thinking rightly so I envy those women who are free from that ‘burden’”

God’s plan for sex has been ravaged by humankind. Our individualistic culture embraces any new idea about sexuality and reproduction, resulting in high rates of abortion, sex-trafficking, along with generations of over-sexualized children and teens. With the invention of film, television, and eventually the internet, came a people obsessed with one thing: sex. Everything is about sex. Advertisements use it to sell food, fashion, even technology. Pressure is placed on the arts to include sexual tension (if not actual sex) into anything and everything they create. We cannot escape it. But we can talk to each other, keep one another accountable, and pray for purity.

I address this further in my article, Every Woman's Silent Struggle: Fighting Lust with Sisters in Christ, on desiringgod.org concerning the issues facing the church and what we can do to help other women struggling with lust.

Also, check out my defense of censoring sex in literature (a follow-up of my YA fiction Desiring God article) and where you can look for clean fiction

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Review: The Last Closet

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Review: The Last Closet

I recently finished Moira Greyland's highly controversial book, The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon. This review will mainly discuss the widely accepted moral philosophy of the LGBT community—what is right or good for me may not be right or good for you. And with that comes the idea of tolerance—indulgence in a belief that differs from your own. (See the update at the bottom of this blog for Moira Greyland's response to my review.)

Greyland gives a chronological account of her life while in the care of her parents who were both pedophiles and part of the LGBT community. If you're considering reading this, don't be put off by the number of pages. Nearly half of that is the appendix.

There were a number of things that disturbed me about Greyland's mother, Marion Zimmer Bradley (bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement). First of all, the similarity of my name with this horribly abusive person. Secondly, the numerous similarities in hobbies and career choice. If you follow me, you know I write science fiction and fantasy. And if you know me personally, you might be aware of my love of singing and opera specifically (back in the day). Thankfully, that's where the commonalities ended. Our worldviews could not be more different!

At the same time, it was a breath of fresh air to read about Moira's own interests growing up. I know we would have been nerdy friends! We both love theater, sewing costumes, and singing. Not only that, but she grew up in California and even lived in Redlands for a time! Okay but moving on . . . .

Marion Zimmer Bradley was hailed as one of the great voices of feminism in her time. No doubt those that looked up to her are now cringing at what lay underneath that Voice. 

And there lies the rub. 

Greyland makes some extremely controversial statements in the last few chapters. Once all the drama is wrapped up, she delves headlong into personal analysis. And it's this part that has the LGBT community and their supporters breathing fire. And yet, most of them are just as adamant that what Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen (convicted pedophile) did to their children was unethical and evil. Why is that? Moira Greyland primarily blames her parent's homosexual lifestyle. There's a disconnect here, and I would like to speculate as to the reason why. 

Greyland states in her book:

“I have heard all the customary protestations. ‘Your parents were evil because they were evil, not because they were gay,’ but I disagree. The underlying problem is a philosophical one that is based on beliefs that are not only common to gay culture but to popular culture. And this is the central belief: All Sex is Always Right No Matter What."

I am a supporter of traditional marriage, but I won't attempt to prove her point about the cultural ideology of sex being right all the time. I would like to question her final conclusion that homosexuality is the real problem here. I do believe it is a problem, but she seems to be saying the the core issue is gayness, and the natural consequence is pedophilia. I propose instead that they are different but related consequences of moral relativism (which she mentions in passing). 

Here's a definition of moral relativism as it is commonly used today. In the words of my husband and philosophy professor, Tim Jacobs, "Moral relativism says morals are created. Objectivism says they're discovered. Relativism says morals describe personal preference. Objectivism says they describe reality. Relativism says morals are created by individuals (subjectivist relativism) or society (conventional or cultural relativism). The latter collapses into the former because nobody can define 'society.' Is it a country? What about political divides? Religion? Family? Who do we ever agree with? Relativism is inadequate because it does not allow for morals to prescribe behavior, express obligation that overrides emotion, allow for individual growth or social progress, etc."

I believe there are many people in the LGBT community who are sickened by the idea of pedophilia. Not only that, but they rightly see how much it hurts their cause: If pedophiles are given the right to "free love" (or for many, free sex), then those that had accepted homosexuals in the past might begin to see a slippery slope forming between the two lifestyles and reject both. 

But the fact of the matter is, that slippery slope from free love between all genders into free love between all ages does exist within moral relativism. If morality is man-made, then any man has the right to create their own moral code. And within the "free love" worldview, sex with the person you "love" is morally good whether they're the opposite gender, the same gender, old, young, or even a relative. When an LGBT person says that sex with children is "wrong," they are going against their own moral relativism and stating what we would all hope to be a universal truth. Sex with children is wrong!

Here's the thing, this worldview is faulty because it is inconsistent. It must be inconsistent in order to function at all. If you read Greyland's book, she shows just how hypocritical and contradictory her parents often were. And yet, they truly attempted to follow their moral code to it's logical extremes. That's the reason they supported pedophilia. And I do mean supported, not just engaged in it with a guilty conscience (they felt no guilt). Walter Breen even wrote papers (there were others already in existence) on the topic of Greek love (pedophilia) and why it should be widely accepted by society. 

Back to the matter at hand: moral relativism is the core problem, not homosexuality. The difference between those in the LGBT community that oppose pedophilia and Greyland's parents is that the former do not follow moral relativism to it's logical extremes. They set up quasi-universal moral standards such as, love is free to all genders. Stop. Don't go any farther down that slope. Sadly, there still exists a faction within their numbers who do not stop themselves from slipping down the slope. They are people like Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley. We would all like to believe that their case was extremely rare and no more common than heterosexual pedophiles. Yet, Greyland provides many sources opposing such optimism. Here is just one of them from The Public Discourse. LMs are lesbian mothers, GFs are gay fathers, and IBF is an intact biological family.

"Contrary to recent and widely circulated reports that there is no sexual victimization in lesbian households, the NFSS found that, when asked if they were ever touched sexually by a parent or other adult, the children of LMs were eleven timesmore likely to say 'yes' than the children from an IBF, and the children of GFs were three times more likely to say “yes.” The children of IBFs were the least likely of all family types to have ever been touched sexually: only 2% reported affirmatively (compared to 23% of LMs who replied 'yes'). When asked if they were ever forced to have sex against their will, the children of LMs were the worst off again—four times more likely to say 'yes' than the children of IBFs. The children of GFs were three times more likely to have been forced to have sex than the children of IBFs. In percentages, 31% of LMs said they had been forced to have sex, compared with 25% of GFs and 8% of IBFs. These results are generally consistent with research on heterosexual families. For instance, a recent federal report showed that children in heterosexual families are least likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused in an intact, biological, married family.[7]"

I wish I could provide you with all my favorite quotes from this book. It was truly wonderful and an excellent study of worldview and mental disorders. Yet, it was also graphic at times. I hesitate to recommend it to anyone who suffers from PTSD from their own abuse—whether sexual, physical, or mental (as Greyland and her siblings suffered them all)—since it may trigger flashbacks. Although there is also a lot of value in her assessments of her abuse that there may be more healing found here than harm for abuse victims. 

*** Update ***

Upon reading this review, Moira Greyland commented, "A connection which might not yet have been made is this: where no doubt there might be some gay people who have a problem with sex with little children, older men seducing teens is the way into the lifestyle for all the gay men and ex-gay men I have ever known. My father twisted his experiences with a priest at the orphanage into 'love' and both Milo and George Takei joked about it. Of course, Milo spoke out about his first experience later as a rape, with tears and rage. To me, he is just like one of the boys in our house, used and degraded, and doing his best to maintain masculine pride and insist it did not hurt him."

 

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St. Louis Ferry

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St. Louis Ferry

Endless Press held a flash fiction writing contest in January offering a scholarship to the Realm Maker's Conference. I didn't win, but still had a lot of fun writing my entry! The rules were to respond to the following prompt in 1,000 words or less.  

You arrive late to the hotel for Realm Makers. After hurriedly checking in and throwing your luggage into your room from the hallway, you rush to the conference hall only to be informed by the bellhop that due to a scheduling conflict the sessions are being held offsite. He directs you out a side door where you discover a most unorthodox mode of transportation…

***Update: Check out this FANTABULOUS graphic by JT Wynn! I am in awe!!

St Louis Ferry.jpg

 

 

St. Louis Ferry

I lean my staff against the doorframe and slip off my backpack. The hallway is deserted. I can almost hear the wind blow through, see a tumbleweed roll past. I search the bag looking for my information packet. Leave it to me to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I bet no one is wearing their costumes the first day either. My stomach twists painfully. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I should go change. The inconvenience of being late is nothing to the mortification of walking in looking like Rey.

Where did that packet go?

“Hey. Star Wars girl,” a raspy male voice says.

I swivel around to find a squat middle aged man. A gold name tag reads, “Frankie.”

“So you’re with the conference.” Frankie turns and walks away. “You’re in the wrong place.”

I swing my backpack on and follow after the waddling figure.

“Where is the right place?”

He frowns over his shoulder. “I’m showing you, aren’t I?”

I stuff down a snarky comeback. “Oh. Thank you.”

Frankie leads me to a side door with a bright red exit sign. At the door, Frankie turns and hefts his pants up. “Those Realm people provided transportation.”

“Why did the conference move?”

“Not like it’s any of your business, but there was a scheduling conflict.” He turns with a wheeze and waddles away.

“Wait!” Frankie stalls at the sound of my voice. “Am I supposed to wear my costume to check-in? This is my first—”

He starts walking again. “How should I know?”

I grind my teeth in frustration and push the door open. The smell of back alley garbage hits my nose. I snort the putrid air out, but the view ahead makes me suck it back down in desperate gulps.

A black creature the size of a small moving truck with flippers as big as palm fronds turns it’s silky, seal-like face toward me. It belches and a few gallons of water fall from its mouth, splattering onto the pavement.

From behind the creature, a lean man in a polo shirt emerges. He lovingly runs a hand over the backside of the seal thing.

“Excuse me!” I call, “I was told there would be a car to take me to the Realm Makers Conference. Have you seen one?”

He waves me over, his face void of emotion. I creep forward. Please don’t ask me to pet your monster, dude.

“There ain’t no car.” He runs wet fingers through his shaggy hair. “You’ll take this ferry. Loch knows the way.”

“I–I beg your pardon? Loch?”

“Yup. As in Loch Ness. Call ‘er Nessie if you like. She don’t mind whichever way.”

For the first time, I notice an ornate leather saddle strapped to the creature. I take a step back. “I’m not getting on that thing.”

The man frowns at me in confusion. “Who’re you ‘sposed to be anyway?”

“What, really? I’m Rey from Star Wars.” Where’s this guy been?

He leans close to me, and the corner of his mouth quirks up in a conspiratorial smile. “Then act like it, huh?”

My spine straightens. Is he calling me a coward? Before I realize what I’ve done, I’m sitting in the saddle on Nessie, my feet snuggled into the stirrups.

“Here. Put this on.” The man hands me a bulky pair of goggles attached to a metal tube.

“What’s this?” I point to the tube.

“Oxygen. Put it on quick. Loch doesn’t like sittin’ long.”

I slip the mask on. With a hiss, air pours in and I take a deep breath. The cold tube hangs strangely off the side of my head.

Crap. Oh crap. Why do I need oxygen? I really don’t want to need oxygen.

“Hold tight!” the man shouts. I hear the slap of his hand on Nessie’s backside before we lurch forward. I slip sideways in my seat, then scramble for the saddle horn to right myself.

With the nauseating sound of gagging, water pours from Nessie’s mouth in a continuous stream. Instead of running through the gutter, it fills the space around us like we’re sitting in an invisible bowl. Nessie’s flippers paddle faster as the water rises. We exit the alley, spinning into a parking lot like a hamster ball.

Water continues to gush from Nessie’s mouth, filling what now appears to be an invisible bubble surrounding us. It spins like a wheel around me, raining onto my head from above. Soon there’s no more air in our bubble. Nessie’s mouth closes, and her flippers pump harder. We’re flying down a four-lane road, under a freeway, past tall buildings obscured by water.

Nessie passes under a red light without pausing. A car slams on its breaks, and the sound of it’s horn follows us down the street. A pedestrian, who probably saw the whole thing, displays a single finger and mouths something inarticulate.

We’re rounding the next corner when I plunge my staff out of the bubble to signal the turn. Water runs along its length, dripping onto a family on the corner.

I wave over my shoulder in apology.

Without warning Nessie lurches to a stop. I fly from the saddle and land hard on my hands and knees. When I look up, the spinning ball of water is half a block away.

“Aw bad luck,” a female voice says. I sit and flip my wet hair back. A girl in jeans and a t-shirt stares down at me. “You got Nessie? That’s what happens when you show up late. Hope your phone isn’t ruined.”

“Oh yeah. . . . I hope so too. Hey, are we supposed to wear our costumes today?” I pointlessly hide my staff behind my back.

The girl shrugs. “Not usually . . . but—”

“Oh no. . . .” I groan and drop my soggy head into my hands.

“Hey. Don’t worry about it. No one will think twice about your clothes.” She reaches down and pulls me to my feet. “You obviously belong here.”

 

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What If Your Kids Don't Read Fantasy

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What If Your Kids Don't Read Fantasy

Featured by Speculative Faith

Are unsure if your child should be reading fantasy? You may be asking the wrong questions. 

"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with a mature Christian friend about their uncertainty of the role of fiction and imagination.

They may know it’s good in a nebulous sense, but what should they do when their child suddenly has an appetite for fantasy? What if they ask to read Harry Potter?

They don’t consider themselves fundamentalists, yet they think fantasy poses a real threat to their child."

Read more on Speculative Faith's website.

 

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The Need for the Critical Thinking Christian

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The Need for the Critical Thinking Christian

Click here to read part one on critical thinking by guest blogger and in-house philosopher, Tim Jacobs. Subscribe to his philosophy YouTube channel here.

What radio station is safe for your kids? What movies are safe? Many Christian parents find these to be easy questions. Christian radio doesn’t have any swearing or sexual content. VeggieTales is not only safe but gives Christian morals, right? I hate to break it to you, but both are frequently not safe. Christian critical thinking has been lulled to sleep by blindly accepting anything with a “Christian” label. When we watch other things on TV, we have our mental filters active, trying to see if its good for our kids or not, but if it’s Christian, or Disney, then we check our filters at the door. This is harmful because it means that the Christianity our children are learning is one of moralism and Christianized American self-fulfillment.

VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer apologized in 2011 for teaching moralism instead of gospel Christianity.

"I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . . And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have." (Source: Patheos).

So, the most popular Christian cartoon teaches the Oprah god. What does this mean? Kids are learning that self-esteem and self-fulfillment are our goals in life and God will help us get them so long as we’re nice.

What about Christian radio? The song “Free To Be Me” by Francesca Battistelli ranked #1 on Hot Christian in 2009 and was nominated for a Dove award in 2010. It was so catchy many of you will recognize its chorus:

'Cause I got a couple dents in my fender

Got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy

And on my own I'm so clumsy

But on Your shoulders I can see

I'm free to be me

Notice what this says. Perfection is my enemy. Really? What’s good about this sentiment is that the song encourages us to not despair in failures and faults, but this song goes further by glorying in these faults. It says that I’m the kind of person who has faults and with God I am free to be that way. That’s what theologians call antinomianism, or cheap grace, an understanding of grace as to be permissive instead of transformative.

“Free to Be Me” is now becoming dated, but the theological atrocities ubiquitous in Christian songs is so pervasive on the radio that I would rather turn it off than listen. When DJs who have no theological training besides Americanized Christian culture come on and try to give advice, it comes out as what Phil Vischer described when he said, “We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore.”

This same problem is present in “Christian” TV, music, movies, social events, spirituality books, novels, and greeting cards. The solution is to not trust the label “Christian” any more than you should trust the label “organic.” After all, the National Review reports that false advertising of organic foods is not uncommon. The profits outweigh the penalties. It shouldn’t surprise us then that popular “Christian” music artists like Jennifer Knapp come out as being homosexual or popular author and pastor Rob Bell comes out as a universalist.

2 Peter 2:1 says, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.” Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt 7:15).

How do we guard ourselves against false teaching? Cultivate critical thinking instead of censorship. Censorship oversimplifies matters by saying, “This group is good and this is bad.” Life is more complicated. Things generally have a mix of good and evil. Critical thinking takes a detailed look at which elements are good and which are bad. It doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It also doesn’t drink the tea without straining out the leaves. Critical thinking doesn’t blindly accept anything. In censoring children, you don’t allow them to build their own defenses. Instead, watch TV or listen to music with them and show them the good and the bad that are present. This trains them to be critical thinkers always on their guard and not as liable to poor influence.

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The Need for Critical Thinking

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The Need for Critical Thinking

My philosophy professor and guest blogger hubby strikes again! Click here to read part two in this series on critical thinking. Subscribe to his philosophy YouTube channel here.

We are born into a community. As we grow, we inherit many cultural beliefs from learning the language, being taught by our parents, being influenced by circumstance, and many other variables. If you are an American raised at the end of the 20th century or beginning of the 21st century, you will likely exhibit a culture of capitalism, consumerism, and the American Dream. You will likely view freedom as the ability to pursue whatever makes you happy so long as you don’t harm others. This will likely include the pursuit of a career and possessions. If you disagree with these things but were still raised in 21st century America, it will be because you were either raised in a subculture that has its own idiosyncrasies or you are a critical thinker. Actually, you may be some mix of all of these.

By contrast, if you were born in China in 500 BC in the Zhou Dynasty, your outlook on life will likely be directly related to the economic standing of your family. Speaking of family, you will be less interested in freedom and self-fulfillment than you will be in honoring your family through attaining a successful career. Success will be defined not primarily by how much money you make but by how much the community honors you and therefore by how much they honor your family.

We are inescapably influenced by culture. It is through culture that we learn language, we learn proper and improper social behaviors. Little boys in modern America learn that they shouldn’t steal their sister’s toys and how they should grow up to be industrious tradesmen. Little girls in ancient China grow up learning that they are to be treated as property. Little American girls today are taught to pursue self-fulfillment through career pursuits that are largely individualistic. Little boys in ancient China were taught the value of honor and family. Little boys in America today are largely seen as uncivilized little monsters when they can’t sit still and listen in their elementary school classroom while the little girls do just fine.

Culture influences us, but it does not have to blind us. There are good and bad elements to every culture, but we can only see them if we think critically. It was critical thinking that ended the British and American slave trade. In 19th century England, a small group of Anglican evangelicals dared to challenge their culture by pointing out the hypocrisy of those who called themselves Christians without living for the love of their neighbor or valuing the dignity of all people. They dared to challenge the system, to speak up against some bad practices present in their culture. Thus, they changed the world through critical thinking.

The other option is to adopt everything your community tells you to believe. You read blogs by people who think like you. You watch TV shows that reinforce what you already believe. Your family and friends believe the same things as you, respond to the news in the same way, and are generally carbon copies of you with only minor differences such as career, favorite NFL team, and what city they live in. These are people who blindly follow other people, like sheep. Some have affectionately nicknamed people who lack critical thinking, “sheeple.” Sheeple get angry when people from a different community say something controversial. Sheeple feel offended often and can’t understand why someone would think differently than themselves. Sheeple do not believe or act the way they do based on well grounded logical argumentation. People who blindly follow are leaves on the cultural tides of their community, being driven and tossed by the wind.

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Will you be content as a leaf on a wave? That is dangerous. Why? Following the tides of culture without thinking critically means that you will fall headfirst into all of the problems that the culture shares. As a modern American, for example, this will likely mean that you will fall into the rut of defining your life by the pursuit of the American dream. You will pursue self-fulfillment through the pursuit of a career that is obtained for money and so long as it isn’t an entirely boring job. You will fill your nights and weekends with fleeting pleasures focused. In short, you will follow the American Dream, which is defined by greed and selfishness. However, if you do not think critically, you will not even be aware of your selfishness. In fact, you will not be aware of your flaws or how to fix them except in a vague sense that leads you only to lie on your bed and wish you were different, leading a life of “quiet desperation” as Henry David Thoreau said.

Maybe this does not describe you. Perhaps your culture is different. Perhaps you have similarities and differences to mainstream American culture. Or, perhaps you have already started thinking critically. The biblical Book of Proverbs speaks to three types of people: the fool, the youth, and the wise person. The wise person loves wisdom and pursues more of it (“philosophy” comes from the Greek for “the love of wisdom”). The youth is the impressionable person who has not yet determined their path. They may lead a life of wisdom or foolishness. Whether or not the “youth” is actually young is beside the point. The point is that, like a child, they may be moulded and can still choose their course in life. The fool, like the wise man, has already chosen his course in life. The fool has chosen to ignore wisdom and pursuit selfish, fleeting pleasures. In doing so, he constantly faces the consequences. Yet, since he is not wise, he does not learn from his consequences but repeats his mistakes, never examining his life.

Will you be a leaf on a wave? Perhaps, through critical thinking, you will be an anchor, holding fast to truths that the culture pushes against. They culture will not like you for getting in their way. The leaf thinks it is free because it is bound by nothing. But it only thinks it is free because it does not realize that it is carried along by cultural tides. The anchor holds firm. Further, some will not only be anchors but will make waves of their own, changing the tides of culture. Not everyone is called to make big waves, though everyone can make small ones.

The question of Socrates is this: Will you examine your life and make it worth living?

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue to form a judgment. It asks not only whether a belief is true but also asks what the justification for the belief is. It evaluates an idea’s supporting reasons and argument in order to accept, reform, or reject its conclusion. Therefore, a “critique” is not necessarily a rejection of an idea but a thoughtful analysis of its supporting argument.

The Wall Street Journal reports that employers find critical thinking skills significantly lacking in prospective employees. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of job descriptions listing critical thinking skills as a requirement has doubled. Employers are seeking employees who can think on their feet, analyze a problem, and propose a solution. Critical thinking is seen by employers as providing the ability to:

  1. Sift reasons from distractions in order to see the real problem.

  2. Examine evidence to support claims.

  3. Re-examine old ways of doing things.

  4. Re-examine how you are thinking in order to think more effectively.

  5. Make use of information to reach new conclusions or re-examine previous ones.

Yet, critical thinking is not first and foremost a job skill, an optional set of acquired traits that are practiced for the purpose of obtaining a decent job. Though it is a skill acquired and improved through practice, critical thinking is primarily for the purpose of improving one’s life and the lives of others. Critical thinking helps the thinker analyze their failures and improve, notice flawed thinking and act more reasonably, spot the problems in their life and the lives of others in order come up with better ways of doing things. Failure is only helpful if a person is willing to think critically about their failures in order to understand why they failed. Failure without analysis is doomed to repeat itself. This is why people often say that history repeats itself. It is because we do not learn from our past by analyzing it to see what was wrong and what can be improved upon.

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Forgotten Virtue

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Forgotten Virtue

Please welcome guest blogger, philosopher extraordinaire, and my husband, Tim Jacobs! Subscribe to his philosophy YouTube channel here.

 

I’m a Christian professor of philosophy at a state school in Houston, and at the beginning of each class I conduct an anonymous worldview survey. Only 20% of my students believe morals are objective and not created by individuals or society. About 33% say same-sex marriage is not permissible. About 52% say that abortion is not permissible, the majority adding the caveat that it is permissible in cases of rape or incest. About 60% say they are Christian. Why is it that 60% are Christian but only 20% believe in objective morality?

If Christians do not learn their worldview from church, they will learn it from society. Sunday School is dying and giving way to house groups that focus on application at the exclusion of learning. Don’t get me wrong, “life-on-life” accountability and support groups are valuable, but if Christians are not learning robust Christianity in the first place, their application will be of a largely secular worldview.

 

An example of a concept that is missing from the worldview of many Christians is the idea of virtue. We all think virtue is a good thing and have a vague concept that it means something like “goodness” or “holiness,” but that is hardly helpful. In order to understand what a virtue is, we must first understand that intellect separates humans from animals. The intellect has two components, cognition and willing. Cognition includes understanding, judging, and reasoning. A person can practice these and become very intelligent, but this does not make them good.

The will on the other hand is the seat of desire and making choices. This is different than saying that the will is emotion, for even animals have emotion. Yet, animals cannot make choices and only function in a stimulus-response way. This is why we do not say that a lion has committed murder when it kills another animal, nor do we say that a dog is a thief and a vandal when it eats my homework. Animals do not have moral status. Because humans have a will and can choose, they can develop habits of choice and can choose to either follow their emotions or lead their emotions.

A moral virtue is a habit that makes its possessor good. It is a character trait and disposition to act in a certain way. A virtue is not a mere habit, for we can have bad habits or useful habits that are morally neutral. A virtue is a habit that is intentionally cultivated by reason to achieve the ultimate purpose of a human life, namely the imitation of Christ. This is not to say that every good choice has to be well thought out. On the contrary, a lot of thinking may go into the first choice, but repetition of the same choice develops a habit, or a second nature, so that we can react in good ways without having to think about it every time. Practice makes perfect, you might say, and in this way you can see real change in your life.

God is interested not in creating a bunch of people who fulfill their duties and check off good behavior. He is interested in the person you become. Of course, a good person will do good things, but we are to become Christlike in character, not just in outward action. What does this look like? Here's some application.

 

First, the culture tells us to follow our heart and that love is something we are struck with and have an obligation to follow. “Love at first sight” and the obsessive addiction of infatuation are patterns of following emotion, or “following your heart.” Do your emotions control you or do you control your emotions? Let wisdom lead your heart. Is it wise to pursue a relationship with this person? If not, then it doesn’t matter how you feel about them. Keep reminding yourself of wisdom, and your emotional addiction will eventually subside. Culture, however, will tell you to follow your heart.

After a repetition of the right choices, your emotions will develop habits. Do you have a habit of thinking about what you are entitled to and what others ought to do for you? If so, then when you see injustice, you will likely feel the emotional habits of frustration and being offended rather than of pity and mercy. Do you give to the poor? If not, when you see the poor, you will habitually feel apathy. If you do, then you will habitually feel love. The way you respond to situations gradually grows your emotional response. Think first. Act second. Feel later. If your choice is habitually bad, then instead of cultivating virtue, you cultivate vice.

 

Second, obedience to God is not just about checking off your duties, going to church, sharing the gospel every once in a while, giving tithe, and volunteering for some ministry. Many will go to hell who have done these things well. The real question is whether they have done these things out of virtue, out of the love of Christ, or out of self-righteousness, trying to feel righteous by fulfilling external duties. Christ says that the motive for obedience to commands is the prime virtue of love, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The Fruit of the Spirit is a list of virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22–23). It is not a list of duties. In the Sermon on the Mount virtue plays a significant role, discussing how murder and lust are in the heart and not in mere action, and we should love our enemies. The Sermon climaxes in the Golden Rule, which is a tool teaching us that love of others is the most important virtue (Matt 7:12–14). Jesus saves his most scathing rebukes for religious people who have all their ducks in a row and fulfill all their duties while neglecting the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness—all of which are virtues (Matt 23:23). The Bible is saturated with discussion of virtue. If you read the Old Testament through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount, you see that God’s intent the whole time has been to restore people to the imitation of God’s character as the image of God.

People should certainly follow their duties even when they don’t want to. Imagine a person who has a duty they dislike, but with great effort they do it anyway. This is morally praiseworthy. Unfortunately, without a consideration of virtue in our Christian worldview, we often think that this is all obedience has to offer. Obeying God usually entails doing something we really don’t want to do. This is a poor conception of the gospel life. Instead, imagine a person who so desires to do the right thing, that they don’t even think of it as a duty. They have developed such a habit of doing the right thing that it is natural for them, and they actually enjoy doing the right thing. It is not enough to do the right thing. We must love doing it. This is how we must imagine Jesus, the most human human.

 

Third, because virtues are habits, every choice is significant. In a situation where you can choose to act in love or apathy, cowardice or courage, diligence or laziness, whichever choice you make makes it a little easier to make that same choice next time. Before you know it, you’ve developed a habit and have changed your moral character and disposition. It is dangerous to say, “Well, it’s okay just this once.” After the first time, the second time will be easier. Before you know it, you’ve fallen down a slippery slope. This brings a sense of healthy fear in doing anything less than urgent, radical, whole-hearted obedience. The greatest commandment is a virtue, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37).

Since virtues are character qualities and dispositions, when you develop morally good or bad habits, you are changing your personality. As habits are formed by practice, this also gives hope for change. Most change takes place one step at a time. Take the first small step towards obedience and repeat it until it is as easy as habit. Growth takes place in small steps over a long period of time. Since virtues are habits ordered by reason to the imitation of Christ, they will more often than not begin by resisting emotions. You won’t feel like obeying. This is what it feels like to have reason lead emotion. However, this should only be a phase. Gradually, as the habit of choice develops, the emotional habit will as well. As C.S. Lewis says, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him” (Mere Christianity).

Addendum on Grace

No discussion of virtue is complete without discussing GRACE. Without grace, we can grow in virtue, just like how a blind, three-legged dog can get better at walking. Your non-Christian neighbor may be more patient, hospitable, or hard-working than you. This is legitimate virtue, but only in a crippled sense. It aims generically at human perfection, but not specifically at finding that perfection in the imitation of Christ. It is not true to say, "Non-Christians cannot do good deeds." In fact, Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matt 7:11). Jesus verifies that non-Christians can do good things.

Why do I emphasize that Non-Christians can do good? I have three reasons. First, because my whole aim is to fight against the oversimplified, greeting card Christianity that is full of catchphrases that sound close enough to the truth to dull the critical thinking of Christians and lead them away from a robust Christian worldview. Instead, I seek clarity and precision in my love of truth and wisdom, which leads to my second point. Verifying that Non-Christians do some  good (just look at all the self-sacrifice after Hurricane Harvey) helps us ask what sets Christians apart. If we don't verify the good of Non-Christians, that not only cuts off our witness with them, it excuses our own mediocre moral actions as being "at least better than them." Third, verifying the common grace God gives to all to restrict humanity's evil serves to highlight special grace, which is the thing that separates Christian virtue from Non-Christian virtue.

Grace changes both the goal and the cause of our efforts to be moral. Because of grace, we cultivate virtue for the imitation of Christ, not for self-righteousness, self-fulfillment, or even the good of society alone. Grace enables us to pursue not merely the generic perfection of human nature but its specific perfection in the imitation of Christ. Paul says everyone knows God from creation (Ro 1:19–21), and everyone has a basic understanding of morality in their conscience (Ro 2:15). However, without grace, they cannot submit to Christ as savior, cannot be motivated by love of Christ, cannot act for the sake of the glory of God, and do not have the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us to sanctify us and recover the image of Christ in us. Progress is promised, despite our failures (Eph 1:4). This is the goal of salvation. You will grow in virtue, however slowly, if you have the Holy Spirit in you. This is grace, that every step forward was pushed from behind.

One last note on growth. PRAYER is magic. I've often asked myself why God didn't give us magic. It's because he's got it and we just need to ask him to use it. You know that bad habit you can't seem to kick or that good habit that never seems to stick? Pray and be patient. If you don't believe in prayer, pray that you will. If you don't have patience, pray that you will. If you don't believe anything that I've said, pray that you will.

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