Saturday, August 14, 2010

In Defense of Theistic Evolution

It was not my orignal intention to defend theistic evolution on this blog, for fear it would alientate fellow beleivers. Then again, how many people, beleivers or otherwise, appear to be reading these posts? So I might as well go ahead.

I beleived in what might be called "theistic evolution" from a very early age. I never heard of the Genesis creation story in Sunday school. Somehow, it wasn't taught. I read all about the history of life on earth in Life's World We Live In book at home, and in the numerous books on dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals I brought home from the library. I knew all about the Mesozoic, Eocene Miocone and Plestocene well before school-age. I saw the intricate design in nature all around, and just assumed that somehow it was the work of God. I assumed the same thing about the how life developed on earth and simpler forms grew into more complex ones. God had to be somehow controling it. I'm not sure when I first encountered the Hebrew creation story, but it must have been sometime when I was in second or third grade, in the doctor's office with a copy of Uncle Arthur's Bible Stories. This contained beautiful paintings of the garden of Eden, with the newly created animals of all types. I loved those paintings. But the story implied these animls just appeared out of nowhere at God's will. There was no scientific explanation of how they were created. The general beleif of Creationists is, of course that they created by miracles. There was nothing scintific involved in the creation of the natural world at all.

My discovery of the creation story was initially frightening because it seemed to imply none of those hundreds of prehistoric beasts ever existed. All the animals depicted in those paintings were modern species. But I was taught that everything in the Bible was true. It seemed to imply that half my childhood had been a fraud. I asked my science-teacher father if the Genesis stories were true. He replied that, no they probeably weren't true, and I was greatly relieved. I assmued at the time that the origin of humans was a mystery, though I'd heard some thought we came form apes. But then my parents bought me Album of Prehistoric Man (I already owned the Album of Dinosaurs and the Album of Prehistoric Animals), and Zdenek Burian's book on prehistoric man man as a Christmas gift in the third grade. And I foud that humans really did evolve from apes, and the so-called "missing links" couldn't be missing. What was an australophithicus, then? I was fascinated that I could actually trace my ancestry back to non-human animals, clear back to the origin of life itself.

Creationists have always seemed to me to be pretty much kill-joys who, thankfully, are scientifically on wrong side of the debate. It would mean tossing the whole sceince of the how life developed through the intricately malleable structure of DNA out the window. Not that creationists ever deny the mere existence of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Perhaps some did in the past, but I've never read or heard anything by a creationist which denied the existence of extinct lifeforms; in fact modern creationists have created an entire idelogically motivated fantasy-world in which dinosaurs, mammals, and ancient near-eastern civilazations flourished on the continent of Pangea a were 6,0000 years ago! Sounds like something out of the lost-world pulps of the 1930s. Yet the creationists are promoting this fantasy as scientifically and historically accurate. The 1990s televised version of Conan Doyle's The Lost World featured a caraciture of a Bible-thumping creationist (a character not present in Doyle's story)who insists that "the devil mae that place!" Actually, any modern creationist would be absulutely delighted if a lost world of dinosaurs were discovered in the modern age! Some creationists with a passion for dinosaurs, are, in fact enthusiastic cryptozoolologists. Even the presence of Doyle's ape-men would be brushed aside, with the insistence that they were "just apes", despite their ability to walk apright!

Speaking of this, one of the greatest continuing falsehoods promoted by Creationists is the idea that there are no transitional forms. The fossil record is simply overflowing with them. As recently as twenty years ago, the evidence for whale ancestry was virtually unknown. Now the record of whale evoltuon is virtually complete, with all of the fossils of limbed whales discovered in the near east and North Africa. From Pakicetus to ambulocetus to durodon to basilosaurus and beyond. The record of human evolution, also, is virtually complete. Even the links between the links have now been filled. Australopithicus to Homo habilis to Homo Erectus to Homo heidelbergensis to Homo Egraster to Homo Neanderthalus and Hommo Sapiens--where are the supposed remaining gaps? But no amount of fossil record will be enough to convince creationists, most of whom even admit that they must hold to their beleifs no matter what. The reason for this is easy to discern. They beelive that once a non-literal interpretation of any Biblical passage is allowed, others will follow which may result in the outright rejection of Scripture and of Christ's sacrifice. This fear of "slippery slope" is why Young Earth Creationists such as Ken Hamm insist on the narrowest, most literal interpretation of Genesis possible.
Nor is this fear entirely unjustified. Darwin himself had his faith destroyed by the theory that made him famous. The recent film Creation, which details the life of Darwin following the return from his voyage on the Beagle protrays this effect on him as harrowing and tragic, escpecially in relation to the terrible early death of his young daughter. In spite of some unethical behavior on the part of a pastor it does not show atheism to be in any way "liberating" or "morally progressive," the way it championed by the current crowd of secular intellectuals. His newfound atheism does not lead Darwin to "freedom of thought" according to the movie, but to despair.
To demonstrate why the evolution=athiesm attitude is flawed, let me give an example from Expelled, the recent pro-Creationist movie by Ben Stein. At one point, he shows a CGI-animated sequence of the interior workings of a single cell. It is designed as incricately as a factory or computer program, the obvious point being that how could all this possibly have arisen by blind chance? The error which Stein and other creationists make is the assumption that evolution is itself
inherently atheistic and implies blind chance. But the very same evidence for design in that cell and innumerable structures throughout nature is also very much present in the evolutionary process itself. There are different types of theistic evolution, of course. One sort assumes that God created the first life in the ocean, then stayed out of it and allowed life to evolve independently. This is classic God-of-the-gaps, because it is simply replacing God with an unknown and assuming the first act of creation was a miracle. In other words, if it isn't spontaneous generation vis miraculous means, then God didn't do it. This is not, of course, what I am talking about here. I'm arguing that evolution itself is the process by which God creates. And as such, it is full of evidence for design. Some atheists have recently denied the notion that some lifeforms are "higher" then others, but this is not entirely accurate. Life evolves from simpler to to more complex (and in general more intelligent lifeforms in animals), while at the same time, branching out in order to fill all the availble ecological niches. As the environment alters, the niches change, and life forms adapt to refill them,or else they die out to be replaced by new lifeforms. Throughout the millions of years of earth history, the environment has altered and lifeforms have grown more complex as a result. The evolution of humans is indeed a story of advancment, though it also true that early human prototypes branched out into the then available niches. All of this is points to the conclusion that were created by scientific means, and that earth is a huge biological laboratory.
Most defenses of evolutionary theory, theistic or atheistic, are essentially defenses of science. However, there is one additonal defense which is from a moral standpoint rather than a sceintific one. It has to do with one of the cannards which atheists are fond of flinging at believers; Old Testement Atrocities. This is not a subject I care to discuss on Sabbath Keeper's Forum, becuase most people there passionatley beleive all of the Bible must be taken literally. I wager to guess that most are not emtirely comfortable with the massarces, unjust killings, and other atrocities either committed by or ordered by the Hebrew God. But they feel they must rationalize them some way because the Word is the Word. Some have taken the Genesis creation story as a allegory. But I beleive that the evidence shows that the OT writers just copied the story from a version in ancient Egypt. Admitting that some parts of the Bible might not be correct historically is just the point here; once you admit this, you no longer have to accept that OT atrocities are historical either. In fact, archeological evidence now suggests that no great wall encircled the city of Jericho at the time the invasion is supposed to have taken place. The conclusion? God didn't really order the deaths of those people. To belive He did means beleiving God is capable and willing to commit evil acts. The writers of the Old Testement likley wanted to emphasize the terrible and wrathful nature of their God. But they did so from a human-centered tribalistic perspective. This is precisely the way it looks when one examines the Old Testment. God was for the Hebrew people alone, and they commited genocides to appease His wrath. They writers may have accurately predicted the coming of Christ, but they got it wrong about the true nature of God (at least in some of their wrtings) and what sort of man the Messiah would be. He was not a war-leader, but a Prince of Peace, who taught that God was for the whole world NOT just the Hebrew people. Yes, Christ did indeed fulfill Old Testement prophecy, but he did so in a way totally unanticipated by those who had predicted him.

Atheism is not Ethical

Recently, I've recovered my email and got back on the site. It was my old school email, and it took a while, which is why I haven't been able to blog very much lately.

My story The Freethinker's Child should be published soon by Facebook, and I will post details here. I have a Christmas story, and some other ideas that I want to get published sometime in the near future by someone.

For now, though, I want to talk about atheism. I recently had exchange with an ideological atheist, who, rather typically, was rather rude in his response. This was in response to a post I made on his blog about how I don't beleive that the Lord sends people to heaven or hell based on beleiving in certain facts. His response was that I can beleive whatever irrational B. S. I choose, and he has every right to critize my beleifs. This (according to him) is because irrational beleifs lead to irratinal actions.

What irrational actions have I taken in reponse to beleiving that Christ is Lord? Specifically, behaving more generously toward others, and giving more to charity. This is what Christianity should be about. Atheism, by the way, has contributed nothing aleviating human suffering, despite the claims of tis propoants. Notice, I didn't say "science" "rationality", "skeptical inquiry" or any of the things atheists claim to value highly. I said "atheism,"; in other words, the mere lack of beleif in a higher power.

What said atheist is practicing is called "conversational intolerence." I wrote another post about just this, where I made the point that conversational intolerance will only manage to antagonize and alienate the relgious and will contribute nothing toward making the world a better place. The thing is, since atheists are at liberty disregard the teachings of Jesus, including the "golden rule," as "bronze age mythology", they are under no obligation to "Do Unto Others." They will say, of course, that being conversationally intolerant of religious beleif is actually a virtue, and that they are fighting for rationality, and essentially making the world a better place. As I have also shown before, there are atheists out there who are actually contemptuous toward the poor, and have a sort of "Social Darwinian" attitude toward struggling families

It is not lack of rationality that is the problem here, but plain old tribalism. Chimps, who have nothing that could be remotely classifed as a religion exhihbit a feirce and extreme form of tribalism, in which tribes of chimps slaughter other tribes, including infants. And I can't help beleiving that "conversational intolerence" itself is an expression of tribalism. True, atheists are not making war on theists today beyond flame wars on internet forums (though in past times, during the French Revolution and in Soviet Russia, self-styled rationalists were far less civil), but neither are modern Christians. We have indeed made much social progress over the centuries, and the social climate has a civilizing effect those of all ideologies. And atheists today are exhibiting very strong tribalistic tendencies, especially when it comes to of "conversational intolerence." Or to take another, related, example, when they disown even "moderate" Christians. Supposedly this is because "moderation" in religion provides cover for those who are more extreme, but where is the actual evidence for this? There are a good many "moderate" Christians who agree with atheists on issues such opposing creationism in the public school. But it seems most atheists refuse to join forces with these believers, even in pursuit of a common goal. This sounds very like tribalism to me, whatever the stated rationale.

Atheism, taken simply, is merely the beleif that no gods exist. It has no tenets, dogmas, or religious rituals. However, many athiests behave as though it does, regardless of the fact that they often state that an athiest may belive whatever he wants beyond the existence of a deity. I've been on forums where atheists will harshly criticize, even crucify those whose beleifs refuse to conform to majority, on topics like beleif in an afterlife, euthanasia or abortion--and this even includes fellow atheists.

Atheism may not technically be a religion. But the brand promoted by today's leading intellectual freethinker's is most certainly a worldview, an ideology, a beleif system, complete with its own norms and standards of right and wrong. Atheism isn't tribalistic? Don't kid yourself.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Meaning of "Belief"

We are often told, in matters of Christianity, that one must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Generally speaking, it seems most people, Christian or otherwise, take this to mean that only Christians may enjoy Heaven. That is, only those who beleive that the literal facts of Christ's unique character (he was God), and his death and resurrection, may escape hellfire. This is also problematic for many, for membership within a particular faith does appear to be, in and of itself, a moral issue. Even if one willingly apothesizes from the Christian faith, even though he makes a conscious choice, and willingly rejects the Bible, it does not seem partularly wicked or harmful, other than for perhaps making God angry. If he truely rejects faith based on what he honestly thinks is reason, where is the harm , outside of angering a supposedly benevolent God? The unfortunate picture I had for years was of a God who seemed petty and jealous, punishing us for any lack of attention. This, I've come to realize, is a terrible and devisive untruth.

C.S. Lewis was an inclusionist who beleived it possible that there are some humans who are or will be saved without knowing it. How so? Because although they not beleive in or even be aware of the facts regarding Jesus, they are ernestly and diligently seeking the Truth. This explains well the situation of those who simply have not heard of Christ, or were brought in a non-Christian culture and taught the what were simply the wrong ideas. What are we to make of the atheist who resides in a throughly Christian culture, but is convinced that the events described could not have happened based on reason, yet whom honestly desires Truth, and who commits acts of genuine virtue simply for their being virtuous?

We are told, of course, that works will not buy one's way into heaven. And indeed this is true. But the case I have described is of a person who is NOT attempting to do any such thing, as they do not even beleive in Heaven's existence! One may also do good works in order to impress others with one's supposed virtue; in fact this is quite common. I suspect even that one "atheist charity" I noticed somewhere might have been for this very purpose--atheists need to brighten their reptution before the religous world will begin to take them serioiusly. I am not to judge, but it's true that beleivers have a far better record of giving to charity than atheists. This is something the polls can attest to, and most atheists will even reluctantly admit. They often state that there is not one act of kindness that you NEED religion for, but that is not really the point. The point is, are athiests or people of faith the more generous? So far the answer has favored the faithful. Here is some evidence:

Concervapedia is admittedly very slanted; but this is one area of study to which athiests are not able to offer any solid refutation.

However, the situation I described was of an athiest who worked virtue for virtue's sake. And does the Bible have to say about those who do good works?

For when the Gentiles (non-Jews) which have not the law, do by nature
the things contained within the law, these, having not the law, are a
law unto themselves: which shew (show) the work of the law written in
their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their
thoguhts the mean while excusing or excusing one another..Rom 2, 14-15

One's good works are an index to what resides within one's heart. That is the inportance of good works, ans why they cannot be separated form one's faith. Can such as person, then be said to truely "beleive", in sense of having a saving faith in the Truth? They surely must.

Here is a post (got permission to use it) form Sabbath Keeper's Forum, on the topic of the meaning of "beleif":

We read this word "believes" and a definition comes to mind and we
read on. But in other translations we are left to our own educational
expereince about just what this word means in general terms. Then we
use that to attempt to understand what the writer is speaking of here.
Here it is "believes in Him". But what does "believes" mean in this
articulation? Well, the Amplified Bible details it for us in
parenthesis. It says the "believes" means "adheres too, trusts in, and
relies upon Him, giving himself up to Him". To me, this really puts
the meat on this word or phrase "believes in Him".

Those who believe in Him adhere to Him; they "stick to Him". If I take
super glue and stick your hand to your cell phone, it’s going to be
there for some time. Everywhere you go and in everything you do, that
cell phone will be stuck to your hand. All uses of your hand will be
affected by that cell phone being stuck to it. As in this example, the
evidence that we are stuck to Jesus is that we are with Him and He is
with us everywhere we go. He affects all we say and do.

Trust is an incredible gift. It's kind of like an unhatched egg. Trust
has so much potential for the future, yet it must be cared for and
handled with care. We all know that if the egg is broken, all the
king's horses and all the king’s men cannot put it back together
again. Trust, when broken, is extremely difficult to re-establish in a
relationship. It is near impossible.

See, trust involves an investment of the heart. It places extreme
value on fidelity. It provides one with security and it protects at
all cost, the value of the trust. Our believing in the Lord Jesus
Christ should have all kinds of things in place, in confident rest,
rest in Him and His unfailing love for us. Our love for Him should be
unfailing as well. He invested His heart, and so much more, into us.
Therefore, He has the right to expect us to invest our heart and so
much more in Him.

The last of these adjectives expresses one "giving himself to Him".
Please note that it is the believer, that gives himself to Christ.
Believing is giving, much like in a marriage. You give your very life
up, for, and too the other person. To me, that is why Paul said "I am
crucified with Christ". Christ gave all His life for me, and expects
me to give my life to Him in the same complete way, nothing held back.
No other loves! No other gods! When a person dies on the cross, that
entire person dies. We die to the old sin nature completely and
finally, and in the consummation of our giving ourselves to Christ, He
becomes alive in us. It is from that point on, not us living inside of
us, but Christ Himself supernaturally fused with our spirit. Selah.

We can "rely" on Him. In another place Paul tells us that He is ever
faithful to our relationship, even if we are not, because as God He
simply cannot be otherwise. Praise the Lord God Almighty.

Oh the depths of His riches and glory. I could go on and on about this
verse, but I think you are getting the picture by now. As a Body, for
each part to read this word "believes", we could all have a slightly
different understanding. But we really need to understand this word
and it's importance together, and be in one accord. Not only does the
Amplified Bible help in this way, but the Holy Spirit uses it to
unfold revelation after revelation, if only we will slow down, spend
time with Him and even meditate on what is being said in His Word.

It is my prayer, that you have come to a better place of understanding
our belief and it's value to us, and to God. It's more than just "I
know about". It is personal, intimate, bonded unity with the Creator
of all things. Oh how many adjectives we could use, and not even come
close to what "HE IS". Belief is so much more than just a whimsical
word, it is a new life entered into by leaving an old life behind. To
God be the glory, now and forever amen. – Lahry Sibley

Friday, May 14, 2010

Atheists and Christmas

Attention those out there reading blog:

I've corrected the embarrassing typo errors in the blog on Phillip Pullman and C. S. Lewis. And the Freethinker Child story is finally completed.

Recently, atheists have received a reputation of being anti-Christmas. From what I've read, some non-beleivers are just fine with the Christmas holidays; they celebrate and exchange gifts, though they pften place more emphasis on the pagan elements like Santa Claus and Christmas trees. But generally they aren't bothered by the religious trappings either, just because they don't happen to believe. Others, however, feel more harshly, and scorn the Christian elements. They take part in the festivities, but perfer to call it Yuletide or Winter Soltice, and loathe to wish anyone a "Merry Christmas". There are some atheists (not sure the percentage) who forgo the holiday altogather because of its Christian core. Never mind that Christians themselves often complain over the commercialization of the holiday, and some extremists even condemn Santa as Satan. Christmas is "Christian", and therefore even such as Santa Clauss and Christmas trees are scornfully viewed as "religous icons." They forbid their own children from sharing in the Christmas spirit as much as any devout Jehovah's Witness.

This sort of extreme negative reaction to the holidays is not common, but, though atheists may harber a diverse array of opinions about Christmas, the number Christmas-haters among committed atheists appears to be disproportionally high. Of todays leading atheist intellectuals, Christopher Hitchens, has, in particular expressed his deep personal revulsion at Christmas. At this point, I want to make a distinction between a "Scrooge" and a "Cromwell." A Scrooge is someone who keeps Christmas in his own way, and allow others to keep it in theirs. In a word, he loathes Christmas, but only wants to be left alone. A Cromwell, on the other hand, is someone who seeks to impose his own anti-Christmas sentiment on others by means of the state. The Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell's initial opposition to Christmas was actually somewhat justified in light of the drunknesness and excessive indulegence Christmas celebration had become at the time. His solution--which outlawing even the baking of a mince pie during the season, however, is one few would not consider extreme. But of course, there is not doubt the Cromwell beleived he was fully serving Chirst and has the country's best interests in mind.
While thier ideology runs completly opposite that of Cromwell, today's ideological athiests doubtless have nothing but the best intentions regarding their opposition to Christmas. Are atheists the new Cromwells? Well, not necessarily. Most, as already said, would qualify more as Scrooges, although I am not sure about Hitchens. We've all heard about the "War on Christmas" by the politically correct Left, but I beleive it's generally blown out of proportion. However, there is no doubting the loathing some of the atheist persuasion feel regarding the holiday, and it comes as no surprise that such ideological opposition is in the name of supposed tolerance. Which brings me to the topic at hand. The the other day, I was doing research for my page George C. Scott's famous renditon of Dickens' A Christmas Carol:

While doing so I found a review site which appears to be done by someone who is an avowed athiest, and seemingly very liberal, but not one whom I'd call very consistent in his/her liberalism. It's a well written review, but hardly one partial to the Christian faith:

The reviewer gives Scott's Carol, a rousing endorsement, and I couldn't agree with him more about the following line:

As you might expect, the most watchable version was the one in which Scrooge was played by George C. Scott. The power of George C. absorbs the character of Scrooge and he is absolutely perfect in the role.

The fact hat he highly recomends the films, and especially Scott's performance, almost leads me to beleive his take on the tale itself might possibly be satire. But to prove a point about how Dickens Carol could indeed be misconstrued by those of the anti-Christian persuasion, I'll assume here that it's serious. The reviewer writes:

The message of this story is that it is okay to use the despicable practices of torture and terror to promote your religious agenda. It is okay for a law-abiding and legitimate businessman to be brutalized for his lack of religious beliefs.

Notice he assumes from the start that Carol is ideological, and that the Spirits' mission is cram Christianity down's Scrooge's throat. In a way, he's got a point. Dickens' Carol is a story with a message that is in fact a throughly Christian one, part of the reason it's considered the greatest Christmas story of all time outside of the Nativity story. However, this is in way that is often overlooked or downplayed by modern Christianity. The reviewer defends the unrepentant Scrooge by saying:

There is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Scrooge is doing anything underhanded or illegal, he merely loans money to people who borrow it from him of their own free will, and he tries to collect it when it is due.

Okay, so it's true that Scrooge shows no sign of being a dishonest or crooked business man. In fact, I've always pictured Scrooge as a ruthlessly honest individual in both his personal contacts and his financial dealings. He is no liar, cheat, or charlatan. As the reviewer rightly points out, when it comes to Christmas, Scrooge merely wants to be left alone. So what is his great sin? Quite simply: selfishness. Profit has become an idle to him, and this is precisely the reason that Bible warns agaisnt it. Though Scrooge goes out of his way to harm no one, he also shuts himself out to the poverty and hardship around him. Jesus talked repeatedly of the necesseity of doing good and helping others. As Christians, we are in fact commanded to do this. The reviewer goes on to say:

In an unforgettable night of terror, Scrooge is abused mentally and physically by uninvited spirits, as he deprived of sleep, humiliated, and threatened with death unless he “redeems” himself and becomes a believer in Christmas. This central theme is no different from what is practiced by modern day Christianity. The only thing that Scrooge was guilty of was his genuine desire to separate himself from the spectacle and hypocrisy of Christmas. His only crime was that he wanted to be left alone.

Actually, the spectacle is much different than is preached by modern day Christianity. Why? Because much of modern Christianity has dumbed down the message of Jesus. Over and over again those seeking to convert others downplay the message of good works, insisting in fact, that one need do nothing in order be accepted by the Lord, that good works constitute "Buying one's way into heaven." This is done to make Christianity look easy and a free ride compared with other faiths. Taken to its extreme form, this sort of preaching nearly makes a mockery of the actual teachings of Christ. I say this because I recall a lady in my Pastor's Bible study group, who happened to say, when Dickens' A Christmas Carol came up in the discussion, that the message of Carol was not a Christian one because promoted salvation through works. But it does not promote salvation through works. Nor, as the atheist reveiwer suggests, is it in the least true that Scrooge was merely bullied into good behavior by three ghosts. It should be obvious to anyone who has bothered to examine the story with any depth at all that Scrooge revisits his past in order to rekindle that quiet sensitive youngster he once was, then witnesses the hardship of those he has shut out from his world in his present. By the end of the story, Scrooge truely wants to change. Although the vision of his own possible future is indeed terrifying to him, even this is because of the great remorse he feels at that point in the story. His reaction on Christmas morning is one of joy and reformation, a true change of heart, not that of a cowed, bullied man, suffering fro,m intimidation and sleep-deprivation. The following text expert form Carol makes this clear:

"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!

Also a memorable scene in the Scott version, I might add. However, back to the reveiw:

Instead of being bitter, hopeless and suicidal over his small stature and crippling afflictions, he is cheerful and glib, and can induce more vomiting than a cattle car full of bulbous-headed midgets in clown suits. Tiny Tim teaches us that it is quite all right to be crippled and living under a death sentence because it reminds us of the Christ who healed the sick and lame. The fact that there is no Christ around to prevent him from dying a horrible death from the ravages of polio is conveniently never mentioned. The only salvation for Tiny Tim is Scrooge’s money; no gods required. He sings “Silent Night” and is continually saying “God bless us, each and every one”, as well as other cliched phrases that made me want to beat him to a lifeless, bloody pulp with the fat end of his crutch.

Do you get that in the first line? The reveiwer apartently thinks being bitter, hopeless and suicidal over one's affliction is a good thing while being cheerful and glib about it is to be admonished. Most kids who managed to be cheerful anad glib in the same situation as Tim would be commended for their courage--at least I'd rather hope so. Why does he find the reference to Christ so offensive? Possibly becasue it's just that--a reference to Christ. But Christ's teachings were to care for the sick and downtrodden--as Scrooge eventually does. So in that since, yes, Christ is there, as it is through His teachings and Scrooge's obedience to them that Tim is finally spared. Why phrases as "God bless us everyone" incites such violent urges in the mind of the review, is however, not something I would care to speculate on.

One last point he makes, in refence to the Albert Finney version in which Scrooge is actually shown a glimpse of himself in hell:

Mind you, this sentence of eternal torture is for merely choosing to be left alone and for not sharing the bizarre fantasies and hallucinations that possess the Christian brain at the end of December. This is a holiday that was stolen by the Christians from the Pagans, the celebration of the return of the sun; the winter solstice festivals. This scene is the greatest trailer for Christianity I have ever seen, showing the cruel depravity of the death cultists.

Again, not so. Scrooge does not "merely choose to be left own," although this is what he has convinced himself in the beginning. He has allowed himself to embrace a "survival of the fittest" mentality which proves destructive to both himself and to those around him. When one considers the following review line:

Only slightly less sickening are Bob Cratchit and his pandering wife. Typical breeders and deeply religious, the Cratchits are content to pump out their defective hellspawn despite their inability to adequately feed them.

It appears the reviewer himself embraces a sort of social Darwinism. Calling the children of the poor "defective hellspawn," is hardly an indicator of tolerance. Why does the author despise Christianity? His apparent problem wiht it appears not to be intolerance, but charity. Living for purely selfish reasons--I've heard it denied by atheists time and again that this could not possibly be reason for their atheism, so they say. It's all about reason and rationality--so they say. But it's even been occasionally admitted by atheists that Christians, in general, give substantiatively more than to charity than atheists do. I've been more than a bit critical of modern Christianity in this blog. But even so, Christians, so long as they're sincere, at least have one thing going for them that athiests don't--Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ted Baehr's Inconsistency on Pullman and Lewis

The movie version of Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass was poorly received in the U. S. Why this is so, I’m not sure, as, aside from its ideological message, it has as much going for it as Lord of the Rings, and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It had undoubtedly had something to do, however, with the large Christian majority here in America. By the time of the film’s release, word had long circulated of Pullman’s atheism, and his intended purpose in writing His Dark Materials. His anti-Lewis, anti-Narnia comments had already been widely quoted. While Pullman was very strident expressing these opinions early on, with the advent of the film’s release, he appeared to backpeddle some, professing that he was not attacking religion per se, but totalitarianism in general, and that the movie contained no anti-faith bias. Apparently he was wary of the chilly reception the film might receive in Christian America. Before the film’s release, to be sure, the atheistic nature of the source material had been in wide circulation on the Internet. Christians, especially Christian parents had been forewarned. The Catholic League even produced a booklet entitled The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked, available online in PDF format. In any event, word got around, and American moviegoers stayed away. In Europe and Britain, where secularism now predominates, the movie was reportedly far better received. However, it’s American audiences that count, apparently, as much to the dismay of Pullman and his fans, all plans for the sequels have been shelved.

That is a shame, really. Dakota Blue Richards will never get to play Lyra in some of the most dramatic scenes in the trilogy (unless, of course, the day finally comes when computer graphics can created people indistinguishable from live actors), and some truly extravagant scenes will be sorely missed. Concerned Christians have every right to voice their opinions, and expose the Pullman’s agenda, of course. This is not censorship, by any stretch of the imagination. Yet the sequels have nonetheless been effectively prevented from made, at least for the foreseeable future, thanks mostly to the efforts of American Christians. Are there any foreign filmmakers willing to pick up the trilogy?
In browsing around online, I’ve found a number of critical reactions to Pullman's movie, but one that showed an inordinate amount of bias was the one written by “Dr.” Robert Theodore “Ted” Baehr, for his Movieguide site:
There are several reason that I call Dr. Baehr’s review of the film, in particular, “biased.” I cannot fault or disagree with his aversion to the film’s atheistic elements. Though they have been toned down to avoid controversy, the elements are there nonetheless. The Magisterium officals are very obviously clergyman, for example. And I've yet to hear an actual Chrisitian seriously refer to athiests as "feeethinkers", as one of said clergyman does at one point. But when one looks at Dr. Baehr’s reviews for Narnia, and other Christian-based entertainment, one can see that his own worldview has led to criticism of the almost all elements of the film, some of which are mostly or entirely unmerited. For example:

Regrettably, at points the art direction and special effects look phony and just a little too computer generated. If we just evaluated THE GOLDEN COMPASS on artistic merit, it would be the script, not the just the production values, that would be worth an essay on bad filmmaking and bad scriptwriting. Thus, the movie contains too many boring, didactic speeches and too many scenes where the expository dialogue doesn’t move along the plot. Even so, people probably will forget how dull the first two-thirds are, because the battle sequences are engaging.

Phony special effects? At no during the film did I notice any of the effects to be any less “phony” than those of the previous year’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And what did Dr. Baehr have to say regarding that film?

The production quality is much greater than the sum of its parts. The camerawork is superb. The computer generated images are enchanting. Aslan comes to life in a magnificent way (he is a real lion!), as do all the creatures of Narnia. The four children are very good, especially Lucy, and the only regret is that Peter and Susan are not given meatier lines. Ms. Swinton would have been a better White Witch if she had been allowed to be more seductive, but her costume often cocoons her personality. The music is good, though not great. The direction is very exciting and entertaining, though it lacks nuance and depth. But, aside from critical nitpicking, the movie is spectacular! C. S. Lewis never wanted a movie made of his books, but one can even imagine that he would be proud of this production, and so everyone involved deserves high praise.

I agree with everything Baehr has to say in the above paragraph, as well as in the review below:

Save, maybe, for the fact that Tilda Swinton is slightly seductive, which is about as much as she could be allowed to be. In this version, the White Witch appears much kinder than in previous versions, in which she is depiected as almost cartoonishly evil, and you end up wondering how Edmond, even though he’s a just a kid, could be so easily taken in. She is even a bit flirtatious with him in this current version, which, while it would be ineffective on a child, would effectively prove enticing to a pre-teen.

The reason Lewis did not want any movie (other than a possible animated version, like the one shown back in 1978) to made of his works, by the way, was because he felt that no movie could ever do justice to the rich and fantastic imagery in his stories. But that was, of course, long before the arrival of today’s incredible CGI effects. There is no doubt in my mind that Lewis would be terribly pleased. The PBS Wonderworks version of Wardrobe shown back in the late eighties was a handsome production, but the production values—including the fact that Aslan looked like a huge stuffed toy—would have been precisely what Lewis had feared. The producers of that version went the same route they did with The Box of Delights. While the interplay of live actors, faker costumes, and hand-drawn animated sequences worked well for that, as the whole story took place in a dream, Narnia is entire secondary world. However, some of the best dialogue, which was almost all kept intact in the PBS version, is often cut from the big screen version. Most unfortunately missing are the dialogue with the beavers regarding Edmund’s betrayal, and the discussion of the White Witch’s non-human origins. Not to mention the meal cooked by Mrs. Beaver, which according to Lewis involved “a gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot.”
But back to Dr. Baehr’s reviews. I found the character of Iorek Byrnison, the noble armored polar bear warrior of Compass to be every bit as impressive, and very much equally as awesome onscreen as that of Aslan. It’s notable can’t see at all how much of the action in Compass –which includes Lyra’s rescue by the Gyptions, the battle between the armored bear kings, the liberation of the children form Bolvanger, and the ensuing battle with the Tartars, and many others—could possibly be construed as boring, or that the scenes leading up to them are any less engaging than the first two-thirds of Wardrobe. The chief issue that Baehr raises in his review, however, involves the heroine’s morality. In another passge:

Although the heroine and her friends are portrayed as the people the audience supports, a little objective examination of who they are would make any discerning viewer question why they’re rooting for them. Lyra is known for her lying so much so that her bear friend calls her “silver tongue.” In the story, this is a positive adjective. Even pagan and other non-Christian societies have disliked liars, however, so it’s very strange that Lyra, the story’s heroine, should be commended in this way. In fact, Lyra’s lying is often a useful pragmatic device to solve the story’s plot problems.

Another problem with the story are the confusing character motivations. Mrs. Coulter, for instance, who turns out to be Lyra’s mother, reaches out to Lyra a couple times, including saving her from having her daemon separated from her and killed. In return, Lyra tricks her mother into opening a tin can containing a deadly poisonous mechanical insect. Her mother doesn’t die, but Lyra doesn’t seem to care and, in truth, wants to get rid of her mother. While Lyra is opposed to all authority, including her mother, she easily befriends strangers and accepts their authority and their directives.

Thus, the more one thinks about the world of THE GOLDEN COMPASS, the more one realizes how upside down and inside out it is. Do parents really want their children hate them, rebel against them and want to kill them? Mrs. Coulter may be the villain, but all she really tries to do in this movie is to save her daughter’s life.

The final paragraph is very misleading. What Baehr isn't telling his readers is that Ms. Coulter is the lady in charge of the Oblation Board, which is engaged in the kidnapping and execution of innocent children in horrifyingly unethical experiments run by the Church. A terrible slam on religion to be sure, but one that one within which Mrs. Coulter is culpable for quite a bit more than trying to save her daughter. In the book we see Mrs. Coulter entice a child with chocotyl (a hot drink) and send him off to his eventual death by intercision, much the way the White Witch entices Edmund into betraying his siblings. Mrs. Coulter is scarcely any less evil. In the film, one of the experimenters remarks on “how eager she ( Mrs. Coulter)was to see (the children and their deamons) pulled apart.” It is true that when she sees that Lyra (her own daughter) is about to suffer the selfsame fate, she rushes to intervene, saving her in the nick of time. This is itself be commendable for what it’s worth, but it also demonstrates very clearly a case where parental love is merely an instinct, and as such is, in this case at least, ultimately selfish. Dr. Baehr seems to have forgotten that Christ admonished those who loved their sons or daughters, or mothers or fathers, for that matter, more than Him. Lyra is one who appears to be the most “Christian” here, although Pullman himself would perhaps be reluctant to admit to this. The mechanical insect appeared to be the only way Lyra could escape in this instance. Endangering her mother, then, wasn’t her intent—her intent was to save the other children, which she accomplishes heroically. Lyra’s destruction of the vile intercision device, liberation of the captive children, and her bravely staring down the leader of the Tartars and ravenous wolf-daemons is something Baehr conveniently glosses over. One might as well pose the question: if your parent was Hitler or Stalin, would you or should you remain loyal to them?
The issue Baehr has the most difficulty with is that of a habitual liar as the heroine. Is lying (bearing false witness) absolutely wrong in every conceivable instance? That has been a matter of much philosophical debate. Emmanuel Kant argued that it was. Some modern Christians (including some of my friends on Sabbath Keepers Forum) would agree. There are certain instances in which telling a technical untruth (say to Nazi Green Police who are searching for hidden Jews) appears to work for the human good rather than for evil. On the other hand, lying is generally committed for purely selfish motives, and even well-intentioned lies often wind up causing harm to others. This is called situational ethics, and some opposed Christians would define it as “justifiable sin.” Part of my take on situational ethics would be summed up thusly, for my own post of Sabbath Keepers:

Situational ethics definitely do exist, and they in no way contradict
moral absolutes. Why does God has a prohibition on lying? Becuase in
general lying causes harm to ourselves and others. But I've presented
two stiautions where lying might save someone's life, and cause no one
harm. It's hard to imagine a scenario where commiting adultry or
stealing is necessary to save someone's life. But let's just suppose
that some extortionist threatened to blow up a hosptial or day-care
center, or threatened a person's family unless they committed adultry.
Adultry is, virtually by definition, n act of betrayal, and it is done
for reasons that entirely self-serving and involve disregard for
others--especially one's own spouse and children. But in such a
hypothetical situation, the "adulterer" would not be acting out of
selfishness or lust at all but purely for altruistic reasons.
Now, maybe I'm wrong here, and committing what is technically adultry
here would lead to even greater evils, but I'm at a loss to know how
or why. You seem to be taking a position that some things are wrong
merely because "rules are rules are rules." But morality cannot be
determined according to technicalities such as this. God does not want
you to obey his rules "because I say so!" and that's it. That would
make no moral sense.

The Bible may be the written Word of God, but the Word is alos writ inot one's heart:

For when the Gentiles (non-Jews) which have not the law, do by nature
the things contained within the law, these, having not the law, are a
law unto themselves: which shew (show) the work of the law written in
their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their
thoguhts the mean while excusing or excusing one another..Rom
2, 14-15

It is probably no coincidence that Pullman, as a devout, ideological atheist, invented a heroine of essentially good-hearted nature, whose personal morals are seemingly rather loose. Lyra Belacqua qualifies as something of a picturesque heroine. As such, she compares with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, tow other picturesque children’s heroic protagonists who were also invented by a devout atheist. Pullman views religion as repressive and authoritative, as a cruel enemy of human freedom. But he is mistaken in seeing God’s morality as depending on nonthinking obedience to technicalities; adherence to technicalities is a flawed human concept, not one invented by God. Another excerpt from Baehr’s review:

What’s bad about the movie, therefore, is not overt atheism. That comes in the later books in the three-part series. What’s bad is that it creates a heroine who is selfish, willful and stubborn to such a degree that she does not express love, kindness, joy, peace, or any of those other wonderful virtues that help us put others before ourselves. The Good News of the Gospel is a message of love and forgiveness, not a message of control. It is a personal relationship with a living God, Jesus Christ, who loves us so much that He has laid down his life for us and has given us new life where we can experience real joy, real happiness and real fulfillment. Every one of the virtues Lyra disdains is a virtue based in love. Her lying hurts others, but telling the truth in love helps others. If, for instance, we could not trust anyone, society would fall apart. Trust, honesty, integrity, and the other virtues flow from our love of one another.

Is Baehr talking about the same movie that I saw? No love, kindness, peace or joy? All the action of the entire plot center’s around Lyra’s quest to save her friend and the other missing children. Surely love and kindness-qualities seemingly absent from both her parents—are in fact both Lyera's most enduring qualities and strongest motivators. In the context of the movie and its situational ethics, Lyra’s lying actually proves beneficial to others; her willful deception of the usurper King Ifor Rakenson enables Iork to gain his rightful place as king. Her deception of the guard a Bolvangar, and later of Mrs. Coulter, liberates the kidnapped children. Baehr’s assessment of that, as I’ve tried to demonstrate, is flawed. But perhaps,in the case of the battling bears, Baehr is refering to villainous Rakinson who is killed in combat, and perhaps she could have found a more peaceful solution? Lyra, however, disdains not a single of the virtues listed by Baehr.

It must be said of Baehr’s ideological inconsistency in light of both Pullman’s and Lewis’s fantasy world that there are some Christian writers out there who are equally critical of Lewis, mostly for the pagan elements of his novels, in spite of the Christianity at the core of the Narnia story (one of the most odiaous being David J. Stewart, who is also a Classic OSAS defender). But it is obvious for Ted Baehr’s reviews that he is engaged in a culture war, and culture may or may not conform to the actual teachings of Christ.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sam Harris and Conversational Intolerence

Sam Harris, one of the leading New Atheist authors, has a forthcoming book called The Moral Landscape, due out this coming October. Already, I'm chomping at the bit. Unlike Same'sw two previous titles, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, which were blatant attacks on religion, this new offering purports to argue that science, not faith, can and should be used as a means of determining morality. This will be an interesting read! I have my doubts, seriously, that Harris can put forth an actual sceintific method for determining morals, but will be interesting to see what he says.

The one thing I want to talk about right now, though, is what Harris refers to a "conversational intolerence." What it means, essentially, is to show no respect for opinions which are deemed irrational by the listener. If someone suggested he believed that Zeus, for exmaple, was a real being, they would not be taken seriously, and might well be met with mockery and derision. The same sort of logic, Harris beleives, ought to apply to the Christian God. Since there is no more credibility for him, in Harris's opinion than Zeus, beleivers in Him ought be regardeded similarly. This, of course, doesn't take into account that if one religion is true, we should expect it to still be thriving today, and very influential, and doing the most material good in the world, along with gainging new convets who claim to have persoanlly experienced said relgion's God. Which does all this sound more like, Christ, or Zeus?

To be fair, Harris deserves credit for opposing state enforced intolerence of faith. But the question is, just what good can we reasonably expect from Harris's "conversational intolerence", especially in a debate about relgion? Harris himself may see this sort of intolerence as a sort of "polite disagreement", as he as never used flaming tactics in interviews and debates that I have seen. However, not everyone is civil when it comes to conversational intolerence. I've seen a great amount of trash-talking and personal attacks on beleivers on atheist messageboards, most of which seem to be in the service or so-called rationality. Since I've watched a number of episodes of the Atheist Experience on Youtube. I remember one episode where they were talking about whether atheists should side with religious "moderates" in opposing Creationism in the science class. In general, they did not want to side with theists at all, because if the topic of faith evver came up, they (the atheists) admitted they would instigate conflict. One of them said that if confronted with a beleif he did not consider rational, "sorry, you're going to get flayed alive."
Really? How does this sort of intolerence contribute to any sort of civil discussion? It doesn't, of course. I do not beleive that any theists have seriously reconsidered their opinions after meeting with such "conversational intolerence." Religion is a major force in th world, and treating beleivers as they would an occasioanl beleiver in Zeus is not going to make religion go away. It will, however, create hostility between the two sides, which will make civil discourse more difficult. Harris himself has seemed reasonable when it comes to repsenting his point of view in public. Perhaps theists would do best to follow Harris's example, but not his advice.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Phillip Pullman and C. S. Lewis

Most readers of current fantasy literature are familiar with Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which is set in a subtly magical alternate version of Oxford, England. Pullman wrote the series on purpose to counter the teachings of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. It is an intentional reverse-viewpoint to the Christian one of Lewis. Pullman's vitriolic hatred of Narnia, is, by now, very well-documented. This hatred of the Narnia books is more than a bit puzzling; Pullman has infamously stated that the Narnia books are "one of the ugliest and most poisonous things I've ever read". A strange statement because, as Christian works go, the Narnia books are among the most non-judgemental, non-poisonous books the genre has to offer. Had Pullman been talking about say, Jack Chick, that charge might have made sense. Chick tracts generally DO depict the Christian worldview as ugly and poisonous, and the Christian god as unforgiveing and tyranical--not to mention (I dare say it)unconcerned with real morality.

But Lewis's depiction of Christ and God throughout the Narnia Chronicles and his apologetic works for adults is a far more benevolent one. I'm tempted even to say "liberal," though that's hardly accurate, as Lewis did subscribe to tradtional Christian morals. However, it is the brand of Christianity actually promoted by Lewis that is very reason some groups of fundamentalist Christians have major problems with him. I've read quotes from some Christians who honestly beleive Lewis is even now suffering torment in hell for his beleifs. I'll briefly state that their God is not a moral one, and his motives for punishing Lewis not based upon true morals but on technicalities, before getting to the heart of the matter by examining the following quote by Phillip Pullman:

There's a distinction between the things Lewis says as a critic, which are very acute and full of sense and full of intelligent and sometimes subtle judgements – much of which I agree with – and the things he said when was possessed by the imp of telling a story, especially in his children's fiction.

Narnia has always seemed to me to be marked by a hatred of the physical world. When I bring this up, people say, oh no, what nonsense! He loved his beer, loved laughter and smoking a pipe, and the companionship of his friends and so on.

And so he might have done. But that didn't prevent perhaps his unconscious mind from saying something quite different in the form of a story. I'm by no means alone in attacking Lewis on these grounds.

Notice that Pullman takes Lewis to task for what he terms "hatred of the physical world," essentionally for being what might be called overly spiritual, concerned for the world beyond this one--which, as far as Pullman is concerned, does not exist. Anti-Lewis Christians, on the other hand, take Lewis to task precisely because he DID indulge in worldly pleasures. Lewis is well-known to have smoked and drank, and was known to have remarked that he enjoyed good eating, the obvious reason for all the mouth-watering food references throughout the Narnia. Lewis may have felt he was "made for another world," but he had hardly given up appreciating the pleasures afforded by this one while he remained on earth. Lewis's critics, it must be acknowledged, are not entirely off the mark here. Christ did indeed warn that one must hate the world, even hate himself, to become his disiple. Jesus spoke in metaphor, and it would be foolish to take these statements literally, however. We know that the taking of one's own life is a sin, and Christ did not prohibit drinking, only drunkenness. Jesus spoke to his followers in these seemingly extreme terms to hammer his point home: indulging in the physical world is gratifying one's animal nature, and is, if carried beyond moral limits, a form of selfishness that blinds one to the needs of others. And helping others was central to Christ's teaching; here is the real reason why wordly overindulgence is sinful. Did Lewis qualify as overindulgent? Probably not, as I've read nothing to suggest he was anything other than caring for the less fortunate, though all of us are fallible at times. But what the anti-Lewis crowd truely objects to about him are his theological beleifs, some of which run counter to their own orthodoxies.

For one thing Lewis was well known as an inclusionist, a belief system which holds that even those outside Christianity can still be admitted to heaven in certain circumstances. In other words, those who are often considered as unbeleivers are not necessesarily sent to hell. To beleive that they are, merely because of their failure to recognize certain facts about Christ, is to beleive admission to heaven is dependent upon certain technicalities rather than actual morals. Lewis communicated his inclusionist beleif most strongly with the Calormene boy Emeth in The Last Battle. Emeth is a noble and virtuous character who has been seeking the Truth all his life. The problem is, he has been taught worongly; in fact, he's been taught the very reverse of the actual truth. When he finally encounters Aslan (Christ), he is admitted into Heaven, because once he finds the real truth, he accepts more than willingly. There are, of course, some Christians who nonetheless object to this, because of their beleif that Heaven is essentially a club for Christians only, rather than a reward of Eternal Life for the virtuous. This notion, I beleive, is rooted in human tribalism, rather than in religion. The idea that one must belong to to one's particular faith in order to be saved also pops up in various Christian cults. Some OSAS proponents even state that one must be an Eternal security to enter heaven. Such notions are entirely fallicious, of course, as the both cults and OSAS (which originated with John Calvin), did not even exist for hundreds of years after Christianity had long established itself.

But back to Pullman and his objections to Lewis. The character of Emeth (who is a dark-skinned Calormene) is one of the facts which flies in the face of Pullman's charges of racism on Lewis, as others have noted. Pullman's charges of racism and sexism on the Narnia books, in fact, have the intellectual depth of a PC Democrat's ad-hoc attacks on his Replublican rivals during an election, something one would think would be beneath a writer of such obvious depth and talent. But are Pullman's attacks on Lewis entirely genuine? One would think that he would at least acknowledge Lewis talent as a creative fantasist, yet he has not done so to my knowledge. But here is another interview quote that might prove enlightening:

Because the things he's being cruel to are things I value very highly. The crux of it all comes, as many people have found, with the point near the end of the Last Battle (in the Narnia books) when Susan is excluded from the stable.

The stable obviously represents salvation. They're going to heaven, they're going to be saved. But Susan isn't allowed into the stable, and the reason given is that she's growing up. She's become far too interested in lipstick, nylons and invitations. One character says rather primly: 'She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up.'

This seems to me on the part of Lewis to reveal very weird unconscious feelings about sexuality. Here's a child whose body is changing and who's naturally responding as everyone has ever done since the history of the world to the changes that are taking place in one's body and one's feelings. She's doing what everyone has to do in order to grow up.

Maybe one day she'll grow past the invitations and the lipstick and the nylons. But my point is that it's an inevitable, important, valuable and cherishable stage that we go through. This what I'm getting at in my story. To welcome and celebrate this passage, rather than to turn from it in fear and loathing.

That's what I find particularly objectionable in Lewis – and also the fact that he kills the children at the end. Now here are these children who have gone through great adventures and learned wonderful things and would therefore be in a position to do great things to help other people.

But they're taken away. He doesn't let them. For the sake of taking them off to a perpetual school holiday or something, he kills them all in a train crash. I think that's ghastly. It's a horrible message.

Notice that in the next to the last paragraph, he states "Now here are these children who have gone through great adventures and learned wonderful things and would be in a postion to do great things to help other people." Note that here Pullman appears to give Lewis credit where credit is due after all. He acknowedlges there are "great adventures" in the Chronicles, and even that the children have learned "wonderful things," something that would hardly characterize Lewis and Narnia as morally deficient. It seems, also, that virtually all of Pullman's criticsm of the actual story and substance of Narnia is focused entirely on the climax of The Last Battle, the final book of the series.

Let me say, before criticising further, that Pullman makes a valid point here. I will state, unequivally, that Lewis is guilty of a very bad story-telling blunder when he "kills off," the children in order to get them to heaven. There is simply no need for this. I do not beleive that Lewis was dismissive of charity, honesty, or any other of Christ's teachings in the here and now. The books themselves stress the importance or morality (as even Pullman appears to be aware), and even Lewis's own life would tend to refute Pullman's contention that for Lewis, the next life is the only one that matters. That said, I'd say that Lewis was simply guiltly of oversight, not warped ideology, in writing the ending. The children could have lived charitable and productive lives in the service of Christ until they reached a ripe old age. Upon reaching Aslan's country, they might well have become as children again. It is in fact often speculated that we will appear in heaven as we did during the best part of our lives--a man who dies at eighty would not appear as eighty-year old in heaven. Even time would not work as it does on earth, and those who arrived "early' in heaven might meet up with loved ones who died later on. We can only speculate on the afterlife, of course, and Lewis could have done better then he did.

As for the problem of Susan, it, too, should be considered a literary flaw, as she was one of the heroic characters in the early Narnia, and her sudden exclusion at the end makes little sense. However, as others have pointed out, Lewis merely leaves it open-ended as to what Susan's eternal destiny wil be. Her interest in trivilaties appears to be a adolescent stage she is going through, in fact, and not true maturity, which I don't beleive Lewis is trying to discourage.

It has also been pointed out that Pullman has a similar problem in his own series, which might well be called "The Problem of Roger". Roger is the best friend of Lyra Belacqua in the first book of the series. Most of The Golden Compass centers around Lyra rescuing Roger form the Oblation Board, a Church-sponsored orgnization charged with conducting unethical experiments on children. Lyra is successful in saving Roger, but she might as not have been, as Roger is murdered by Lord Asrial, Lyra's "uncle" (actually her biological father) in same manner as the Oblation board , no less, in order to open a transdimensional portal. Lord Asriel, by the way, is the person whose goal is to overthrow the phony "God" (known as the Authority) and estabish a "Republic of Heaven" characterized by freedom and tolerence. In the words of Orson Scott Card, in his review of Pullman's novel:

In other words, even as he attacks religion for all the evil that it causes, he can't get through his own story without having his heroes duplicate all the evils he deplores -- right down to sacrificing an innocent, unwilling child's life to open a door into another world, an act committed by a character who ends up being the leader of the anti-religious religion.

The rest of Card's essay, which I can't recomend enough, can be found here:

The question is, is Pullman guilty of morality slip here or not? He clearly is in sympathy with the "Republic of Heaven" idea. It depends if he is agreement with Asrial's ruthless means of acheiving it. If so, the he is promoting emiricism, an "ends justifies the means" morality. Or possibly he is operating on the "happiness vs. suffering" system of morality promoted by most atheists. If morality is determined by the amount of happiness or suffering occurs for greatest number of people, then one could indeed reach the conclusion that Roger's death could be justified. That is, if more the estabishment of the Rebulic would promote greater happiness among its citizens, then the death of one measly kitchen-boy is relatively inconseqeltial. The problem here is, of course, that our innate moral consiousness ---which as Christians, we beleive is installed in us by God--tells us otherwise. The number of individuals and degrees of happiness acheived is not enogough to argue the morality of a single murderous action.
However, it is not a forgone conclusion that Pullman himself shares his character's postion. He may not agree that Roger's death was a necessary evil to achieve a greater good. Asriel is far from a heroic character in many aspects, although his ultimate goals may be admirable in intent. It is Lyra who is the true hero, and she is never guilty of such morally reprehensible action. Pullman has others reasons for killing off Roger at the end of book one, which come to light in The Amber Spyglass, the third and final volume. An actual afterlife awaits spirits in Pullman's universe, not Heaven of Hell, but a realm similar to Greek Land of the Dead, where the ghosts wander about in a state of eternal boredom. They have been put there by the Authority, the pretender God, whom Lyra and Will eventually euthanize. Lyra finds Roger, and then liberates him and the other spirtis from the land of the Dead. What happens then is that they simply dissipate into nothing, though Pullman attempts to put a pretty face on what is surely oblivion at this point. He doesn't succeed, but he probably does that best he possibly can at making nothingness sound appealing. Like most atheists, Pullman beleives that oblivion is what really waits for us all in the real world, so here he's communicating what he beleives to be the true fate of all conscious beings.

But one more thing about Pullman's trilogy. Pullman imagined an alternate reality in which John Calvin has become Pope, and supposedly Calvinism reighns supreme. Why did he do this? In a DVD I have about the background of His Dark Materials in which Pullman explains that heretics where burned under Calvin, including a child heretic. Naturally Pullman is outraged by the terrible evils perpetuated by the church, and Calvin specifically. It may not be a coincindence then, that the doctrine of OSAS originited with Calvin, who undoubtedly beleived he was going to heaven in spite of his misdeeds. Pullman, of course, sees only religion itself as the problem. Perhaps he should look deeper....

Friday, February 26, 2010


Here is a story I wrote about a Tasmanian tiger or thylacine. I am interested in this species, and I would write more on this if I had time. I don't right now, but I just wanted to post this story:


Kate Millan relaxed in her seat on the airplane. Her husband occupied the seat next to her. He was reading the latest issue of the Smithsonian.
It had been several hard months working at the office. Kate felt she was long overdue for a vacation. She absently gazed of the window. Fleecy, vaporous clouds were visible far below, and through this haze vast blue of Pacific.
Kate’s husband was a junior professor at the local university back in Illinois. He worked in the zoology department, and had an enthusiasm for rare animal species that Kate herself didn’t really share. In fact, Jeff’s constant obsessive interest in rare species bored Kate and had gotten her nerves back when they were in the early stages of their marriage. Before they both agreed on this vacation, they had both made a pact that he could do all the animal research he wanted but that they wouldn’t discuss anything of his interests at all during the trip.
And that might prove difficult, Kate had reasoned. She rather suspected—no she was certain—that her husband had suggested this particular locale for their vacation could not have been a coincidence. Of all the places on earth Kate would have chosen, Tasmania would have been possibly the last. But Jeff had done his level best to convince her:
“It’s a beautiful island—not some exotic place where hairy men and savage beasts live. Look at these brochures! It’s pretty much like Hawaii.”
“Then why don’t we go there? Hawaii, I mean.”
“Honey, that’s where we went last time.”
“I’d so like to go there again.”
“But you’ll like Tasmania. It’s got a rich history. Great historical sights. And there’s great scenery. Just take a look.”
Kate looked the brochures, over, and she had to admit, some of it interested her. So at last they agreed. They had booked on Quantas airlines at O’Hare airport, and had flown to Melbourne, then from Melbourne they were now on their way to their destination. Kate was now looking over her Gardening magazines. Jeff was still engrossed in the Smithsonian, as he had been most of time they had been airborne. Kate often wondered about Jeff. He was quiet man, who spent most of the time in thought anyway. Most of their marriage, in fact.
She sighed. At least it gave her time to do her own reading.
They arrived on the island within two days of leaving the mainland. Customs checked them. Kate noticed that most other passengers had to be native Australians, form their accents. They were being checked too. Though they were technically in the same country, apparently travelers from the mainland were treated exactly as though they were crossing international borders.
They stopped and had lunch at a small cafe, and then browed a nearby tourist gift shop. They picked up a tourist guide and more brochures. They then make reservations at a local hotel, and rented a car. During the drive to hotel, Kate got her first real look at the land of Tasmania. It was a quite a bit different then she suspected. It was a very beautiful island. As beautiful as Hawaii? Kate wasn’t sure she could make a good comparison. It was different, that’s for sure. Beautiful jade-green mountains rose above a land heavily-forested land. The road they took wound through deep ravines and snaked out along a rugged coastline in places. The intense, turquoise blue of the Southern ocean contrasted with the rich emeralds and jades of the land. Great escarpments rose above them. There were a great number of exotic plants. Kate noticed tower tree-ferns that looked like something straight out of the dinosaur era. There other huge plants which resembled nothing so much as gigantic pillow-beds. Jeff explained to her that these were called cushion plants. Plant life—this was making Kate’s vacation interesting already. It was also a thrill to see kangaroo-crossing signs with frequency. This trip was turning out to be amazing. She kept expected one of the animals to hop across the road in front. She’d make sure to tell Jeff to put on the breaks fast, if one did, but it never happened.
It turned out that the hotel they had booked was located far from the coast. Kate had expected one of the high-rise places on the coast. But the road took them inland past, forested mountains, and rolling plains covered with rich vineyards. The hotel itself turned out to be a rather low-class, three story affair. Jeff explained that he’d rented it because of its proximity to the local wildlife reserve, where he obviously intended to spend a good proportion of their vacation. It was a white building with peeling paint, but it did have the classic stucco architecture, common to the larger colonial mansions on the island.
They spent the first week visiting local tourist sites. They went to local wineries, several colonial homes, and the old building that had once housed prisoners from England. It turned out that Tasmania had a rich history that Kate had only begun to realize. Then Jeff took her to a wildlife park that featured the island’s icon, the Tasmanian devil. Kate knew next to nothing about them except for the famous Warner Brothers cartoon character. The devils in the park weren’t wild—they were kept in a large enclosure. There were in fact over a dozen of the black-furred beasts. The rangers fed them chunks of wallaby meat, while the devils emitted horrendous howls that had to be the weirdest thing Kate had ever heard.
The day following, they went to the local national park and wildlife refuge, where they went “bushwacking.” At least that’s what Jeff called it. It was really just a guided tour by one of the rangers along a well-worn trail. True bushwacking, as the Aussies called it, would likely involve hacking through the wilderness with machetes. Still, it seemed they were venturing into a vast wilderness, far from civilization. Huge eucalyptus trees rose all about them, so huge and massive in girth that they reminded Kate of giant redwoods. The park ranger warned them not to step off the path, mostly for the presence of highly poisonous snakes, the deadly tiger snake and the taipan. Kate hated snakes, and wished she hadn’t been told that, even though at the same time she was. Fortunately, the glimpsed no serpents, but several exotic birds caught her eye, and she sought to capture them on her digital camera. Too bad they too distant to show it well on the recording. Things rustled in the underbrush. The ranger informed them that animals that were common were the possums and predatory tiger quolls. The devil was common as well, but, the according to the ranger they usually ventured out of their burrows at night.
“One problem we have,” the ranger said,” is that this land is wanted by the Tasmanian logging company.”
“All of it?” Kate asked him.
“As much as they can get. They have plenty of land of their own over there.” He indicated the direction. “They’re supposed to plant new trees for the ones they’ve cut. The problem is, animals eat the little saplings, so then loggers have taken to poisoning them to ensure the new growth.”
“That’s horrible.” Kate said.
“Maybe. But logging is a big industry. It generates tons of profit, so there’s not much can be done.”
‘Even for the poor little animals?”
“Afraid not.
The next day they returned to the park. This time, they visited a spectacular waterfall. Then they went kayaking on the rapids, and visited a secret grotto inhabited by the famous Tasmanian giant crayfish that were considered a delicacy.
That weekend, they spent their time visiting the local shops. They went to a famous winery/restaurant, had some of that famous crayfish for themselves. Jeff bought three vine bottles of Tasmanian vintage. Kate anticipated what the neighbors back home would think when she showed them the rare Tasmanian wines, brewed only on the island. With still two weeks of vacation left, Jeff announced he was going back to the park to look for wildlife.
“You don’t have to come, if you don’t want to.” he told her.
“But what am I supposed to do here at the hotel?”
“I’ll let you have the car. I’ll take the bus to the park. It’s better that way.”
“You’re going out there to look for animals, aren’t you?”
“Maybe. Call it scientific research.”
“Okay. I can go to the shops, I guess.”
“That’s the idea. You’ll have fun.”
“Yes.” Kate said. “I suppose I will.”
Kate realized there were in fact plenty of other shops they hadn’t visited, and decided that this was a perfect opportunity to shop on her own. So let Jeff have his own fun, and she would have hers.
So the next day Kate amused herself in Jeff’s absence by browsing the stores in the nearby shopping area. She didn’t buy much, enjoyed browsing the most, and found a few cool items to bring back with her.
It was on her way back to the hotel that it happened.
Kate was driving the rented car through a strip of road with thick forest on either side, when something caught her eye in the rearview mirror. It was very quick, so quick, in fact, that she barely discerned it. A small animal racing across the road and vanishing in the tall weeds on the other side. She was only able to catch a glimpse of it before it vanished from view. But she had a good enough look in that brief instant to tell it was a dog of some kind. Or maybe a fox, as it was very small; the park ranger had told them there were a number of foxes in Tasmania, which had been introduced in the relatively recent past. If it were indeed, a fox, then it could fend for itself; if it were a small dog, however, Kate decided she simply could not abandon it. She was far from anyone’s home, after all. The poor thing might well be lost, and there was no way she could not try to save it—especially with those nasty devils prowling around.
Kate began backing up to the spot where she’d glimpsed the animal, knowing it was foolish, but watching all the time for cars. There were none.
When she reached the spot she’d seen it, Kate got out, and crossed the road. The weeds here grew tall and thick, as she pushed her way through them. The eucalypt forest on the other side looked deep and dark. Perhaps the animal had fled into the depths. Kate was just about to return to her car, when a small, cute face poked up through the grass over a fallen branch. Kate started. The animal’s face regarded her plaintively. And she knew it once what it was.
A puppy. A little lost puppy out here in exotic Tasmania.
Kate’s heart immediately went out to it. She thought of the numerous dogs she’d known growing up. Of course, there were dog owners down here too, and even strays. Her problem was: Jeff. Ever since her marriage to him, she had been prohibited from owning a dog. Despite his interest in zoology, Jeff was anything but a pet person. Especially when it came to dogs. They barked and made bad smells and were a financial strain and a general nuisance. Jeff had never bonded with an animal in all his boyhood. He would not tolerate an animal in their home, ruining their carpets or their furniture. He might be a strong champion for animal rights, and a professor in the zoology department, dogs were a definite no-no in his married life.
Which had been a very hard trade off for Kate. If she hadn’t loved Jeff so much....
But here was this lost or abandoned puppy, out here in the wild. There was no way she could leave it here, Jeff or no Jeff.
The little puppy continued to gaze at her. Kate could tell when an animal was silently pleading for help. She cautiously approached the puppy. It did not flee.
“Little fellow.” She told it. “”Who do you belong to?”
The puppy whined at her. Kate reached down, and seized the puppy by the scruff of its little neck and lifted it up. She blinked.
A series of chocolate-brown stripes ran down the pup’s lower back to the base of its short, stiff tail.
Never in her life had Kate ever heard of breed of dog that possessed stripes. Perhaps it was some sort of Australian breed? A kangaroo hound perhaps? Kate had heard of kangaroo hounds, but had never seen one.
But a lost puppy was a lost puppy.
Kate scooped up the little puppy and cradled it in her arms. The puppy was very docile and let itself be cuddled. She carried it back to her car, and placed it on the passenger seat. She got a blanked out of the back seat and placed the puppy on it. She shut the car door and headed for the hotel. What could she do now? Jeff would just have to share his apartment until she could find a home for the little guy.
When Kate got back to the apartment, she bundled the puppy into the blanket, and carried into the apartment. She laid it down on the sofa, then held it up. She found it was definitely a little guy. Kate wondered absently what she would call him, so long as he stayed with her.
The puppy nuzzled her cheek fondly. Then he licked her twice with his small soft tongue. It was surely wonderful how animals always expressed instant gratitude beyond that of humans. Kate gazed fondly at the little puppy’s quizzical face.
“Tigger.” She told him. “Tigger, that’s your name. It really suits you.” That was the perfect name for a cute, striped little puppy. Kate loved the cartoon character of the same name, who was Winnie-the Pooh’s buddy. She remembered one special line from the movie “Winnie-the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” which she’d loved as a child: “The most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one!”
“That’s you, Tigger. I’ll bet you’re the only one, too. I’ll bet you’re the only striped puppy in the world.”
Tigger licked her face again.
Already, she was falling in love with the little guy.
She lay Tigger down on the blanket again. Tigger looked at her and whined. Then he curled up into a striped ball, his tail over his muzzle.
The poor little fellow must have been through a lot, whoever had abandoned him.
She decided poor little Tigger deserved a good long sleep, whatever he’d been through. Meanwhile, she’d needed to go somewhere to find him some baby milk and puppy food. What would Jeff say? Well, she didn’t car, for the moment. She’d deal with that little problem when she came to it. For now, Tigger was her responsibility.
She took the car to a small grocery down the street from the hotel. She got a bottle, someone formula baby milk, and some puppy chow, and returned as fast as she could.
When she entered the apartment, Tigger looked up at her from the couch. It was as though he sensed she’d brought something good for him. Kate went into the small kitchen and prepared the milk. She heard a whine and looked down. There was Tigger, sitting with his little striped rump on the kitchen floor, gazing up at her plaintively. She gathered him up into her arms and fed the him the milk. Tigger took to it gratefully. Kate wondered how long he had gone without it; he was still a very small puppy, and it was unlikely he’d been weaned.
Kate set Tigger on the floor, and poured him a paper bowl of puppy chow. Tigger ambled for the food on shakey legs, and sniffed at it.
“Go on, Tigger.” Kate encouraged him. “You’re a growing dog. You need to eat.”
Tigger continued to sniff at it suspiciously. Then, as though finding the food unfamiliar, sampled a small portion of it. Then he ate chewed and swallowed a bit more, then a bit more. Finally demonstrating real appetite, he polished off all of it. He then gazed up at Kate as though expecting more.
“Not now, Tigger. You’ve had enough.” She gathered the puppy into her arms again, and carried him into what passed for the living room. She turned on the TV, and sat down on the couch, Tigger cuddled on her lap. It turned out that Tigger seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching the screen with her, though she had no idea what went on in a puppy’s head.
Kate was very glad she had rescued Tigger. There was no telling what could have happened to the poor little guy out there. She had seen two wombats and a wallaby as roadkill, and she shuddered to think.
But Jeff...
Kate knew by now that there was no way she could tell her husband. She was totally in love with little Tigger. There was no way Jeff would let her keep him. There was also no way she would give him up. But what could she do? Jeff was do home any minute. She had to hide him from Jeff. Inwardly she knew that this was foolish, that she could not possibly keep Tigger a secret for long. Jeff was sure to make her give him up. And she couldn’t, just couldn’t....
There was the sound of the bus on the street outside.
Quickly, Kate gathered up Tigger. The little guy remained complacent as she bundled him up and headed straight for the closet. She placed Tigger in it. “I’m sorry, sweetheart” she told the little guy. “But You’ll have to stay in here for a while. My husband won’t like it you’re here.” Tigger whined at her.
She heard Jeff knock at the door. Kate gave Tigger a scratch behind his small ears, then closed the door, and went to let Jeff in.
It turned out Jeff seemed rather nonplussed that evening. He had gone on another expedition into the park, with a different ranger this time, he said. He had even stored some pictures in his digital camera. He showed them to Kate. Some were of the exotic birds. Jeff called one of the birds a curowong and another species of cockatoo.
But it seemed Jeff was disappointed about something.
They watched TV together that evening. When they retired for bed, Kate grew worried about Tigger. She couldn’t just leave him in the closet all night. There was an extra bedroom, probably for couples who had children (Jeff had not wanted any), and Kate supposed she would have to put Tigger in there.
“Just a minute, Honey.” She told Jeff as she finished putting on her gown. She slipped out into the living room and opened the closet. She got down on her knees. To her relief, Tigger was still there, curled up and regarding her sleepily. He seemed fine. He was so amiable and complacent for a dog. She gathered him up, said some placating words to him, and carried him swiftly to the back room. She set little Tigger comfortably on the bed, scratched him behind the ears. Then she returned to the other bedroom and Jeff.
It was sometime much later, after they had made love and fallen fast asleep, that Kate felt the covers dragged off her. She was awake in an instance, blinking at the darkness of the room. Beside her, she heard Jeff snore. She felt the covers dragged further, herd them fall to the floor.
Instantly, she rememberd. That day. Tigger.
Kate nearly panicked. But she managed to keep her cool. Something had just pulled off the sheets, and she knew instantly who. Jeff, mercifully, had refused to wake.
As gingerly as she could, Kate swung her feet out of bed and stood up. The room was clothed in nearly pitch blackness. She looked at the floor but could see nothing. Then she heard the very faint, soft sound of the Tigger’s unsteady footfalls, heard him chew on the sheet. She crouched down. “Tigger?”
She heard a plaintive whine.
“Tigger!” Kate whispered harshly. “Come here! Now!”
Tigger did not come.
“Tigger!” she whispered again.
She heard the puppy pad away on his shaky legs.
And Jeff begin to stir himself awake.
Kate rose to her feet as Jeff sat up, started to get out of bed.
‘Uh...Kate?” he answered sleepily.
“Are you getting up?”
“Of course I’m getting up. I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” He told her. “isn’t that alright?”
“Well, yes. Of course. But...”
“Is something wrong?”
“Well, no, but....wait, I’ve got to check the bathroom before you use it! Just a minute!”
Kate made her way around the bed, looking at the floor. Where was Tigger? Was he under the bed? Or—
She gasped as she rounded the bed and saw the striped puppy almost at her husband’s feet. He was doubtless curious about this new human, and looked like he was about to innocently sniff Jeff’s foot. She was that close to losing him.
“You’re acting funny, Kate.”
“Go on, Jeff! Go to the bathroom! Now!”
“Huh? But you just said—“
“Okay already!” Jeff got up and headed for the bathroom. As soon as her husband had left the room, she scooped up Tigger and hurried out with him. She carried him back to the other bedroom and set him on the bed. She kissed the puppy on the head then left him there, making sure this time the door was tightly shut. She returned to the bedroom and lay down. Jeff returned a few seconds later. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” he asked.
“Oh, yes.” Said Kate. “I think was just having a nightmare seemed like I was still dreaming. Sorry.”
“Just making sure.” Jeff said. He settled into the bed and was asleep in no time.
Kate breathed a silent prayer of relief.
In the days that followed, Jeff continued to take the bus to the park, always in the false assumption that his wife was occupying herself with shopping in his absence. But shopping no longer interested her in the least. There was a brand new presence in her life, and his name was Tigger. Half of her time was concerned with caring for the little fellow; the other half the most difficult, was keeping him secret from Jeff. This was no small task, and all the time when Jeff was in the apartment, the fear of losing her newfound companion was at the fore of her mind.
Meanwhile, Jeff spent more and more time at the park every day. Kate wondered what exactly he was doing out there. Was he just going on nature hikes and observing Tasmanian wildlife? She figured he must be doing some sort of wildlife research, but since they made a pact not do discuss his interest in wildlife, they never did. Which was just fine with Kate; she hardly had time to think about it, as her thoughts were all taken up with Tigger. The little puppy was more active now, and, though Kate wasn’t quite sure, he might even have grown some since she found him. His legs were less wobbly now, and he had taken to exploring the small apartment. Kate late him go everywhere he wanted, so long as Jeff wasn’t around. She set him on a sheet of newspaper to toilet train him. She kept on feeding him the milk formula, realizing it must be what was improving his strength. The only problem came when Jeff returned to the hotel. She had to keep Tigger shut in the extra bedroom during this time, and she was deadly afraid that he would start scratching at the door, and that Jeff would hear.
One evening though, Jeff surprised her by announcing he was to return to the park, where he would remain the entire night. This actually relieved her greatly; she and Tigger would have the apartment to themselves for the entire night. The next morning Jeff returned to the hotel disgruntled. This time he had red spots all over him; he explained that the sores had been caused by land-leeches. The bteis n covered his arms and neck.
"oh, you poor baby." she told him.'I'll have to take care of those."
"Don't worry about it honey, I'm fine."
"Those sure don't look fine. I'll get something for those."
Kate spent nearly an hour putting antiseptic on Jeff's leetch bites, while he sat on the bed wincing at the pain.
She noticed that he was acting more and more frustrated everyday; she got the idea he was looking for something out there, and not finding it. He talked to her less than usual, but he did share the results of his camera with her. He’d stayed out all night with a blind, watching the wildlife, it turned out. It had been long and generally uneventful, but e was able to capture several wild kangaroos on film during the course of the night, along with three brush-tailed possums and once a wombat ambled in front of his camera. It was the first genuine wild wombat they’d seen, save for roadkill. Kate would have thought Jeff would be more than pleased, but he seemed despondent.
“Did you see any devils?” she asked him, as they sat on couch watching the film.
“Actually, no.” Jeff told. “It’s a shame, I was hoping to see one in the wild. But I did hear them though. Believe me, they’re out there. I would have thought one would approach the camera. Maybe if I stay out another night.”
“Oh, no.” said Kate “I don’t want you to do that.” Part of her did like the idea of another night with Tigger safe, but she also was getting worried about Jeff spending so much time out there in the bush.
“I’ll go farther out, up in the hills.”
“No Jeff. You’ve already spent too much time out there. Surely you’ve done enough by now.”
“I guess you’re right.” Jeff sighed.
“You’re tired.” Kate told him. “Just go to bed. We’ll be leaving soon anyway.”
It was true. Kate was surprised she hadn’t considered it before now: in just three more days they would return to the states. What could she possibly do with Tigger? She thought she’d know what to do when the time came, but the truth was, she had no idea.
The next day, after Jeff had returned once again to the park, Kate sat alone on the couch, Tigger snuggled safe in her arms, and considered what her options were.
There was not a chance, she knew, that she could leave Tigger behind. She was entirely and totally in love with him. But there was no way Jeff would let her keep him, let alone let her take him back with her. That meant the only option, the only one at all, was to take Tigger back in secret. To smuggle him out of the country!
It seemed impossible, and it had to be illegal. Could she even do it? She wasn’t at all sure, but she had to try. Her heart simply left her no other option. Even if she were accomplish it though, she knew realistically that she couldn’t live in the same house with Jeff and keep Tigger a secret from him forever. Sooner or later, (perhaps most likely on the return trip, much as she dreaded that possibility), Jeff would discover that she’d been keeping a dog under his nose. He’d likely be furious with her for it, even more so if he found she’d actually broken the law to do it, and Tigger would lose his home and her. That would be more than she could bear.
Even though, she had to keep Tigger. As for what she would do once they were back home, she’d just have to worry about it then. Fortunately, Tigger in an odd manner for a dog; he was very quiet. He never barked, except for once he’d made a low, coughing sound, and emitted the occasional whine. He was remarkably quiet for a canine. He let her hold him, and that manner, seemed more like a cat than a dog. That meant there was a chance she might be able to do it.
The day before they left, she went out and bought a small pet-carrier designed for a cat or small dog. Kate selected one that looked rather like a more innocent type of carrying case. She was fairly confident that Jeff would not notice what it was among her other luggage.
Finally the day arrived to return home. Jeff was more despondent than ever after spending all those hours in the bush. Kate asked him what exactly it was he thought he was looking for. But Jeff replied that she just wouldn’t be interested.
Tigger was shut in the extra bedroom at this time. Kate went into the room and set the carrying case on the bed where Tigger was already curled complacently. The litte dog looked up at her.
“It’s okay, Tigger.” She told him. “I’m taking you back home with me. I know you don’t understand, but I have to put you in here. It won’t be for long, I promise.”
Tigger lay there, and whined up at her.
“It’s okay, little guy.” Kate said. “Just trust me.”
She lifted Tigger off the blanket he was laying on and used the blanket to make a soft nest for him in the carrier. Then she gave Tigger an affectionate scratch and lifted him inside. She nestled him in the blanket carefully, then fastened the door.
“Kate, are you ready yet?” Jeff called.
“Almost!” she called. She took the carrier off the bed and set with her other luggage in the main room. Jeff was lugging his own suitcase out the door.
Jeff loaded his luggage into the trunk of their rented car, but Kate insisted on having hers in the back seat. They checked out, and drove to the airport. Jeff had brightened a bit and asked Kate some questions about her trip, and if she enjoyed all the she shopping he thought she’d been doing while he was away. She gave him short answers, her mind being constantly on Tigger, who was tiding in obtrusively in the back seat. Again she feared he would begin scratching, and alert Jeff to his presence. But it didn’t happen. The puppy was quiet as always. Was he alright? Kate sincerely hoped so. The real nightmare, she realized, lay ahead of her.
They reached the airport. Before boarding the plane, the customs officers checked them again. Here was the moment Kate had been dreading most. They scanned both of their suitcases, the small case that held Tigger. Kate nearly jumped out of her skin when one of the men asked her abruptly, “Do you have a pet ma’am?”
“Oh?” she said.
“That case. I thought you might have a pet.”
“Oh, no. That’s just for my personal things.”
“Oh.” He scanned it again, seemingly unconcerned. No metal was detected, and the men turned nonchalantly to the next couple. When they met the receptionist in charge of the luggage, Kate took her aside.
“Ma ‘am,” she said “Could you help me?”
“What?” asked the receptionist, a pretty young blonde .
“Could you....make sure my case is placed in a safe spot.”
“Well, sure. Why?”
“Well....” Kate decided to tell the partial truth to her. “I have a small dog, who gets chills easily.”
“Oh!” she said. “You didn’t tell me you had a pet. Don’t worry. I’ll put him in the kennel. He’ll be fine.”
The receptionist had snatched Tigger away from her and was carrying off him and her suitcase.
Kate was dreadfully afraid Jeff had heard.
“Kate?” her husband asked.
“What were you talking to her about?”
“I just wanted her to make sure my stuff was okay.”
“Why would you need to do that?”
“I just did.” She said helplessly.
“I thought I heard her say you had a pet.”
“She misunderstood me.”
“Oh. You should have told her we don’t have any pets. You don’t want her to put that case of yours in the kennel. That would be unsanitary.”
“Well, it’s too late now. I’m not going to worry about it.”
They were now boarding the plane with the other passengers, and Jeff said nothing more about it. In fact he said very little to her during the return trip. Doubtless his thoughts were on whatever it was he was looking for and didn’t find out there in the bush. Some kind of rare animal, maybe. Kate could well read her husband’s thoughts. But during the entire trip home, Kate could think of hardly anything else but Tigger, much as she tried to concentrate on other things. It would be a long flight for the little guy.
They flew once again to Sydney, and from thence back across the Pacific to Chicago, Illinois.
When Kate picked up her luggage, she heard nothing inside, and this worried her. She felt like holding up the carrier and looking inside, but she daren’t. Jeff was right there. Before she put the case in their car, though, she felt Tigger’s small body stir, and she was relieved.
She said little to Jeff on the drive from the airport to their home. Jeff noticed and asked her, and she replied that she was merely glad to be back home at last.
“You seemed worried back on the plane.”
“Oh. I was just tired at last.”
The familiar sights and sounds of the Chicago suburbs were all around them now. Never before was she so glad to experience the sound of the conjested Illinois traffic.
They arrived at their house. Kate hurriedly picked up her luggage. Once they were inside, Kate headed for their room and locked the door. Jeff had set his own luggage on the floor in the living room, and was now phoning the neighbors.
Kate set Tigger’s case on their bed. She then opened the door and peered inside.
She heard him whine. The puppy’s little face peered over the fold of blanket and looked her.
Kate grinned hugely. She reached and drew Tigger out. She held him up in front of her.
“Oh, Tigger are you alright, baby? I sorry I had to put you through this.”
Tigger, however, seemed perfectly fine. The little puppy licked her face with utmost affection.
“Tigger, oh, Tigger..”
She cuddled the little puppy in her arms, and rocked him gently. Tigger was such a brave, wonderful dog! He had made all the way from Tasmania to Illinois, and he didn’t seem in the least traumatized by the experience.
She had done it! She’d really done it. No wait, they had done it. Half the credit had to go to her canine companion. If he hadn’t been so quiet during the return trip, she’d already have had to give him up. Most dogs would have barked and announced themselves. Not her Tigger! Oh, he had to be the bravest, most wonderful dog in the world.
But for now, she had to find a new place to put him.
Jeff knocked on the bedroom door. “Kate?”
“It’s okay, Jeff.” She said.
“Are you coming out?”
“Pretty soon, Jeff.”
She knew then things were hardly over for herself and for Tigger. She had to hide him again. No matter, there were plenty of places in their house she could put the complacent little fellow. But what then? She couldn’t keep him a secret for long. And what about when Tigger started to grow? Well, she would solve those problems as they came. Right now she cradled the puppy in her arms for half an hour. Then she carried I him into the guest room and shut the door.
The next day, after Jeff had returned to work, she let Tigger out of the guest room and allowed him to explore the entire house. He showed a good degree of curiousity, even climbing and scratching on some of the furniture. And even chewing on some of it, a habit Kate realized she would have to break him of. That was exactly didn’t want animals sharing their home.
The days progressed. Kate grew ever more attached to little Tigger. She just couldn’t get enough of him. She allowed him the run of the house when she or Jeff was at work, only keeping him locked in the basement or the guest room when Jeff was around. She spent hours playing with him, often tug-of-war with a piece of yarn. And also much time watching TV with Tigger lying on her lap. She continued to buy puppy chow for him in secret, though he seemed to be outgrowing the milk. She also had him sample new sorts of food. Tigger seemed to prefer most kinds of meat. But she was able to coax him into eating some lettuce and other vegatables. Then she fed him have a Hershey bar. After that, Tigger seemed to take a strong liking for chocolate, and she make sure to pick up some chocolate bars form the grocery whenever she went. She just had to make certain Jeff didn’t suspect who they were for.
Then something happened.
She was home on a Friday afternoon fixing something in the kitchen. Tigger was sitting on the floor. She suddenly heard Tigger gave out a very un-canine sounding hiss. Kate glanced sharply down at the little dog.
Tigger was still engaged in the hissing. It was a low harsh sound like a diminishing steam-kettle. His mouth was gaping wide. For a second, Kate was astonished. With his mouth open, Tigger didn’t look very much like a dog. In fact, the motuh was open to much wider angle, she decided than a dog should have been able. And in that brief instance, his dogness seemed to vanish. Tigger closed his mouth and looked up at her.
Kate got to wondering. Even when his mouth was closed there was something distinctly un-doglike about Tigger. There always had been, she realized. Could it be, perhaps, that Tigger was really not a dog at all? The thought was almost frightening. It shocked Kate a bit. She noticed that Tigger’s eyes were too slanted, a bit more feline than canine even. His ears were a bit too rounded at the tips. And his tail—whoever heard of a dog whose tail never wagged? How strangely stiff it was. It seemed Tigger was not even capable of wagging his tail, despite his friendly nature.
She found herself thinking suddenly of a popular piece of urban folklore—the one commonly known as “The Mexican Pet.” Kate remembered hearing herself as a teen, and believing at the time that it was real. The story was always basically the same, whoever told it. Someone, usually a woman, went on vacation to Mexico. There, she rescued what she thought was a small dog. Then she returned home with her new pet, only to discover to her horror that the “dog” some sort of Mexican rodent. Well, that was just plain ridiculous. No way Tigger could be a rat; he had the perfectly normal canine teeth. What was he, then? Since he came form Australia, could it be that he was the Australian equivalent of the fabled rat from beyond the border? What lived in Australia? Was he some sort of possum, maybe? Kate realized then what Tigger had reminded her of for the brief time he had opened his jaws—an opossum. That hiss, too, it seemed more like what a possum might make. Kate began taking this seriously; she thought of the native Tasmanian animals she’s seen on Visitor’s billboard at the parks she had Jeff and seen. There was the famous devil, and brown white-spotted critter called a tiger quoll, and a few smaller rat-sized beasts. None of these resembled Tigger. Plus, all of those predators were small in their adult size. And Tigger was a very young whatever-he-was. From the size he was now,, Kate estimated that he would probably grow to the size of a collie or maybe a German Shephard. No, Tigger was a dog. There was simply nothing else in the world that he could possibly be. That left it open, of course, as to just what kind of dog he was.
Kate went to Jeff’s home office and did an Internet search on breeds of dog. She enjoyed reading about each of the dogs that caught her attention. But there was none that resembled her new companion. She did another search on Australian dog breeds, but this, too, yielded nothing.
At last, she gave up her search, and was contented to just assume Tigger was a very special, one of the kind dog—which, so far as she could tell, he was. She returned to the living room and turned on the television. She picked Tigger up and sat down. As usual, the amiable little fellow curled up in her lap and watched the screen right along with her. Kate looked down at him.
“Oh, Tigger,” she said to him. “You really are unique in all the world.”

The next evening, Kate had given Tigger the usual run of the house, when she received an unexpected call from the cleaners. They told her that Jeff’s suit and pants were ready to pick up. Jeff not being due home for another couple of hours, Kate hurried out.
It was about ten minutes after she left that Jeff arrived home early with three fellow zoology professors. His last class had unexpectedly been cancelled. This would be a perfect time some relaxation with some friends who shared his passion wildlife.
The men were soon seated around in the living room. Tigger was in the kitchen at the moment and feeling very hungry. He’d heard the men enter the house, and remained where he was afraid to venture out where they were. His friend Kate had left him for the time, and though he knew another human shared Kate’s home, he was never given contact with him. Why was that? Tigger didn’t know. The humans he’d met yesterday were also his friends. One had even picked him up like Kate did. Still, he didn’t trust these new ones—not yet.
The first things the animal who now knew himself as Tigger remembered were his mother’s milk, and being carried snug and secure in the flap of skin close to his mother’s warm belly. His world had shattered when a tremendous crash had come out of nowhere, causing white light to explode in his little skull. When he woke, Tigger had struggled out of his mother’s pouch. He had sniffed his mother and tried to wake her. He knew not why she did not move or breath. But he heard the screams and howls of the black beasts he knew would eat him. He cried plaintively for his mother to wake. When she didn’t, he staggered off dazedly on his wobbly legs into the forest. He’d found a hollow log and hid there, while sounds of crunching bone and tearing flesh filled the night. The next morning his mother was gone—gone completely. The black beasts had even consumed her bones. He staggered off in a daze once more—he didn’t know what else to do.
He hid himself away in the dark when the black beasts were prowling about. They had eaten his mother and Tigger knew they would eat him as well if they found him. In the daylight, he staggered about, blinking, crying from his mother to come and save him, even though his mother was no more. He was much weakened and dizzy from lack of milk, and suffering fainting spells, by the time he came back to the strip of stone, where he had last seen his mother, even though she no longer moved or breathed then. But he feared the stone place, for it had somehow taken his mother from him. But maybe she was alive somewhere on the other side of the stone strip. A great shining thing, roaring strangely had come tearing along the stone strip. The sound it made gave him terror, for he’d heard that same sound before his world had shattered.
But once the huge thing had passed, Tigger burst out across the stone plunging for the weed on the other side. Maybe on the other side his mother was still alive somewhere. All had been wonderful before his mother had carried him across. Yes, maybe that was it.
And something had happened. The great shining thing had come back. Tigger was too confused to run. That was when Kate had found him. That’s when Kate had become his new mother. That was when life once again became good like before, only different. Kate had saved him. Kate fed him, cared for him. Tigger loved Kate. Kate, he knew, would never let the black furred beasts eat him. Kate had given him his name. Tigger liked his name because Kate had given it him. Tigger worshiped Kate, because Kate could do anything.
But Kate wasn’t here now. And Tigger was very hungry. He was especially hungry for that wonderful stuff Kate called “chocolate” or “hershees.” He wanted some of it right now.
Did the other humans have any for him? Tigger didn’t know. But he was going to find out.
On uncertain legs, he began ambling in the direction of the human voices.
“I’m surprised at you, Jeff,” one of Jeff’s friends was saying. “I didn’t really think that would go back into the bush and actually look for them.”
“Well, I didn’t expect to find any.” Jeff said.
“Of course you didn’t find any. Because there aren’t any. The last reliable sighting of one was probably 1982.”
“There’s been plenty of sightings then.”
“I said reliable sightings. There’s plenty of sightings of Elvis, too.”
“They’ve even seen them on the mainland.”
“That’s my point. There haven’t been any of them on the mainland for 3,000 years.”
Jeff was becoming slightly irritated. “You’ve seen those two films? The creatures on those sure look like one to me!”
Tigger had ambled his way from the kitchen and was now sitting in complacent fashion on his little striped rump a few feet from the men. He was gazing up at the one human whose face was turned toward him. Maybe he would recognize what he wanted.
“Kate enjoyed the trip,” Jeff was saying. “She was at the local tourist traps, mostly. I think she got more out of it than I did. I wonder though, if I’d spent years in Tasmania, or maybe if I’d gone even further into the bush, where none of the rangers had been, then maybe-“
“Maybe you’d get even more wombats on film. In fact, I’m really sure you would. I bet you’d see tons of wombats!”
There was laughter around the circle, a harsh noise to Tigger’s ears.
The human facing Tigger had noticed him. Tigger saw the man glance down at him with a smile, then look away. Then look back, still with a smile, but now with a puzzled look in his eye. Tigger could not read these expressions, but he saw the man blink at him several times rapidly. The man gave a short laugh. “Jeff?” the man asked, not taking his gaze off Tigger and starting to bend forward in his direction.”Jeff?”
“You know,” Jeff was saying to another friend of his, “I had the strangest feeling the whole time. Like I could sense their presence. I felt like they had to be out there—somewhere. It was though there really was one of them right under my nose the whole time—“
His voice trailed off to nothing. The other three men were looking toward a corner of the living room. The man to whom he’d been speaking had risen from his chair and was now staring intently at some spot on the floor beyond and behind where Jeff was seated. The man closest to the spot was leaning over in his chair, and gaping silently.
Jeff felt a chill invade the room and settle over him. He rose slowly form his chair and turned around to see what it was that had suddenly caught his friends’ attention.
Kate had just picked up Jeff’s suit and pants at the cleaners when her cell phone rang. It was a friend of hers. “Hi Kate. I just wanted you to know you’re husband’s in the hospital.”
“Jeff? What’s happened!”
“I’m not sure yet. But something happened at your house.”
“You mean Jeff’s home?”
“Well, yeah. He must have got off early. Anyway, he passed out in state of shock. They told me his hair has turned white.”
“That’s not all. It seems there’s some kind of mob at your house. They’re all professors from your husband’s department—“
Kate shut off the cell phone and stormed out to her car. She didn’t even need to guess the source of this problem: Tigger. How foolish she’d been to leave him alone, even to go to the cleaners. She hadn’t counted on the unexpected, in this case, Jeff’s return. She hadn’t guessed that the discovery of her secret would have turned his hair white, but she’d heard once that there are always new things to learn about one’s spouse.
Kate started her engine and headed for the hospital. A relief flooded through her. Her secret, long overdue, was finally out. She knew now that she could take it from here. The incident had made her decision for him. If Jeff’s hair had really turned white, well, it was just too bad. She wasn’t going to live by her husband’s rules anymore.
Kate felt giddy and lighthearted as drove toward the hospital, ready at last to explain everything to Jeff about Tigger. Having a dog in his life was just something he was going to have to live with.

Kangaroos and an (extinct) Tasmanian emu flee from two hunting thylacines in this 19th century illustration