Do we live in an age without self-awareness?

As an author I feel it is my job to pay attention to cultural leanings and norms.  I’ve written before about the politically charged climate we live in.  People have adapted an “us verses them” mentality not just with politics but faith, lack of faith, and even mundane things like movies.  Yes, movies, I’ve seen some impassioned arguments about them on the internet.  With these discussions one primary accusation comes up; the other person or side is a hypocrite.

The truth is, no one likes a hypocrite and we can smell hypocrisy a million miles away in another person or group but struggle to see it in ourselves.  It’s undoubtful that everyone has been a hypocrite before.  I certainly have, everyone I know has been.  That is an inevitable part of being human.  There is a problem when hypocrisy is a pattern or even a lifestyle.

Hypocrisy can evolve to a point where a person is utterly lacking self-awareness.  The problem compounds when such lack of self-awareness spreads throughout a culture like a cancer.  Perhaps I’m cynical but from my perspective this seems to be where we are at in western society.  We see this especially in politics.  If someone from our “team” is guilty of something we look the other way and justify their actions.  However, if the “other side” does the same thing we lose our minds and catastrophize the situation.  The same thing is with religious verses irreligious folks.  The common attitude is that people can have their faith and believe what they will, but they must keep it to themselves.  However, irreligious folks, sometimes flood the internet with comments about how people who believe differently than them are delusional idiots.

There is a surface celebration of diversity in our culture, but rarely are diverse ideas met with approval.  It is the norm to shout down, belittle, and attack those who think differently.  Maybe we should try to understand why someone believes differently instead?  That is much harder.  It also goes against human nature.  It requires an immense amount of empathy, but it is not impossible.  I’m directing these comments as much to myself as anyone reading this.  This is how we become self-aware and do not become what we hate in others.

Just because everyone believes…

We all undoubtedly have memories of doing something stupid and our parents saying something like “if all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do that too?” The point, just because other people are doing something doesn’t mean we should do it too.  This is one of the major themes in my latest short story.

Most of us know intellectually that following the crowd and believing what others believe just because it’s popular is not healthy.  However, most people are still guilty of this.  I know I have been.  It is hard being the odd person out.  Humans desire to have belonging among other people because we are social creatures so it becomes easier than we like to compromise our beliefs, or at best downplay them.  How many kids swear they will never smoke, but do that exact same thing when they are a little older because their friends are doing it?

It is easy to spew platitudes about thinking for ourselves and doing our own thing, but in practice it is far more difficult.  This is the inspiration for my latest book The Cursed Forest.  There are many odd beliefs circulating lately that I would wager most people who adhere to them don’t really know why they believe it.  Look no further than our current political climate.  How many people vote simply because there is a “D” or an “R” after a candidate’s name?  His desire to fit in, I believe, is the driving factor behind the tribalism in our culture.

How many dangerous ideas spread quickly due to fear of what others might think?  Children’s television shows constantly teach “being your own person “but some adults don’t adhere to this logic though.  Take a look no further than the atrocities of the 20th century.  Sadly, history is replete with examples of group think and allowing or attributing to terrible things.  The best way to curb this is to know why we believe what we believe and to resist compromising our believers because an ideology is popular.

Broad Characterizations

There is something I have noticed in Fantasy, and I’m sure many others have too.  Certain races not only share universal characteristics, but individual members are indistinguishable from each other.  Take a look at orcs, not just in Lord of the Rings, but in other forms of fiction they have appeared in.  Their race is depicted as war-like, strong, and destructive.  Depending on the story their might be some variations, but that is typically what happens.  Elves are stuck up prudes and dwarves are rowdy Scotsmen essentially.  Yes, I know, there are plenty of stories that give a more nuanced approach to these races.  However, I feel the generalization of specific races may represent our humanness when it comes to people outside of our group who shares our ideology.

On social media I have become a silent observer of conversations.  I have concluded that arguing on Twitter or Facebook about important issues is rather pointless.  All it does is cause tension, after all has anyone changed their opinion about something due to an argument on Facebook?  If the answer is yes, then I doubt the number is very high.  I’ve seen Atheists attack religious people based purely on presuppositions and assumptions instead of what the person is trying to say.  I’ve seen the opposite where someone assumes things about all irreligious people and create strawman attacks.  This has been happening especially amongst Conservatives and Liberals since the last presidential election.  I’ve seen Liberals attack Conservatives, especially white rural Conservatives, for being dumb and uninformed, while Conservatives attack Liberals for having a supposed mental disorder.  When it comes to these discussions there only listening or reading to respond, not to hear what the other person has to say.  Honestly, this is the sort of thing social media breeds since people can hide behind a computing device and not see the hurt they cause others.

In the Lord of the Rings there is very little attempt to understand orcs.  They are orcs and serve the Dark Lord, and there is nothing more to it.  This viewpoint may work in fiction depending on how it’s utilized, but reality is nuanced.  I have my views on faith and politics, same as anyone else, but I need to listen and understand why someone may believe differently.  If we do not spend the time doing that, how then will people ever understand one another?  How will the chasm between political belief systems ever be bridged if we cannot even agree on the fundamentals of communication and human decency?  Is being right of the utmost importance?  These questions I must ask myself a lot, we all should.

Faith and Fantasy Pt. 2

In my last post I touched on my journey reconciling writing and reading fantasy while being a Christian.  There is so much more that could be said on this topic.  It is true that many Christians do not have a problem with Fantasy as a genre, and many enjoy it just as much as I do.  Yet, there is a culture and expectation amongst certain circles that one should not engage in it.  Certainly, this isn’t a topic worth being a martyr over, but it is worth exploring deeper.

The first thing we should get out of the way is that the Bible has been used to justify or condemn every sort of behavior imaginable.  This leads to anything from judgmental Pharisee-like attitudes to downright destructive behaviors.  The condemnation of Fantasy comes from the Bible speaking out against magic users and sorcerers, and the call for us believers to use good judgement and discernment when it comes to our entertainment.  Not a bad intention.  On top of that there are those who have more sensitive consciences, which makes it difficult for them to comprehend why someone would enjoy something that appears so “evil” to them.

Putting blanket rules around entertainment is difficult for these reasons.  Often times people read into Scripture their presuppositions and try to impose them on others.  I understand that, especially since believers are called to rebuke fellow Christians if they are not following God’s commands.  However, it is easy to take it too far and become judgmental over things that ultimately do not matter such as enjoying a specific genre of books.

There is something important to note.  Most of the time magic and sorcery in fantasy does not even closely resemble occult/pagan magic condemned in Scripture.  Magic in ancient times often took the form of astrology and divination or summoning spirits.  Fantasy magic such as in Harry Potter is invented as a plot device and for fun.  Fiction authors don’t pretend their works are real either which is something that distinguishes itself from true occultism.  We are told right away these stories are fake and meant to teach lessons of friendship, love, and what it means to be human among other things.

As believers it is our job to discern what entertainment we consume.  Instead of cherry-picking Scripture to back up our biases, we need to look at the Bible in its entirety.  Yes, sorcery is condemned in Scripture, but Paul also makes it clear that different people are sensitive to different things.  Our only job as believers is to not create a stumbling block, not reign judgment upon other people.