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.

My Thoughts on the Erotica Genre

As far as personal tastes go, I understand that everyone is different. Most people are into sports and that is something I couldn’t care less about.  There are people who feel the same way about my books and the fantasy genre as a whole. I respect there are different hobbies and different points of view.  That is what makes us human.  However, there is one thing in the literary world that particularly bothers me, the attempt to claim that erotica is not pornography.

The last sentence of the previous paragraph undoubtedly raised the ire of a few.  Questions such as “how can you claim to be respectful of other people’s interests and make that claim?” For me it’s simple. I am a logical person.  As the old saying goes if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. On twitter especially I have seen erotica authors (which seem to be a dime a dozen on there) make various impassioned arguments that erotica isn’t porn at all.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines porn as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” That sounds a lot like erotica.  After all, what is the point of a story that primarily centers around sex if not for the soul purpose of arousal?  Sex by itself is not a plot, other plot elements may be intertwined with the story, but if that was the focus it would cease to be erotica.

I bring this up because all other genres may not be enjoyed by all people.  I don’t particularly fancy romance, but at the end of the day it is still art.  That is what sets erotica apart from all other genres.  Strictly speaking, erotica isn’t art, it’s porn.  A quick search into the definitions of the two clearly makes a distinction.  This isn’t about me pushing my morality onto others or to insult those who read erotica, but I want us to drop the pretense that it is some sort of extreme romance and not functionally a literary version of late night Pay-Per-View.

I believe this is an important topic to discuss.  Especially considering the popularity of the genre and recent scientific findings of what porn does to the human brain.  As always though, anyone reading this is welcome to disagree.  I encourage everyone to research it themselves.  Especially the effects of porn and the differences between porn and art.  From my point of view the evidence is undeniable, but of course there are those who feel passionately that I’m wrong.

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.