Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This is a Culture of Destruction

I like your medicine I like your birds and your bees Now don't you start thinkin' That you gotta buy the cure from them, sugar I know you know They're only gonna sell you the disease --RCPM, "I Know You Know" I spent the first twenty-five years or so of my life as a soldier in the middle of a war. No, seriously. You might think you've never heard of it, but there are books about my war all over the place and echoes of it nestled within the far-flung bits of literature you encounter on a daily basis. It's on the nightly news, buried in Reuters feeds, and on the pages of your newspapers. And lest you think that your average toddler can't fight a war, well the enemy didn't fight fair. The enemy attacked me, left me wounded, crippled, handicapped in a truly gruesome fight long before I figured out where the battlefield was or had the ability to reach it under my own power. And the weapon my enemy used to attack me in my most vulnerable state might surprise you. It was my father. That's what fathers do. My dad, in fact, was an alcoholic clown who beat me with his oversized shoes. All kidding aside, for a brief period one of my favorite books was John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, a guide of sorts to Biblical manhood. Or, at least, a variety of Biblical manhood that is seriously in vogue right now. And it's one that's probably extremely dangerous (as Matt Taibbi discovered in the Rolling Stone article linked above). I raised a tempest in a teacup over at Slacktivist and Right Behind over the last week. I wrote a couple of stories, basically on a dare, using characters from Left Behind. I don't consider myself a fanfic writer and I sure as hell don't think of myself as a slashfic writer, but it was an intersting idea to tackle and a chance to write on a subject I generally avoid (due, mostly, to knowing pretty much nothing about being a sexually active lesbian. Also, writing explicitly about sex is usually guaranteed to fail, since after a while I think all such writing devolves to a point where it reads like a manuscript written by a 15 year-old virgin. Oh, and just in case anybody wants to know, I don't even watch porn. It started as a religious injunction, but now is pretty much because I think it's massively stupid. Kind of like when I was younger and didn't watch scary movies because I thought I'd be, you know, scared. Now I don't because most of them are really friggin' stupid). The tempest was raised by one of the other regulars, who kept calling B.S. on me because I wrote the characters with daddy issues. This got a bunch of us started on the massive daddy issue industry that is modern evangelical Christianity. Now, then, fanfic itself is a wasted endeavor in my book. If I'm going to work with a character, I want it to be my own. In the case of Left Behind, though, it's an interesting exercise, since the characters read like the authors have never actually met a real human being, which is no mean feat. Normal, healthy, reasonable people do not act in the manner of the strange simulacra of people found in Left Behind and in my attempts to attach real motivations to the characters I unwittingly dredged up my fictional father issues. Fundagelical Christianity has written itself in to a corner. There's really no other way to say it. Guys like Eldredge are trying to write Christianity out of that corner and when I look at it from this side of the equation I begin to realize that they're doing a great deal of collateral damage. Most people go through a phase where they think that their parents are the dumbest fuck-ups in the world. It's usually called the teenage years. This, I believe, is a symptom of the twin vanities of adolescence and young adulthood. First, your average teenager thinks that they're the smartest person in the world. Second, your average teenager still sees the world in fairly black and white terms due to the wild, unchecked emotional development and non-worldliness that is the hallmark of modern youth. Now, unless the parent was an actual fuck-up or abusive, the teenager will probably grow up and learn that the world is not, in fact, black and white and that he or she did not, in fact, have all the answers. At some point in all of that the realization will come that, holy crap, my parent is a person just like I am and now that I'm an adult I realize that I was, in fact, the fuck-up. This is called growing up. It's why at some point pretty much every kid does something and realizes, "I'm turning in to my mother/father." It's why whenever adults talk about teenagers the conversation is punctuated with rolled eyes and shaking heads. Fundagelical Christianity, however, clings desperately to the black and white world of the self-righteous teenager. The Biblical injunction to enter the presence of the Christ with "faith like a child" is taken as a commandment to remain childish. When the real world with all its moral ambiguities encroaches on the black and white extremes of the adolescent world, fundagelical Christianity has no effective coping mechanism. When the wild dreams of the sheltered kid are shattered by the depressing realities of layoffs and infidelity and champagne tastes on a Keystone Light budget, there's no one to turn to, no one to blame, no inbuilt coping mechanism. See, god made all of these wonderful promises to the Chosen People. If bad things happen it can't be god's fault. It has to be someone else's and that leaves either the Devil or the self. But if in the moment of the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior you're given power over the princes and principalities of darkness, then something truly wrong has happened. Your weakness and failure must be the result of something residual from the before time, the time when the Devil reached you and made you a horrible, sinful person. Enter the Father Wound. Why no Mother Wound, you ask? I'm glad you brought that up. A vague Mother Wound is tacked on occasionally, in much the way that Freud added in the Elektra complex to counterbalance the Oedipal urge. But, ultimately, the man is in charge, so all failure is laid at the feet of the father. If the father does something bad, it's his fault. If the mother does something bad and the father isn't there to intervene, it's his fault. So it's all really the Father Wound. Neat, huh? The only solution to this universal disaster of the Father Wound is the Heavenly Father. You're supposed to let god be your daddy, claim your Biblical manhood or womanhood. Note that this isn't at all the same thing as growing up and claiming adulthood and it allows a perpetual adolescence and the eternal continuation of a perpetually navel gazing, childish faith upon which the rest of the world looks while rolling its eyes and sighing. The scary thing is, I'm not at all sure that anybody is really doing this with malice aforethought. I actually wonder if many, or any, of the practitioners of this psychological voodoo realize what they are doing. See, there's this strangely circular logic to this type of Christianity that it shares with any sort of system of thought built entirely on single-point solutions. If the only tool in the toolbox is a hammer, the handyman will tend to see nails (thanks to JayH for the image). In seeing that they're going to be fixed by a hammer no matter what, eventually the screws and staples will try to be nails. The analogy kind of breaks down here, but those nail-ified screws, if given a hammer and told to fix the table, will try to turn everything else in to nails eventually, too. This is the point of synthesis, at least for me. Because, you see, it was in the pages of John Eldredge's Wild at Heart where I first encountered the Golden-Haired Woman, a concept Eldredge borrowed from Robert Bly and Bly, in turn, borrowed from somewhere else (the Brothers Grimm, I believe). When a certain member of the female gender about whom I've spilled no small amount of digital ink first brought me to the place where I realized that I should give storytelling a try, my first two teachers were Joseph Campbell and my tattered memories of Wild at Heart. Campbell tried to take all of the world of myth and synthesize it in to a single narrative. Eldredge tried to take a single narrative and make the world of myth fit underneath its umbrella. Synthesis and exegesis. Campbell tried to fit everything under Freud's psychoanalytic concepts. Eldredge created this almost Freudian concept of the Father Wound going back to the very depths of childhood that needed to be worked through. Bly, meanwhile, tried to create a neo-manhood based in myth and storytelling. The overstory, the single myth we all constantly and subconsciously narrate in our own heads. Fiat Lex unwittingly provided the key for me to unlock this entire thought process earlier today. I believe that there is a universal story. Without a universal story, a shared experience, I don't think that the human race could interact. The necessary social grooming to maintain trade, to avoid or conclude war, to hopefully eventually combine forces to leave the cradle and find our place in the universe all rely on a shared experience. But the universal story doesn't create us, it comes from us. That is the key distinction between Campbell and Eldredge. But even Campbell's interpretation of the universal story falls short. The assumption of the universal story is in the case of Eldredge necessarily static. It is no more dynamic in Campbell, either, but because he seems to discount evolution and draws a circle with origin and terminus on a single point. It's where Bly is necessarily flawed, too. He creates a synthesized image of a new man, but bases the new man on the stories we've always told each other. We fall in love with the past too easily. We assume that the way things were is the way they will be, the way they should be. We know what the past is. It's understandable. But I've spent a decade dividing the female gender in to Golden-Haired Women and Gomers and I'm no closer to happiness now than I was my junior year of high school. I spent two years trying to convince a girl who didn't, who couldn't, to love me and accept me for who I was when I was incapable of doing so myself. I then spent seven months alternating between wondering what I could do to bring her back and trying to figure out how some other girl I'd meet along the way stacked up to her. Whose fault is that? Is it god's, her's, my father's? No, no, and emphatically no. It's my fault. And it's my responsibility to change it if I ever want to grow up. Does that admission, does that taking of responsibility instill manhood? I honestly don't know. I suspect that Eldredge would say, "No," because I haven't turned to god. I suspect Bly would say, "No," because I haven't engaged in a mythic act of initiation. Campbell might say, "Yes," but I think that this is kind of outside his scope. It doesn't matter, though. Whatever they say, I'm not listening. I'm not interested in manhood. I'm interested in adulthood. I'm tired of their stories. It's time for me to write my own.


jmc said...

Father wounds are also a big part of conservative evangelical ex-gay therapy, as my younger brother discovered. I have wondered why neo-Freudian psychoanalysis plays such a big part in their thinking, and this post lays out one of the best explanations I have read.

Spherical Time said...

Just to say, I think I might be in the same obsessive state/relationship type that Fiat Lex is talking about in the comment, and it really rings true to me, although in my case it's a guy that could never love me instead of a girl.

He's my golden haired muse, and I hate myself for loving him, but I'm not sure that I can move on yet.

As for the daddy issues of your two meta characters, I think it's entirely realistic for both characters to have daddy issues. But, as an editor, is having two characters with daddy issues all that interesting?

I think that may be where some of the criticism derives. We're so used to seeing unique characters in fiction we have trouble when there are two similar characters interacting. Conflict drives plot, and similarity rarely drives conflict.

So, from a psychological perspective, it makes sense for the girls, but from an authorial standpoint I would suggest trying to come up with ways to differentiate the characters of Meta-H and Meta-C.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the Rolling Stone article- I hadn't seen it before. Although it did give me flashbacks to Star Trek V.