#23: Armageddon and Presidential Politics

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #23, on the subject of Armageddon and Presidential Politics.

A popular atheist recently suggested that Presidential candidates, and particularly Republican candidates, needed to be asked a theological question:  do you believe that the end of the world is imminent, and if so is that a good or a bad thing?  If war in the Middle East is positioned to blossom into Armageddon and the return of Christ, do we want to prevent the war, or encourage it?

Austrian forces ascending Mount Zion in World War I
Austrian forces ascending Mount Zion in World War I

That might be a good question for a potential leader of the most powerful military forces in the world, but it might also be a good question for the rest of us.  At least, we should consider what answer our leader ought to give.

Despite what many prophecy teachers say, the sequence of events leading to the end of the world is not at all clear–some predictions touted as major parts of some theories are almost certainly predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Titus.  I have briefly reviewed the major theories (in The Sandy Becker Theory of Eschatology) along with some of the strengths and weaknesses of each and why I believe we cannot resolve the matter.  However, there are many who are quite persuaded of one theory or another, and the one currently in ascendancy, indeed since early in the twentieth century, has been a version of “pre-millenialism” (if you do not know what that is, read the other article and return) in which Israel plays a major role and there is a massive world war centered in the Middle East.  Every skirmish that occurs in the region, from the battles which took the territory from the Ottoman Empire in World War I to the Yom Kippur War to the current Islamic State battles, sparks anew the expectation that this might be the fight that brings all the armies of the world together to be defeated by the return of Christ.

The return of Christ is an event which Christians around the world have been anticipating for nearly two millennia, whatever our beliefs concerning what precipitates it.  Late in the first century, the book variously known as The Revelation (from the Latin for “unveiling”) or The Apocalypse (from the Greek for “uncovering”) introduced to the faith the word which in English we make “Maranatha”, “Come, Our Lord” (although whether the original was marana tha, “Come our Lord”, or maran atha, “Our Lord has come”, is a question that cannot be settled from the manuscripts).  We are instructed to watch for that coming, to anticipate it, to be prepared for it, even to want it and to work to hasten it–and in times when the world is falling into chaos and wickedness and darkness, it is easy to want it more.

On the other hand, we are told by Peter that the delay is an expression of God’s mercy:  the moment Jesus returns, the door closes, and anyone who has not entered may not do so.  It does not seem to be our place to call for the end of mercy, the closing of the door, and many of us would not do so merely because we have family or friends or colleagues who have not turned to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.  I would rather not see strangers excluded from grace, and while I often note that there is no one apart from myself I am completely certain without any doubt has been forgiven and accepted by God, with varying degrees concerning other specific persons from “almost certainly” to “probably not”, I am not really in a hurry to have God terminate the free limited-time offer of acceptance into His family, and I don’t think that other believers should be so, either.  Don’t get me wrong:  I would love to have gone home already, if I were the only person who mattered.  I just don’t think that I’m the only person who matters, even to me, nor to most believers in the world, and certainly not to God.

How, then, do we hasten the return of Christ and the end of the world, without hastening the end of the world as a path to the return of Christ?

The first thing we need to understand is that the one leads to the other, but the other is not the path to the one.  That is, whether or not theories about a literal military battle at the Valley of Megiddo (har-megeddon) in which all the armies of the world are defeated in combat against an angelic host led by the resurrected and returning Jesus, we do not make that happen, indeed, we are completely unable to cause that to happen, by leading the world into war in the region.  The return of Christ brings the end of the world as we know it, but it is possible that the world as we know it could end without bringing the return of Christ–indeed, arguably that has happened several times in history, most notably with the fall of the Roman Empire.

The second thing to grasp is that if such a battle is in fact the solution to the mysteriously metaphorical explanations of future events in John’s great apocalyptic vision, we will not be able to prevent it–but that does not mean we are not obligated to attempt to do so.  “God has called us to peace,” and while that was Paul’s reason in I Corinthians for why a Christian whose spouse had been unfaithful should let the unfaithful spouse decide whether to preserve the marriage or get divorced, it is used as a fundamental principle of Christian conduct:  we do not pick fights.  We were instructed once by Christ to take swords with us if we had them, so we certainly have a basis to justify fighting when it is clearly necessary (and to debate just what fights are clearly necessary and when the right choice is to suffer the injury, to “turn the other cheek”).  Yet our preference should always be for the peaceful resolution, even while keeping our sword within reach.

So for our Presidential candidates, the “right” answer to the question is probably this:

I eagerly anticipate the return of Christ, and whatever events will lead up to that, but I do not know with any certainty what those events are and will not be party to a war we can avoid honorably for any reason other than it is necessary for the safety of this country and the world in terms that persons of every faith or no faith can at least recognize as plausibly legitimate.

That is also the answer we should give if we are asked that question.

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#22: Getting Into Characters

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #22, on the subject of Getting Into Characters.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also two similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts, the first entitled #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters) and Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve); this picks up from there.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 13, Kondor 5

The tales I heard of Richard Lutz, my primary model for Kondor, said that he had been an army medic, and I wanted to follow that and expand on it by giving him high-tech medical training.  I did not know where it would take me, but I did know that this was something neither Slade nor Lauren would pursue, and that by giving them different skills I would both create different story options for their futures and give them reason to need each other if I brought them together.

It was around this point that I realized I was going to have to work to bring them together, and I began thinking about how the story was going to end.  Before now they had been seen as three separate characters in separate story arcs that might involve each other at some point, but now I realized that as a novel it had to work toward a “gather”, a time when they would work together.  I also started thinking in terms of what they would do and how they would do it, so that I could introduce them to skills they would need to learn now and use then.

My black friend had a younger sister named Zakiya.  I wanted Kondor to think about his family, for reasons similar to why Lauren was doing so, and I needed names for some of the family members because he would think of them that way.  I wanted them to be credible, to some degree ethnic but not overly so.  Zakiya was a name I had heard before, and didn’t seem like it was one of those made-up-recently names, and I’d heard Whitney as a man’s name before it was a girl’s name, and Ty as popular in the generation before mine, and of course Mary is fairly universal in the English-speaking world.  They were used as labels to give some concept of family.

I also realized that I couldn’t keep Kondor on this repetitive routine for long enough for him to learn everything he would need to know in medicine, so I needed to give him a high-tech sourcebook.  “Hexadecimal” is a high-tech word, and it’s actually rather probable that other societies would develop computer code in that form (although it would be different code), so I created databooks.  I’ll note that I-Pads did not yet exist.

There is a casual mention of exercise and weapons practice, because I wanted a foundation for the suggestion that he was getting better at these things.

Chapter 14, Hastings 5

Jackson following Lauren and Lauren escaping by levitating to the roof in a blind alley came from my game.  When I think back, I can remember being very nervous about what was going to happen and whether I was going to be able to escape.

The pyrogenesis sequence is also based on what my character did in-game.

The throwaway where she calls herself by her maiden name was a flash of inspiration.  I knew that mothers often called their children by first-and-last name when chiding, and that mothers of married daughters sometimes reverted to the maiden names in such situations, and that saying “I’m married now” was a way of responding that “I’m all grown up.”  But we do sometimes hear our parents’ voices chiding us when we do something for which they chided us in the past, and that seemed a good moment to do that, and bring some feeling of Lauren as a person into the mix.

There is a “skill improvement” system in Multiverser which says if you want to get better at something you either practice it over a period of months or you find a way to do something new with it–a “new use” that shows you’ve learned something by doing something different with it.  In-game I wanted to get good at this fast, and so I tried to think of creative ways to do different things with it.  I wanted those who knew the game, too, to recognize that Lauren was improving her ability by expanding what she had done.

The battle with the beast is another event from play.  I never knew what the beast was, although I guessed in retrospect that it was a kind of werewolf that was more vicious than those I would later meet.

Raiden was mostly Ed’s invention–a librarian who found pages from an ancient book and fled for his life.  I added the Internet connection to his research, which both updated the story (we played in the early nineties) and explained how his discovery became known.

Raiden’s perception that she was wearing armor was supposed to show that he understood combat and was highly observant.

Gavin’s church is modeled largely on Dianetics, and particularly the idea that you join to make money.

One of my pre-publication readers commented that he really hated Lauren because everything always worked for her, up until the moment she flash-froze the kitchen.  After that he warmed to her.

Chapter 15, Slade 5

I felt as if I were in familiar territory with the wishes, having run a great number of Dungeons & Dragons™ games in which characters were offered wishes.  To some degree, Slade benefits from my experience in this.

The idea of being able to delay the wishes long enough to give them thought probably owes something to Darby O’Gil and the Little People, where he uses the first wish to get a guarantee on the other two.  If you are offered wishes by a being that has a life of its own, it probably is not interested in waiting for you to make them.

One of the traps into which wishers often fall is trying to combine several wishes into one.  If you cannot make the wish without including a conjunction, you probably have made more than one wish.  On the other hand, what Slade did was to find a way to wish in a single wish for everything that was done for someone else who needed three wishes to get it all, simply by wishing for all of what he got.

I knew when Slade wished for the alliance that at some point in the future I would use it as a plot device to launch another adventure; I did not know either that it would involve any of the other characters, or when or what it would be.

Chapter 16, Kondor 6

Kondor’s attitude about pirates was going to be my ticket to removing him from this world, so a pirate encounter at this point gave me the “shotgun over the mantel” I was going to need.

One point that often distinguishes different types of players is whether they manage to carry food and water.  Kondor is the prepared type who does; the other two always think they ought to have thought of that.  But it also meant that I needed to mention restocking his supplies from time to time, and New Haven, an agricultural world in a future tech society, seemed the right place for it.

The natives of Emerald were a problem for me when I created the world originally.  In the version that was an early gunpowder sailing vessel, it made sense for them to be human cannibals and did not make sense for them to be semi-sentient monsters, because the world could easily contain uncivilized tribes that could not be reached by civilization.  In the space version, though, the idea of humans or creatures as intelligent as humans being uncivilized cannibals would not work easily, as players would insist on finding ways to bring civilization to them, and it was likely that the governments and corporate interests would want to do this.  Thus I had to find a way to sell a pre-intelligent creature that used simple tools and weapons and attacked ships, that could not easily be civilized.

Chapter 17, Hastings 6

The “form and balance” training I used for Lauren was Ed’s idea for my game, but he did it on park equipment.  I thought it better to do on the gunnels of a rowboat, partly because my scouting days had made me intimately familiar with the vagaries of balancing a boat while standing, and partly because tossing her in the water would be both safer and more colorful.  I used the park equipment later.

It is probably difficult, at least in one generation, to present a fictional martial arts training program without conjuring comparisons to The Karate Kid.  I do not know whether I succeeded, but the form-and-balance training seemed to me to be rather different from the strength and response training of the movie.

In the geek world, oriental martial arts weapons are popular, but the names are so heavily anglicized that it is sometimes difficult to recognize the same words spoken by native speakers.  I have heard someone pronounce the name “kau sin ke” in what might be an original language pronunciation, but I doubt I could now duplicate it.

My editor was bothered by the open-ended nature of “You will know what you owe me when the time comes.”  I can see that.  Of course, I knew that Raiden knew about the vampires, and was training people to fight them, but he wasn’t going to speak of them to someone who did not know.

The discussion of the difficulties of having a regular eating schedule attached to a forty-eight hour wake/sleep cycle was longer in the original draft, and the editor did not like it.  I agreed and shortened it, but it was the kind of thing Lauren would have thought about more.  I’m not sure I have a solution for it, but I’m no longer young enough that I could do a schedule like that.

Chapter 18, Slade 6

The second sentence of this chapter was added after my editor questioned why Slade would bother to keep the empty bottle.  I myself am something of a pack rat, saving mementos which clutter my world, so it made perfect sense to me that having released a djinni from a bottle someone would want to keep the bottle, but apparently some people need that explained.

My Australian editor had never heard of Six Flags, which runs amusement parks in many areas of the United States; but it did not seem important to me.  I could have said the Clementon Park roller coasters and people would have gotten the concept without knowing that there is such a park.

The specific reactions of the four companions to the roller-coaster-like trip at high speed to the surface were carefully considered.  For Slade, of course, it was familiar, a combination between amusement park ride and hot rod racing.  Torelle was relatively young, healthy, and fit, and practiced in courage, so it would have made him feel a bit queasy but not so much as Omigger, who is the older bookworm who would almost certainly have lost his stomach contents on such a trip.  As to Filp, he is usually frightened of anything that seems dangerous, and just as when he faced the efriit so now again he is curled up in a ball on the floor.

Filp is thus torn between his covetous desire to see his own wealth and his fear of traveling by means of djinni transport, and agrees to postpone the next part of the journey for a short time.

The alliteration of Torelle-tower, Omigger-enclave, and Filp-fortune was intentional, but not pre-considered.  That is, the words were chosen to fit names which had been established; the characters were not named for those words.

There has been less interest in these “behind the writings” pages than there was originally, but for the moment I’m still thinking they’re worth producing, so we’ll see how things go with this one.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

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#21: Genetic Counseling and Eugenics

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #21, on the subject of Genetic Counseling and Eugenics.

Quite a few years ago now I knew a girl, a childhood friend of my wife, who married a man with Crohn’s Disease.  Not long after the wedding she had a tubal ligation, and they bought a dog to pamper.  The explanation was that Crohn’s is genetic, and her husband did not want to bring a child into the world who would suffer what he had suffered.

This kind of decision is made all the time.  It is called genetic counseling, when medical professionals evaluate the probability that a couple will pass a genetic disease to their children.  Sickle cell anemia is one of the most common of such maladies, and many black families forego having children to stem its transmission.

People want babies.  It’s part of being human.  However, it is also part of being human that people want healthy babies.  Obstetricians have the highest malpractice insurance rates of all doctors, because imperfect babies are born and horrified parents want to blame someone with a lawsuit.  Modern technology has made it easier to have perfect babies.  The parents who might be carriers of sickle cell can have their unborn child tested in utero, and if the child has the disease, it can be aborted, never forced to live with the pain of this crippling disease.  The same can be done for Crohn’s Disease, Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome…or can it?

North Dakota Capitol Building
North Dakota Capitol Building

North Dakota has made it illegal to perform an abortion based on detected fetal abnormalities.  Ohio is likely to pass a similar law banning abortions performed because the unborn child has Down Syndrome.  To those who support abortion, these laws, described as acts to protect the handicapped, are outrageous impositions on a woman’s rights.  Yet there is something to the argument.

Although statistics are difficult to determine with any accuracy, everyone agrees that the majority–anywhere from sixty to ninety percent–of unborn children diagnosed prenatally with Down Syndrome are aborted in the United States, and that the estimated rate is higher in Europe where it might reach ninety-five percent.  Some parts of the world applaud this as a reasonable means of wiping out a genetic disease.  To some, the termination of pregnancy because the unborn child has a serious genetic defect is considered one of the best reasons for such a decision.

What, though, can be more discriminatory against the handicapped than killing them because of their handicap?

Oh, but wait:  an unborn child is not, under the law, a handicapped person; he is only a growth that has the potential to become a person.  He has no rights, and therefore killing him is not an act of discrimination against a handicapped child, but the excision of a deformed growth.  The rights of the handicapped, and the fact that they are killed almost routinely, are irrelevant.

This, though, might not be a position anyone wants to take.  After all, seven states–Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota–ban sex selective abortions as acts of gender discrimination.  It is against the law in those states to terminate an unborn female child because you wanted a son (or presumably to terminate a male because you wanted a daughter).  Arizona also bans abortions based on the race of the unborn child as being racially discriminatory.  To say that the unborn Down Syndrome child has no rights that can be protected from discriminatory abortion (that is, abortion based on the fact that the child will be born handicapped) is to say that the unborn daughter or son, or the unborn mixed race baby, has no rights and can be killed solely for being the wrong sex or the wrong race.

There is a degree to which the laws are irrelevant, like restrictions on job terminations:  you cannot fire an employee for attending a union organization meeting, or for being homosexual, or for reasons of race or religion–but you can fire an at-will employee for no reason at all, so you simply have to avoid saying that any of these factors led to the decision.  In the same way, a woman can terminate a pregnancy without giving a reason for doing so; she just cannot say that the reason is because of the gender, the race, or the genetic disability of the child.  In practical terms the only thing they limit is our ability to be frank about our motivations.

Even so, these laws force us to face a fundamental aspect of our attitude toward abortion.  Should a mother be able to decide that she wants to abort a child because the child’s medical condition will result in the child having a less than fully normal life?  Does that reflect a reasonable desire to protect the child from its own illness, or is it making a discriminatory value judgment that it would be better not to live than to live with such a handicap?  (How many handicapped-from-birth adults would rather never have been born than have been born handicapped?)  Is it reasonable to say that the health of the mother would be threatened by the birth of a handicapped child in a greater way than it would be by the birth of a normal child, or by an abortion?  If so, is it also reasonable to say that the health of the mother would be threatened by the birth of a daughter when she wanted a son, or a son when she wanted a daughter, or by a mixed-race child instead of a pure-race child?

We have stretched the concept of “health of the mother” far enough that it amounts to “I don’t want a child, and therefore it would be unhealthy for me to have one.”  How much further does it have to stretch to be, “I don’t want a handicapped child,” “a mixed-race child,” “a daughter”?  It seems to me that that is not a very far stretch at all–which means either we have already stretched it too far, or we have to accept that sex-selective abortions, abortions of the genetically handicapped, and race-based abortions are all as good a reason as any other, and do not constitute discrimination against a person, because there is no person here and the mother has been given the power to decide whether there will ever be one.

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