Could It Be…Satan?

Back in the mid 1980s, I was walking in the ass-end of nowhere with a pastor from one of Farmington’s local churches. I had gotten suckered into going on a “retreat” with a buddy’s church group. At the time, I had no idea this meant driving into the desert and drinking Kool-Aid. You can derive your own subtext to that statement.

At the time Farmington was largely run by the Baptists and they ruled it with an iron fist. Most of my friends were involved to some degree or another with one of the churches, so I wound up going on the odd retreat or spending the night at a lock-in, or any number of the other wholesome activities they ran.

Anyway, I was walking with this guy and we were chatting while the rest of the kids were off doing whatever it was they were doing. Now, I’m going to stop you right here: nothing untoward happened, so if you’re looking forward to a juicy rape scene or something, it didn’t happen. He was a nice, if strangely devout guy.

The moon that night was so full you could walk across the mesa and see every speck of dust. So, we just kind of wandered away from the group and talked. In time, he guided the conversation to the church and ongoing war that Satan was waging against the world. He told me a story that’s stuck with me over the years. It seemed some concerned parents had brought their son to his church because they were worried he was falling into Satan’s charms and were hoping this guy’s church could bring him back to the light of the Lord. “This kid,” he told me, “wanted to curry favor with Satan so badly that he sacrificed a rabbit by putting it in a box with a bunch of maggots. The maggots ate the rabbit alive.”

That’s the kind of thing that belongs in a horror story somewhere, so needless to say I was shocked. But the story got better.

He was driving the kid to a church somewhere to drive the Devil far from him when he put some clean Christian rock in the car stereo. The kid, probably used to heavier fare, was apoplectic. Without warning, the tape erupted from the tape deck and flew across the car! The power of Satan had flooded this young man and the Christian music was painful for him to hear.

When you’re sixteen and walking through the desert under a huge full moon with a guy who’s not supposed to lie – ever – stories like that take on an amazing gravitas.

I know what you’re thinking; there’s no way any of this happened. It has to be just another story I made up to sell books or something, but I assure this conversation took place. I can’t vouch for the events in the car or the existence of the kid, but this pastor actually took me aside and told me this story. It ended with a warning about the power of the Devil and an admonition to go his church and be safe.

I never did find out what happened to the kid. I suspect they read the Bible at him until he cracked. Fuck his religious rights; those only count if you’re following the right religion.

In retrospect, with thirty years of experience under my belt, the whole event was nothing more than the usual brainwashing attempts. Get someone separated from the pack, feed him some scary stories, and get a quick and dirty convert.

But at the time, it didn’t seem all that out of place. The whole country was nuts about Satanists. They’d become the new commies now that great Communist empire of the Soviet Union was cracking at the seams we needed someone to be scared of. Someone, somewhere, trotted out the old standby and started blaming everything that went wrong in the world on devil worshipers. It probably wasn’t a difficult thing to pull off. This was, after all the heyday of hair metal and plenty of bands were turning to evil for the shock value.

What? You thought Marilyn Manson was the first person to use shock music? Fuggedaboutit.

Satanists were even the main antagonists in movies.

The threat, back then, was very real and in deeply religious Farmington, New Mexico, we actually had school gatherings about the dangers of Satanism. Our dress codes at school extended to ban shirts that were evil or in any way promoted Satan. Basically, any shirt Iron Maiden ever made.

Nowadays, in the enlightened 21st century, most people have forgotten those time and Satanism has faded into the background noise. The idea of sacrificing animals to the Devil to get favors is pretty much gone, and if you tried to tell the story of a Christian rock tape getting pushed out of a cassette deck people would think you were bonkers.

Except Jack Chick; he’d think you were totally onto something.

All that mania, all the paranoia, and the sheer bonkers madness of the time has stuck with me over the years, even as I over-analyze the meaning of it all. Sure, it was another power grab by the religious right, but it was a fascinating time and it got me wondering what the world would be like if all that craziness was real. If sacrificing a rabbit – in an admittedly gruesome way – would net you the power to forcibly eject Stryper cassettes, what other things could be lurking under the covers?

A few years ago I scrounged up a copy of the Satanic Bible and actually read the damned (get it, double entendre there) thing. It was interesting – a bit over dramatic, but it had some good zingers in it.

Don’t try this at home. It’s impossible to get the smell of brimstone out of your drapes.

The Satanic Bible, 80s hair metal, and the general mania of the time all congealed late last year into a story. Any of you following me on Twitter have probably seen the tweets about Roadside Attractions; that book is a direct response to all of those things I grew up with.

It also got me thinking about the way we tend to blame groups for our problems. No jobs? Must be the Mexicans. Things seem out of place and scary: Liberals. Anything bad happens in the world? Smells like Muslims. I’ve lived through the ever-present threat of Communism, the existential agita of Satanism, and enough made-up threats to know it’s all just another bullshit power-grab by someone or another. Keep people scared and you keep them in line.

Or maybe it’s always been Satan. He is the father of all lies, after all. All I know is, I’ve got a kick-ass book in the works and I learned to avoid blaming The Other for all my problems.

Got any good stories of the 80s? Let’s hear those comments.

Book Review – Breacher by Tom Julian

 

A while back I reviewed a book that had the single most uplifting and soul crushing line I’ve ever come across in fiction. That line – although I didn’t mention it at the time – was “This is none of my concern.”

Time has dulled my memory a bit, so that may not be the exact quote, but it’s good enough for now. That book was Tom Julian’s Timberwolf and it was a wonderful read about a world of high technology, constant war, and the religious reasons for those wars. The lead character was a serious bad-ass name Timberwolf Velez and we got to see the world through his jaded eyes.

The really cool thing about self-publishing and the eBook revolution is it allows authors to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do even a decade ago. When the world only read books in print it would have been unthinkable to publish a stand-alone story about a character unless you could find a magazine willing to put it out there. The simple fact of the matter is books cost a lot of money to publish and distribute and no one in their right mind would even think about publishing a short story unless it was in an anthology. Now an author can write a story that expands on the larger work and make it available to fans for a minuscule cost. This is the exact sort of thing I’m doing with the Saxton series, in case you’re wondering.

This, I suspect, is exactly where Tom Julian is going with Breacher. It’s a short story set in the world of Timberwolf, but covers Velez’s earliest days in the armed forces and gives us some tantalizing hints about the universe at large and how Timberwolf came to be.

The action in Breacher is quick and tense, and the story is worth the read for that alone, but the hints about the back story and the world at large are what make it truly exciting. One can only hope Julian will continue to work away at the events that occurred before the final, epic conclusion of Timberwolf. So, if you’re reading this, Mr. Julian, it’s time to start cracking away on some war stories.

Somewhere in orbit off one of Saturn’s moons, a ship sits in darkness, awaiting its own destruction. A small squad approaches. Malfunction. Destruction. Three friends are set on the path to bitter rivalry.

Before Timberwolf Vélez became a legend, before Emmanuel Gray became a bishop, and Michael Solandro became his right hand, they were soldiers. Together. And before twenty years of war pitted Earth against the universe, they formed part of an elite group of specialized operatives: the Breachers.

breacher

Get your copy here

Rhetoric and Kim Davis

In case you’ve been living on Mars, in a cave, with your fingers in your ears, you’ve likely heard of Kim Davis.  She’s the Rowan County Clerk who has invited national (and possibly international) attention by refusing to issue marriage certificates to homosexual couples – and has apparently forbidden the rest of the clerks in her office from issuing them well.  Kim has ignored United States law by refusing to issue marriage certificates and today found herself locked up for contempt of court for ignoring multiple orders for her to issue marriage certificates.

In other words, to do her job.

Now, that’s not really what this post is about.  Her past has been beaten to death in the media over the past couple weeks and she’s got ardent supporters and people who want to see her dead.  All that’s been bandied about by everyone and their dog recently.

What interests me is a tiny little thought that pinged through my head this evening that makes me wonder if Kim hasn’t backed herself into a corner unwittingly.  Her original argument for not issuing – or allowing her office to issue – marriage certificates to homosexual couples sprung her religious conviction that marriage was supposed to be between a man and a woman.  She’s dug her heels in on this one and is refusing to budge.  I know from experience that it’s impossible to debate religion.  By it’s very nature of proclaiming to know everything, religion cannot budge on any issue lest it be seen as less than perfect.

Had Kim simply stood up and said, “I cannot, in good conscience, issue marriage certificates to homosexual couples because it violates my faith.  I am therefore stepping down from my position,” I would have felt sorry for her but also applauded her courage to her convictions.  After all, no one said living a Godly life would be easy and sometimes you have to walk away from things that you just can’t do.  I wouldn’t have agreed with her, but I would have appreciated her conviction.  Conviction is a rare thing these days.

Some people would probably ask how I can question her conviction when she’s in jail for refusing to do something she disagrees with.  To those people I would remind them that Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage certificates because “she didn’t want to appear biased.”  That statement undermines everything in one fell swoop.  If she was truly convinced she was correct, she would have refused to issue marriage certificates only to homosexual couples on religious grounds and not cared a whit whether people saw her as biased.  After all, God supposedly has her back on this one, so all the courts and all the public opinion shouldn’t matter a bit.

She could have stood up, held her head up high, and pointed to whatever part of the Bible people use to prove these things.  By refusing to issue all marriage certificates Kim Davis has undermined her own soap box.

The fact that she’s refusing to issue any marriage certificates at all smacks of desperate desire to bury the evidence, to pretend she’s not really a bad person.  This leaves me with a couple possible suppositions based on her behavior.

  • She’s didn’t seriously expect this to be a big deal and now she’s stuck
  • She’s just trying to get attention

Neither of those are really good reasons to do what she’s doing.

Personally, I wish she (and everyone else) would just get over it and start treating everyone equally.  Failing that, she should step down and find a job that doesn’t challenge her beliefs so much.

I guess the plus side is the rest of the clerks in the office decided to go ahead and issue certificates starting tomorrow.

Divine Code

Carl Sagan was a smart guy.

It was Carl Sagan that first got me interested in any kind of science.  Not, mind you, interested enough to actually study any of the hard sciences (I wound up in Speech Communication), but interested enough to appreciate science and what it has brought us.  More importantly, he taught me to question things, rather than relying on blind faith that it works that way because that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

That, by the way, is what’s known in logic circles as tautology.

Anyway, back in the day, Sagan wrote a rare piece of fiction called “Contact.”  You may or may not have heard of it, may or may not have seen the movie.  Both the book and the movie were relatively harsh on religious extremism.  Interestingly enough, though, I would argue that both the book and the movie had a serious religious bent in and of themselves.  There are concepts of taking things on faith and messages hidden deep in pi.

At some point, fairly late in the book, someone is calculating pi to about gajillion decimal places and comes across an interesting anomaly: the normally random patterns of this famously irrational number drop zeros and ones for a while and go back to random digits.  The zeros and ones are binary code and, when plotted out, draw a circle.

It’s posited that the circle is a message.  From whom is never really addressed, but it’s assumed the message is from some sort of creator.

That got me thinking, slowly pinging away at a problem over the decades since I read “Contact.”  All major religions have a book that contains all their important information about how to be a member of that religion, what it means to be a member of that religion, and what you’re supposed to do to people who aren’t a member of that religion. That text becomes the focal point for the religion and also serves dual purpose of ending all arguments (it’s not in the book, it doesn’t exist) and beating people about the head and shoulders.  NOTE: Not all religious folk do this, but it does happen.

Ultimately religious texts are unassailable from an argumentative position.  In order to be a member of a religion, you usually have to believe that the text that defines the religion was divinely inspired or divinely created.  Therefore, no external argumentation can occur.  The book was written by God, end of story, end of debate.

This is why arguing about religion is ultimately a huge waste of everyone’s time and both sides’ time would be better served shouting Mad Magazine quotes at each other.  Either you believe the text was divinely inspired or you don’t.

Now, all religious texts are open to some form of analysis and interpretation by believers.  This is why there are multiple sects of all large religions.  At some point in each religion’s life cycle, someone will start to question something and a whole new sect of the religion will ultimately spin up, divided between the supporters of something old and the supporters of something new.  Each portion will then usually continue to grow.

It’s actually kind of like an amoeba that way.

So, anyway, after I read “Contact,” I started to wonder if there actually is a message buried in there somewhere.  In some ways it makes sense.  Why would a creator leave his or her mark in the form something as open to interpretation as a book?

I suspect, if you dig deep enough into the natural world, you’ll ultimately find the code that runs the universe.  While the heady thrill of scientific triumph will be nearly overwhelming, the code itself will probably be pretty simple.  I suspect we’ll find definitions of how things can interact with what other things to create ever more complex things.  This is your low-level code, kind of like what runs on your BIOS.  Things like the code that define a tree or a dog or you, will be high-level code.  Low-level code usually stands on its own and only needs hardware to run on.  High-level code depends on low-level code and runs on hardware but is more mutable.  This could explain why there’s so much diversity out there, but only to a certain degree.  The rules in the code will define what works and what doesn’t work and that’s why we don’t see 100′ long ants taking over.  The low-level code defines basic functions like how the universe is glued together.  Higher level code defines how elements form, chemicals react and so on.

I guess this would make children a perfect example of instantiated objects based on polymorphic code.

Since Carl Sagan was such a bright guy, I have to wonder if he didn’t come across this same idea, but decided to simplify it for easier ingestion.

Now all we need is a universe decompiler and a lot of free time to see if anyone left comments in the code.