Friday, June 6, 2008

Fan fiction sub-genre: theology

Steve Zara has been thinking about the Emperor's New Clothes.
It is a very subtle tale, indicating how deferring to authority can lead to lies and hypocrisy, along with a sense that that behaviour is somehow appropriate. It is also about cowardice - no-one daring to point out the obvious; it takes the naivety of a child in the story.

He's right. However he initially minimized a related theme which he later came to appreciate: First things first. We have to establish that a thing exists before we can study it.

Well, unless we write fan fic.

Fan fiction is an exploration of the play space available within an imagined world established by some prior literary work. It's not easy and it would be unfair to say that a fan fiction writer just makes stuff up.*

Several months of study may be required to master the constraints of some literary universe. Characters can't simply do as you please. They have strengths, weaknesses, alliances, enmities, and motivations. Any potential plot line is constrained by setting, materials, and the laws of physics. If magic is introduced, its uses and limits must be explained to the reader.

Imagine all the research necessary to write a good Star Trek episode. Without careful scholarship, distracting discontinuities and contradictions with what has gone before are bound to appear.

Theologians get annoyed when atheists accuse them of studying a non-subject. Anything that takes work isn't "nothing" ... it?

*Example of the upset that can be provoked when one fails to appreciate all the hard work and discipline of good fan fic. The first response is civil:

Steve Zara's last comment, in which he says that "religion just makes stuff up" is so ridiculously silly one could almost imagine that he really doesn't believe it. Has he read any of the 111 comments so far, and by reading I mean thoughtfully considered each word and phrase, pondered what is being said, how it is being said, etc.? It would seem not.


  1. One of the things I find about being a scientist is that one can get pleasure from reading a well-founded critique of one's opinion. Even when that critique is right.

    I have always admired your skill in being able to point something out with just a few words (as on this thread on my blog) You have an ability to know just where and how to prod gently to get the right effect.

  2. Thanks Steve. I spend a fair amount of time talking to brain damaged and retarded people. And then there are the patients. *rim shot*

    So I'm always trying to boil things down to the simplest terms possible.

    Maybe a month ago I stumbled across Erudite Redneck's page. I found some cute stuff there (liked the redneck YouTubes) and warmed to the guy, who seemed sort of like a Christian Unitarian.

    Then I read his post about wanting atheism wiped from the planet. WTF?

    I think ER suffers from the popular notion that agnostics are uncertain and atheists are certain. He's bothered by the perception of certainty.

    Maybe we should let him know that "I dunno" is the default position, that atheism nearly always means "unproven" not "disproven." Maybe he won't hate atheism so much then.

  3. ER does seem a nice guy, generally, but shows the usual tendency to dodge the implications of clear answers to questions. I don't blame him; at least he usually does it nicely. I just can't get on with other posters there, such as Alan. I don't know if it is me, or them, or just a lack of communication...

    As for the "I dunno" position, perhaps it might help. Not sure it would help with his understanding of me though, as think I now (thanks to many discussions with MPhil) about 6.999 on Dawkins' belief scale.

    Incidentally, on another matter, one theme of my thinking about religion in the past month or so is that it is often, perhaps without intention or knowledge of what it is doing, extremely ... I think "arrogant" might the right word(?): thinking that humans are the centre of everything. I this came to mind particularly regarding ID - why should the limits of our ability to understand things define what can never be understood, and must therefore be designed?

    As you have considerable knowledge of the mind, I would love to hear your thoughts on this - perhaps a blog post? I accept that some self-centredness and arrogance is probably normal and healthy, but even so...

  4. Re. the Emperor's New Clothes:
    I sometimes amuse myself by paging through my copy of Frank S. Mead's Handbook of Denominations in the United States. The sheer amount of human imagination that's spawned so many different religious sects, in Christianity alone, is truly amazing.

    So many different ideas about what God really meant.

    Re. Fanfic:
    Christianity's Dante and Milton come to mind. And Judaism has its own official version of it.