July 26, 2008

Yet more AFS "uproar"

Moriah Jovan examines the TBM (true believing Mormon) blogs so I don't have to. I need to subscribe to the "your soul's being damned" mailing list so I can get clued into this stuff earlier. I feel in the mood for some Meat Loaf.

UPDATE: C.H. Hanson scouts out some more TBM blog comments. Picture me holding my head in my hands like John Dvorak. I just don't get it!

Luckily for Orson Scott Card, nobody but a few science fiction and fantasy geeks have read Hart's Hope or Maps in a Mirror. I've read that he's caught flack for making the women in his (Shadow Mountain, nee Deseret Book) "Women of Genesis" series human.

So I shouldn't be surprised, except that somebody who would be offended by books like that should turn away at the sight of the front cover of Angel Falling Softly (now being referred to as "AFS" in some quarters) alone.

But what springs foremost to mind is the same flabbergasted reaction I had when I first came to Utah from the "mission field" and encountered at BYU the thin scriptural and doctrinal comprehension of kids who had attended time-release seminary for the past three or four years.

I could imagine Evangelicals taking me to task for stressing Rachel's maniacally works-centered concept of grace (it's their number one beef, after all), but Mormons?

The weirdest accusation is that this was some sort of nefarious plan to undermine the morals of the Youth of Zion. Okay, that was the plan, but it didn't fit into the fifty-dollar advertising budget (I kid, I kid, though not about the budget).

In any event, Zarahemla Books has a website. The catalog listing at Zarahemla points to my website, which in turn points to my blog. Note the tricky URLs I use. Google my name and both come up at the top of the list.

Yes, it'd be nice to fancy myself a mysterious, shadowy Dashiell Hammett type, slinking through the back alleys of the Big City. Alas, on the Internet, I am a literary open book.

And because this issue has been raised in counterpoint, I would also like to point out that nowhere in Zarahemla's listing or anywhere on my website is Angel Falling Softly described as "LDS fiction."

Labels: , , , ,

# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
7/26/2008 12:30 PM   
Eugene, I hope you don't think I meant to leave a big stinking bag of lit dog poo on your doorstep. I just was so...blown away--and by a response I knew was coming, yet!

It was drawn to my attention that I should have followed the link of the one drive-by poster I had on my review of AFS. I mean, he didn't say I should, but he said he did and then WOWZERS. So, being cursed with feline-like curiosity, I fell down the rabbit hole. (How's that for mixing references and metaphors?)

What I'm wondering now is if we LDSs are the types to go buying books to see what all the fuss is about.
# posted by Blogger Eugene
7/26/2008 1:13 PM   
Not at all, and I hope so. It's all so strange, like discovering there's no back to the wardrobe. And if you're not careful, you may end up in the backwoods of Georgia in a Flannery O'Connor short story. (How's that for mixing literary metaphors?)
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
7/26/2008 1:23 PM   
Cue "Dueling Banjos."
# posted by Blogger Joe
7/27/2008 9:55 AM   
Don't you now regret you didn't mock LDS doctrine?

From MoJo's piece:

"I am very glad that I don’t have to be there when Mr. Woodbury has his next priesthood interview!"

I'm sure Eugene is glad he won't be there either, but for entirely different reasons.

"Too bad the rest of us LDS authors may have to spend years making up for the damage this book will do."

What, like Jack Weyland didn't do enough of that damage already?

MoJo, you should have been "making fun of these people." They deserve to be mocked and laughed at.

And Orson Scott Card waxed intellectually arrogant on your ass. Ha, you've been owned by a windbag. Congrats.

Now, to just find a way to generate some controversy....
# posted by Blogger Joe
7/27/2008 10:05 AM   
And then there's the point that if Mormonism can't withstand the withering criticism of Eugene Woodbury, then it's a pretty useless religion.

(Seriously, why do people insist on treating Mormonism like delicate china? If it really is the religion of God, it can take anything. Is there a possibility that Mormons, by and large, worry it may not be God's religion after all? Just asking.)
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
7/27/2008 12:18 PM   
MoJo, you should have been "making fun of these people." They deserve to be mocked and laughed at.

I mostly don't like to make fun of people. I'm having a "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" sort of reaction on this.

They don't know. They choose to stay behind the walls of Deseret Book and refuse to go out into the world to confront evil or even smokers. I wish I had that luxury, but I don't.

I want to probe and question and make these people get specific. I want them to examine their visceral reactions and ask themselves why they feel that.

Remember, this is FEELING. I mostly deal in the world of THINKING and I do not want to FEEL in reaction to their feeling. I want to THINK in reaction to their feeling.

And the fact remains: They thought (wrongly, but that's neither here nor there) they were getting what they personally see as the genre of "LDS fiction," which for them is stringently defined.

They were warned, but perception is reality. They feel duped and they're getting back at both Eugene and Zarahemla.

# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
7/27/2008 12:21 PM   
Oops that above "anonymous" poster was me.

And I have another post up addressing the larger issue of genre and consumer expectations.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
7/27/2008 4:51 PM   
Well, I reviewed it at http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ and I'm not sure I see the point of all the smoke.

In fact, I was more or less believing it was a creation of a publicist more than anything else (I keep getting e-mails from one hyping it, afterall).

Bless your heart.
# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
7/27/2008 5:50 PM   
I just finished Angel (novel version). I find this controversy bizarre in the extreme, mostly because the book is so, well, I don't know how to say this exactly: theologically caring.

That might be the wrong phrase. But it cares about God and God's relationship to woman/man and takes that relationship seriously. How can that be a "mockery"? Being a mockery would be scorning those things--saying not just that they don't matter but that considering them doesn't matter either. (Although that could just be indifference; mockery would be if Rachel--instead of paying in a real, heartrending way for her decision--was rewarded for being some kind of whatever-is-best-for-your-kids-is-right, what-does-religion-know-anyway super soccer mom.)

I'm trying to avoid the "us out here in the mission field" perspective because, intellectually, I believe that people everywhere (even in Utah) are variable just like I believe, intellectually, that you can find the same variation of extremity on both sides of the political fence. However, out here in the mission field . . . the subjects broached in Angel are discussed in Relief Society and Priesthood all the time. Not vampirism. But issues of grace and works and how far people should go with both and how easy or hard it is to go to church in the first place. And what people believe and how people struggle with what they believe. And how having a child die stinks, frankly. And how faith isn't easy. And so on and so forth. And, okay, I'm a Woodbury, but I thought religious people always thought about that stuff.

"Life," a Catholic friend once told a woman looking for a quick fix, "doesn't get easier just because you go to church."

Well, yeah. And it shouldn't, right? I mean, if I take my job and my bills and my people plus cat obligations and add God, scriptures, theology, and an eternal perspective (not to mention ownership in a community of fallible human beings), why on earth would it get easier?
# posted by Blogger Togeika
7/28/2008 9:39 PM   
Kate Woodbury said...

"Well, yeah. And it shouldn't, right? I mean, if I take my job and my bills and my people plus cat obligations and add God, scriptures, theology, and an eternal perspective (not to mention ownership in a community of fallible human beings), why on earth would it get easier?"

Now, just imagine if God were no "out there" but was in the job, the bills and cat obligations? It is actually even harder.
# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
7/29/2008 8:26 AM   
Hey, Lee: I may not agree with you on specifics but I definitely agree with the principle! Dealing with God is never a "Sunday" thing or a "look up in the sky" kind of thing. To say every decision is a moral one implies that every decision is fraught with (possible) sinful consequences but that only occurs if morality is narrowed to an either/or dichotomy (an overworked concept that really bugged me in my master's program).

But if morality refers to living (to borrow from Star Trek--hey, Roddenberry won't mind!) within a mortal/eternal/space/time continuum, then morality just means that every decision works on both levels: an everyday level and an eternal level. To clarify, I dislike the phrase "we are eternal beings having a mortal experience"--instead, I say, "We are mortal beings living a life that happens to exist on an eternal plane." I like to do the string-stretching-into-eternity-mortality-is-just-a-dot presentation with my Sunday School students and then cut out the dot and say, "Look, if you don't have the mortal experience, you're toast."

Although I agree with Joe (where did you say it, Joe?) that God isn't necessarily invested in every decision. Every decision is eternal in the sense that it affects us who happen to be living on a mortal/eternal plane, but whether or not I take an extra job in the fall isn't going to make or break His sangfroid (although whether I crash and burn might).
# posted by Blogger Joe
7/29/2008 9:18 AM   
I say lots of things, don't expect me to remember them all.

If you follow the grain of Mormon theology to its logical conclusion, God is, by necessity, not invested in any decision. Mortality is for mortals, not a playground for the immortals (Highlander notwithstanding.)

Mormon theology holds that God is a father figure and that we humans must experience and exercise free agency in order to obtain salvation. Want to see how rotten and/or good someone really is? Let them make choices. So, yes, we are saved by grace but where we actually end up is determined by the content of our character and the content of our character is determined by the gestalt of our actions. (Faith without works is dead doesn't mean you must have works, but that if you don't, you really have no faith.)

Where I partially part company with Mormon theology and practice is that I believe God, if there is a God, isn't concerned about an absolute (and frankly arbitrary) standard of morality beyond a certain base point--respect for other people (being decent to one another)--as He is concerned about how true we are to our own character. Ironically, Mormonism accepts this to an extent in order to resolve the ignorant savage problem, for lack of a better phrase. (One thing I don't like about Mormonism is the implicit notion of the ever changing goal posts--the more you know, the further the goal posts get until you arguably would have been better off remaining ignorant of the whole thing.)

The problem of God being "invested" or even interested in every, or most, decisions, is that the moment God sticks his nose in, even by invitation, our free will is violated. Worse, if the decision affects other people, their free will is violated. Then you have to invent all sorts of nutty theology to explain why bad things happen to good people and all that. (And it inevitably leads to someone believing God led them, for example, to buy a certain paint for their kitchen, leaving everyone else wondering why God has such bad taste.)
# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
7/29/2008 10:00 AM   
Joe: Your comments reminded me of when I still owned my Toyota. After a non-accident (I went off the road but neither me nor the car was wrecked), a friend of mine kept telling me that God intended it all to happen from the ditch to the survival. I was trying to be responsive and non-judgmental about her belief, but finally, I snapped, "I got myself out of the ditch." (She wasn't Mormon; otherwise, I could have thrown in a remark about agency.)

It wasn't that I had a problem thanking God because I wasn't dead and, more importantly, my car wasn't totaled, resulting in massive bills. It was that okay, I was the one in the ditch, thank you very much, and I was pretty proud of myself for not giving up, for pushing the car until the snow melted, and I got out.

Here's the important point to me: if the car had been totaled, I wouldn't have blamed God. It wasn't His fault the road was slick (snow falls on the just and the unjust) or that my tires were crappy or that I was probably going too fast. It wasn't even His fault for how the road was built—blame the engineers. So if I won't blame Him for the bad stuff, I don't see why I should charge him with all the good stuff too. Leave the Big Guy alone!

On the other hand, I do believe I was prompted to go look for my new car when I did. I just don't like it when people use God as some kind of personal back-pocket justifier like all He does is sit around coming up with reasons for people to do exactly what they are already doing.

"He isn't," as C.S. Lewis says, "a tame lion."