Screwtape Writes a Response to Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option”

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to enjoy writing more Screwtape Letters.

If you have heard of a book called The Benedict Option… well, you could say it “inspired” me to write a shot across its bow.

My Dear Wormwood,

Your continued involvement with your Patient’s fretting and worrying has provided me with some encouragement. I am even entertaining the notion that you are starting to learn from your previous incompetence. A few millennia behind the curve, perhaps, but this change is welcome all the same.

I shall here expound on some material we have covered before, mainly to show you why your efforts have paid off. This will serve in case you have succeeded by mere accident, and I hope it shall be a reminder for the future. You have bungled enough assignments in the past that I must take such precautions.

Your man is a professional worrywort, ever “concerned with preserving God’s kingdom,” never mind that he has mislabeled the Enemy’s kingdom by treating it as one and the same with what it has wrought upon Earth. He conflates the effect with the cause (perhaps not consciously), and treats the preservation of his preferred culture with the same priority as spreading their so-called “Gospel.”

Your Patient is plainly interested in safeguarding what he mistakes for the kingdom as if it had become a dusty relic, one that would crumble to powder at the lightest breath. Perfectly laughable, of course. Has the Enemy placed the keys to His realm in the hand of this tiny mortal? Hardly! The Enemy admittedly has erected a fortress that can spread and adapt and convert at frightening speed, if we become complacent in our work. That fortress must be fought constantly, for it neither crumbles nor retreats.

Additionally, I am gratified to hear of your Patient’s daily paralysis, even to the point of publishing a book, allowing his paralysis to become a contagion. Even if the book contains much of what the Enemy claims to be “Truth,” Our Father Below knows well that poison works best when smuggled inside something nourishing.

You did well in coaxing your patient to accept calamity and defeat before they have even come knocking! He has gone from asking, “What kind of world will my children inhabit, if the world continues to go on its present course?” to stating that the world WILL manifest his every personal nightmare. Not only a general deterioration, but the worst of everything he, in particular, envisions. In most regards, you have ably stopped up the Enemy’s little words from having noticeable effect. “Take up your sword.” “Be salt and light to the world.” “The gates of Hell will not withstand your assault.”

Given our subterfuge, even the Enemy’s whispers need not take effect, if worry is there to shield the Patient’s mind. But the application extends beyond mere dulling of your Patient’s senses. Worry is one of the great forces of rot. Its main effect lies in the spirit world of course, but it also carries over to the mental domain, and finally begins to deteriorate the body as well. We must not forget the lesser effects, for if worry is sufficiently fed, it can cascade into a cycle of atrophy. The mind and body begin to suffer its effects, and soon every trend of persecution and slander will make his little world seem like it is unraveling as surely as his body.

That being said, here stands the great danger to you. At every cost, we must ensure the Patient continues to deflect the Enemy’s encouragement. If the Enemy steals past our barriers, and the antidote to inner defeat sinks in, where there once crouched a gaunt man, timid and trembling, you will see there now strides a mighty warrior. And the likes of such warriors are among the greatest threats to our cause at this point in human history.

But continue your work. Your patient has even come to view retreat and huddling in dark corners as some noble, preservative strategy. That was, I confess, masterful on your part. For if you can convince even the most imposing of soldiers that his side is already on the retreat, often he will drop his sword without need of you to pry it off his corpse.

Your affectionate Uncle,

Screwtape

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Fisking a Critique of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

You occasionally come across someone’s effort to correct an error, but the correction itself is more wrongheaded than Ronald McDonald with the face of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Science Insider/Tech Insider decided to try and make some noise about the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park series, under the guise of promoting scientific literacy.

For the most part, they fail spectacularly. Here’s the video:

https://youtu.be/JE6a_ebBaos

I don’t know, Blue doesn’t look amused. Copyright Universal.

How does this video’s content manage to bungle the already-questionable science of Jurassic World? Well, we’re about to find out.

After twice seeing “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and loving it, I think it’s time for a thorough, old-fashioned fisking.

Fair warning, this goes on for a while. The video’s words will be in bold. For the sake of logic and scientific literacy, here goes:

The newest Jurassic World installment is upon us like a hungry T. rex, who doesn’t have any feathers for some reason.
[Cue obnoxious question marks]

Apart from the ongoing debate about feathers in the lineage of Tyrannosaurs that included T. rex, there’s a very simple reason for this: it’s the same car-stomping, Raptor-tossing, lawyer-eating Tyrannosaurus rex from the original Jurassic Park.

Were you expecting her to sprout plumage in her old age? A fashionable feather boa for a night on the town, perhaps? No. She’s bare and proud.

Some paleontologists have given lip service to the need of maintaining continuity, then complain anyway. But if you’re a storyteller, continuity is going to be one of the biggest concerns. If you’re depicting the same animal, you cannot ignore continuity without shattering that whole “suspension of disbelief” thing.

The case for feathers on T. rex isn’t a very solid one, by the way. At the moment, most of what we’re getting is excuses about why we haven’t found Rex feathers yet. “The soil wasn’t right to preserve them,” “the scale impressions we’ve found were not on parts of the body where you’d expect feathers,” etc. But if we find a Rex (or close cousin) with feathers, then I’ll eat crow with some humble pie a la mode.

1. Many dinosaurs had feathers.

Yes, this has been established, and pointed out ad nauseum. Thank you.

In fact, the point has been so belabored, that the previous movie had Dr. Wu point out what was obvious since Crichton published Jurassic Park in 1990:

Nothing in Jurassic World is natural! We have always filled gaps in the genome with the DNA of other animals, and if their genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different. But you didn’t ask for reality. You asked for more teeth!”

That right there should have ended paleontologists taking offense at inaccurate dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park universe. Not only is their DNA fragmented and necessarily patched up with other species, but InGen built a theme park with designer animals, crafted to match market expectations of what a dinosaur “ought to” look like.

It doesn’t match reality, but more people still find a scaly raptor more appealing. You’ll draw a bigger crowd with a Mosasaurus the size of a blue whale, rather than the genuine article, which was “only” the length of a tractor trailer.

2. Genetics doesn’t work that way.

This is Jurassic Park 5, and you’re just now figuring that out?

Actually, the video entirely misses the real issue with genetics. They can’t even correct the right inaccuracy:

Sure, some species can breed. That’s how you get a Liger. But the Indoraptor isn’t like a liger. It’s a mix of a type of Tyrannosaur and Raptor, two very different kinds of animals!

Well, that’s kind of right. It’s a hybrid between a Raptor and the Indominus (HENCE THE NAME INDORAPTOR), but the Indominus’ base genome was a T. rex. Close enough.

It would be more like if you tried to breed a lion with a wolf instead. It’s just not going to happen. The DNA isn’t compatible.

Do I really have to say it?

I have to say it, don’t I? [Sigh] Fine!

Tech Insider is playing the part of the investor of questionable intelligence from the first Jurassic World, asking how they got two different kinds of dinosaurs to mate and produce the Indominus.

Just one problem: InGen was not engaging in selective breeding! I thought that had been thoroughly established once we saw DNA being extracted from amber-entombed mosquitos, but someone didn’t get the memo.

To quote Dr. Wu again:

Oh, the Indominus wasn’t bred. She was designed.

InGen adopted the other way to create a hybrid: combine DNA from different types of animals and integrate them into a new whole: the Indoraptor. That’s how they patched up dino-DNA enough to get any animals in the first place.

Ironically, that is much more difficult than selective breeding, since DNA is such a complicated and finicky molecule. And genetic barriers between different types of animals are going to place a huge limit on artificial hybridization for many years to come.

But part of the movies’ whole premise is that InGen somehow figured out how to get around those barriers. Dinosaurs get frog DNA, and now they can change sex and reproduce. The Indominus uses its cuttlefish DNA to camouflage and tree frog DNA to hide from thermal cameras.

Pretty laughable if you’re a geneticist, but when it comes to suspension of disbelief, you’re either on board with that or not. If you go to a Star Wars movie, you know there will be sound in space. You either accept that or you do not.

3. Dinosaurs didn’t roar….their voice box was probably similar to a bird’s.

Where to even start? This all stems from one voice box that resembled a duck’s, recovered from a small dinosaur that actually was kind of birdlike.

But fossils do not preserve everything that goes into animal vocalizations. All those soft, squishy parts are way more likely to rot than fossilize. Go figure.

We can find some clues, but little to nothing that is conclusive. Did T. rex roar? Maybe.

Plus, to state the obvious, dinosaurs were an incredibly diverse group of animals. This is just as irrational as saying all mammals sound alike.

4. Raptors had wings.

Yes, it seems that was the case. Dakotaraptor and Velociraptor do seem to have bumps on their arm bones that would serve as anchoring points for large quill-like feathers. But see Dr. Wu’s point above. These are InGen’s designer raptors, patched together and reassembled into a different organism.

5. Dinosaurs were colorful. Yeah, Jurassic World’s dinosaurs are way too dull.

Ah, I see someone got their hands on a DeLorean and went on a little Jurassic Safari. Now they can confidently state that the species in the film are not even colored right. Glad we got that cleared up.

Sure, earth tones like green and brown are common in today’s reptiles, but paleontologists have found that dinosaurs came in a kaleidoscope of bright colors, just like today’s birds.

Now they’re generalizing two groups of diverse animals, not just one. Plenty of birds have dull or earthen tones, like sparrows and partridges. Not everything is going to be a peacock or macaw. And plenty of reptiles have spectacular colors, like rainbow boas and agamas and chameleons. It’s not just alligators and Komodo dragons.

In living animals, even the same species can exhibit stark differences in coloration, depending on sex, stage of life, environment, etc.

We have to also keep in mind the fact that in larger animals, there is a higher prevalence of dull or uniform colors. Elephants, rhinos, tapirs, hippos, gorillas, etc. But there are exceptions as well, like giraffes. And in Jurassic World, most of the dinosaurs are huge. I tend toward thinking the same prevalence of dull colors occurred in the big ones, but I’ve never seen one alive.

Point being, the animal world is complicated.

—–

If you have gotten all the way through this, thank you. It is much appreciated.

For a long rant, there’s a very simple lesson here: Don’t get your science education from Hollywood blockbusters! Enjoy the ride, but remember to pick up a book or go to a science website if you have a question.

Second lesson: if you’re going to nitpick a movie like it’s supposed to be a museum exhibit in some quest to make yourself hip and relevant, have at it. But be careful to not make mistakes of your own, and make your audience doubly misinformed!

Blog Tour: A.K. Preston’s “The Gevaudan Project”

Author and friend Alexander Preston is launching his new book The Gevaudan Project on Amazon. Included in this post is “The Watcher,” a prequel short story for your reading pleasure.

Be sure to check the book out on Amazon!

THE GEVAUDAN PROJECT

A team of naturalists find themselves facing a nightmare beyond anything they have ever known – and the product of unspeakable evil.

Philip Caster, a former Green Beret now working as a zoologist, leads an international team in Indonesia whose revolutionary new program may spell salvation for the endangered Sumatran tiger. They will release six artificially-conceived cubs into the wild, accompanied by their surrogate mothers. The effort will prove the feasibility of in vitro breeding as a new tool against extinction. But its success is overshadowed by the sudden emergence of a horror beyond reckoning. Something has been unleashed in the forests of Sumatra. A life-form never meant to walk the earth. One that claims humanity as its only prey. 

As death unfolds around them, Caster and his circle of friends must uncover the truth behind an abomination: the instrument of dark and all-too-human forces pursuing a twisted ideological vision. Their creation has killed already – and their plans will consume millions more.

Gevaudan Eye

The Watcher

“I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.”

Isaiah 62:6

August 15, 2007

Iraq

There were blossoms on the wind. He knew that omens were a lie, but it brought him comfort nonetheless.

He was in danger here. The desert roads were natural hunting grounds for the insurgents who had replaced the robbers and Army deserters of earlier days. The hill itself had once carried the omnipresent threat from the old regime’s security garrison. None of them had molested him once.

He set his staff and lowered himself at the foot of the hill, having walked two hours. His muscles burned, and a dry tongue clung to the roof his mouth. He had brought neither bread nor water with him. The Brethren always joined him in fasting before the journey. He felt their sustenance even now. Nevertheless, each had their calling within the Body, and this one fell to him alone.

A vulture circled overhead. He had spotted bird when he began the journey, and it seemed to have followed him. He watched it in silence, brow furrowed against the sun. His fingers tightened around the staff.

He paid no heed to soothsayers and would do no more to unto the fowls of the air. But the Devil too had his agents upon the earth.

The rest ended. He rose and climbed. The hill was barely worthy of the name, but the slope burned at his calves.

He reached the top and spread the blanket beneath a cluster of trees. Only one other item had made the journey with him. He knelt and opened the book upon the blanket, a Testament far older than the Prophet his countrymen revered.

Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…

A single finger traced the script of his own beloved tongue upon the page, the letters flowing as mellifluously as the words.

The first of his devotions complete, he gently closed the book and leaned back to sit upon his heels. He looked over the parched grounds of the valley, his own resting place shaded by the palm leaves that thrived with other hardy vegetation in the desert clime. It reflected, he thought, upon the whole of this great yet unhappy land, to which he was both son and stranger.

His eyes coursed across the landscape, resting at last upon the ruins directly beneath the hill. Crumbled, sun-bleached brick was still visible amidst more recent construction – recreations of what had vanished centuries before. The walls surrounded a larger, rectangular building at the center. Spaced battlements stood silent and empty of the sentinels who had once watched over the city gates. Ghosts of the days when a king still ruled from Babylon.

In the ages since, many had come and gone. Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Sassanians. His own kindred had poured upon the land like an endless sea and paved the way for yet more ephemeral conquerors. Umayyads, Abbasids, Ayyubids, Mongols, Safavids, Afsharids and Ottomans, briefly replaced in their turn by the British, who had granted the land a Kingdom. Then came the Republic. Saddam.

Now the Americans.

The local garrison had observed his pilgrimages with apprehension at first. This gave way to curiosity, then amusement, fascination and, over time, respect. The commander himself had requested an audience. They had asked one another many questions, learned many things and parted with abiding friendship. The commander and his soldiers were departed now, most to their own homeland, the others redeployed to quell the uprisings in Anbar. He prayed for all of them each day. He too was at war.

He closed his eyes, breathing inward as the Vision came to him again. There were six now. Three architects. Three builders. The German had completed the circle.

Still self-blinded, he shifted the direction of his body. The Evil came out of the West. But it would rise in the East. It gathered there even now, awaiting its own birth.

Images unfolded before his mind’s eye. A green, verdant pasture, endless yet bounded by a forest. Within the grass, a flock stood grazing. Ewe lambs, white, unblemished, yet seemingly newly born. They wandered free within the open air, and he saw neither fence nor shepherd.

Then they came.

The forest itself became darker, viscous, the shadows themselves transforming into mist. Black, hooded figures emerged from the edge, scythe-armed, tall as the trees that should have towered over them. Three groups advanced of as many reapers, blades held high. The lambs were cut down in a swift, systematic slaughter, some silent, some bleating out their final cries of fear. The scythes descended in repeated strokes upon the dying, unleashing blood that flowed in streams.

The last victim fell, and the streams joined into a single river that cut across the pasture in angry scarlet. Their bloody task complete, the reapers knelt before it.

And drank.

It was a very mockery of Gideon. Of the nine, six cast aside their weapon and descended to the knee, plunging their face into the bloody flow. The remaining three grasped their scythes and with the other hand dipped and lapped.

Of these three, one alone drank its fill. The head turned, and he beheld a face beneath the hood, staring back at him with golden, pitiless eyes. The likeness of a man – and a beast.

He opened his eyes and beheld the sun once more. The Vision – and all the others that had come and would again – held no terror for him. The futures he saw were not his own.

He took another breath, inhaling the scent of blossoms and of trees.

Like Daniel before him, he would pray three times today. But his face was not towards Jerusalem. Daniel had been a mediator, interceding for the sins of his people when there was yet no Covenant of Grace. He was a warrior, avenging the sufferings of Man. His prayers were his swords, rebuking the seat of Babel and all that it had brought into the world.

Thy Cross, O Lord, deliver us from the gods of this latter age…

Thus he warred for the innocent, the righteous, and the lost.

Finis

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Mark 16:17-18

Merry Rexmas

After a long absence, I am returning. Santa Claws, equipped with a giant grabbing claw, would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Unless he decides you look like food.

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

You taste the same if you’re bad or good

So just run for goodness sake


Screwtape on Fantasy: A Response to Todd Friel

Todd Friel of the ministry called “Wretched” and others have come out against fantasy fiction having any place in the life of a Christian. You can find his video on Youtube, concerning “wizard fiction.”

In response, I wrote my idea of a possible “Screwtape Letter.” I do hope it does no dishonor to C.S. Lewis.

—-

My dear Wormwood,

I am writing to address your inquiry in your most recent letter, regarding the use of the fantastic in the Patient’s reading habits.

In truth, the subject in and of itself is of little use to Our Father Below, and I expected better even from the likes of you. I must once again indulge the holding of your hand through this matter.

When fiction is the reader’s chosen subject, he ventures into a cinema or into the pages of a book, knowing full well the story’s author is not presenting a documentary or a statement of belief. It is what one might call a neutered lie. All the sinister pleasures of deception have been defanged, because almost all Patients will not take the story as descriptive of reality. Since our goal is to cast illusions and phantoms across the face of real life, attempts to harness fiction to our Father’s cause are severely hampered before we’re even out of the gate.

It is true that a human’s worldview influences their process of artistic creation, and therefore influences those who partake in it. But the medium itself, as a neutered lie, in most cases can only impart a watered-down influence. Even here, however, there can be some meager potential, which I shall explain in a moment.

The human art of pretend storytelling (including the more fantastical varieties) is comparable to any of their other artistic endeavors. Art is not a den of sin by nature. Whatever use fiction has against the Enemy, it cannot give of itself, any more than a bucket can provide water of its own accord. It has to be filled with whatever you wish to provide.

But even then, the best use we have for fiction is not to drag them to our Father’s house, but to reinforce a dragging that is already underway. For instance, Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy does carry a note of delicious subversion, and has in a tiny handful of cases been helpful in bringing humans before our Father’s leering grin. The key is that it is helpful, not foundational. Pullman needed to be guided and coaxed before he could instill his anti-Enemy worldview into a single paragraph. And as with the author, so with the reader. You will notice that a large majority of his devoted admirers already held the Enemy in healthy contempt, or were well on their way to doing so.

Thus, we can see fiction for what it is: a sort of “working out” of a Patient’s heart, with an influence that has to supplement whatever is already present. It is spice, not entree.

Of course, you were mainly interested in fantastic fiction, particularly with magical figures in the story, who commune with spirits and turn into animals, and the like. I am afraid that even these are of use that is as limited as it is dependent.

It might be a different story if High Command did not have the standing order to (in your Patient’s culture, at least) conceal our presence unless otherwise necessary. Magicians are much more charismatic when they are taken seriously, not laughed off as charlatans or fringe lunatics. Rank materialism is closer now to being hybridized with belief in the supernatural than it was a century ago, but for now most of the links are still tenuous. The best of both worlds is still just beyond our grasp, and we must give it time to mature.

Therefore, as always, your Patient’s particular vulnerabilities will decide the angle of attack. If he is one of the precious few in his culture who regard real Magicians as commanding authentic power, you might be able to work some favorable influence. With the right kind of fiction, that is.

Fiction that subverts the Enemy’s declarations – whether overtly or with subtlety – can sometimes make all the difference. You can often see our own whispers into an author’s mind, filtering through the pages. In that case, I reiterate that this fiction has value, but only as a means of reinforcing whatever else we have encouraged and cultivated. Otherwise, a novel that has reinforced one soul’s journey to Hell might disastrously be used by the Enemy to wake another Patient to that same journey, whereupon the human is in great danger of reversing course and wandering into the Enemy’s embrace.

That explosion can be ignited by a thousand short fuses. Perhaps the Patient is awakened to the need for a transcendent reality and, unless promptly guided to one of the many decoy religions we have established, will be on a fast track to Heaven. Or the beauty and gravity of the fictional world might rekindle a hunger that will have him asking all the wrong sorts of questions, which of course the Enemy will be delighted to barge in and answer.

As for fiction that is not subversive of the Enemy, those varieties of fantastic fiction and characters hardly ever were of use for our Father’s cause, except perhaps as idle entertainment that distracts instead of edifies. Be sure your Patient avoids any and all fiction that the Enemy has encouraged in humans. He is crafty, and you stand to only make half-hearted and ham-fisted attempts of subversion against a foundation He has already laid.

As always, if you find yourself in the enemy’s camp, see if you can exploit the legalism inherent in a pharisaical teacher, who commands or coaxes other believers to regard every variety of fantastic fiction as an encouragement to the Occult.

Such humans are eminently amusing, spreading strife where it need not occur, and souring the seeds of the Enemy’s will for many a budding storyteller, all because they lack (or have not exercised) the insight, or craftiness, or creativity of the very God they endlessly claim to speak for. Alexandria never lost so many books to fire as we have successfully suppressed in Christians who were convinced by such teachers to withhold their stories from the world.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

Colorado Wildlife, 2017 Edition

Some of the beautiful creatures in our awe-inspiring state, captured as best I can manage on a smartphone that keeps running out of memory. Hope you enjoy them!

Two young bucks, just getting their antlers in.

A turtle and a monster of a koi carp.


Beautiful mallard duck. He must have been used to humans, because I was able to stand just six feet away.


Turtle swimming with fish.

Free Dino Art Lessons for Kids!

I have been blessed with the chance to lead free art lessons at events held by the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. And now I can share some of the lessons I started making.

These are mainly for the little artists in your family, but feel free to try one yourself, if you want.

Here are Brontosaurus, Velociraptor, and Stegosaurus. Entirely free. No copyright. Just print and follow the directions. Make copies if you want.