You know, as though I didn’t have enough to worry about, particularly when it comes to A Few Good Men, a book I worried about before it was even written, after it was written, and now that it’s published, the world has now gone bananas. I mean, more so than usual.
I expected some people would object to the character’s sexual orientation. It never occurred to me that ANYONE would take issue with the Usaian religion. At least it never occurred to me someone would take issue with it seriously. I thought people might roll their eyes, or grin, or say “OMG, don’t go L. Ron Hubbard on us, Sarah.”
Then came this review of a game by a colleague of mine, over at PJM: Walter Hudson, on the anti-gospel of Bioshock Infinite.
First, let me point out that I have no interest in the games and that the best I can say about the designers is that the worldbuilders are the product of American self-hating schools and were probably raised on the gospel of Howard Zinn. However, Hudson’s pov is, to put it mildly, weird also.
I particularly like the point where he more or less concedes that to make a religion out of adherence to the US constitution would be evil and anti-Christian because, well, all humans are evil and stuff.
Having wakened this morning to find out that the tough grrrls purity brigade Ladies Victorian Morals And Purity Society that SFWA has become is now hunting for Mike Resnick for the dual crimes of a) calling women “ladies” and b) pointing out that skin on covers sells to women as well as men, I feel like I’m inside a tiltawhirl.
When did the two sides exchange places, again? When did the left, once upon a time the purveyor of free love, freer skin and the more pervy the better stories become the purity squad, and when did the right decide that there would be something wrong with believing in the constitution?
In other words – have you all gone frigging mad?
I’ll deal with the Resnick issue later – aka the “SFWA makes itself even MORE irrelevant, now approaching black-hole irrelevancy levels” fuss. That will probably lead to several columns and allow me to set several pious and self satisfied ladies grrls on fire.
Right now I’ll explain the why and wherefore of the Usaian religion and also why – while of course Bioshock is doing it WRONG – to consider it a terrible idea that someone should believe in the constitution with religious fervor is inane from someone purporting to be a conservative.
First let’s define religion. Religion is a set of beliefs that can’t be fully justified by rational observation. A lot of our nominally Christian – or atheist – population in fact holds fast to several religious beliefs. For instance, the belief that calling a woman a “lady” is a mark of disrespect. Or the belief that only males like to see the opposite (or same) sex naked. But I digress. Then there is the belief that every single human being is harming planet Earth by existing (as if you know, we were somehow intrinsically different from every other species on the planet); the belief we’re “overpopulated” at a time when people enjoy more living space per individual and better food than at any time in history; the belief all cultures are equally valid, particularly those that cause death and horror; the belief …. Should I go on? I could go on for years. All of these have the force of religion in influencing everyday life, often in contra-rational ways.
But Sarah, you’ll say, most of these beliefs don’t promise heaven, and they’re not supernatural. Were you under the impression all religions needed to be? At its most primitive, religion is a set of appeasing, fetishistic (not in that sense, grrrls purity league!) behaviors that are supposed to keep the wrath of the gods away from you. And actually, in most cases these modern versions do believe in a paradise of sorts “if everyone were enlightened like me, then we would live in this sort of paradise.”
Given humanity and the limits of the human mind – unlike Walter Hudson, I don’t believe we’re inherently bad. I believe we’re inherently limited and unable to fully grasp the results of our actions and about evenly divided between good and bad impulses (as a species. As an individual, your mileage may vary.) – we’re all going to take in any number of beliefs as a sort of unexamined religion and adhere to them with cultic fervor.
My idea, of course (though it started as a joke in Darkship Thieves) is that the Usaian religion was created rationally and on purpose by people who knew history and who believed that the best way to ensure the return of the constitutional republic was to encode those beliefs they had anyway as a set of dogma and ritual. This would both bind their community and give them the ability to transmit the religion forward through the generations.
The idea was something like “we all got to believe in something. I believe I’ll create a community which will lead to a society in which eventually individual liberty can flourish.”
But Sarah, you say you’re a believer. Isn’t that heresy?
Did I at any time say that no Usaian could have another religion (or none at all?) I don’t believe so. In fact, I explicitly stated the opposite in the book. There are people who are Usaians who don’t believe in G-d, but who believe that the principles set forth in the constitution are the best form of organization any society has ever had (as judged by results.) Some others (some are explicitly Christian subgroups) believe G-d especially blessed the US and will make sure the idea doesn’t vanish forever from the Earth. Yes, that is a form of heresy. But many of us believe G-d helps those who help themselves, and also that he wants the best for us, and this nation conceived in liberty is the best for us.
But when things get tough, people default to community and religion, and having the beliefs explicitly stated and surrounded by rituals gave them a chance of withstanding the centuries.
But… but… but… you had stuff about the founders as prophets, and the return of the George. Yeah, well. I grew up in an OLD culture, where a lot of pre-existing religious beliefs got accreted onto Catholicism. I kind of have a feeling that sort of thing, through five hundred years, would sort of develop. Though I’ll point out that’s a “folk religion” version, not the religion that unites them all. There’s also hints that at least some of the people (the Remys – or at least the Remys as viewed by Lucius, which is NOT the same thing) believe in reincarnation either earthly or into a world of liberty elsewhere.
Am I promoting the idea that the founders were prophets? Well, I’m allowed to believe anyone and everyone can be divinely inspired, and I think there was a miraculous convergence of events and men at that time. (If you want to know how miraculous read about it.) On the other hand, no, I’m not lighting candles before statues of Ben Franklin who likely would have pissed himself laughing at the idea, anyway.
What I am doing is starting from an idea, and then having people behave as people.
This is where the Bioshock designers fail. Starting from the constitution it’s D*mn hard to get a fascist state, unless you toss the constitution out the window and replace it or make it irrelevant (something we’re on our way to doing.) Starting from communism, it’s inevitable that you WILL end up in a totalitarian society.
But to say they are wrong because humans are inherently evil is yet another form of heresy. If man were inherently evil then the path to redemption would be making itself not-man. This leads to some of the more interesting heresies of the middle ages, newfangled cults like the Heaven’s Gate Cult, and of course Environmentalism.
As a religious person, I believe that humans are inherently FLAWED. I believe that G-d can help heal our flaws while keeping us human. That’s my religious belief. You’re not required to buy into it, and I’m not going to argue it.
As a human being who has studied history, I believe the American system of government has the best results – flawed though it is – of any other system ever tried. And I will do my d*mndest to make sure it neither vanishes from the world, nor, should it vanish, remain forgotten.
I am a Usaian.
UPDATE: In case you’re confused about the disappearing post: it’s over at Mad Genius Club, where I’ll be conducting a Cover and Blurb Clinic. That is if any of you want to play.