Art Under the Shadow of the Gun

I have nothing new to say. Only a new audience and a new occasion. This essay is nothing more than my ripping off of C.S. Lewis’s Learning in War Time.

I have maintained for the last decade or so that I expect my country, the United States of America, to fall apart in the early 2030s. This belief is not due to my own expertise, and I am ill suited to defend it. It is the considered opinion of historians and philosophers I trust.

Of late, however, men are starting to take my premise seriously. Except they expect the collapse much sooner. Next week, perhaps. The foundations are shaking. The public mood is turning. And being ill-suited to the task of defending my 203X date, I’ve heard a question floating around my circles:

What role has an artist in all this? Should he set down his brush and take up a gun? Or, if he holds his brush, should he seek to use his art to aid his friends and defeat his enemies? Does he adulterate his art by ignoring the Muse for the sake of propaganda? Does he fiddle while Rome burns by ignoring propaganda for the sake of the Muse?

The Christian has a more serious question. For of course, wars and rumors of wars are nothing but birth-pains to us. Every man who dies on the battlefield will rise again to live in eternal glory or eternal torment. But nations and political groups are mayflies, creatures whose lifespans are measured in mere centuries.

Should the Christian artist throw aside his brush, then, and spend all his effort tending his own soul in a monastery or nunnery, or seeking to save the souls of others as an evangelist or priest? Or if he holds on to his brush, should he seek by his art to aid the angels and defeat the demons? Does he adulterate his art by ignoring the Muse for the sake of propaganda? Does he fiddle while souls burn by ignoring propaganda for the sake of the Muse?

Clearly, whatever answer suffices for eternal matters must also be strong enough for trifling matters like a world superpower at war with itself.

And here we can cheat on our impromptu philosophy exam. We already know what the Apostles told us to do in the light of eternity: To use our gifts for the glory of God. To do whatever lies before us with all our strength, as if God and not some man had set us the task. To be content in our station, whether master or slave, though to cast off the chains of slavery whenever peaceful means to do so present themselves. To be good fathers and good sons, good soldiers and good grocers. And good artists.

Neither religion nor war can stop men from drawing pictures, composing poems, or singing songs. Art is more endemic to humanity than war. We are born in the image of a gardener king, not a warrior king. We are made in the image of a gardener God who is a warrior God — but only because a serpent invaded His garden.

Moreover, we find men who are seriously at war writing books, singing songs, and celebrating Christmas. Even when the bullets fly, we will not give up culture. That is who we are.

To set aside the brush for the gun, then, is a foolish proposal. Even if it is a good idea, we could not do it except in the extreme moment of the emergency itself. Once we have taken up the gun and marched off into combat, our hand will itch until it seizes upon a new brush, or pencil or pen, and we shall find ourselves painting in the trenches.

So much for the question of whether we ought to set our art itself aside. Now for the question of whether we ought to prioritize the muse or the mission.

Let us stop thinking for a moment of books and games, and start thinking of houses. Let us pretend we are stonemasons and carpenters. What we are asking is whether we ought to stop building houses, and instead build barracks and chapels.

The answer is situational. A carpenter hired by the army ought to build barracks as the army directs. A carpenter hired by the church ought to build chapels as the church directs. But a carpenter hired by neither ought to go on building houses, to the glory of God. The best, most beautiful houses he may, given his talents and constraints.

A cobbler serves God best not by putting little crosses on his shoes, but by making good shoes. And a storyteller serves God best not by putting little crosses in his stories, but by telling good stories.

Now you may want to tell a story that makes a theological point. Very good. C.S. Lewis wanted to do so, and the Narnia books are great art. But perhaps you want to leave all moralizing and philosophizing out of the story, except as the tale itself demands. Very good. Tolkien hated allegory so much so that he openly disdained Narnia, and Lord of the Rings is great art.

If you are a musician in the army, and the army wishes you to write a march, then by all means write a march. If you are your own man, and you wish to write a march, then by all means write a march. But if you wish to write, instead, a sea shanty, do that. You are not fiddling while Rome burns. You are making a mark on immortal souls, while the mortal things crumble.

I make it sound very grand. I am not inviting you to put on airs. What deeper mark is made on a soul than the marks a mother and a father make? And yet our culture casts these aside as unworthy pursuits. The pictures I draw are nothing, in the end, next to the diapers I have changed. The pictures were as much a product of my vanity as any gifts and callings God has given me. But a dirty diaper is a clear and unquestionable sign from Heaven that there is work to be done, and work of an unambiguous sort.

A dirty diaper very cleanly cuts through the weight of emotion around all this talk of fiddling while Rome burns. Whether bullets fly through the air, or indeed, souls hang in the balance, the thing has got to be done.

But whatever pictures I feel a need to draw, let me draw them with all my might, as unto God and not men.

You cannot be more righteous than God

The student loan thing is sweeping the social media again. My position has changed. Once upon a time, I was a big fan of personal responsibility, making your own way. It’s the American Dream, I thought.

But something has since occurred to me. God decreed that in Ancient Israel, all debts were to be forgiven on a regular basis.

Now, most of the calls I see to forgive student loans seem to be coming from socialists. I do not want them to implement their plans because I am certain they are trojan horses. And I, personally, am extremely uninterested in mass-starvation, gulags, and the like.

But the counter-arguments I see on offer are “I paid my loans,” or, “I made wise decisions and went to trade school.”

May God richly reward your diligence and wisdom. But if forgiveness of another is an offense against you, you are claiming that your justice supersedes that of the Most High.

If you claim to be more just than the Most High, you are wrong. Simple as.

There is some complaint that Caesar may take more of his denarii from our pockets to pay for the debts. And I agree this is unjust. My suspicion is that the loans can be rightly declared usurious and the degrees fraudulent, and the schools and banks that issued them should be made to pay rather than the taxpayer.

And I imagine some argument against forgiveness might be mounted on an esoteric economic basis. It might even be right.

I cannot become an expert in all things. I do not have the time to study economics enough to change my opinion to the economically correct one, or to mount a real defense of my opinion. I have barely enough brainpower to learn the crafts of writing, drawing, and game programming.

Where my expertise fails, I can be confident of one thing: My God, the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, knows all things. Therefore it is unwise to take a position contrary to His. And while His position is definitely not Socialist (“Do not muzzle the ox that treadeth the grain; He who does not work shall not eat”) it is also very much in favor of forgiveness. Or else we’re all doomed, anyway.

Here I stand. I can do no other unless persuaded by Scripture and plain reason. God help me.

Why I am a Surly Old Stick in the Mud

The internet is alight with the controversy over a Netflix movie, Cuties. Now, I’ve not seen it nor intend to see it. I’ve seen two reports from people who have claimed to watch it, but for all I know, they are lying.

This is not a blog post to denounce or affirm Cuties on the basis of itself. Rather, it is the reasoning I can do from the meta-data.

I have seen five-ish general categories of takes on the Twitters, which I can dub the Cuties spectrum:

  1. Cuties is straight up porn, all all adults involved should be immediately millstoned.
  2. Cuties is a coming-of-age film that does critique the sexualization of young girls, but does so by crossing the line and sexualizing the actresses involved.
  3. Cuties is a critique of the sexualization of young girls, and this justifies the depictions of the actresses.
  4. Cuties is a normal coming-of-age film, and if it depicts things that make you uncomfortable, that’s because that’s how society actually is and you need to grow up and deal with reality.
  5. Cuties sexualizes minor girls, and that’s a good thing.

I’m not going to pick one of these takes as my take, because I don’t need to.

If positions 1 or 2 are true, Cuties and the forces behind it are a demonic evil to be opposed. Position 3 is that position 2 is true, but the ends justify the means. I reject that. Position 5 is in and of itself a demonic evil to be opposed. And notably, it is the position taken by a lot of media.

The fact that the pro-pedo forces have taken up this film as their banner would make me loath to endorse it even if it were otherwise innocent.

So we are left with position 4.

Way back when I was in college, I returned home for a visit. Now, my siblings and I were homeschooled in different proportions. As the oldest, I went to Kindergarten through Third Grade, and that is when my mother started teaching me. My youngest sibling, on the other hand, was homeschooled at first, but sent to a public school for the last several years of his education.

As I visited from college, my brother’s school put on a talent show, and out of solidarity for my bro, I attended the talent show.

And it featured twelve-year old girls singing highly sexualized songs.

Some little girl, on the cusp of puberty, flirting with a crowd of adults, and neither her parents nor her teachers thought to object at any point. Probably because it was a pop song, acceptable to play on the radio. Or because they grew up swapping body fluids at a young age, and saw nothing wrong with it. Or maybe because they were Minnesotan, they were just too darn nice to protect the children they were charged by God to protect.

At that point I realized that whatever that girl’s parents and teachers were doing, I wanted to go the other direction. I wanted to fight it. And I wanted to help anyone who wanted to fight it.

So, let me be perfectly clear here:

I object to the culture as it is. I believe it harms children who ought to be protected. I take action to alter it. Educating my own children and advocating others do the same. And especially, attempting to create entertainment that is free of the propaganda of the spirit of the age, as much as any man can.

I do accept that the world out there is really like that, and this is how young girls are actually behaving. I just do not accept that this is a good thing to be embraced or even a neutral thing to be tolerated.

I am, and have ever been, a Christian. I am charged with upholding the Christian standard of morality regardless of how out of touch with the modern times it gets. Being a sinful son of Adam, I will fail.

But I will not pretend up is down just because everyone else does.

As to whether you should cancel your Netflix account over this, I have no reasoned position. Niemeier presents the pro-cancellation position in his book “Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You.” I have not read the book yet due to lack of funds, but I have found his reasoning is frequently sound.

How to Fight Back

Allexander Hellene is one of my favorite dudes on the internet, and I endorse everything he’s written in this blog post.

But especially:

Enjoy the battle. This fight will never end. There will be losses, but there will also be victories. Celebrate the wins and keep going. Morale is important, so don’t spread despair. Blackpilling does nobody any good.

One of the things I enjoy (yes! enjoy!) about living in Corona times is that it has stripped away the illusion that we do not live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I came to terms with this reality a year or two ago, and it sucks to realize that this world will always be a battlefield and Satan will have the upper hand more and more right up to the moment that Christ comes back…

But once you embrace it, it’s freeing. You start to put your hope in the world to come. You start to really understand how trivial and light is death.

It’s the paradox of Ecclesiastes. Everything is dust in the wind. But once you realize you’re building castles out of soap bubbles, the proper joy of building castles out of soap bubbles is revealed.

When you cannot win, you are free to do as you like. When you cannot lose, you are free to do as you like. And the Christian gets to live under both of these realities at once. This is how the martyrs go singing to their own executions. And when we win (and we have won from time to time), it is how we win.

Trojan Mice

Yesterday I read The Trojan Mouse: How Disney is Winning the Culture War by Samuel Lively.

One of my constant contentions is that the serious plays in the culture war are to play the long game by building families and making entertainment. So it seemed this book would be up my alley. And it was and then some. The book traces both the physical and ideological histories of Disney. It is of peculiar interest to me because I grew up during the Disney Rennaisance in a Baptist-adjacent family. So I caught both the Baptist Boycott denunciations of the Mouse, and the average Joe’s apathy to that boycott.

When I analyzed Disney movies for myself at the time (as a teenager, mind you,) my conclusion was that the more wildly occultic and salacious accusations were overblown (which in turn made them easy to dismiss), but the philosophical trends were real. There were no secret pentagrams in the animation, but the Mouse had switched from a default of honoring the parents to a default of undermining them.

To this very day, though, most people will look at me like a crazy person if I tell them I don’t want to take my kid to the latest Disney flick, let alone something so old that present day Social Justice Warriors find it problematic.

The Baptist Boycott didn’t work. Audiences naturally rejected the more explicitly subversive Disney Renaissance flicks organically — Hunchback and Pocahontas did not do comparatively well — but Aladdin and Mermaid did extremely well despite (despite?) having as their core value the idea that horny teens ought to ignore their parents.

To a certain degree, people will choose what is bad for them. Humanity is fallen. But to a certain degree, people will choose the good over the bad. Even the most depraved sugar addict will choose steak and vegetables over a plate of manure. People won’t, in mass and as a rule, choose nothing at all. Audiences favored Toy Story over Pocahontas. Was it because of the shiny new 3D, or because it was more in alignment with core American values? Hard to say. But Aladdin didn’t really have that kind of competition.

I’ve already made some kids’ books, and will continue to do so, but books are seeds of the culture war; the fighting happens on screens, with music and animation and acting and drama. It may be best for me to stay behind the lines planting seeds. It may be best for me to try and charge for the front line and use my animation skills. I don’t know. But in the spirit of putting that conundrum to the test, I’ve begun work on a video game, which is the best route for my skill stack to reach the screens.


Hat Trick 1: the Death of Arthur is the start of a dark Christian scifi/fantasy serial. And it has pictures! Check it out now on Amazon.

Oxygen

Rawle Nyanzi recently proposed Brand Zero. Namely: don’t promote major media. Don’t talk about them even as negative examples, because doing so promotes them and increases their brand. Nyanzi extends this not just to subversive and disgenic brands like the Mouse, but even brands he likes and respects. From his comments on Brian Niemeier’s blog:

Anime has a lot of mainstream visibility… Big, well-trafficked sites discuss anime, and it is a frequent topic on social media. Those companies need no help getting the word out; if you want to recommend an anime to someone, do so in private conversation…

The flip side of Brand Zero is Oxygen. Do talk about the little artists who can use the exposure.

Jon Del Arroz makes comic books and steampunk. Brian Niemeier does science fantasy horror and, recently, mecha military books that are Gundam meets Battletech. Rawle Nyanzi has released a mecha book with strong Sailor Moon influences and is trying his hand at pixel art animations.

Bradford C. Walker wrote a mecha book that’s Robotech, except instead of Zentraedi you have demons, and instead of the UN you have Medieval Catholics.

The Last Ancestor is about human refugees fighting for survival on a planet of dog men.

Adam Smith has Christian Paladins engaging in fisticuffs with demons in post apocalypse America. And of course, I have a dark magician bunny fighting the Night Mare.

It’s not enough to reduce the big names to Brand Zero. We’ve got to give each other oxygen.

Reblog: Why Concede and Keep Fighting?

Here is an old post from an old blog that I repost because it is still relevant and it allows me to build up my track record of content. It is from 2013 when Obama was freshly president, and reflects my thoughts from that time.

In this present era, I realize that I’m thinking of the debate between “left” and “right” as a philosophical or political debate, whereas now I see, as Niemeier maintains, it is a religious war and we ought to go straight to witch tests instead of logic. I should also note that my attitudes have changed. I am no longer a regretful lefty forced by logic into a rightwing position, but an enthusiastic advocate of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. But the logic is, in my opinion, still instructive, so I post it here.

The angry buzzing of the bees over this whole gay marriage nonsense makes me shake my head in sadness.

You’re fighting the wrong fight, peoples.

What is the current definition of what marriage is, according to the conservative, Church-going elites?

It is Disney marriage with an arbitrary rule. The core of marriage is that two people in love with each other ratify their emotional attachment with a big, expensive ceremony.

Against Disney Marriage

Hat Trick 1 is Done

You can get the PDF now from my patreon.

A few thoughts:

Hat Trick has the same page count as Alphabeasts. But I will be able to sell Hat Trick for $4 whereas I have to charge $15 for Alphabeasts because Hat Trick is black and white, and Alphabeasts is color. This price difference makes me consider whether producing books in black and white isn’t the best plan for now. It’s pretty darn significant.

Hat Trick was never meant as Christian fiction, though I’m putting it in that category on Amazon. I’m putting it there because some of the characters are Christian, and Christianity is true in the world of Hat Trick as I believe it to be true in this world. And its truth matters to the plot because magic is a constant and tangible presence in that world, and so prayers and grace take on an equally tangible presence. But the purpose of the story isn’t to spread the faith nor to impart good morals. Hat Trick is not a tract. Crosses glow in the presence of vampires not because I’m trying to convert you, but because I think vampires and glowing crosses are cool.

“But wait!” you say, “isn’t Hat Trick set in a world of talking animals? How is Christianity a factor in a world of talking animals?”

Yes. Here are some spoilers about my world which I don’t mind sharing as they are not directly relevant to the plot.

World Building