Saturday, October 5, 2013

Strange Love

A friend recently remarked that she really loved old-time songs she termed "hellfire and brimstone," but she felt the old-time songs didn't love her back.

She was right, but she was wrong.

The Westboro Baptist crowd is an exception I'll describe in hopes of making my point by contrast. I once watched one of their YouTube videos where the girl spent five minutes repeatedly saying, "You're going to Hell," in a perky voice with a smile on her face. One cannot say this with a smile on your face and have an infinitesimal of love in your heart.

I think there is a sort of sadistic personality type who enjoys inflicting emotional pain on others. Such people are beneath contempt.

Such people are NOT the folks who were writing and performing the old-time "hellfire and brimstone" songs.

What were they thinking?

My earliest memories of church involve crying. "Hellfire and brimstone" sermons are not as common as they once were, but if you read any of the old-timers' books about soul winning, they say there ought not be a dry eye in the place. The fellow who wrote the book on "Hellfire and brimstone" just happened to be a Christian philosopher named Jonathan Edwards. He reasoned that a sinner doesn't love God, but he may love his own skin enough to seek a way of escape and thereby acquaint himself with the good news parts of the Gospel. Upon learning what God has done for the sinner, the sinner may think it fitting to love God back.

If you really believe those around you are at risk of destruction, the compassionate thing to do is warn them and share what you know about how to escape.

This line of reasoning makes the "hellfire and brimstone" warnings an expression of love. So, my friend is indeed loved back. But it's a strange love. The only way you can distinguish this love from Westboro's hate is whether the person saying it is crying or smiling when s/he says it.

Now, when writing a plausible villain. The conventional motives are money, jealousy, hatred and revenge--Plus whatever other negative emotions I've overlooked. Better motives are unconventional, positive emotions.

Provided you can make them plausible.

You see, it's because I love that young girl that I inflicted all those tortures upon her and eventually burned her at the stake, because God would judge her witchcraft more harshly and perhaps my efforts turned her to repentance and the joys of Heaven. 


Religious fanaticism is a dangerous thing when writing villainy department because a) it's overdone, and b) most writers doing it are functionally illiterate of religion. Their villains come off as off-key and get all the trust-cues wrong. And I hate when they do that.

So, I suggest something different.

My favorite villain is the Operative in Serenity. He's perfect because he's not motivated by the stale and trite things. He says he's motivated by Faith. Not the concrete Faith in God that J. Gresham Machen wrote about, or the vague objectless Faith in Faith that Soren Kierkegaard wrote about. His faith in the government who empowers him and sends him on his killing spree.

In a post-Christian, or post-Theist society, there are some folks who will still need to find something bigger than themselves to put meaning and purpose in their life. If they are Atheist, then the government is the second-best thing. Thus, I see a government fanatic is a better villain than a religious fanatic.

Mindful of this, consider this quote by C. S. Lewis:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
So, next time you're wondering about your next villain, perhaps you'll consider some sort of overbearing altruist.

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