Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Black Knight

One of the things I've always liked about Roy Thomas' writing is that, while rarely spectacular, it always shows a keen sense of a character's history and background. His take on the Black Knight in a 1990 limited series is a good example, as Thomas draws from sources as far back as a two-issue Black Knight series that Atlas Comics (as Marvel was called at the time) published in the 1950s. That earlier series featured the Camelot-era ancestor of the current Black Knight, Dane Whitman, a frequent member of the Avengers. Whitman is an interesting mix of Middle Ages chivalry (he wears a suit of armor, carries a sword, and rides a winged horse) and the modern (he's an expert in hi-tech devices). The 1990 Black Knight limited series is a decent solo outing for the "Ebon Avenger", as he foils a plot by Mordred and Morgan Le Fey to . . . dare I say it? . . . TAKE OVER THE WORLD! Ahem. Anyway, Dr. Strange, Captain Britain, and Victoria Bentley guest star, and the series also features the introduction of the Black Knight's squire, Sean Dolan. It's straight-up super-heroics, except with more demons and fewer super-villains.
Half a decade later, the Black Knight's middling popularity earned him a one-shot titled Black Knight: Exodus. The twist here is that Dane Whitman and his fellow Avenger Sersi are somehow knocked back in time to witness the origin of the super-villain Exodus at the hands of the even more super-villainous Apocalypse. Thus, we have an odd-mix of Avengers and X-Men villains in a story that's not really all that interesting. On the plus side, a Marvel comic book in the 1990s that didn't feature either Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Punisher, or Spider-Man is a rare, collector's item classic.

Clone Wars Campaign Recap Extra: "Teacher's Pet"

After the previous session, a few months passed before the campaign got underway again--the longest break we've ever had. To help pass the time, my sig-other decided to write some short stories about Arresta to help position the character a little differently for the next big story arc. Her first effort, which I consider canon for the campaign, I've titled Teacher's Pet. Before I post it, she has a few comments:

"Soap Operas are a great source of inspiration for RPG characters (not adapting the character completely - more letting them be the "muse" for a character's appearance, temperament, etc). When I needed a mysterious, powerful figure from Arresta's past, I settled on my favourite soap character of all time- Stefan Cassadine. Since I had no apprehension that the recaps or anything else would one day find their way on-line, I decided to keep the name the same. Therefore, anyone familiar with GH who finds their way here, shouldn't confuse the Stefan they know with them one in this game - beyond physical description and certain personality traits..."


Arresta walked through the door of her luxury apartment with a sense of relief. Another intelligence mission finished, albeit with less than complete success. Tossing her baggage (which mostly consisted of weaponry) aside, she glanced around the empty room. It felt cavernous.

With a rueful smile, she remembered how angry she had been, the day of the trial when she had returned home. She had ordered the protocol droid to change the lock codes immediately and had stormed into the second bedroom with every intention of gathering up Tarn’s belongings and pitching them over the edge of the balcony. Unfortunately, he had precious few possessions and she’d had to settle for shipping them off to the Jedi, deciding that a temper tantrum, while satisfying, would not ultimately be beneficial.

It galled her to admit that she’d been played for a fool by anyone – especially by someone she had thought she was manipulating. “We have a special connection, Princess.” Only a complete idiot would have fallen for that line. Bad enough, that she’d given in to her hormonal impulses (she was only human) and let him talk her into bed, but she had to admit that she actually believed he cared about her….had worried that she might hurt him!

Having changed into simple exercise gear made of a soft grey synthetic fabric, Arresta turned her attention to her punching bag. She carefully wrapped her hands and stood back, relaxing her shoulders before launching into a series of exercises. She’d gone into this situation thinking that she was in control – she still wasn’t sure how that had changed.

The intelligence missions had certainly helped to take the edge off her unhappiness. It was amazing how much satisfaction could be had through pure, unadulterated action. Besides, time off planet had helped to clear her head and given her the distance she’d needed. She was still angry – but as much with herself as with Tarn.

She should have known that all of Tarn’s talk about goodness and justice was just a clever façade, fabricated to provide him with an advantage –and likely no end of willing bed-mates. She could respect a good manipulation – no one grew up in the political intrigue of the royal palace without gaining an appreciation for that – but she loathed his wide-eyed refusal to admit that anything had happened between them. And using that pathetically weak Jedi code as the excuse? That she couldn’t forgive.

She delivered a final kick with emphasis and stood back in satisfaction. The sudden rush of dizziness therefore caught her by surprise – and it was only through force of will that she stayed on her feet. Carefully making her way over to a chair, she sank down and was nearly overcome by a wave of nausea. Perhaps she had picked up some sort of bug while she was gallivanting around that smuggler’s ship in disguise?

With a grimace she hauled herself to her feet and went into the bedroom to change. She would stop by the medical bay that her intelligence contact had recommended. Most likely, she had come down with a touch of something that would require an inoculation.

Hours later, when she returned to her suite, she again sought the support of the chair to help keep her from falling. She knew now that there was at least one thing more inconvenient than picking up a minor virus.

Arresta D’Avalos, tabloid darling, novice spy and wandering noble, was undeniably pregnant with the next heir to the throne of Mongui. Overcome by another wave of nausea, the Princess sprinted to the refresher. Holding her hair back while she emptied her stomach she decided that the next time she saw Tarn Tamarand she might just kill him. Bloody Jedi.
Seventy-two paces. That was exactly how many steps it took to cross the floor of Arresta’s apartment. She had pinpointed the number over the course of three days worth of aimlessly walking the floor. Ignoring all calls (mostly from the press, inquiring about her future plans now that she had been proven innocent), she had moped, paced and pondered what to do now.

She had never felt so alone – which struck her as ironic, given her condition. She reflected that there had actually been very few times in her life to actually be alone. A palace is an opulent, but dangerous place to grow up in – always full of people, but few a young girl could trust to look out for much beyond their own interest. Of course back then, she had her family to count on – her mother, father and even her sister had made the royal palace a pleasant place to grow up in. Still, she had absolutely no desire to see her father or her sister again.

Since leaving Mongui she had been surrounded by people – it was only now, after the trial that she was truly on her own. It struck Arresta to the core that even those who did know her – her father, her sister, even her “friends” here on Coruscant – knew at best only a part of her. Well, whatever else happened, she was determined that things would be different with the baby – they would have an honest relationship, if it killed her. She would make a new start – shedding the old life and starting a new one.

Arresta flipped idly through some old holo-net images, with her own picture smiling in several of them – every inch the proper princess. She was certainly breaking out of the “proper” path – and she had no intention of retreating. If her life was going in wildly different directions than expected, she would just see where these choices took her.

She smiled, a bit sadly, ruefully admitting that if nothing else, she now had proof that she hadn’t imagined her affair with the Jedi – that she was right and he was wrong. Right or not though, an unmarried pregnant princess was going to attract attention – especially with her habit for tripping into the limelight.

Pausing in front of a large standing mirror she tried to imagine how she would look in a few months. The current fashion for gowns favoured high waists, but that would only provide temporary camouflage. Really, it was only a matter of time before people realized she was expecting. Which would lead to questions as to the identity of the father – questions she had no intention of answering. Far better if she left Coruscant and traveled somewhere far away from prying eyes – and where she could keep any news of this away from Tarn Tamarand. If she had her way, he would never know he had “left anything behind” when he walked out of her life. She did hate to leave this planet – she enjoyed her intelligence work and the few friends she’d managed to make.

As bitter as she was at Tarn, she couldn’t place the blame for this pregnancy on him alone. She’d allowed him to tumble her and, at least the night of the ball, they’d taken no precautions. But, she could see no benefit from going to him with this news. As it was, she had heard nothing from him for days, ever since he returned with Master Creen to the Jedi temple.

She still hated to think of Tarn as being the sort of person who would deliberately hurt her, but she could see no other explanation. She’d been so stupid not to see his real agenda, but she had been so worried and lonesome….But, whatever had happened between them physically, there was nothing that would have compelled him to declare his love, or to make promises of any kind. No, any of the things he’d said over the course of those weeks had come from him alone – and that was a cruelty that she hadn’t expected.

Considering that, she doubted the child would matter to him and at any rate, what purpose would be served by telling him? Just one more chance to be rejected, or to create more chaos and confusion. Besides, as he had repeatedly proclaimed, practically while climbing out of her bed, Jedi were allowed no attachments. If that included lovers, she was certain it would extend to the results of such an indiscretion.

Arresta felt a momentary pang of guilt. It was hard to imagine Tarn being so cold. But, even if he did care for the baby, he might change his mind at any time –and she wasn’t about to risk him doing to her child what he had done to her.

The incessant buzzing of her comm-link finally broke through her reverie and captured her attention. Deciding she could use some distraction, she picked up the message, expecting another interview offer from a paparazzo looking for a headline. It was one line of text and a set of coordinates. “Meet me here – need to see you.”

She told herself she wasn’t going to go. Why should it matter what Tarn had to say? He had humiliated and abandoned her – there was no reason to listen to anything he had to tell her. She told herself that while she changed her clothes three times, while she circled the block in her rented air-car, hesitating to enter the restaurant the coordinates had indicated. She even continued to think she was going to turn around as she walked in and gave her name to the hostess, who escorted her to a table in the back.

Seeing the figure seated at the table took her breath away. It had been a while since they’d stood face to face, but she was still surprised at the shot of desire that ran through her at the sight of his face. He looked perfect, from head to toe and the way he was looking at her, with just the hint of a wry grin, erased any bitterness she may have felt at their parting.

She had her arms around him before she was even aware that she had moved. When they broke apart, he kept one strong arm wrapped around her shoulders and she smiled up at him.

“I take it you missed me.” He voice was rich and mellow, with a warmth she knew was for her alone.

“I did.” She still smiled but she knew her cheeks were wet with tears she hadn’t quite realized she was crying. “I did miss you, Stefan.”
Having taken a few moments alone to compose herself, under the pretense of “freshening up”, Arresta did her best to appear calm and collected – for at least ten minutes. It didn’t take longer than that for Stefan to make it clear he knew how calamitous her life had been lately.

He’d been quietly smug when discussing her father’s betrayal, which was to be expected. He had long ago told her that she was making a mistake in placing her loyalty to her father above her own life. At the time, she’d felt it was important to follow her duty to her people…now, it seemed incredibly foolish.

When discussing her trial for murder, he’d laughed and shrugged dismissively. “You would never have been so sloppy.” That warmed her, a little – she’d actually thought that herself, a time or two.

She’d blushed furiously when he’d produced a copy of that ridiculous holovid image of Tarn kissing her on the balcony of her apartment. But, Stefan had merely looked at her and said “Involving yourself with the Jedi, Darling? That seems a bit ambitious – not to mention risky.”

Arresta managed to stammer out some semblance of the truth – the Jedi had summoned her from Mongui, that they’d been on a mission to Ansion and then forcibly escorted back here. “Truthfully, I’m considering leaving Coruscant.”

Stefan had smiled and leaned down to kiss her. When she came back to herself – his kisses had always had that effect on her – and realized that somehow, she was practically sitting in his lap and that for some time, his strong hands had been caressing her back and arms – she saw a familiar glint in his eye. He whispered in her ear. “Now Darling, that is absolutely fascinating – what say we head back to your apartment and discuss it?”

They stood up and moved to the door. Stefan was already regaling her with the tale of his latest adventures – clients and those he had “serviced” kept strictly anonymous of course – but Arresta was distracted. Walking past the other tables, with a variety of dishes laid out for the gastronomic delight of many races, she had fought down a now familiar rush of nausea. She had been so happy to see Stefan. For a few moments she had forgotten everything but the fact that he was really there, beside her. How could she tell him what a mess she’d made of things?

By the time they entered her apartment, the mood had begun to sour. Stefan had already suggested – twice – that Arresta should leave Coruscant with him. He was rather piqued at her continued quiet declarations that she was not ready to do that.

He seemed to think that romance would sway her and used a passionate kiss as prelude to asking her a third time to “return to the life that she should be leading”. There was a familiar, stubborn set to his jaw. Sadly, she ran her thumb along his strong chin and attempted to hold onto her resolve. “I can’t do that”.

His temper finally slipped. “Why the blazes not?”

“Because I’m pregnant!” There – the dreaded words had escaped and seemed to hang in the air.

Startled, Stefan took a step back – but he kept a firm grip on her arms. For a long moment he looked at her in consternation. When he spoke, it was in a quiet, clipped tone. “The young Jedi you’ve been gallivanting around with?”

She nodded, flushed with the shame of having this conversation with the man she once fantasized about running away with. She braced for the onslaught.

“I can’t believe you were this careless. We taught you better than that! This is what comes from following your loyalties and leaving the Guild – when you try to exercise your talent for manipulation you launch yourself into more trouble than you were in to begin with!”

She looked at him in some surprise. This wasn’t going exactly as she would have expected. He continued his diatribe.

“Really Arresta – sticking your nose into Jedi business, running around with Republic Intelligence – you should be smarter than this. You always did swear you’d do anything to complete a mission – I’d have thought you would have been clever enough to come up with something other than a fake romance. Clearly the fool boy isn’t in the picture now or you wouldn’t have invited me back here. I can’t imagine what advantage you thought you were going to gain. Does he know?”

She shook her head, irked that Stefan was so dismissive of her, not bothering to correct his assertions. He wasn’t entirely wrong – she certainly had intended her flirtations with Tarn to help her gather information for the trial – but the fact that Stefan was this convinced that she couldn’t possibly have any romantic interest in another man was bothersome.

She opened her mouth to reply, but he laid a finger across her lips. “Don’t say anything, pet – there’s really nothing more to add.” With that, he turned and swept out the doorway. Overwhelmed, she sank onto a bench and told herself that men were impossible – and tonight she’d allow herself a good cry after she went to bed. Slowly she rose and moved to change her clothes, thinking how bitter a pill it was to find Stefan again only to lose him so rapidly.

She was surprised then, when her door chimes rang an hour later and Stefan strode inside. Thinking he had returned to castigate her again she didn’t notice the ring he was holding in his hand until he held it up to her face.

“Stefan…….what is this?” She noticed that in the evening light, the ring shone with a brilliant fire – but she couldn’t imagine this was what she thought it was.

He looked somewhat surprised that she felt the need to ask. “It is what it looks like. You and I have always been at our best when we’re together. As far as I’m concerned, nothing about that has changed, except that we’ll move things along a little more formally than I’d expected. You’ll marry me and as far as you, I or the galaxy are concerned – the child will be mine.”

“You can’t really mean that!” After she’d returned to Mongui from her training, she’d often fantasized that she and Stefan would one day marry and travel the galaxy – at the time, they’d been silly dreams that she’d known could never be realized.

“I always mean what I say Arresta – you should know that. My passion has always been my work, but lately, I find my enthusiasm is lacking. I’ve been pondering that for a good while and I had come to the conclusion that you were the problem. Or rather, that your absence was the problem. I let you go once, because your duty compelled you to chase after some silly notion of family loyalty. Don’t ask me to let you go again.”

“But…..how…..” She couldn’t seem to think straight.

“We’ll simply marry immediately and in a few weeks we’ll announce we are expecting. When the time comes, we’ll claim that the child has arrived a few weeks early.”

She felt overwhelmed. Here, in one moment, he was presenting the solutions to all of her problems. It was too good to be true. “I don’t…..I don’t know….”

He pulled her close and kissed her, closing the ring into her palm by wrapping his own hands around hers. “Marry me.” He kissed her again and she felt her resistance crumbling. “Marry me and start over.”

Arresta took a deep breath to calm her pounding heart. She looked into Stefan’s eyes. “When do we leave?”
Scarcely a day later, Arresta stood in the elegantly appointed room that had been set aside for her bridal preparations. Putting the final touches on her make-up and upswept hair, she admired the effect of the thinly braided golden chain across her brow, with the deep sapphire marriage stone dangling from it. A little touch of home, even though she was far away, and far beyond Mongui, now.

She was quite impressed with the location Stefan had chosen for their wedding. They were guests at a small resort, highly favoured by the wealthy and elite, on a minor planet not far from Coruscant. In just a few short moments, she would walk down the beach and join Stefan and the minister who would perform the ceremony.

In the mirror, she caught a glimpse of Stefan’s wedding gift, sitting where she had unwrapped it. Two silver plated blaster pistols, custom designed for her, each engraved with the phrase “Kill’em dead, baby”. She had laughed when she opened them. Stefan had exquisite taste – and he was making it clear that even though she had held to her determination not to return to the Guild – that he wasn’t giving up hope.

She was very pleased with the dress she’d managed to find, on such short notice. A silk gown made of a blue so icy pale it seemed almost white, with a high neckline in front, offset by a plunging open back. The effect was rather flattering, especially when paired with the shimmering veil tucked into her hair and sweeping the floor at her heels. In another tradition of Mongui, the veil did not cover her face but hung from only behind her – to symbolize that she was walking into this marriage with her eyes open.

She reached around to close the last fasteners at the small of her back, and for a moment her fingers fumbled and she was somewhere else. That night, her dress had been red and she’d had to ask for help. She recalled warm hands on her back and lips against her neck. The same hands that had helped her to put on the dress had later helped her to remove it…

She remembered the glow she had felt at being the focus of so much attention. At how well they had worked together to piece together the mystery of who was framing them. She remembered the way he had brushed her hair from her face – and warm words that had frightened her and thrilled her at the same time.

“Princess - The only order I would ever refuse would be to stop loving you.”

Shaking herself back into the present, Arresta scowled at her reflection irritably and muttered angrily when she noticed tell-tale tear stains in her make-up. She focused on obtaining perfection and ruthlessly quashed any further pangs. She had to forget that night had ever happened – that any of those nights had ever happened. The past was full of lies. It was the future that was important and Stefan was her future.

Thinking of her betrothed brought up other, equally concerning thoughts. She couldn’t deny her feelings for him, but she had more than herself to consider now. Was she making the right choice, binding herself and her child to a man that could be considerably more than dangerous?

Tarn would never approve. The thought flashed through her mind before she could stop it. It was true – nothing would have upset the Jedi more than to imagine a man of Stefan’s character raising his child. Perhaps oddly, that thought strengthened her intention to go through with it.

Stefan made her feel appreciated – and wanted. He was willing to go out on a limb for her, just to prove how much she mattered. He would never pretend that nothing had ever happened between them.

It was time to make a new beginning. She vowed to herself that she would forget Tarn Tamarand completely – just as he had forgotten about her.

With one last glance at her reflection, Arresta glided out of the room to complete the ceremony that would join her with Stefan and make her, officially and forevermore, Princess Arresta Augustine Eugenie D’Avalos Cassadine. She didn’t look back.
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Stepping Out

Although Pride has come to an end (at least here in Toronto, where I live at the epicenter of GLBT-ness, near Church & Wellesley), it'll continue on this blog: now that I've finished reprinting my magazine articles, I'm going to start adding some stuff I wrote for Stepping Out.

Stepping Out was the first GLBT monthly newspaper in Lincoln, NE. It was started by a lesbian couple in 2000, around the time when a major anti-gay amendment was added to the state constitution. Beginning with the first issue, I signed on to write book reviews and--if you can believe it--an advice column! My short-lived emulation of Dear Abby required a bi female to counterbalance my bi-maleness, so it was a joint advice column titled Queeriosity (hey, it seemed clever at the time). The advice column only last four issues (simply put, only one person ever wrote in, so we had to make up both questions and answers), but I wrote book reviews through issue # 7 and then I guess I just got too busy (my memory of why I left Stepping Out is fuzzy; as is my memory of how long it continued).

Believe it or not, I even had my one starring turn as a cartoonist, which featured a drawing of me dispensing "Words of Wisdom" while dressed in a cape with tights and the logo "Super J" on my chest. Yes, really. I had a goatee and everything.

Doomsday Deck

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)


By Diana G. Gallagher (2000)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Third Season

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Angel, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, Joyce, Anya

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Justine Camille (tarot reader & artist); Rob Chambers (photo journalist)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “It’s that time of the year for the Sunnydale Sidewalk Art Festival, and Buffy and the gang have been enlisted to help Joyce prepare for the big event. In fact, Xander’s especially eager to pitch in, due to the arrival of a major hottie--a young artist named Justine. She specializes in Tarot paintings, and tells Xander that she senses much energy surrounding his aura. Xander naturally assumes his latent psychic powers have been awakened. But Buffy’s not quite ready to call the psychic hot line. She has a nagging suspicion that something about Justine is not five by five--especially after she reaches for Justine’s prized Tarot deck, which causes the artist to fly off the handle in a big way. Then there’s the fact that vampires appear uncomfortable in Justine’s presence. One by one, each of Buffy’s closest friends seem to be surrendering their free will to an unknown, unseen force. . . .”


If nothing else, Doomsday Deck contains a great insight into how Xander perceives his relationship with Buffy: he’s like an extra stake in her back pocket, “handy to have around, but not irreplaceable.” Xander’s sense of himself as a relatively extraneous, snack-gathering appendage to the Scooby Gang was a major aspect of his characterization until the end of Season Six, and author Diana Gallagher portrays this insecurity well in the first half of her novel.

The plot of the book is developed better than in many other Buffy novels. Doomsday Deck acknowledges that the reader will inevitably point to any major new character as the villain of the piece, and instead develops an air of mystery around exactly what her malevolent plans are and how they will unfold. In short, artist and tarot-card reader Justine Camille plans to trap one human soul in each of her 22 tarot paintings to fulfill an ancient book’s prophecy that doing so will give her heart’s desire (in this case, becoming a famous artist in New York). There’s also a rather trite and undeveloped use of Kali (Goddess of Chaos) thrown into the mix somewhere, but the book focuses on Justine’s visit to Sunnydale and her inevitable conflict with Buffy and Co.

Along the way, of course, several of Buffy’s friends get their souls trapped in the cards and Buffy has to race against time to free them before their bodies die.

The end of the novel suffers from an over-long climax, and the backstory as to how Justine found the book and decided to use the cards should have been fleshed out more (a failing common to many Buffy episodes, where the supernatural villain or device appears out of practically nowhere and is never seen again after the story is over). The dialogue is passable but lacks the witty one-liners of a good episode. On the other hand, the use of tarot cards is integrated well into the story, and many of the readings that Justine performs for the Scoobies are intriguing. Fans of Buffy’s mom (a.k.a. Joyce) will also be pleased to see the more active role the character takes in helping her daughter.

All in all, Doomsday Deck is one of the better middle-tier Buffy books, and a good example of how to successfully use something in a story (tarot) that could easily have come off as gimmicky and stupid.

Mark Hazzard: Merc

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Comics That Time Forgot--the last one!)

Mark Hazzard: Merc

No. 1-12, Annual # 1 (Marvel, 1986-1987)

Created By: Archie Goodwin

Scripts: Peter David (# 1-4); Doug Murray (# 5-12, Annual # 1)

Pencils: Gray Morrow (# 1, 2, 8, 10, 11); Alan Kupperberg (# 3, 4); Mark Beachum (# 5); Vince Giarrano (# 6, 12); Val Maverik (# 7); Vince Colletta (# 8); Andy Kubert (# 9); Vincent Waller (Annual # 1)

Inks: Gray Morrow (# 1, 2, 8); Jack Fury (# 3-5); “Manny Hands” (# 6); Val Maverik (# 7); Vince Colletta (# 8, 10, 11); Adam Kubert (# 9); Pat Redding (# 12); Fraja Bator (Annual # 1)Letters: Bill Oakley (# 1); Rick Parker (# 2-5); Albers (# 3); Jack Morelli (# 6); Andy Kubert (# 6, 9); Kurt Hathaway (# 7, 8, 10-12, Annual # 1)

Colors: Andy Yanchus (# 1, 3, 4); D. Martin (# 2); Adam G. Wellington (# 5); John Wellington (# 6-12, Annual # 1)

Editor: Jim Owsley (# 1-4); Blaustein & Redding (# 5); Larry Hama (# 6-12, Annual # 1)

After its first year in existence, half of Marvel’s New Universe line was cancelled. Perhaps most deserving among the early casualties was Mark Hazzard: Merc, a rather uninspired attempt to capitalise (one must assume) on the Punisher’s popularity.

The series’ namesake character is a former Vietnam-vet turned mercenary who provides for his family by taking the standard soldier-of-fortune type of jobs--everything from killing terrorists or helping start a revolution to acting as a politician’s bodyguard. Hazzard’s ex-wife and son appeared in the series with relative frequency, as did a bland collection of fellow mercenaries: a chopper pilot named Treetop, an explosives expert named Mal, and a martial arts expert named Priestess.

The first few issues (written by Peter David) are surprisingly good, as Hazzard tries to juggle family obligations with a professional life--indeed, David manages to give Hazzard something akin to a personality and a sense of humour, traits sorely lacking in later issues. When Doug Murray takes over with issue five, lacklustre plots and cardboard characters make the series far less exciting than a combat comic should be. As the credits demonstrate, there never was a set art team on the series, and the quality between issues varies widely. In a real way, it just doesn’t seem like anyone at Marvel cared about Mark Hazzard: Merc; there was never a letters page, a text page, pin-ups, or (as far as I know) ads for the comic in other New Universe titles.

Lacking the kitchy originality of Kickers, Inc., the quality scripts of D.P.-7, or the interesting protagonist of Nightmask, Mark Hazzard: Merc just doesn’t have much to offer. Indeed, the only interesting footnote about the series is that it is one of the very few I’ve ever seen kill off the title character before the final issue. In the annual (the best of the later issues), Hazzard’s friends and relatives reminisce about how they met Hazzard, as he lays dying from gunshot wounds in a hospital bed. For Mark Hazzard (and for the reader), death must have been a relief--even if his short-lived replacement wasn’t any better.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sixty Years of "Mere Christianity"

From the Archives (Columns)


Published in: Free Inquiry (Feb/Mar 2004)

Sixty years ago, in 1943, C.S. Lewis delivered the first in a series of lectures that would eventually be published as Mere Christianity. Lewis, author of the popular Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and the Perelandra science fiction stories, was one of the most famous Christian apologists of his time and Mere Christianity was the culmination of his efforts to, in his words, “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”(1)

In the decades since its initial publication, Mere Christianity has been tremendously influential and has gathered a reputation as a successful conversion tool. I approached the book with (metaphorical) fear and trembling, both from the warnings of my fellow atheists and from the fact that I respected Lewis as a writer and as an intellectual—would this be the climactic end of my long period of godlessness? Would I put the book down, stunned by its sheer persuasiveness, and immediately fall to my knees in abject prayer?

As to both questions, I can safely report “no.” Indeed, the book is rather disappointing, both in its lack of philosophical rigor and Lewis’ seeming satisfaction that he had conclusively proved both God’s existence and the essentials of Christianity in just the first third of the book, with plenty of space left over to devote to the particulars of how good Christians ought to behave.

Lewis offers only a single, rather simple “proof” that God exists. He starts with the questionable assertion that if God did create the universe, he would leave no evidence of his existence within it. Next, he asserts that, throughout human history, an essential core of shared morality has existed, regardless of time or culture. Finally, since everyone has this inherent knowledge of right and wrong, we must ask how this knowledge came to be; according to Lewis, the only rational answer is that God placed this knowledge within us. In a sense, Lewis has reversed the classic formulation of writers such as Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and theologians such as Buber and Niebuhr, that belief in the existence of God is necessary for the existence of morality. Under Lewis’ view, the existence of morality is a given and thus proves God’s existence. As Lewis puts it: "If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions? In the only case where you can expect to get an answer, the answer turns out to be Yes[.]"(2)

The crux of Lewis’ argument, and its major weakness, is his assertion that humanity has always shared a certain core morality: “though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great—not nearly so great as most people imagine—and you can recognize the same law running through them all[.]”(3)

Taken at face value, this assertion seems to simply fly in the face of all available evidence. Volumes of anthropological research demonstrate the different moral codes human societies have had, and the differences between them cannot be considered minor—unless permissible forms of sexuality,(4) punishment,(5) and even homicide(6) are “minor” issues.

Put another way, up until the past few centuries, most of human history was marked by slavery, racism, and the oppression of women. If God “placed” a sense of morality in every human being from the very beginning of time, he apparently didn’t do a very good job of it because there is little evidence that practitioners of these policies suffered great pangs of conscience over their actions. Indeed, even if there has been a common “core” of moral conduct throughout human history, it stands to reason that this core exists because it is necessary for society itself to exist—one need not invoke “God” to explain its existence.

After this dubious “proof” of God’s existence, Lewis turns to his argument as to why Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. His argument is short, but seems persuasive, at least at first:"[P]eople often say about [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. "(7)

In a general sense, the first problem with this argument is that it simply proves too much. According to the logic that every one is either a lunatic, a liar, or the real thing, unless we can discover proof of insanity or intentional deception, Mohammed is really the chosen prophet of Allah, Siddhartha knew the way to Nirvana, and L. Ron Hubbard discovered the true nature of the human mind. Thousands of people are convinced they’ve been abducted by aliens, encountered ghosts, or met Bigfoot. We don’t need to think that all these people are pathological liars or certifiably insane; people can hold fantastic beliefs about themselves due to confusion, temporary hallucination, religious faith and fervor, or just plain wishful thinking. Not all of them are frauds, mental patients, or the real thing, and there’s no reason to think the historical Jesus is any different.

The second problem with Lewis’ argument is the ease in which he decides Jesus is Lord God instead of a liar or a lunatic, when reliable evidence to make the choice is simply not available. In fact, very little is known about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and it’s doubtful whether he ever claimed to be divine at all. According to religious scholar Karen Armstrong: "After his death, his followers decided that Jesus had been divine. This did not happen immediately; as we shall see, the doctrine that Jesus had been God in human form was not finalized until the fourth century. The development of Christian belief in the Incarnation was a gradual, complex process. Jesus himself certainly never claimed to be God."(8)

When every detail about a person, from how he lived to what he said, is a true mystery, it seems illogical to try to decide what kind of person he really was—especially about a matter so important as to whether or not he was the Son of God.

Sixty years after its first formulation, and forty years after its author’s death, Mere Christianity doesn’t hold up very well to critical examination, unlike some of his other work such as The Screwtape Letters. Although the fact that Lewis was writing for a general audience merits some forgiveness, his simple refusal to respond to the powerful atheist views of other public intellectuals, such as Bertrand Russel, leads a modern reader to feel he either held his readership’s intelligence in low regard or that he was afraid that responding to serious atheist arguments would lead his audience even further away from Christianity. Regardless, from all accounts, Lewis was a kind man, sincere in his faith but never narrow-minded. His other work merits attention, however, even if Mere Christianity does not.

1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan Pub. Co., Inc. (1977) [1960], at 6.
2. Lewis, supra note 1, at 33.
3. Lewis, supra note 1, at 24.
4. See, e.g., Stephen O. Murray, Homosexualities, Univ. Chi. Press (2000) (discussing widely differing views on the morality of homosexuality throughout modern and ancient societies).
5. See, e.g., Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage Books (1995), trans. Alan Sheridan (discussing widely differing views on the morality of flogging, torture, and capital punishment throughout modern and ancient societies).
6. See, e.g., James Rachel, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill, Inc. (1993) at 23-24 (discussing how certain societies approve of infanticide).
7. Lewis, supra note 1, at 56. This argument is popular among modern apologists as well. See, e.g., Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, Here’s Life Publishers (1990) at 245 (“Who you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle intellectual exercise. You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord and God.”).
8. Karen Armstrong, A History of God, Ballantine Books (1994) at 81. See also, Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, HarperCollins (1997) at 143 (“in calling him Christ and in testifying to his redemptive role we are making statements of faith that are not historically provable, though they are related to historical evidence. The Gospels were written at least a generation after his death, and they reflect the experience and theological interpretations of the early Christian community.”); Richard H. Nethe, “The Demystification of Belief Systems,” The Humanist, Jul/Aug 2001 at 38 (“So far, the Jesus who emerges from these studies takes on many forms. It turns out that the scholars cannot agree as to how he lived, whether he was married, if he had brothers and sisters, the exact date of his birth or death, and where he lived between the years 20 and 30 of the Common Era.”).

Here Be Monsters

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)


By Cameron Dokey (2000)

RATING: 2/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Three

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Xander, Willow, Angel, Giles, Cordelia, Oz, Joyce

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Big Mama/Zahalia Walker (Civil War vampire); Webster & Percy (Big Mama’s vampire sons); Heidi Lindstrom (victim); Suz Tompkins (victim’s friend); Nemesis (other-dimensional entity of judgment)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Something icky is brewing, as usual, in Sunnydale. This time it’s in the form of two clean-cut, prep school-type boys. Buffy’s suspicious from the start--their fashion statement is so old it’s dead, and it seems they have a slightly unnatural attachment to their mother. But then, almost everything about these boys is unnatural--they’re vampires. Not ordinary vampires, either--they are descendants of a clan known for its ability to summon powerful occult forces. And when the Slayer dusts this dynamic duo, she learns what you get when you mess with a vamp family tree. Now it’s up to Buffy to battle her personal demons--or risk endangering her own most cherished relation. Because mama vamp has something in mind for Joyce. . . .”


Here Be Monsters starts out strong, with a creepy, unique depiction of two vampires dragging a helpless victim home to their “Mama”. Big Mama, wife of a Confederate civil war soldier, works hard to bring her two boys up “proper” as Southern gentlemen in a world of declining social values (a.k.a, present-day Sunnydale). Cameron Dokey does a good job with making Big Mama come alive (so to speak) as an insanely over-protective mother, and the crazed fury that results when Buffy and Angel stake her two boys makes the first half of the novel an enjoyable read.

Unfortunately, things rapidly go down hill from there. Big Mama rather predictably kidnaps Joyce, and then the story takes a real turn for the worse when a silly, wise-talking other-dimensional entity known only as Nemesis is invoked in order to test whether Buffy loves her mom more than Big Mama loved her kids. The Trial has Buffy go through the standard mindgames (fighting her younger selves, having visions of friends being murdered) before fighting a giant spider. A limp moral is the final touch on an altogether cheesy ending.

Dokey shows real potential in the early chapters of the book--the banter between Buffy and Angel is crisp and witty, the action is fast-paced and interesting, and there is a very strong interlude with Joyce putting pictures in a scrapbook while ruminating about her daughter’s life. The verdict of the Trial is clear, however: Here Be Monsters is a Buffy book best avoided.

Talos, of the Wilderness Sea

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Comics That Time Forgot)

Talos of the Wilderness Sea

Issue # 1 (DC Comics, One-Shot, 1987)

Script: Gil Kane & Jan Strnad

Art: Gil Kane

Letters: Gaspar

Colors: Greg Theakston

Editor: Julius Schwartz

Originally planned as a twelve-issue maxi-series, Gil Kane’s Talos of the Wilderness Sea was released by DC as a 45-page one-shot in 1987, with a hope that future installments would follow should fan interest warrant (apparently it didn’t). Although the cover art makes Talos look like a standard Conan-type of barbarian, Kane & Strnad actually came through with a very different story.

In a post-nuclear armegeddon future, the lands around the Wilderness Sea are inhabited by two communities: the beast-people, radiation-deformed slaves and the Zar, normal humans who have forced the beast-people to serve them. One day a miraculous event occurs: the offspring of two beast-people is a perfectly formed human baby. Kidnapped and raised as a prince of the Zar people, Carn learns the way of a warrior but grows increasingly sympathetic to the beast-people’s plight. In true messianic fashion, he learns that he is actually the incarnation of their god, Talos, and that it is his destiny to lead the beast-people into freedom.

Talos certainly has its share of sword-fighting, tiger-riding, and other fantasy staples. As an introduction to Carn and the launching-pad of what Kane hoped would be an epic fantasy story, the one-shot succeeds. Although a bit simplistic at times, Talos is a solid story with good art. Hardcore sword-and-sorcery fans shouldn’t hesitate to seek it out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 20

This session sees the heroes going undercover for one of the only times so far in the campaign--they pulled it off quite well, too. The main thing I remember about this session is that our pair of hard nosed, blaster-toting secret agents (who have no shame in shootin' a bloke dead if he looks cross-eyed at 'em) draw the line at getting involved in the spice trade, even if it's part of an undercover operation. It's one of the few times someone has drawn a strict moral line in the campaign, and I was quite surprised when it occurred (especially around something I consider relatively benign).


Having succeeded in uncovering a clone trooper smuggling ring, Arresta D'avilos and Zero have proven themselves to Republic Intelligence. With the Republic fighting a war on a thousand fronts, the need for agents is great, and few duos can match the combination of street smarts and royal upbringing presented this unique pairing. But now the test is over, and the real work begins . . .

[AG 212]

As Arresta enters her luxury apartment fresh from a day shopping, she hears voices coming from her living room and realizes that Agent 2719 is interrogating her protocol droid about the prior threats and attacks on her life. The Republic Intelligence agent has come bearing another mission for Arresta and Zero--he wants them to trace the profits, used to support Separatist terror cells, from the sell of a new, unusual kind of spice. According to the agent, representatives of the spice's manufacturer will deliver the shipment at the Onyx Ring, one of the many establishments owned by notorious spicelord Volven Roxe. The two sellers are a Sullustan known to the authorities named Tyrus Sweedle and an armored figure known only as "Mr. X." The mission is to capture the two sellers and figure out where the money is going.

Arresta fills Zero in on the plan and then heads out to buy an armored suit of the same type as "Mr. X", while Zero arranges to purchase several tracer darts and a used aircar. Zero uses some info provided by Arresta to get Prosecutor Rap-Seri to confirm that a warrant is out for Tyrus Sweedle, but otherwise Rap-Seri doesn't seem to know about what's going on.

Zero and Arresta arrive early at the Onyx Ring, an usual club that requires landing upside down on a plate-like building. Soon, the pair see Sweedle and Mr. X enter. Zero tries to subtly slip a tracking device on Sweedle, but fails miserably and gets caught in the act. Sweedle crushes the tracking dart and makes an exchange with the bartender. After Mr. X catches Zero staring at them during the exchange, he throws a frag grenade and the two book for the exit. They escape during the panic, but not before Arresta manages to hit Sweedle with a tracking dart.

Zero's skillful piloting allows them to catch up to Sweedle and X at a cargo spaceport where the spicer's ship, the Orange Lightning, is docked. A running chase/firefight ensues, with Arresta and Zero jumping on board just as the ship lifts off. Some quick blaster fire drops Mr. X, leaving Sweedle alone in the cockpit. He injects himself with some spice and starts to course with some strange energy, but a stun bolt drops him before he can react. Sweedle is handcuffed and X is revealed to be a manifest droid. Arresta and Zero strip X's memory banks and information from the ship's nav computer, retrieve several bars of precious metals from a steel case carried by X, and then land the shuttle back on Coruscant.

Arresta turns the seized material over to Agent 2719 at a diner called the Redline. He tells her the job is only half done, and that they should follow the trail before the manufacturer gets suspicious. Moments later, the two are attacked by what the agent says are Separatists. Arresta and the agent manage to escape after a short fight. After dropping Sweedle off for interrogation, Arresta and Zero return to the Orange Lightning and follow the coordinates on the nav computer.

[213 AG]

They drop out of hyperspace into a mostly-empty sector of space. Waiting for them, however, is a Z-95 Headhunter. The pilot plans to activate a slave circuit and escort the shuttle to another destination, but asks for the password. Not believing Arresta's and Zero's sudden fabrications, he opens fire. Zero manages to skilfully avoid the stream of laser fire, while Arresta responds in kind and scores several quick direct hits. Soon, the Z-95 is disabled and drifting in space. The ship's pilot is taken prisoner, but Zero destroys the Z-95 moments before learning that the coordinates for the next destination were on board. It seems that the mission is a bust and that they have no choice but to return to Coruscant, but then Zero is hit with sudden inspiration--minutes before the tachyon particles from the Z-95's hyperspace engine fade completely, the young Rodian manages to reconstruct the ship's entry vector. With a bound captive, the Orange Lightning again jumps for hyperspace.

This time they find themselves emerging near a large freighter and its droid starfighter escorts. An automatic response program moves them into docking position with the freighter. Emerging into the freighter's docking bay, Arresta (dressed in X's armor) does some fast talking to convince a trio of gullible B-1 Battle Droids not to shoot Zero. The duplicitious duo then make their way to the ship's main deck, where even Arresta can't stop a B-2 guard from detaining Zero. Arresta is escorted through a production area, full of vats and strange chemical apparatuses--it looks like vials of some sort of red liquid are used as a raw ingredient in the spice manufacture. On the bridge, she meets the ship's captain--an Aqualish named Gaulish Maki. Arresta tells Maki that Zero is the new pilot of the Orange Lightning because "Sweedle overdosed" and that their planned Z-95 escort never showed up. Maki swallows the tale completely and decides to get on with business by assigning Arresta and Zero to make another drop once the ship emerges from hyperspace.

After departing the freighter, Arresta and Zero debate what they should do in the Orange Lightning. Should they make another drop and wait for an opportunity to find out how the freighter is connected to the Separatists, or should they return to Coruscant immediately? With neither wanting to sully themselves in the drug trade, the latter option is chosen.

Back on Coruscant, Agent 2719 seems disappointed but turns over the usual fee.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Finding a God-less Morality


Finding a God-less Morality

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

The Humanist, Sep.-Oct. 2002

"All great truths begin as blasphemies."

--George Bernard Shaw

When certain people become distraught by such things as a terrorist act, rising HIV rates, or an increase in teen pregnancy, they often proclaim that the problem is that we have drifted away from God. The idea, in its most basic form, is that a belief in God is essential to "morality." With a little work, one can find that both theologians and statesmen historically favored this view. Even many of the so-called founding fathers, largely deists, took this position. For example, in his farewell address as president, George Washington stated that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

The idea that a belief in God is essential to morality is a provocative one because it can erase the need for a dialogue on whether God actually exists. Advocates of this position can argue that whether or not he exists, people should believe in God for the benefit of society.

In its crassest form, this is purely a utilitarian appeal. Without morality, the argument goes, there will be no sanction against evil, and therefore, people will be unhappy because crime will run rampant. Of course, if the mechanism of religion's promotion of morality is through fear (of Hell) and reward (of Heaven), there is no reason a secular society cannot provide equally powerful inducements for "good" behavior. Although perhaps not as grandiose as eternal punishment, life in prison, death or torture are all powerful ways to induce desired behavior. Similarly, many people would gladly act for earthly wealth and power and could never be swayed by promises of a future paradise in the sky.

There are, however, more serious arguments from God to morality that merit our consideration. In his Herculean attempt to provide a purely rational morality that was categorically and universally binding on all people, Immanuel Kant argued that all actions should be taken in accordance with predetermined maxims and all people should be treated as ends, not as mere means. Although he believed we should not seek happiness for its own sake, he believed that by following the categorical imperatives, we would make ourselves worthy of happiness.

Ironically, although he believed that there were no rational reasons for believing in God, Kant argued that a belief in him was necessary for morality. He believed that a God must exist who rewards virtue in a future state, "for otherwise all the subjectively necessary duties which I am under obligation as a rational being to perform lose their objective reality. Why should I make myself worthy of happiness by means of moral conduct if there exists no Being who can secure me this happiness?"

The problem with Kant’s view is quite clear: he is treating a belief in God itself as a mere means to an end, thereby violating his most sacred principle. He is unconcerned with the truth of whether or not such a creature exists and is instead using the idea to further a consequentialist agenda. As Kantian scholar Theodore Green said, "God still remains, in Kant's argument, deus ex machina introduced to resolve our moral perplexities, the great Paymaster who is to reward us for our moral efforts. But surely, if on Kant's own principles, it is wrong to use men merely as means to our own ends; we are not entitled to bring God into our scheme of things primarily as a means to our ultimate happiness."

Finally, we come to the third and perhaps the most important use of the argument that God is essential to morality. This is the view taken by many modern theologians and holds that although a secular society can provide means to reach any end, it cannot choose which ends to seek without religious belief. This argument has some merit: after all, it follows Nietzsche's greatest insight: "Skepticism about morality is what is decisive. The ending of the moral interpretation of the world, which no longer has any sanction after it has tried to escape into some metaphysical beyond, leads to nihilism."

But while this proves that there is no rational way to prove that our ends are "correct" and our "morality" is binding on individuals, it does not prevent a society from coming to a consensus on what goals it wishes to seek.

So while we cannot prove that everyone should seek happiness, for example, we can understand that the vast majority of us do seek it and attempt to fashion a society that fosters it. Such a society might institute the maxims of utilitarianism. Similarly, we could decide that justice, understood as fairness, is the most important end we want to seek and institute a Rawlsian view of society.

In the end, we should not simply ask whether morality is possible without religion, but whether morality exists with religion. In their 1995 book The Bible Tells Me So: Uses and Abuses of Holy Scripture, Jim Hill and Rand Cheadle demonstrate how identifying oneself as "Christian" tells us little more than that one believes in the divinity of Christ. On every single pressing moral issue there have been Christians on both sides of the debate. Whether it's homosexuality, slavery, pacifism, capital punishment or abortion, if God is necessary for morality, we still don't know which side is correct.

Those who think that immorality is rampant today because of a lack of religion should heed the words of Bertrand Russell: "In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures; there were [thousands] of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion."

Perhaps people who live in glass houses . . .

(c) Jeremy Patrick, 2002

Deep Water

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)


By Laura Anne Gilman & Josepha Sherman (2000)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Three

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Giles, Willow, Oz, Xander, Cordelia, Angel, Joyce, Willy

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Ariel (selkie), Dr. Julian Lee (marine researcher)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Willow’s soft spot for critters finds her spending a cold winter morning along the coast as part of a volunteer rescue team, cleaning up an oil spill that has damaged the marine habitat. While climbing over some rocks, she discovers another unexpected victim of the spillage--a selkie, a shape-shifting seal girl who won’t be able to return to the sea until the oil is removed from her coat. Willow takes the creature back to the library so that Giles and the Slayerettes can help her to restore her magickal coat. However, though ‘Ariel,’ as the posse dubs her, is endearing in her innocence, Buffy can’t quite shaker her innate suspicions of the creature whose nature, like the ocean, is ever changing. Unfortunately, the spill has forced more than a selkie from the cold water. Merrows look very much like traditional mermaids--with one important and fatal difference. As if things weren’t complicated enough . . .”


The basic plot of Deep Water is relatively simple--Willow discovers a young selkie that has taken the form of a ten-year old girl. Stranded on the beach because of oil on her coat, the selkie is unable to return home unless Willow and Giles can discover a way to return the coat to its natural state. Of course, nice selkies aren’t the only denizens of the ocean--a band of bloodthirsty merrows has decided to make the beaches of Sunnydale their home. Throw a semi-crazed marine biologist and a war between merrows and vampires into the mix, and you have all the makings of what could be a rather cheesy addition to the Buffy canon. Indeed, Deep Water isn’t even the first time the Scooby Gang has faced monsters from the ocean--the Season Two episode “Go Fish” featured a demonic swim team similar in essence to merrows.

However, the authors of Deep Water somehow make the book work. Not only is the story well plotted and paced, the novel contains a rarity among Buffy books: real humor and strong dialogue. Of particular interest is the portrayal of Buffy’s jealousy over Giles’ father-like bond with the selkie girl. Cordelia has some great moments in the book and the turf-war between merrows and vampires is exciting and bloody--indeed, it’s one of the only times I can ever remember cheering for Sunnydale’s most-pummeled inhabitants. Although Deep Water isn’t a deep or moving novel, it does contain the wit and action of a solid Buffy episode and is therefore worth picking up.

Dragon Strike

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Comics That Time Forgot)


# 1, One-Shot, Marvel (1994)

SCRIPT: Jeff Grubb

PENCILS: Mike Harris

INKS: Frank Percy

COLORS: Pat Garrahy & Chris Matthys

LETTERS: Janice Chiang

EDITOR: Glenn Herdling

It seems like every Marvel comic published in 1993 contained an ad for the Dragon Strike board game. Marketed as a sort of introduction to role-playing for pre-teens, the TSR board game cast players as one of a handful of traditional fantasy archetypes: warrior, rogue, wizard, dwarf, or elf. If I remember correctly, it came with a cheesy videotape that somehow tied into the game.

Marvel’s 1994 one-shot, Dragon Strike, was a “prequel” to the board game. In a rather slight story, we see the heroes of the realm (identified only by their profession, not with names) fight various standard fantasy menaces (orcs, undead knights, bandits) before banding together at the end of the comic with the avowed goal of stopping the evil ruler Teraptus and his plan to create a land of permanent darkness.

It’s hard to be critical of a comic obviously meant to introduce younger readers to sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Indeed, the writer seemed to have fun with the story, as there’s some good wisecracks throughout. Other than role-playing tie-in completists, or those looking for a fantasy-themed gift for an adolescent, however, there’s no need for anyone today to track down a copy of Dragon Strike.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ceremonial Deisms


Ceremonial Deisms

Jeremy Patrick jhaeman@hotmail.com

The Humanist, Volume 62, Number 1 (2002)

"When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free."

--Charles Evans Hughes

The proponents of strict separation between church and state have won many important victories in the United States. We’ve seen the end of forced school prayer, religious tests for political office, and the teaching of creationism. Of course, sometimes these issues are reignited under different guises: "moments of silence" in place of school prayer and "intelligent design theory" in place of creationism.

A slightly different but growing controversy in this country is the dispute over the constitutionality of so-called ceremonial deisms. After the terrorist hijackings of September 11, 2001, ceremonial deisms were present almost anytime a government official spoke or an official event was held. Ceremonial deisms are the little things government does to invoke religion in specific circumstances: such as opening sessions of legislature with prayer, placing a reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance, and engraving "In God We Trust" on coins. They’re called deisms because they’re generic references to a supreme being and not references to specific deities, such as Yahweh or Allah.

Until recently, ceremonial deisms laid largely unnoticed in the war for separation between church and state because civil libertarians had so many other important battles to fight. When legal challenges were brought, they were dismissed out of hand as not involving government sponsorship of religion.

For example, although the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue, federal courts have thrice upheld the use of "In God We Trust" on coins. The Ninth Circuit says this is because the inscription "is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." Other courts have held that no objective observer could consider this antiquated view of ceremonial deisms an endorsement of religion.
This may be beginning to change, however. Recently, a federal court held that Ohio’s state motto, "With God All Things Are Possible," violated the separation of church and state. Although reversed on appeal, the court’s decision was sound. If, for example, the state of Nebraska placed the motto "In Capitalism We Trust" on all of its license plates, wouldn’t we say it’s an endorsement of capitalism? Could we truly say the state is neutral on whether people should believe in capitalism, socialism, or communism?

The fact that ceremonial deisms like "In God We Trust" do not name specific religious figures is irrelevant. Even the term god excludes many religions. Wiccans who believe in a goddess are excluded, as are Hindus who believe in several gods instead of one. Native Americans who believe in nature and earth spirits are also excluded. For them, the implication is that they aren’t part of the "We" and therefore are somehow less than American.

The Constitution not only bars the government from favoring a particular religion but also from favoring religion over nonreligion. Any objective observer would be forced to admit that a phrase like "In God We Trust" clearly indicates that theism is preferred to atheism or agnosticism. Research studies, of course, could easily show what citizens believe such symbols mean, but courts have invariably held that they can readily tell what an "objective observer" would think without the use of empirical evidence.

When courts act irrationally like this, religious minorities can only see ceremonial deisms as a cry for conformity instead of diversity.

Some courts uphold ceremonial deisms because they believe there is no real harm done. These courts, however, overlook the fact that the existence of ceremonial deisms is used to support other unconstitutional practices. As legal scholar Steven Epstein put it, "The implications of ceremonial deisms are far-reaching because courts frequently employ this amorphous concept as a springboard from which to hold that other challenged practices do not violate the establishment clause."

Religious conservatives have also realized this and often invoke ceremonial deisms to justify other laws. For example, according to the Associated Press, when the Colorado Board of Education considered whether to display "In God We Trust" in public schools, supporters said they "believe the courts cannot object to a phrase that appears on U.S. currency." Advocates of displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools, placing nativity scenes on public property, and having prayers at graduation ceremonies have all used similar arguments.

The line between church and state isn’t always easy to draw. It doesn’t require government hostility toward religion. But the free exercise rights of citizens don’t include the right to use the government as a vehicle to spread their beliefs.

Supreme Court precedent indicates that the government cannot use a religious means to accomplish a secular end. There is nothing served by ceremonial deisms (such as rendering an occasion "solemn") that cannot be accomplished by nonreligious invocations. The harm ceremonial deisms cause, on the other hand, is very real: they marginalize religious minorities and add strength to those who advocate even more entanglement between religion and government.

And if ceremonial deisms are really so nonreligious in character, who do religious conservatives fight so strongly for their preservation?

(c) Jeremy Patrick 2002

Ghoul Trouble

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)


John Passarella (2000)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Third Season

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Angel, Cordelia, Oz, Joyce, Principal Snyder

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Skull John (vampire boss); Carole Burzon (school counselor); Troy Douglas (Cordelia’s ex-boyfriend); Solitaire (main villain); Lupa, Carnie, Nash, and Rave (ghouls)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY “Something wicked has been preying on Sunnydale students--and whatever it is, its methods are pretty gruesome. Buffy locates some human bones that have been picked clean, and knows that she’s dealing with an unearthly evil. Some help from the Scooby Gang would be ideal, but they’ve run into trouble of their own. Oz and Xander are literally (perhaps unnaturally) mesmerized by a hottie new chick band headlining at the Bronze, and Willow has been captured by Sunnydale’s latest resident carnivores. What they need is the Slayer. But in order to help her friends, Buffy must first dust a vampire--one that has an urgent interest in Joyce Summers, the unique ability to resist sunlight, and an open invitation to the Summers’ house . . .”


Ghoul Trouble is comprised of two distinct threads. The first is the arrival of Solitaire in Sunnydale, an ancient vampire with the ability to resist sunlight and a penchant for fighting duels against the toughest warriors around; naturally, he decides to see how tough Buffy is. The second plot is the arrival of a pack of flesh-eating ghouls disguised as a girl band, intent on both adding a new member to the band and conducting a special ritual by eating a Slayer’s heart.

The Solitaire thread is by far the worse of the two. In a stunningly clichéd opening chapter, we see Solitaire crash a biker bar and kill thirteen bikers to demonstrate to the reader how tough he is; for a similar purpose, he kills a local vampire boss by the name of Skull John and beats the crap out of Angel. The problem is that Solitaire has absolutely no personality to speak of--indeed, his only peculiarity is the even more clichéd habit of leaving playing cards on the bodies of his victims. His kidnapping of Joyce to lure Buffy into a fight is right out of season three’s Helpless. Fortunately, the final battle between Buffy and Solitaire has some good action sequences and at least one good surprise.

Although also not an original idea, the scenes involving the ghoul band are better written and more fun. There are some good moments where Xander is (once again) seduced by demons, and a very funny scene where Willow and Xander discuss the pros and cons of her eating his flesh to become a ghoul. Angel, Cordelia, and Oz all receive some attention and good characterization.

Overall, Ghoul Trouble is a slightly below average Buffy book. The poor Solitaire plot is balanced to some degree by the better ghoul plot. Not one to seek out, but perhaps worth reading if starved for some Buffy action.

Slash Maraud

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Comics That Time Forgot)


# 1-6, Limited Series, DC (1987-1988)

SCRIPT: Doug Moench (# 1-6)

ART: Paul Gulacy (# 1-6)

COLORIST: Adrienne Roy (# 1-5); Unknown (# 6)

LETTERER: John Costanza (# 1-6)

EDITOR: Doug Moench (# 1- 6); Andy Helfer (# 1-6)

Tales of brave humans banding together to throw off the yoke of alien rulers have been a staple of speculative fiction for decades now, and comics are no exception. Many of the classic “weird science” stories of the 1950s used this basic plot, as did countless mainstream super hero stories. Modern storytellers have not abandoned the device either, as witnessed by movies and shows like Independence Day, Mars Attacks, Alien Nation, and more. It may be that such stories appeal to a need to cast aliens as the “other” and ascribe the worst of humanity’s faults to them, leaving mankind with a clear reason to set aside its internal differences against a common foe.

DC’s 1987 miniseries Slash Maraud is an interesting example of the alien subjugation genre. The eponymous comic chronicles the protagonist’s reluctant decision to lead a revolution against an alien race called the Shapers. The Shapers, fur-covered aliens with the ability to change their shapes, have completely subjugated the Earth and dismantled all armed resistance. In an attempt to make the world their own, they have undertaken to convert the Earth’s atmosphere into one more to their liking--unfortunately, the result will be the death of all of humanity. Of course, a desperate plan is put into motion by the resistance to keep this from happening.

Doug Moench creates an interesting, if not completely original, antihero in the form of Slash Maraud. When the story begins, Maraud is so disgusted with humanity in general that he sees no value in preserving the species--instead, he spends his time alone as a “rover” in uninhabited areas. He’s reluctantly drawn into the resistance movement by his off-again, on-again girlfriend, Wild Blue, a woman who has let herself be used by the Shapers in order to ferret out their plans. Together, the pair learn of a brilliant Shaper scientist who has defected to the resistance, and is willing to help stop the extermination process. They rescue this Shaper, known only as Mr. X, from a gang of human cannibals, meeting an ultra-feminist group called the Damazons along the way. Subsequent issues tell of how Maraud and Wild Blue gather a small army to help put Mr. X’s plan in motion.

Slash Maraud has several interesting features. First, the Shapers aren’t presented as the standard tyrannical aliens--after defeating Earth’s militaries, they mostly leave the humans alone to do what they want. Indeed, a major theme of the series is how would-be colonizers often end up becoming assimilated into the occupied culture--one of the prominent Shaper leaders, for example, is addicted to Fritos, Twinkies, Elvis, and sex with strippers. Second, the series avoids the standard happy ending that plagues most alien domination stories--the resistance in Slash Maraud stops the extermination, but the alien domination will continue; even the romance between Maraud and Wild Blue doesn’t end up unscathed. Finally, as an early example of a DC “mature readers” title, we see some of the earliest lesbian and gay male characters, albeit in minor roles. The dialogue is well done (e.g., humans who collaborate with the aliens are disparaged as “fuzz lickers”) and the graphic violence definitely fits the mood of the series. Overall, Slash Maraud is an overlooked series that still holds up well today, and is worth seeking out.

Best Practices for Legal Education

In 2001, the Clinical Legal Education Association established a committee to study the education of lawyers in the U.S. and offer recommendations for improvement: the result is Best Practices for Legal Education: a Vision and a Road Map (2007). Detailed reports like this rarely make for fun reading, but they can offer a comprehensive evaluation of a field and suggest detailed improvements.

The Best Practices for Legal Education report comes down hard on American law schools for what it perceives as major failings: licensed lawyers unable to competently practice law, too much focus on lecturing and the Socratic method, too much emphasis on single end-of-year exams, a "wasted" second and third year, etc. As the report is written by the Clinical Legal Education Association, it's probably not surprising that the report's primary cure for these ails is more clinical education, both in-house and through supervised "externships". I don't want to be glib here though, as this is a thoughtful, well-researched report that makes a strong case that law schools often just don't do a very good job at transforming students into lawyers.

I do think more clinical instruction is probably the future of legal education, and this report fits nicely with what the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law is trying to do. (Although, personally, I fit in much better with the old-school use of Socratic method and the teaching of doctrine than I do with a practice-oriented approach).

The difficulty with the Best Practices report is that it seems intended for two very different audiences: law school deans and law school teachers. Law school deans will have difficulty implementing many of the large-scale institutional recommendations because doing so will necessarily limit some of the traditional autonomy of individual faculty members, who tend to hold on tightly to their ancient prerogatives in setting out teaching, curriculum, and evaluation methods. On the other hand, many of the recommendations made to individual faculty members will be difficult to adopt because faculty members (at least the new ones) face a great many expectations from both other faculty members and students to keep doing things the way they've always been done.

In other words, the problem is this: if just one or two junior professors agreed with the report and (for example) decided to do away with the single end-of-year exam for grading in Torts or Constitutional Law, they would probably cause quite an uproar. On the other hand, if the Dean tried to make sweeping changes across the board to get rid of the single end-of-year exam, a handful of professors would probably put up a major fight. This sort of opposition takes a long time and a great measure of cooperation between faculty committees and associations to overcome, which is why legal education, though it does change, tends to change slowly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sacred Texts: The Myth of Historical Literalism

This piece led to one of those rare times where it felt worthwhile to write magazine essays for free: a day or two after e-mailing it in, I got an excited call from the editor saying they would be putting it in the next issue, and they even put a blurb about it on the cover.


SACRED TEXTS: The Myth of Historical Literalism

The Humanist, v. 61, No. 5 (2001)

"Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white."

--William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

"Scrutamini scriptura [let us look at the scriptures]. These two words have undone the world."

--John Selden (1584-1654)


Myths are powerful things. Every society has its own myths because they provide support for a particular worldview. Because myths help provide context and historical legitimacy for that worldview, they are often clung to tenaciously even in the face of evidence that they are false.
In modern America, a substantial portion of our society has the world-view that the country is in a state of moral decay. The alleged causes of this moral decay take various forms, but are often expressed as a belief that America has drifted away from its "sacred texts": the Bible and the Constitution. The argument with both texts is that a literal reading provides moral guidance, while any other way of reading opens the door to the reader substituting his or her own subjective principles for what the text actually says.

For both Biblical literalists and Constitutional literalists, support for their world-view comes from a belief that, since their very creation, the texts were read literally and a moral society was the result. Only in recent years (often the 1960s are cited as the beginning of the fall) have we begun to "interpret" them. The result, they would argue, is society’s moral decay.
Scholar Rondal R. Garet summarizes the view in this way:

The rhetoric of literalism suggests that texts offer a fundamental access to meaning, and that this access is impeded by ‘interpretation,’ which is a pejorative term in the literalist lexicon. Literalism offers several distinct accounts of how interpretation becomes an impediment to understanding the moral meaning of a text. One account takes the form of history. According to this history, the text was once read literally, but in recent times has come to be read in new ‘interpretive’ ways.1

Conservative religious leaders (e.g., Southern Baptists and other evangelical conservatives) often blame moral decay on our increasing failure to read the Bible literally and attack "liberal" theologians who provide alternative explanations of what the Bible says. These attacks are often sharpest when it comes to particularly controversial issues like homosexuality, but are reflected as well in debates over the role of women in the church and the use of corporal punishment. Biblical literalism argues that not only is the Bible literally correct on all moral questions, but that it provides historical truth as well. Jerry Falwell, a prominent Biblical literalist, argues that "the Bible is the inerrant word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc."2

Similarly, prominent conservative legal scholars such as Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas argue that the Constitution has always been read more or less literally and that many of the problems of modern society are caused by "liberal" judges reading principles into the Constitution that are not contained in its text. Judicial decisions on topics such as abortion, homosexuality, school prayer, and affirmative action are all seen as drastic departures from what the Constitution literally commands. As Bork puts it, "Judicial radical individualism weakens or destroys . . . families, schools, business organizations, [and] private associations . . . All of this has happened within the lifetimes of many Americans. We are worse off because of it, and none of it was commanded or contemplated by the Constitution."3 Because of this perceived threat, Bork has called for a constitutional amendment enabling a majority vote of Congress to override a Supreme Court decision.4

In reality, however, debates over how to read the Bible and the Constitution have existed since the documents’ first creation. Arguments over literalism and interpretationism are nothing new and, in fact, reflect the enormous importance society places on these documents. To believe that the documents have always been read literally until recently simply ignores historical fact.


One of the distinctive features of the three major monotheistic religions is their dependence on a written text for guidance. "The interpretation of certain texts that are invested with special value guides the reader’s moral reflection and action . . . The believer who reads Scripture finds in it profoundly instructive moral meanings which bear directly upon the reader’s inmost contemplation and most practical life-choices."5

In her award-winning book A History of God, Karen Armstrong shows how the earliest religious creation stories were taken allegorically, not literally.6 As time passed, the methods of interpretation grew numerous, as the number of sects of religious belief multiplied. When one reads the great works of Augustine or Aquinas, it becomes clear that their work includes far more than mere literal interpretation of a text. In fact, the view that literalism was the only correct method of reading the Bible did not achieve widespread belief until the sixteenth century. Armstrong says that:

in the past . . . some rationalists and mystics had gone out of their way to depart from a literal meaning of the Bible and the Koran in favor of a deliberately symbolic interpretation. Now Protestants and Catholics had both begun to put their faith in an entirely literal understanding of scripture.7

This new faith in a literal and absolutely correct Scripture was the cause of the famous condemnation of Gallileo. His belief that the earth circled around the sun violated the scriptures that "The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved" (Psalm 96:10), and "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down and hasteth to his place where he arose" (Ecclesiastes 1:5). Armstrong argues that this new literalism made Christianity vulnerable in a way that Islam and Judaism were not:

Catholics and Protestants were insisting that the Bible was factually true in every detail. This would make the traditional mythology vulnerable to the new science and would eventually make it impossible for many people to believe in God at all . . . Science has been felt threatening only by those Western Christians who got into the habit of reading the scriptures literally and interpreting doctrines as though they were matters of objective fact.8

The fact that theologians historically argued about the proper way to read the Bible is supported by other scholars. Rondel Garet asserts that:

Early Christians did not read the Bible ‘literally’ in any sense that matches the rhetorical aims of modern Biblical literalists . . . Many Christians, following the Jewish interpreters of Hebrew Scripture, understood Scripture allegorically . . . [and] sensitivity to the various nonliteral meanings is just as old as the attempt to recover the literal sense.9

It should also be noted that one of the major themes of the Protestant Reformation was a belief that the Bible should be interpreted literally, because this would enable the lay reader to free themselves from papal rule and would lead to a truer, personal understanding of God’s will. This doctrine was called sola scriptura, and "far from being natural or self-evident theologically, emerged quite late and then only as a result of a specific complex of theological motivations."10

Apart from its historical origins, we can examine the practical effects of reading the Bible literally. In short, it can create just as many conflicts as does reading it liberally. In an article in the journal Sociology of Religion, John Bartkowski shows how literalists often disagree amongst themselves as to what the Bible commands.11

For example, on the issue of whether wives should submit to their husbands, Bartkowski examined the writings of two self-proclaimed Biblical literalists: Larry Christensen’s The Christian Family and Ginger Gabriel’s Being a Woman of God. Although each author provides support for their view with Scriptural quotations, Christensen and Gabriel achieve almost the exact opposite conclusion: Christensen believes that women are weaker than men and inherently more prone to sinful behavior, and thus must submit themselves to their husbands. Gabriel, on the other hand, believes that men and women are equal and that the Bible calls for mutual submission between husband and wife.

Bartkowski finds a similar dispute on the value of corporal punishment between Biblical literalists James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline and Russ Campbell’s How to Really Love Your Child. Bartowksi concludes that "from a hermeneutic [the study of methods of interpretation] perspective, the Bible as a text is capable of generating multiple readings—even multiple ‘literal’ readings—and can yield seemingly contradictory conclusions."12 Similar conflicts between literalists were found in historical debates over slavery, temperance movements, and pacifism.13

As Shakespeare famously wrote, "Even the devil can cite scripture for his purpose." The problem with Biblical literalism, then, is clear: once each side has found Biblical support for their cause, the debate cannot be resolved. The only rational way to resolve such a debate is to interpret the principles contained behind the literal passages, and this deviates from the command of literalism itself.

The debate over the proper way to read Scripture is certainly an important one. Those who believe in the text’s divine origin look to it for guidance in almost every aspect of their lives. Furthermore, there is tremendous social importance even for those of us who don’t believe. Although (or perhaps because) the debate is important, it is enduring. It has taken place for centuries, and whatever ills may plague us today cannot be fairly attributed to the fact that there are advocates of each position.


Constitutional literalism takes two distinct threads. A view held by only a very small minority of scholars is epitomized by Justice Robert’s notorious view that "the judicial branch of the government has only one duty; to lay the article of the Constitution which is invoked beside the statute which is challenged and to decide whether the latter squares with the former."14 Even conservative scholars rarely take this position because the flaw is obvious: the Constitution speaks in "majestic generalities," using vague and potentially limitless terms such as guaranteeing "due process" and allowing only "reasonable searches."

Such scholars instead turn to a method of interpretation called "originalism" or "strict constructionism." H. Jefferson Powell summarizes the view well:

A substantial and influential group of judges . . . maintain that historically demonstrable intentions of the framers should be binding on contemporary interpreters of the Constitution. This last group not only invoke history (‘the original understanding at Philadelphia’) as a normative guide to the Constitution’s meaning, but also claims historical warrant for this interpretive strategy.15

It is well known that the 1960s were a controversial time in the Supreme Court’s history. The Warren Court issued Miranda (requiring all arrestees to waive their rights before interrogations), Griswold (legalizing contraceptives), and, of course, Roe v. Wade. Decisions such as these placed the Supreme Court in the spotlight and made it a prime target for criticism by conservative commentators. The originalist movement was a response to this perceived "judicial tyranny."

Although it is "far from obvious why the Constitution, replete with clauses of indefinite content, designed with the evident purpose to apply to unseen and unforeseeable changes in the structure of American society, should be interpreted exclusively by reference to the vision of persons dead for more than 200 years,"16 many conservative scholars argue that we should look to the recorded debates and other writings of the framers to find out what they intended the language of the Constitution to mean.

Although there are several practical problems with this view,17 most damning is the fact that the framers themselves didn’t believe that their intent should govern future interpretation of the document. Far from being a new phenomena, debates over the proper way of reading the Constitution surrounded the very ratification process itself: "Once the Constitution was proposed to the states, a central element of the campaign to prevent ratification was the charge that the Constitution would be the object of interpretation and that judges and legislators would read into it doctrines present only 'constructively’ and not textually."18 In response the Federalists argued that "no compositions which men can pen, could be formed, but which would be liable to the same charge of ambiguity."19

Central to the debates was whether the Constitution should be interpreted solely with reference to what the writers intended or as the common law traditionally looked at statutes. Much as our modern-day Republican and Democratic parties define themselves by reference to "strict constructionism" as opposed to "living, breathing Constitutionalism" parties at the time of the ratification process defined themselves by reference to how they believed the Constitution should be interpreted. As legal scholar H. Jefferson Powell puts it:

the split between Hamilton and Jefferson over liberal versus strict construction played an important role in the parties’ efforts to define themselves. Federalists like Hamilton, applying the traditional tools of statutory construction to the Constitution’s sweeping generalities, found in the text the basis for an expansive view of federal power. The Republicans, in contrast, took up the cudgels of the religious and philosophical opposition to the interpretation and warned that the ‘wiles of construction’ could be controlled only by a narrow reading of the Constitution’s expansive language.20

If we look at what the framers themselves actually intended, we see that they did not expect their intent to guide future interpreters. They took no official records of their meetings. Madison, who privately kept notes of the Constitutional Convention, expressly allowed them to be published only at his death and wrote that "As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character."21

Conservative critics often criticize the 1960s Warren Court as the inventor of liberal construction and argue that originalism would stop such problems from happening again. In fact, our very first Supreme Court refused to embrace originalism. In 1793, the Court was faced with the question of whether states could be sued in federal court. Despite the "virtually unanimous" writings of the framers that the states retained their sovereign immunity, the Court applied the "ordinary rules for construction" and found otherwise.22

Courts and legal scholars since then have routinely argued that making law solely with reference to the intent of the framers would be unwise. In 1910 the Court said that "a principle, to be vital, must be capable of wider application than the mischief which gave it birth."23 In 1920, Oliver Wendell Holmes said that:

When we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution . . . we must realize that [the framers] have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters . . . the case before us must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago.24

In 1921, Benjamin Cardozo said "The great generalities of the constitution have a content and a significance that vary from age to age."25

In a practical sense, the results of using original intent are shocking. If courts had consistently made law solely with reference to what the framers intended, "African-Americans would still be subjected to Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, and miscegenation statutes; women would not be entitled to the protection of the Equal Protection Clause [and] seditious libel could still be a crime."26

Of course, the fact that historically there have been several ways of looking at the Constitution does not mean that original intent is an invalid way of reading it. But what it certainly means is that supporters cannot claim historical warrant for it. In short, the "original intent" was that the intent of the framers shouldn’t matter.27 Additionally, any claims that interpreting the Constitution is a new phenomena promulgated by activist liberal judges are also doomed to fail in the light of historical evidence otherwise.


There are several interesting similarities between Biblical literalism and Constitutional literalism that deserve to be explored further in another setting. For example, both kinds of literalists usually believe that their text is necessary for civilization, that they are unique documents, that their writers were divinely influenced (or practically so), and that their text can provide all of the answers. Additionally, both Biblical and Constitutional literalists believe that any problems are with the interpretation of the document, not the document itself. Both are conservative reactions to liberal advances in society; the ebb and flow of literalist movements is often akin to a cultural pendulum. Finally, both kinds of literalism evince a fear of the use of reason and an assault on intellectualism.28

There are also, of course, fascinating differences between the two kinds of literalism. Constitutional interpretation is a vital question, because it directly affects all Americans, while there is a large and growing segment of our society that does not believe in Biblical authority at all. Differences also lie in who has the ultimate authority to pronounce what the language means, which tertiary texts are considered canonical, and the effects of an inconsistency on the ultimate authority of the document. Finally, it’s important that we understand that Biblical literalism and Constitutional literalism are not two separate phenomena. Biblical literalism may have directly influenced, or continue to influence, Constitutional literalism.29

Arguments over how to read our "sacred texts" are not new and they are not the invention of activist judges or liberal theologians. These arguments existed when the documents were first created, throughout their long history, and are likely to continue well into the future. The fact that we work so hard to find out the best way to read a text is evidence of its importance in our lives. For both the Bible and the Constitution, the documents are important only if we are capable of adapting them to changes in society. We should not pretend they could have meaning otherwise.
1 Rondal R. Garet, Comparative Normative Hermeneutics: Scritpture, Literature, Constitution, 58 S. CAL. L. REV. 35, 78 (1985)
2 Jerry Falwell, quoted in PETER MCWILLIAMS, AIN’T NOBODY’S BUSINESS IF YOU DO 322 (1993).
4 See id. at 117.
5 GARET, supra note 1, at 37 and 40-41.
7 Id. at 289-90.
8 Id. at 291 and 380.
9 GARET, supra note 1, at 79-80.
10 GARET, supra note 1, at 74.
11 John Bartkowski, Beyond Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy: Conservative Protestants and the Hermeneutic Interpretation of Scripture, SOC. OF RELIGION, v. 57, n. 3 (1996).
12 Id.
13 See generally, JIM HILL and RAND CHEADLE, THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO: USES AND ABUSES OF HOLY SCRIPTURE (1996). Besides mere problems in resolving conflicting interpretations of the same language, there are additional problems in deciding which texts constitute part of the canon and issues involving translation differences. Somewhat similar debates occur today over the role of cases and contemporary writings (such as The Federalist Papers) in constitutional literalism.
14 United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1, 62 (1936)
15 H. Jefferson Powell, The Original Understanding of Original Intent, 98 HARV. L. REV. 885, 886 (1985) (footnotes omitted).
17 Among them is deciding who’s intent should be used (i.e., the actual drafters, the state legislatures that ratified it, or the people of the states who elected those legislatures), what to do if there is evidence of conflicting intent, and the simple epistemological problem of trying to find out what people who lived over 200 years ago would have done about a problem they were never faced with when few records of the time exist.
18 Quoted in Powell, supra note 15, at 905.
19 Theophilus Parsons at the Massachusetts convention, quoted in Powell, supra note 15, at 907.
20 Powell, supra note 15, at 923 (footnotes omitted).
21 Quoted in Powell, supra note 15, at 927.
22 See Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793). The holding of the case was effectively reversed by the passage of the Eleventh Amendment. This case is discussed in Powell, supra note 15, at 922-24.
23 Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 373 (1910).
24 Missouri v. Holland (1920).
26 Steven B. Epstein, Rethinking the Constitutionality of Ceremonial Deism, 96 COLUM L. REV. 2083, 2155-56 (1996) (footnotes omitted).
27 "Debates over the language of the document were abundant, yet in none of them did any delegate suggest that future interpreters could avoid misconstruing the text by consulting evidence of the intentions articulated at the convention." Powell, supra note 15, at 903 (footnote omitted).
28 "In principle, although less so in practice, Luther’s sola scriptura was an attack on the role of reason. Luther called Reason a ‘beast,’ and suggested that ‘[t]he evening sacrifice is to kill reason; the morning sacrifice is to glorify God.’" GARET, supra note 1, at n. 77. Compare Bork’s comment that intellectuals demonstrate a "conscious effort to alter Americans’ perceptions of the world and of themselves, an effort, among other things, to weaken or destroy Americans’ attachment to their country and to Western civilization." BORK, supra note 3, at 89.
29 See GARET, supra note 1, at 75.