Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Iron Leaps

There is in the last second of time or hair’s breadth of space, before the iron leaps to the magnet, an abyss full of all the unfathomable forces of the universe. The space between doing and not doing such a thing is so tiny and so vast. [Chesterton]
My first real publishing credit is "Some Remarks on Autism and Catholicism," an essay that appeared in the Catholic literary quarterly Dappled Things in 2009. It's actually what led to my current fiction-writing endeavors, as the same issue contains this excellent advice on writing by Catholic sci-fi author John C. Wright, whose van Vogt sequel Null-A Continuum I reviewed here.

That essay is written under my real name; I'm kind of coming out of the closet here. I don't usually write about such matters on my blog, except as it affects my various crafts. What I mean is, I don't seek to persuade people to see things the way I do. Of course it's true that I'm just a scribbler, and have no reason to presume people would want to read my inane thoughts on religion. But then again, I do apparently presume that there's a big demand for my inane thoughts on fiction, art, logic, and chickens.

(Want to know something weird? I just finished watching Big Trouble in Little China, and the voice in my head as I reread this now sounds like Jack Burton's bad imitation of John Wayne. Here's the movie poster, just because.)

So I ask myself, what's the difference? Here's what I've come up with:
  1. I've noticed that taking unpopular stances on controversial topics and stickin' it to 'em is a really awesome way to drive up your Internet readership and sell lots and lots of books. But somehow that isn't what I set out to do when I started writing.
  2. I don't want to get stuck in a Catholic ghetto. Everyone wants to be the next Flannery O'Connor, but Flannery O'Connor was never the first Flannery O'Connor.
  3. Some of my stories have gotten really negative reactions from Catholics. For instance, a science fiction story about nuns that I submitted to a Catholic literary contest last year garnered a "very bad visceral reaction" from a reader and "terrified" the editor. And most of my other stories involve sex and violence. So why bother?
But on the other hand, there's these recent Pew results about religion. I'm too lazy to look them up and link them, but it seems that American Catholicism is on the decline or something. It's got all the Catholic bloggers worked up. And really, it is getting harder and harder to be Catholic these days.

Elizabeth Scalia, a.k.a. The Anchoress, whose blog I've read since 2005, has called on Catholic writer-types to come out and say why they're not going to leave the faith. And, well, I'm not exactly a Catholic writer (though I'm Catholic and I write), but I feel like I ought to participate.

So, first little background, if you got bored and didn't finish my essay: After a youth of being taught by my elders to despise Catholicism, I was lured – lured, I tell you – into a fervid southern sect as a college freshman by a very pretty sophomore, who happens now to be my wife. Things went bad (and really, really weird), and I ended up a rather depressed and isolated atheist working on a doctorate in mathematics. And also married.

Some years later, in the midst of a prolonged bout of soul-searching, I went camping. This was 2005, shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II. It was Pentecost, though I didn't know it at the time. I had a long dream about the mass and the universal church and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. I won't go into the details, but it ended as I entered a confessional. That morning I knew I had to return.

Yes, I made a major decision that subsequently changed the course of my entire life as a result of a mystical dream.

However, the first thing I did was go to the university library to check out John Henry Newman's Development of Christian Doctrine. I read it in three days. Next I read the Apologia Pro Vita Sua of the same author. Then I knew that I really had to return, which I did that summer. My wife decided to convert as well, and was received into the Catholic Church at the following Easter vigil...

So, what was I trying to explain? Why I'm still Catholic? Well, it's my whole life. My whole life is the answer. Which isn't very satisfying, perhaps. So here's what I'll do. In the near future, I'll post a personal memoir about a crazy guitar duel with the Hare Krishnas of Mexico.

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