Reflections on Lost in the Cosmos

On the heels of finishing Percy’s satirical self-help book Lost in the Cosmos, I take a moment to reflect on the causes of my recent obsession. For those rolling their eyes at this topic because of a glut of recent conversations with me about Percy, feel free to stop reading and come back once you have made yourself a gin fizz and calmed down.

A couple reasons for this obsession are purely environmental:

  • Percy lived near where I live now
  • Also near where I live, the bar at the Southern Hotel serves half-priced old-fashioned drinks on Walker Percy Wednesdays in honor of Walker Percy

But also, the interest lies in the humor of Percy as well as the relevance of many topics to contemporary thought. Lost in the Cosmos illustrates these traits, but it is a difficult book to describe. The subtitle of the book is “The Last Self-Help Book,” but even this fails to illuminate what the book truly contains. It is a mixture of satirical self-help (suicide is recommended as a cure for depression in one of the more humorous, if off-color, chapters) as well as miniature short stories describing possible futures. The end of the book concludes, for instance, with a story of a space odyssey to find extra-terrestrial intelligence in the cosmos.

Lost in the Cosmos also contains:

  • Chapters that “can be skipped without fatal consequences” that seem pulled from an academic work (semiotics and triadic relationships) (p. 83). It is a heady but humorous section
  • Chapters of “self-help” that analyze quirks of humanity, such as what a sales clerk actually means when a person tries on a new pair of shoes in a store and the clerk sees them and says, “It’s you!” (p. 21)
  • Parody of both religious and non-religious people, scientific and non-scientific people
  • Humorous theories about why it is that artists and writers are often troubled souls, insane or addicted to substances, gambling, sex, or otherwise. The theory purports that when artists or writers create great works of art, they transcend mundane reality and go into orbit around it, similar to an astronaut making it through the earth’s atmosphere and into orbit. This transcendent state is beautiful and harmonious. Except that, eventually, Dostoevsky finished writing Crime And Punishment and was forced back to reality–and to cope with this, he headed to the gambling hall to play roulette. Re-entering the atmosphere, Percy theorizes, is difficult and perilous, and many artists have difficulty with this. To enable re-entry, Percy notes that artists find different ways to manage–anesthetization with drugs and alcohol, travel (either geographical or sexual), exile (where the traveler skips re-entry entirely and vanishes into the void), and more.
  • discussions of sex that may make some uncomfortable (not sexually explicit or lurid but simply frank description of human behaviors). In a chapter describing a space odyssey in a futuristic society, Percy describes with the patience of a researcher the different combinations of people that scientists tested to satisfy the “sexual needs” of the astronauts. He describes some combinations of individuals as devolving into conflict. Most of the experiments only highlight man’s inability to control or master themselves, despite the incredible progress of science and mastery of the world.
  • Interesting chapter titles. Traditional writing advice says to write a killer opening sentence to draw the reader in. Percy utilizes interesting chapter titles also, such as this one (chapter 9):

The Envious Self (in the root sense of envy: invidere, to look at with malice): Why it is that the Self–though it Professes to be Loving, Caring, to Prefer Peace to War, Concord to Discord, Life to Death; to Wish Other Selves Well, not Ill–in fact Secretly Relishes Wars and Rumors of War, News of Plane Crashes, Assassinations, Mass Murders, Obituaries, to say nothing of Local News about Acquaintances Dropping Dead in the Street, Gossip about Neighbors Getting in Fights or being Detected in Sexual Scandals, Embezzlements, and other Disgraces

p. 57

This chapter concludes, of course, with a quiz for the reader to notate their reactions to different unfortunate situations.

By this point, I imagine that you have either decided “I am NEVER reading this book,” or this has piqued your interest, and you are now ready to read something unlike anything you have read before.

Some of this writing (especially the bit about suicide) seemed macabre and off-color until I listened to a lecture about Walker Percy – available here. In the lecture, the Professor Jennifer Frey reveals that the issue of suicide was very real for Percy–both Percy’s grandfather and father committed suicide prior to his 14th birthday. Themes of being an ex-suicide echo throughout Percy’s writings for understandable reasons. In addition, Percy was not always a “Southern Catholic writer.” He was born Protestant (nominally Presbyterian), and based on my reading came to really embrace Catholicism while recovering from tuberculosis in New England. It was only later in life that he relocated to Louisiana, near New Orleans, married, and came into his self as the writer he is remembered as today.

He also wrote–a fact that is apropos for 2020–against segregation in the magazine Commonweal in the 1960’s. Clearly, he was a man with a great deal of wit and intelligence, who thought deeply on many topics.

These topics include issues of self – how do we transcend our material reality without throwing it away entirely? Who are we in this universe? What enables a depressed person to go on living? What is the role of a person’s faith in the world? What questions can’t science answer? As I have been discovering and hope you will too, Walker Percy is a voice for our times because he dealt in his writings with issues that have only more vital since he lived.

An Interview with Joseph M. (#4 in a TMW Interview Series)

Today we conclude our interview series with reflections from our most senior writer, Joseph M. Click here to view the full series of interviews.

For all the aspiring artists and writers in room, this one is for y’all.

What artists or writers inspired you the most growing up?

There are quite a few, but a couple of my favorites would have to be Hergé and Jeff Smith. Both are in the unique position of being both visual artists and storytellers, and I recall spending many hours reading and enjoying the sleuth/adventure series Tintin at a reasonably young age, and the fantasy epic Bone by Jeff Smith once slightly older. Both men are some of my favorites to this day.

Which artists inspire you the most today?

This really depends on the week, but below are some different artists I have been looking at/reading over the past year or two. Once again, just as with Hergé and Smith, these artists primarily contribute to comic books:

  • Watercolors: nothing beats a detective noir story cast with anthropomorphized animals -and Juanjo Guarnido does an impeccable job using watercolor to portray the many adventures of the main feline protagonist in Blacksad. Another artist I particularly like for their watercolors would be Jean Pierre Gibrat -who uses the medium to tell a variety of period pieces set during the first and second world wars.
  • Inked Linework: My two latest favorites for visual storytellers who use pen and ink would be Francois Schuiten and Sergei Toppi. Both bring masterful draftsmanship to bear in their comic book stories while maintaining distinct styles.
  • Fantasy: while not contributing to comic books, Frank Frazetta’s unique take on fantasy settings is one I have found interesting. Another artist, Mark Schultz, who produced the comic Xenozoic, is another fantasy artist I have enjoyed a lot.

What is your writing process? Has it changed at all over the years?

My writing process is normally an afternoon or evening of adrenaline-fueled panic to meet a deadline (for example, to get something posted on this blog every fourth Tuesday). I would say my approach to writing has become less structured as the years have progressed and life has gotten busier with other activities -not a recipe for success, but reality, nonetheless.

When you write, do you have any tips for minimizing distraction?

Setting aside dedicated time to write is important for being able to settle into a focused groove without other distractions, even if for just a short period of time (remember: multitasking is a myth). Also, minimizing internet access can be useful. If writing involves a lot of research, I find it better to do that research in advance if possible -given the nature of modern web business models, trying to productively write AND surf the internet for information is all too prone to end up on a three hour binge of random YouTube videos.

If you were to give an aspiring writer one piece of advice in pursuing the craft, what would it be?

Whatever you do, write regularly. A regular, repeated, approach to any subject you want to progress in -even if for just a short period per day -will reap long-term rewards. It is just like compound interest except for life skills -the sooner you start making those small daily investments the bigger the long-term gains will be.

What is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

That prize would probably have to go to the textbook for my Management class in college because other than learning that “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” is a thing, I remember nothing and got nothing out of it. 

If you were trapped on a desert island with 3 works of literature: The Scarlett LetterPlato’s Republic, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which work would you burn first as kindling for a signal fire, and why?

Definitely the Scarlett Letter. I have nothing against Nathaniel Hawthorne, but given my time on this island may be quite extensive, Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Plato’s Republic strike me as offering more varied and deep food for thought as my brain slowly descends into the madness of isolation.

Have you noticed any changes in the literary landscape since you were in high school?

I do not feel that the landscape has altered so much as my perception has changed. I now realize more fully how much good literature existed prior to my birth and how little now being created will likely be remembered after we all die. I do not think this is unique to our day and age (after all, who remembers most of the penny dreadfuls?), but nonetheless I appreciate time’s ability to cull the less rewarding works from the common cultural consciousness.

Who are some modern authors whom you admire? Do you think people will be reading them in 50 years?

Brandon Sanderson comes immediately to mind, and for more regional flavor Tim Geautreax. Whether people will be reading them in 50 years is quite uncertain -I think that the way Tim Geautreax is able to capture a time/place/people in his short stories is quite natural and relatable -but who knows once those places and people are gone how appealing his stories will still be. Sanderson is certainly talented, but it’s been a while since I’ve read any of his books and he is competing in a pretty active genre (young-adult/adult fantasy series).

What factors do you think elevate a work to the level of classic? What factors can limit a book’s generational impact?

I think that there are a variety of factors. If a work captures something ‘true’ about the human condition, relationships, etc -that story can transcend any single culture, race, or time period. If we look at the many timeless classics though: Les Miserables, Hamlet, The Divine Comedy, etc, etc -they all contain truths about human beings that are universally applicable -and thereby relatable regardless of people group or generation. As far as generational impact goes, that both depends on the culture of the author and the reader. I think that stories that are heavily colored by aberrant generational views inherently will wane as time progresses, but insofar as those views reflect reality they stand a chance of continuing.

I know you are a fan of graphic novels…favorite graphic novel?

Well, it is more of a mini-series, but Bone by Jeff Smith is what I would want if I could only have a single comic book to read for the rest of my life.

What motivates you as a writer?

Epinephrine released in response to the harsh driving our dear editor (jk). In all seriousness though, writing has been a great way to systematically study and seek to process new ideas or subjects.

Are you working on any larger projects you can share about?

There are always a few ideas banging around in the attic. Lately I have been considering trying to write a short story in the cyberpunk genre. However, more realistically, some essays or possibly longer pieces related to recent/ongoing studies through the Gospel (Sonship study), Law (Bahnsen), and demon possession (Kraft) will be more likely to happen in the near future. 

Death & Taxis (Cont’d)

Kaylen followed Tom down two flights of stairs to an opening that emerged into an enormous space—a pub in a basement! The pub did not look like an earth-pub at all. It had the appearance of a bowling alley out of an 80’s film, the lanes set just beyond a series of brick arches that gave the pub a grand appearance, despite the lack of natural lighting.

A man wearing a crumpled baseball cap sat on a stool by the door, stacks of green prize tickets, strung together, in his hands—the sort of tickets that Kaylen remembered redeeming at Adventure Zone for turns on the space commander arcade game, as a child. Tom fumbled around in his pockets for a moment and then withdrew a string of his own tickets. “Evening, Chaucer,” Tom said. “Is my usual spot available?”

Chaucer took the tickets, examined them, and then tore off two of them and handed the rest back to Tom. He shook his head. “Not your normal spot. Darius is here, said you’d be arriving soon. Got you a booth –second one from the wall.” Chaucer waved towards the far wall.

“Oh,” said Tom, surprised. He motioned to Kaylen to follow. “Darius. He’s a friend of mine—actually, and also something of a renaissance man.”

The booth’s red leather seats had a dull luster to them, and the waxed, wooden table already had several rings of water on it next to an empty glass, indicating that Darius had been there for awhile, or else had been drinking quickly. With a mug of fizzy drink raised in one hand, he raised it and took a sip as Tom appeared. “Tom!” he said, with a note of melancholy in his voice. “The man I need to see right now. You’ve always seemed to understand me.” Darius stopped as he noticed Kaylen for the first time. “Who might this be?” he said, with a sly grin at Tom. “Brought a lady-friend to our chat, eh? You are a fox, my man.”

“Passenger,” said Tom, brushing off whatever awkwardness might be occasioned by this comment and sitting down opposite Darius. “This is Kaylen. Kaylen, Darius is one of the main designers of the self-driving taxis we were observing earlier.” Kaylen sat down.

“Taxis?” said Darius. “More like self-driving catastrophes.” He gave Kaylen, who wore a puzzled expression, a sideways glance. “You’re new here. You have a fresh pair of eyes. Tell me—what do you think about them? I just need some honest feedback.” He looked at Kaylen with an intensity that startled her. She wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Its…an interesting idea,” she stammered.

“An interesting idea!” Darius repeated, spreading his arms wide. “But that’s not what you really think—you think it’s annoyed how slowly they work, and how silly and impractical they look next to real taxis!”

“Well,” said Kaylen, trying to think of something hopeful, “Yeah. But this is just the first iteration, right? The technology will improve right and get better?”

Darius nodded, as if expecting this answer. He looked down at the sparkly foam sitting at the top of his drink. “You’re an idealist, I can tell. That’s what I thought, too, when I got here—let’s improve the place! The point of purgatory, however, I’m sure Tom here has already filled you in on.”

“Something about…purification,” said Kaylen, looking at Tom. Tom nodded in agreement.

“That’s more or less it,” said Darius. “But what does purification mean? How do you teach someone patience? You give them something that causes normal people impatience, so they can practice patience. So, I have a theory about purgatory–”

“Just a theory!” broke in Tom. “Don’t think of this as gospel.”

Darius paused, and then nodded. “Yes, it is a theory, but it’s this: purgatory is designed to be irritating: it has long lines, annoying waits, uncomfortable weather year-round, and…” Darius paused and looked down at his drink again before continuing, “gin fizzes that never quite rise to the level of a buzz until you’ve drunk two dozen of them and are about to burst.”

“Anyway,” continued Darius. “I thought to myself, I can improve this place! I’ll engineer a self-driving car that coordinates with all the other self-driving cars in order to optimize traffic, so that taxi drivers can simply relax and the traffic will be so smooth that we won’t see this state of perpetual gridlock. That was my dream.” A wistful look came into Darius’s eyes. “That I could leave my mark on purgatory so that one day travelers would pass through. But you know what? For each annoyance that inventors have conquered over the centuries, dozens of new annoyances have sprung up to take their place. Our latest iteration was supposed to achieve level 12 self-driving automation—the highest level—but instead we have simply engineered a quivering WRECK of a machine, so that now…I need another gin fizz!” This last part of his monologue Darius directed at a passing waiter.

The conversation lulled. Little did Kaylen realize during this moment that less than 15 minutes later, she would be on the run from Tom, through this world she had just arrived in, feeling more alive than she had in all her life, despite the fact that she was now dead.

“I’d like a gin fizz, too!” said Kaylen.

To be continued…

Death & Taxis (Cont’d)

The pub was tucked away down a brick alley of Byzantine proportions. The walls of the buildings on either side swung upwards, and an arch stretched over the entrance to the alley with large, block letters reading: “Public houses of the 12th Ward.” Tom led the way at a brisk pace, Kaylen following him.

Kaylen’s demeanor appeared placid, but internally it was as if an orchestra was practicing for a concert, each section practicing its own bits, so that the resulting cacophony made it impossible for a listener to concentrate on any one melody.

What is happening? Thought Kaylen. She reviewed some possibilities in her head:

1. she had been kidnapped and her memory erased. She had only ever known of this happening in movies such as The Bourne Identity, but certainly it was possible; this could be a trafficking plot, and the story so outlandish as to coerce her into going along

2. she was dreaming. Unlikely – she had pinched herself several times to try and wake up; she also had tried slapping herself in the face, but the only thing this accomplished was to cause Tom to cock his head back at her and give her a quizzical glance

3. she was dead. But this could not be the case – death could not be so colorful

4. she was dead but had been reincarnated; this presented itself as an interesting possibility, but it seemed like a fairly unlikely option; and anyway, if she had been reincarnated, hadn’t someone forgotten to wipe her memory? Because if her memory had been wiped, she would not have been able to remember…

Henry. She needed to find out if he was here. Or had come through. If this is purgatory, she thought. He might be here.

Listen to yourself! You sound insane! She thought.

“Can we back up?” she said abruptly, tapping Tom on the shoulder. He turned around, stepping to the side of the alley to allow other pedestrians to pass. In the alley on both sides were pubs and stores of various shapes and with signs that hung from quaint boards with names such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “Gin & Whitaker,” and a repair shop called “Jameson & Sons.”

“Why yes! You have questions I assume? I will answer all the questions you may have –once we get to the pub. I am so thirsty!” Tom turned and continued walking before pointing at a sign reading “Jameson & Sons.” “Never go there, by the way,” he said. “It’s a tourist trap. Should be obvious, but it isn’t; was established last year, but they’re claiming to be a family-owned store. Gives people a fallacious sense of shopping at a place that’s established. The thing is, for there to be both a Jameson and a son working at the same store, they would have first of all both passed away around the same time, and then have to have found each other once the second one arrived.”

“You don’t think there’s a Mrs. Jameson and they just started a family?” said Kaylen, playing along idly with the conversation.

Tom furrowed his brow with a confused expression. “But…nobody has kids here or gets married…it’s not possible.”

Now Kaylen was the one with the surprised look on her face. “What do you MEAN, no one can have kids?”

Tom had an embarrassed look on his face. “I’ll explain when you’re older,” he said.

“I’m 26!” said Kaylen, crossing her arms.

“…In earth years, yes,” said Tom. “In purgatory years, you’re not even one!”

“But here’s the pub,” said Tom, as he disappeared into a door that led downward down a flight of steps. The sign next to the door was small and tacked up with a brace of nails. It read, “No admittance except by invitation.”

To be continued…

What Doesn’t Kill You…

I braced myself for the weight of the bar. I’d been doing bench press for a while–if you’ve never bench pressed before, here’s a basic fact sheet:

  • It’s an exercise that people (mostly men) do in order to have big chests in order to impress other people (mostly men).
  • It makes it easier to participate in conversations where someone might ask, “How much can you bench?” (translation: what is the maximum weight that you have ever brought to your chest and then pushed towards the sky) “Well, my 1-rep max in college was 170.” (translation: the most I’ve ever done is 170 pounds)
  • “Bench press” involves lying flat on a bench, grasping a bar over your chest, lowering it to your chest, and then pressing the weight back up (I’m not describing this in order to be condescending; this description is for all the sheltered nerds like me who grew up never going to a gym and never learning this essential life skill)

The jargon of weightlifters starts making a lot of sense after a while, which is fortunate and unfortunate. Because familiarity with the jargon and basic movement is not the same as skill.

Back to the story about me bracing myself for the weight of the bar. When I bench press, I line up my ring fingers with the smooth bands that wrap around the bar in 2 places: this ensures that the weight is evenly balanced on both sides of me. With my feet firmly planted and chest inflated like a lobster (they have big chests, right?), I lifted the bar from the rack above my nose and, arms still locked, moved the bar into position. The ideal position for me is above the “big” part of my chest. Then, it’s a matter of drawing the bar down to my chest until the bar touches; and then explosively contracting the chest and arms to push the weight back up.

At some point during this particular session, I overloaded myself. I attempted to press the weight back up from my chest, and my body gave out. It was an uncomfortable feeling as the weight dropped automatically back to my chest and lay there, pinning me to the bench. Normally, more serious weightlifters would have a workout buddy to “spot” them (keep an eye on them throughout the set to assist in case they lose control of the weight), but I didn’t have a spotter.

I carefully tilted the bar to one side until the weights of that side rested on the ground, then pried myself out from under the bar, and re-racked the weight. No injuries, and a valuable lesson learned!

I thought of motivational slogans, which I had always thought and now KNEW to be rubbish: “We are always stronger than we know.”

Well, sometimes, we aren’t stronger than we know. Sometimes, we decide to lift too much weight, collapse under the weight, and either have to pry ourselves out of the situation or yell at a friend to come help us.

Don’t buy the hype. And, if you do want to lift heavy weights, find a workout buddy.

Death & Taxis (Cont’d)

Full Story Here

Tom blew his car horn as a squat, cube-shaped car switched lanes in front of him. “Self-driving HOOEY!” he muttered.

“You have self-driving cars?” said Kaylen. “We are just now getting that sort of technology in America. That is so cool!”

“Cool?” repeated Tom. “Yes, if that’s what you want to call it. Take a look, though!” Tom pointed to the car that had just cut in front of him.

The car had four wheels but otherwise looked alien to Kaylen’s eyes, unlike any automobile she had ever seen. It was a box-shaped car with vertical windows on all sides, akin to a gondola, and the wheels were small and appeared to be able to go in any direction, similar to the wheels of a dolly. Despite this modern design, the car seemed to trundle along in a very uncertain fashion. It moved a foot into Tom’s lane and then stopped and readjusted. On the top of the car was a reflective orb suspended like a bell from a small frame, and above this belfry was an antenna that pointed upward. The car continued moving very cautiously forward, stopping abruptly as a sheet of paper blew across the roadway.

Tom honked again. “These self-driving cars are so flighty. It’s amazing that they move at all. They are so sensitive to interruptions, that they can barely move above 5 miles per hour.”

“Well, new technology always has hiccups when it’s first introduced,” noted Kaylen.

“Spoken like someone who has witnessed the unveiling of many new technologies!” said Tom brightly. “You should have seen the first prototype of these cars. They were the opposite of now. They were forever bursting with energy, so they would routinely be bumping into cars in front of them. Just a sort of persistent tap in the rear as we were moving forward in stop-and-go traffic. Very annoying. So the manufacturer of the car reprogrammed them to be safer. Now, the cars of petrified of moving at all!”

Kaylen listened to all this, absorbing the sight of the timid car. It completed its lane change and seemed to settle down somewhat, having for the moment reached an equilibrium. “I’m sure they will work out the glitches before too long.”

Tom shrugged. “Maybe. Everyone is chattering about innovation, but innovation here always seem to hit some snags.”

“The point of purgatory,” continued Tom, “As you may have read in certain religious texts, is purification, or expiation. It’s not the fire of hell—it’s the fire of purification. And what better way to expiate and make someone suffer…than by making them sit in traffic.” Tom said this last part as his cab slowed to a complete stop. To the right, a giant billboard displayed a map of the traffic circles, with each circle colored brightly in either yellow or red colors. As Kaylen watched the billboard, the outer circle’s color turned from yellow to red.

“Hmm. Want to get a bite to eat?” said Tom. “There’s a pub not far from here that has exquisite Caribbean-inspired street tacos.”

Kaylen looked at the tightly interlocked cars all around them. “But, how will we get there?”

“Come with me!” said Tom, putting his car in park and opening his door to get out. “This jam will take at least an hour to sort out. We have the time.”

To be continued…

The Root of a Wrong (The One About Porn)

In Christendom, why is viewing pornography considered wrong?

Some answers you may have heard:

  • It hurts relationships!
  • That is somebody’s daughter/sister!
  • it’s gross!

While these are valid points, they are also mostly subjective, relatively dismissable arguments that ignore the fundamental reality taught by Christianity: people are made in God’s image, and sex was designed for marriage.

Being made in God’s image imbues every person with dignity, a dignity that the porn industry takes from people. Evidence suggests that many pornographic videos are the result of abuse or actually depictions of rape (2020). What this can mean for people is that by viewing porn and feeding the demand for the content, they incentivize this to continue. Not only this, but pornography objectifies people in a way that reduces people and fails to recognize the full person–it elevates what is sensory about another person to the absence of all else.

Christianity certainly values the sensory as good–this is why we are able to praise beauty when we see it. It must be understand, however, in its proper context, which is marital. A fuller picture of this idea is expressed very well in the book The Theology of the Body in One Hour and is this: sex is marital by its very nature. But to understand that truth, we have to understand marriage as being in some sense sacramental: it is a visible sign (or incarnation) of the relationship between Christ and the Church, just as the bread and wine represent (or become) the body and blood of Christ. This connection is probably easiest for Roman Catholics to make, but I think there is biblical warrant for this sacramental-ish language with regard to marriage in other traditions; after all, the Church is described as the bride of Christ.

Trying to understand sex outside the context of marriage is like trying to understand the life of a famous basketball player without knowing anything about basketball: it can be done (after all, the player is a person who has a life outside of the sport), but it will inevitably miss many important details due to the lack of contextual knowledge.

This is the proper context in which sex is to be understood, and outside of this context lies confusion, and, according to Scripture, danger.

As drinking poison is harmful to our physical bodies, sexual impurity is harmful to our souls. It’s actually bad for us as beings. Paul warns the Corinthians, a church rife with sexual immorality, to flee from it:

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18 English Standard Version)

I would like to note two things about this verse. First is that we are to flee from this sin, as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. There are probably some applications here that the readers may develop for themselves, but the second thing about this verse is that it puts the sin into its own category: sins against one’s own body.

Sins that harm one’s own soul. Sin that is powerful. We see elsewhere in Scripture (a character in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert points this out) truths that should make us tremble—that God will give people over to their sin and then to a reprobate mind. A reprobate mind is one of the scariest things. G.K. Chesterton writes about the madman:

“A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. he can only be saved by will or faith.” – (Chesterton, 2020, pp. 16-17)

It is scary to see how powerful sin can become if we let it reside in us.

Scary, that is, were it not for a Savior even more powerful than sin!

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:13-15 English Standard Version)

There is a process that begins when a person receives Christ and a communion with the Spirit that is powerful not only to save but to transform.

In contrast contrast the mind darkened by the power of sin, the words of Romans take on new meaning:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 English Standard Version, emphasis added)

This transformation is only possible because of a central fact: that when we receive Christ, we become new creatures:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17 English Standard Version)

In a world filled with powerful sin capable of destroying our bodies and darkening our minds, word of a Savior is good news indeed.

References

Butterfield, R. C. (2012). The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Crown & Covenant.

Chesterton, G. K. (2006). Orthodoxy. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Evert, J. (2017). The Theology of the Body in One Hour. Totus Tuus Press.

Pornhub Reportedly Profits from Nonconsensual Videos and Real Rape Tapes-Here are the Latest Examples. (2020, February 3). Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/pornhub-reportedly-profits-from-nonconsensual-videos/

Worldbuilding Resources

What do writers do when they are procrastinating while putting together a story? They go hunting for writing resources to help them with worldbuilding! This is a concept I’ve always struggled with as a writer—I relish the dialogue but drag my feet with the setting. In developing the world for Death and Taxis, I have been researching writing resources for assisting with world development.

Reddit – 100 Worldbuilding Prompts

https://www.reddit.com/r/worldbuilding/comments/als11s/100_worldbuilding_prompts/

This seems like a good list, filled with some offbeat questions to get the mind thinking differently about their world – such as question 17:

It’s late at night and I’m hungry, what food venues are still open?

The Novel Factory – The Ultimate World Building Questionnaire (131 questions)

https://www.novel-software.com/theultimateworldbuildingquestionnaire

This resource is broken up by category and therefore gives more structure to the world development than the previous resources. The first section pertains to the physics and nature of the world, the second section to geography and natural resources, etc.

As an added bonus, Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite fantasy authors, teaches a course at Brigham Young University on novel writing, and all the lectures are available online: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLH3mK1NZn9QqOSj3ObrP3xL8tEJQ12-vL

That’s all for today. Back to procrastinating worldbuilding.

Death and Taxis: Chapter 1

This story is inspired by a conversation with a friend–B. L. White–about a deceased taxi driver who gives people rides in the land of the dead.


“Where are you headed?” said Tom, taking a tire-squealing right turn onto Purgatorial Circle as he attempted to beat the oncoming rush of the traffic circle.

“Excuse me,” said the passenger, “This is very embarrassing…but could you please, before I tell you where I am headed—tell me where I came from?” The passenger, Kaylen, had a strange sensation, akin to the feeling of blacking out, and a vague, mostly physical recollection of the feeling of throwing up, and then of—this! Waking up, the growing sense of alarm at not remembering the immediate past and anxiety of not knowing…did something happen? Kaylen looked for clues at her appearance and clothing. Everything seemed normal: she was wearing a wooly blue-and-green sweater and grey jeans.

She sized up all these things in a moment as Tom glanced in the rear-view mirror and began to answer her question. “Well, if you’re here, then…well…” His voiced trailed off for a moment as he thought. “Well, you see…you have died. And now you’re here on the other side.”

Kaylen tried to process these words. Instead, she became curious about the road. “This is a traffic circle, you said?” She asked. “It’s pretty long, huh?”
“Longest there is,” said Tom. “For some reason the planners of this place didn’t like the idea of stoplights and intersections here. So they did what everyone does—they made this place an enormous traffic circle. Also, the architects have always been obsessed with ring-shapes. You know Dante and the 9 rings…?” Tom looked in the rearview mirror and was met with an empty expression. “Nah? Well, he was just an old dude—more my generation—and he wrote about heaven, hell, and purgatory. And he theorized that the places are divided into concentric rings—starting with the outer ring and working inwards. Or outwards…I don’t remember!” Tom said brightly. “Anyway, the point is—Dante got it more or less correct, only instead of rings, it’s really a bunch of concentric traffic circles. Dante didn’t know what a car was.”

Tom looked again at Kaylen and saw that her eyes had glazed over and that she had no idea what he was talking about. “Look, I’m rambling, but the point is, we have to get through 9 different traffic circles, and you got here at a pretty busy time of year actually—December always seems to be a rough time, and there’s a civil war going on in the East right now, so that’s also increased the number of visitors considerably. So the traffic is pretty bad today. You have until we get to the center to figure out where you’re going. No need to rush, though!”

The Contrapositive of Love

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” – John 21.15

The Inverse or the opposite? A discussion at an IEEE computer society meeting a few nights ago might seem like an unlikely place to be talking about love, but amid the discussion of a networking concept, the presenter distinguished between the opposite of a thing and the inverse of a thing. “What is the opposite of love? Most people would say it’s hate, but the opposite of both hate and love is apathy.” I didn’t fully follow this distinction, but the thought process started me thinking about synonyms, how we use them, and what they mean.

So, what is the opposite of love, and how is it different (if it is!) from inverse, converse, and contrapositive? Let’s take a look!

What do those words even mean? Time to dust off those logic definitions and find out! Let’s examine a statement and the 3 related statements we can draw from it, and evaluate whether these statements are true.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14.15-17

The Statement

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Converse

If you keep my commandments, you will love me.

This is false – without a heart changed and set to love God, outward obedience is insufficient to form love.

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘LORD, LORD, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” – Matthew 7.22

Inverse

If you do not love me, you will not keep my commandments.

This is also false—there are lots of moral people who, even without loving Jesus, are capable of keeping Jesus’s commandments. It is possible to honor God with our lips and obey commandments taught by men, while also having a heart that does not love God

And the Lord said:

Because this people draw near with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again

do wonderful things with this people,

with wonder upon wonder;

and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,

and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” – Isaiah 29.13-14

Contrapositive

If you do not keep my commandments, you will not love me.

This is almost true—but more accurately stated as—if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, then you do not love me. UPDATE: a more math-minded reader than I pointed out that the contrapositive of a statement is always true, so ignore the previous statement! The correct phrasing of the contrapositive should be: if you will not keep me commandments, then you do not love me. This is true!

Loving God expresses itself in the fruit of good works in believers. Though believers are imperfect, backslide, go through perhaps even seasons of life where they hold on to sin, the fruit of a heart truly in love with Christ is a walk that is increasingly obedient to his commands.
In Conclusion

What is the opposite of love? Is it hate, or is it apathy? Since opposite, unlike converse, inverse, and contrapositive, doesn’t have a strict definition in logic, I am left with a dictionary lookup to decide. The definition of opposite is as follows:

op·po·site (adj.)

1. Placed or located directly across from something else or from each other: opposite sides of a building.

2. Facing the other way; moving or tending away from each other: opposite directions.

3. Being the other of two complementary or mutually exclusive things: the opposite sex; an opposite role to the lead in the play.

As an an adjective, we would say that love and hate are opposite emotions, whereas apathy is the absence of emotion. As a result, to answer the original question in an extremely roundabout way, the opposite of love must be hate, but in the absence of love, there is indifference.

References:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-i-know-if-i-really-love-jesus

https://www.varsitytutors.com/hotmath/hotmath_help/topics/converse-inverse-contrapositive

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A22-23&version=ESV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2014

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/opposite