Excerpt From My New Book, “A Modern Christmas Carol”

As an early Christmas present, here’s an extended excerpt—the entire first chapter—from my new book. Enjoy!

Reverend Nathan Thorpe strode through the door of his studio’s makeup room. Above the door was the logo of Hundredfold Ministry, overflowing baskets of yellow wheat. Or perhaps gold coins—the interpretation was left to the observer.

“I’m late—sorry,” he said as he took the middle chair. His wife Janice had held him up. She was going at it again at breakfast. How many times must a man apologize?

“I’ll get you done in time,” said Mary, the makeup artist. She shook out a starched barber cape and draped it over his shoulders. “Any special plans for Christmas Eve?”

Nathan scanned the schedule for the day’s broadcast. “It’ll be quiet for us this year.” With luck, he and Janice would entertain themselves separately that evening.

“Nathan?” It was Sophia Becker, his secretary. He hadn’t noticed her when he walked in. Competent though unassuming, she tended to blend in. “Could we talk about some philanthropic ideas?”

He looked at his watch.

“You told me to meet you this morning,” she said.

He had little interest in this topic, though she was right that he had promised. He granted permission with a wave.

“I checked on some charities like you asked.” She handed him a sheet. “These are the most reputable ones that work in East Africa.”

Nathan glanced at the list. “If we spend money, it must have a return.”

“This would be good to do.”

“We’ve been over this—this is a business. ‘Good’ must mean ‘good for business.’ We already give money and brag about that. There’s just no value in giving a higher fraction.” They gave away eight percent of gross revenue, which wasn’t bad compared to other television ministries. It wasn’t like anyone could see their financials.

“But we’re a ministry,” she said.

“Right—not a soup kitchen. Spending money is an investment, and an investment needs a return—wider satellite footprint, more products in the store, new programming for a broader audience, that sort of thing. We already have Sudan Christian Relief in that part of the world. We showcased them two months ago.”

“They only get twenty percent of what we raise for them, and half of that goes to missionaries.”

“Yes, and we have expenses.” Nathan considered for a moment challenging her to find something to cut, but she had never seen the ministry’s balance sheet or P&L, and even the board saw only a sanitized budget. He wasn’t about to give her something to critique.

She opened her mouth to speak when Malcolm Canon walked in and leaned against the sink in front of Nathan. Malcolm was Nathan’s speech writer. “We should talk about the lineup next week,” Malcolm said.

Nathan had realized since his earliest days on stage that he was in the entertainment business, and crafting a sermon that crackled with energy was demanding work. Malcolm had been a celebrity ghostwriter, and he was very good. With Malcolm behind him, Nathan could consistently discourage the audience at one point, show the church as the solution at another, and finally bring them to their feet before the Ask.

“I want something on tithing,” Nathan said to Malcolm. “Let’s make it an undercurrent for the next couple of weeks.”

“Could be a third rail.”

“I don’t want to hit it hard,” Nathan said. “Show me reluctant.”

“Maybe someone wrote in for advice on how donating should be done.”

“Good—say that I wouldn’t bring it up except that someone asked. A letter on paper would make a good prop. And emphasize that tithing doesn’t mean giving, it means giving ten percent.

As Malcolm made notes, Sophia jumped back in. “I’m just thinking that we might be able to give more.”

Nathan sighed. “You said it yourself: we’re a ministry. If people want to give just humanitarian aid, they can go to CARE or Oxfam.”

Nathan thought for a moment about the Rainy Day Fund, the euphemistically named bin that held what in a corporation would be called “profits”—170 million dollars so far, tax free and hidden from judgmental eyes, and growing at a rate of 14 million dollars per year. Only he and the accountant saw these figures. It was all legal, not that they had to worry about an audit.

Sophia hesitated and said, “ ‘Whatever you have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done unto me.’ ”

Nathan turned to face her for the first time that morning. “Don’t wander into a biblical debate with me. ‘I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’ ”

She took half a step back and looked down.

“Look,” he said, “you’re just going to have to trust me with the business decisions.”

“Yes, you’re right,” she said. “Thank you for considering it.”

Nathan turned back to Malcolm, “We haven’t hit homosexuality lately. That always connects with the audience.”

“ ‘Thou shalt not be gay’ is an easy commandment for most people to follow.”

“But here’s the trick—we’ve got a lot of closeted gays in the audience. The donation demographics showed that we were too critical last time. What I want is for straights to feel that this is an easy win where they can feel superior, and for the gays to feel guilt without alienation. We become the solution to that guilt, we harness it. Okay?”

Mary was done and took off the barber cape.

Nathan said, “What have you got to tie this into current events?”

Malcolm tapped his pencil against his pad. “There was a story a few days back about a high school club for gay students. Some parents objected.”

“That’ll work. Put out a press release in response to the gay club. I’d like that in the queue today. After Christmas, the media will eat up fresh stories.”

Sophia said, “Nathan, it’s late. You have someone waiting to see you, and taping starts in less than thirty minutes.”

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • Y. A. Warren

    I very much enjoyed your take on the old story. I gave it to my committed Christian daughter, who is also and award winning teacher. I am looking forward to her comments on your work.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Much appreciated!

      • Y. A. Warren

        Please keep bringing your voice to the discussion of why so many say they like “Christianity” but dislike “Christians.” Who can argue with the sincere followers of the man (or myth) called Jesus? What thinking person won’t argue with the religions of fear that permeate our world?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But, of course, few think that their religion is a religion of fear. Few think that they are overstepping the bounds by imposing their moral views on the rest of society. Society should thank them, right?

          To your first sentence, one Christian source cites 42,000 denominations of Christianity. This is hardly a one-size-fits-all kind of religion. If you don’t like it, just reinterpret it to suit your own views.

          (That may not have been on topic. I’m just rambling here.)

        • Y. A. Warren

          Bravo, but let’s be gentle with those who have been discouraged from thinking with promises of eternal damnation should they even question dogma.

        • Kodie

          Oy vey.

  • MNb

    I love how Nathan parrots the abortus pro-choice arguments in his little discussion with Truman. It’s one of the highlights.

  • Rick

    I was really disappointed to read this post. You didn’t pillory every possible negative stereotype to the extreme. Just most of them. You simply must try harder.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      My life is spent scouring for good Christian arguments. There’s not much there, however.

      I have no desire to portray a strawman argument.

      • Rick

        So let’s see. You make up a charlatan, put him in the most villainous and underhanded characterization, but that is not a straw man. I’m sure you have some sophisticated reason why it isn’t, and technically you might even be right. But you are making up a character who displays all of the worst stereotypes you can imagine concerning Christianity and the assemble them into a “modern Christmas carol?” Why not call it what it is—an atheist’s worst possible imagination of everything wrong with the few who call themselves Christians but are just thieves and posers? There is nothing Christian about your carol.

        But in fact, we Christians join you in condemning the few who are like that. In fact, when they have been exposed, we have defrocked them ourselves. We didn’t really need your help to do so. We are on your side. If you know of any specifically acting like this, ferret them out and we will join you in exposing them. Been there, done that. There is even Biblical guidance on how to do it in a way that honors God’s character and seeks even their forgiveness if they are repentent.

        As for the part about spending your life scouring for good Christian arguments, perhaps that is your view. I have spent my adult life scouring for good atheist arguments. But there are none to be had, certainly not from you. All you do is tear down Christian ideas with no defense of your own whatsoever.

        Where did that matter come from, anyway? And order from disorder… wait, you don’t go there. Sorry.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You make up a charlatan, put him in the most villainous and underhanded characterization, but that is not a straw man

          Are you a fan of televangelists? Some people are, of course, so they won’t appreciate their role models getting critiqued. I would’ve guessed that you weren’t, so I’m surprised at the bristled defense of televangelists.

          I’m sure you have some sophisticated reason why it isn’t

          Nope. Just that (1) that’s kind of how some of them are and (2) in fiction, especially short fiction like this, you don’t have hundreds of pages to present a carefully nuanced portrait. It must be broad brush instead.

          Perhaps you’ve heard of Dickens’ original? Same deal.

          … and technically you might even be right.

          Oh—so all of that bluster was just for show and actually meant nothing?

          But you are making up a character who displays all of the worst stereotypes you can imagine concerning Christianity and the assemble them into a “modern Christmas carol?”

          Have you read my book? You do know that it’s more than just the “Bah! Humbug!” part, right?

          we Christians join you in condemning the few who are like that.

          And once again, I have no idea what you’re talking about, what’s an honest concern and what’s bluster.

          So we are on the same page then.

          when they have been exposed, we have defrocked them ourselves.

          Technically, you’re right, because only Christians can defrock a pastor. I’m not sure why this is startling or particularly laudable.

          But if you mean “take down,” I can’t think of any such examples. It was James Randi who exposed Peter Popoff’s hidden microphone. It was Ted Haggard’s gay prostitute who blew the whistle on that sanctimonious guy. Jimmy Swaggart. And on and on. We don’t need to analyze the Catholic priest pedophilia thing.

          If Christians cleaned up their own messes and took their medicine, that would be terrific.

          I have spent my adult life scouring for good atheist arguments. But there are none to be had, certainly not from you.

          :-)

          You need to make more clear what the errors are, either on your own blog or in the comments to the relevant posts here. You get an A for confidence. Not so good for giving clear and thorough dismantlings of atheist arguments, however.

          Where did that matter come from, anyway? And order from disorder… wait, you don’t go there. Sorry.

          I’m delighted to go there. Let’s.

          Where did matter come from? I don’t know. Science doesn’t know either. Why do you ask? Just passing the time, or is this actually relevant? Science has lots of unanswered questions, but that doesn’t give any support to the Christian position.

          If the Christian position has an alternative scientific (y’know–with evidence) explanation, let’s hear it.

          Order from disorder? We’ve already been over the simple example that everyone’s familiar with—sugar crystals forming out of evaporating sugar water. Where’s the problem?

        • Rick

          Scientific evidence? I’ve shown you lots of evidence for intelligent design, but you refuse to read the books. You’d rather make up stories that conveniently make your point. (Or so you presume.) No, I haven’t finished your book yet. Based on your intro, I’m not sure I want to torture myself with more Christian-bashing. I can read the newspapers for that. It’s going on all over the world—frequently resulting in death and imprisonment for the Christians. Maybe we should be more worried about that?

          Sugar crystals have no information content. A crystalline shape is quite different from DNA, which programs proteins to do complex functions, protected inside a unique structure called a cell that protects the multiple cellular subsystems and allows for metabolism and other complex interrelated functions. Are you still peddling the “order in crystals equals complexity from disorder” idea? That is a silly attempt if it’s serious. You are smart enough to know better than to do so.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve shown you lots of evidence for intelligent design, but you refuse to read the books.

          I’m fairly well versed in ID. I can’t imagine what you think the result will be. Either I’ll laugh at an argument because I’m quite familiar with it and know why it’s crap, or I’ll think, “Gee, I don’t have an answer to that.” And in both cases, I rely on the scientific consensus.

          Change those closed-minded eggheads, and you’ve made the sale.

          I haven’t finished your book yet.

          That surprises me. You seemed quite confident that the character development was a paper-thin caricature, a hodge podge of atheists’ imagined traits of wicked Christians. I assumed that only understanding the matter at hand would give that much confidence.

          I’m not sure I want to torture myself with more Christian-beating.

          Fair enough.

          Sugar crystals have no information content.

          Yes, that’s true.

          Now that we’ve resolved the tangent, let’s get back to the argument. You raised this question before and got publicly corrected. See, this is how refusing to learn anything from this site comes back to bite you. You raise the same weak argument and are getting the same slap down. Publicly. My advice: learn from your mistakes and stop making them.

          Are you still peddling the order in crystals story? That is a silly attempt if it’s serious. You are smart enough to know better than to do so.

          Indeed I am. I’m shouting it from the rooftops. We see here order from disorder, precisely what you demanded.

          So I guess you’re satisfied that your request has been answered, right? Terrific!

        • Rick

          Publicly corrected? I didn’t see it that way. I heard a lot of dissenting whining with minimal substance. You ignored the information content piece as usual.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Publicly corrected? I didn’t see it that way. I heard a lot of dissenting whining with minimal substance. You ignored the information content piece as usual.

          It’s surprising that we have such confusion over a comment you made less than a day ago. Dang, I wish we had the reliability of the gospels—written without error decades after the events.

          But no problem—the internet makes retrieval easy. You said: “Where did that matter come from, anyway? And order from disorder… wait, you don’t go there. Sorry.”

          A little mocking (OK, a lot mocking), but let’s ignore that.

          Do you want to change the conversation to talk about information content? OK, but that’s a different conversation. I was responding to what you asked for.

          You asked about order from disorder, and I gave you an example. Indeed, it was the same obvious example I (publicly) gave you in response to the same question just a few weeks ago.

          Order comes from disorder within nature. You know it, and I know it.

          Perhaps you can stop making overconfident demands for examples of order from disorder now?

        • Rick

          You see order where you choose to see it and not where it is too complex to be explained by random chance. Here is another example. It’s a thought experiment. You like those—this should be fun!

          You would see waves sweeping deck chairs off the Titanic as a clean deck and increased order. I see the arrangement of deck chairs around a dinner table being intelligently put there for a specific purpose that can never be accomplished by the randomness of the sweeping wave.

          Every once in a while, I stop by this forum to see if there is any back and forth going on—some actual dialogue. But instead, I brought up complexity of interrelated cellular systems and you go back to sugar crystals. I brought up DNA programming and you brought back recombination. That is recombination of existing code into different order. Where did the original order begin, and where did the recombined subsets of information come from? Where did the system of systems come from that made that code accomplish a necessary purpose and function, while also allowing it to recreate and duplicate its own complex ecosystem? You have no clue, but instead go back to what molecular structures like sugar and other crystals do because of their inherent properties, which accomplish no purposeful activity whatsoever. They are just geometric shapes.

          As usual, I will go away for a while and let you have the last word. Life is busy and this could be a time vacuum, as it has been in the past. But every once in a while I will come back and see if there is any thoughtful discussion going on, instead of uniform agreement with the monolithic thoughts of the similarly-minded. You may only be attracting a group that mirrors your thoughts, Bob (like Anton), but the hostility experienced here by those who dare to disagree with your ideas is not endearing. I’m not sure what you think that accomplishes. Maybe you can blog on that someday.

          This blog site is, as I have said before, anything but clear thinking, on Christianity or any other topic of origins and reality, from what I can tell. But then I’m one of those idiots who doesn’t think like this group. And this kind of interaction won’t improve the situation. That’s too bad, because there are legitimate reasons for differing opinions on these topics. But it seems you only attract those who think like all of yourselves.

          I keep hoping for better. It shouldn’t be that hard.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You see order where you choose to see it and not where it is too complex to be explained by random chance.

          Only it’s not random chance, it’s the interaction of various molecular, biochemical, and physical processes. Instead of getting to a certain threshold of complexity where you throw your hands up and assume it’s intelligently designed, we recognize that the only feasible explanation for complexity so precarious, redundant, and unnecessary is repeated iterations of mindless processes.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You see order where you choose to see it and not where it is too complex to be explained by random chance.

          Are sugar crystals from evaporated sugar water an example of order from disorder?

          I see the arrangement of deck chairs around a dinner table being intelligently put there for a specific purpose that can never be accomplished by the randomness of the sweeping wave.

          Chairs arranged suggests an intelligence.

          I brought up complexity of interrelated cellular systems and you go back to sugar crystals.

          You said, “And order from disorder… wait, you don’t go there. Sorry.” I appreciate your consideration for my sensitive atheists feelings—the scientific data isn’t going our way and all—but I’m happy to go there. I’m as eager to go there as you are to run away from it.

          You brought up order from disorder. I brought up an example of order from disorder that requires no intelligence. And now you want to change the subject? No, let’s wrap up this one, first. Then we can move on.

          That is recombination of existing code into different order. Where did the original order begin, and where did the recombined subsets of information come from? Where did the system of systems come from that made that code accomplish a necessary purpose and function, while also allowing it to recreate and duplicate its own complex ecosystem?

          Golly, you’re a curious little fella, aren’t you? Well, good for you. From questions come knowledge.

          1. You’re passionate about the DNA issue, but let me understand why. Is it because your faith is built on this? That is, is it a major foundation of your belief in God and, if all these questions were answered to your satisfaction, would this rock or destroy your faith? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing that you don’t care a whit for this issue except that you see it as a weapon to use against nonbelievers. If you found no questions here, you’d just hop onto whatever else was a hot scientific issue di jour. Science always has unanswered questions, after all, and you could drop this one and just find another. Clarify your position here for me—I might’ve gotten it wrong.

          2. When you raise these tough issues with the biologists—the people who actually understand the data—what do they say? Are they as perplexed as you? Do the questions point to God for them as well? Or are they content with natural explanations? And if they are content (the people who actually understand this, unlike you or me) what do you recommend I do with your questions?

          You may only be attracting a group that mirrors your thoughts, Bob (like Anton)

          Huh? Anton is a Christian.

          This blog site is, as I have said before, anything but clear thinking, on Christianity or any other topic of origins and reality, from what I can tell.

          You could be a force for truth. No?

          But then I’m one of those idiots who doesn’t think like this group.

          Oh, I get it, ’cause everyone here thinks Christians are idiots, right? And you’re a Christian pretending to be an atheist who thinks Christians are idiots. Oh, funny! Except that I don’t think Christians are idiots. The Christians here probably don’t think of them as idiots, either.

          I keep hoping for better.

          You’re determined to be displeased. I’m certain you will be no more pleased next time you do a drive-by.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You’d rather make up stories that conveniently make your point.

          Well, that’s all the complexity-indicates-intelligent-design trope is. Personally, I’ve always wondered why people don’t consider DNA a refutation of intelligent-design rather than an example of it; after all, we have no reason to assume (unlike complexity in a computer program) that such a self-replicating biochemical template is the product of an intelligent designer apart from the fact that you won’t accept that Nature can create complexity without agency.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Indeed DNA alone (and its Rube Goldberg nature) is the basis for my own rejection of the Design Argument.

        • Rick

          You’re right. I can’t accept that. Show me examples of it that demonstrate complex coding comes from random chance and undirected mutation.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I can’t accept that. Show me examples of it that demonstrate complex coding comes from random chance and undirected mutation.

          Like I said before, anyone who doesn’t categorically refuse to acknowledge the creative powers of undirected forces has no problem seeing DNA as a pretty sound refutation of all this ID nonsense. Bob mentioned that the DNA recombination process displays exactly the kind of complexity that indicates countless iterations of mindless processes rather than intelligent agency: insanely complicated and unnecessarily redundant.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’ve got strong feelings on the subject. Help me out so I don’t blunder so badly next time. Give me some guidelines for using fiction or nonfiction to help Christians consider and critique the best atheist arguments.

  • MNb

    Hemant Mehta wrote today:

    “It turns out nearly 75% of charitable giving by all Americans … benefits places of worship and faith-based charities.”
    Your novel is a lot more relevant and wry than I thought as a non-American.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      American citizens (not the government) give roughly $300 billion to charities every year. $100B goes to churches, but I don’t know what “faith-based charities” includes. A lot less than Hemant’s quote suggests.

      I’ll have to take a look at that.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    That’s an odd set of lyrics. I guess we only ever learn the first stanza.


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