NRA: Tsion and them that mourn

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 195-200

Buck Williams and his new friend are headed to Michael’s hideout in Jordan the East Bank of Israel. That’s where renegade rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah’s followers hid him to keep him safe after black-hooded thugs murdered his wife and children. Shortly after they helped Tsion flee to safety, the ex-rabbi’s chauffeur was killed by a car-bomb.

The Russians love their children too.

This is all sloppy work on the part of the nefarious Jewish conspiracy out to get Tsion Ben-Judah. Their crude, unimaginative violence shows they haven’t been watching enough of the right kind of movies about innocent men being framed and hunted by diabolical shadowy forces. Anyone who’s seen those movies knows that you can’t just kill somebody like Tsion — that might turn him into a popular martyr whose followers could be inspired to cause even more trouble. You have to disgrace him first by framing him for some unspeakably heinous crime.

The conspirators nod in that direction by belatedly trying to spread the rumor that Tsion himself arranged for the murder of his wife and children, but this half-hearted smear was too little, too late for it to be effective. They’d sent a whole squad of black-hooded thugs to kill Tsion’s family, and they killed them publicly in the street. Then they tried to pin the blame on Tsion’s driver — saying the ex-rabbi had instructed his chauffeur to orchestrate this public attack. Well, OK, but if that’s the plan, then the next step should have been to arrest the driver and extract a false confession from him, implicating the ex-rabbi as well (or just disappear him into some nameless cell and say he’d confessed, maybe before hanging himself). But this bone-headed conspiracy bungled that part of the plan too by also killing the driver publicly. Even Buck and Michael are smart enough to figure out what that means:

“And these stories about his driver having been in on the slaughter of his family?”

Michael shook his head. “That man was exonerated in a most decisive way, would you not agree?”

They pause to remember this man they both knew, having just confirmed his innocence. Well, his legal innocence, anyway — he was still guilty of original sin, of course, so he clearly deserves to suffer an eternity of torment in the fires of Hell.

“Was he also a believer?”

“Sadly, no. But he was loyal and sympathetic. We believed it was only a matter of time. We were wrong.”

That “sadly, no,” seems inadequate to the gravity of what they claim to believe that means for this good, loyal man’s eternal fate. We might say, “I wanted the pie a la mode, but, sadly, the waitress said they were out of ice cream.” But we wouldn’t say, “The lab results are back and, sadly, it’s terminal and there’s nothing we can do for you. Bummer.”

I’ve heard countless sermons chiding Christians for failing to fully appreciate the gravity of the eternal damnation awaiting every unsaved person we’ve ever known. If we really believed that these people were doomed to suffer never-ending agony forever and ever, the preachers all insisted, then we’d be far more urgent evangelizing others, spending our every waking moment in a frenzy of proselytizing. There’s a compelling logic to that. Given their premise, those sermons’ conclusions were correct. If we really believed that every non-believer was damned for eternity, then it would be monstrous for us to do anything other than evangelize — constantly and aggressively, by any means necessary.

But because I accept the logic of that, I’m led to another conclusion as well. Since no one does this, then perhaps no one really believes in this idea of Hell. Buck and Michael certainly seem like they don’t really believe this. They’re angry at the evil conspiracy that killed this good and innocent man, but they’re not angry at the God they imagine is now killing him perpetually and painfully for eternity. “He was loyal and sympathetic,” Michael says. But, “sadly,” he’s now burning in Hell.

The inadequacy of that sigh and shrug convinces me that these characters — and the authors who created them — can’t possibly really believe what they’re suggesting here. I’m not sure anyone “really” does.

“Sadly, no. But he was loyal and sympathetic. We believed it was only a matter of time. We were wrong. Dr. Ben-Judah is not aware of the loss of his driver, by the way.”

“He, of course, knows about his family.”

“Yes, and you can imagine how awful that is for him. When we loaded him into the boat he remained in that fetal position, covered by the blanket. In a way, that was good. It allowed us to keep him in hiding until we got him to the drop-off point. I could hear his loud sobbing over the sound of the boat throughout the entire voyage. I can still hear it.”

“Only God can console him,” Buck said.

“I pray so,” Michael said. “I confess, the consolation period has not yet begun. He has not been able to speak. He cries and cries.”

I’ll give Jerry Jenkins a pass here for the callow glibness of Buck’s response. That’s an awful thing to say, but there’s a kind of accidental realism to that awfulness. Confronted with unimaginable grief, we often find, to our own horror, that our mouths are moving and hollow, mortifying sounds are coming out of them. That happens. Thus even though Buck’s shallow platitude here was probably intended to be a bit of pious wisdom — or, even worse, a model of the sort of thing it’s good to say — we can pretend otherwise and just treat this as the kind of all-too-common verbal farting we’re capable of when confronted with a grief for which there can be no words.

(This is why cops are trained to stick to, “I’m sorry for your loss.” That’s inadequate, of course, but anything they say would be inadequate, and it’s better to say something inoffensively inadequate than to risk ad-libbing something that would be both inadequate and appalling.)

We could critique other aspects of Jenkins’ attempt to describe Tsion’s grief, but parts of the scene above are not bad. “He has not been able to speak. He cries and cries.” That works. I’ve picked on Jenkins so many times for violating the “Show, don’t tell” rule that I feel obliged here to point out this rare instance of him getting that right.

The significant point here, though, is not how the authors describe Tsion Ben-Judah’s grief over the loss of his wife and children. The significant thing here is that Tsion is grieving at all.

This is series of books in which, in the first chapter of Book 1, everyone everywhere lost all of their children. Yet since then, Tsion Ben-Judah is only the fourth person we’ve seen responding to this loss. Rayford Steele mourned the loss of his wife, Irene, and his son, Raymie. Bruce Barnes mourned the loss of his family. And poor Loretta is just about my favorite character because she was the only person we’ve met who seemed appropriately, humanly devastated by the loss of her loved ones in the Event.

There was a perfunctory mention of Buck’s alleged sadness over the disintegration of his nephews, but that didn’t seem credible. Chloe Steele’s initial anger after the Event might have been a form of grieving, but the authors insisted it wasn’t so much a response to the loss of her mother and brother as it was to the loss of the intellectual hauteur she had to surrender in order to become a real, true Christian.

Tsion Ben-Judah has just learned of the violent death of his wife and children. And now he is mourning and grief-stricken. “He cries and cries.” That’s good. That rings true. It portrays a human response that seems real and believable.

But the larger context surrounding Tsion’s grief underscores something unreal, unbelievable and inhuman about these books. The problem is that his appropriate response rings true because it portrays something universal — yet the authors portray this response as exceptional.

The implication of Tsion’s grief — and the grief of Rayford, Bruce and Loretta — is that only real, true Christians mourn the death of their children.

We discussed last week how the authors seem confident in presuming the absolute worst about everyone everywhere who is not a member of their own small circle of true believers. That presumption can only be maintained by preserving a determined ignorance about all those people. We see here just how astonishingly vast this ignorance must be. It’s one thing to embrace hateful stereotypes or to attribute to others some imagined intrinsic inferiority, but consider the utter disdain it takes to assert — or just to assume — that Those People do not mourn when their children die. (“I hope the Russians love their children too,” Sting sang back during the Cold War. But his point was that of course they do — that all people love their children, and that perhaps it would be good if people who loved their children didn’t kill one another’s children and their own.)

What we described last week as Tim LaHaye’s disdainful disregard for the entire world is related, I think, to the cognitive dissonance we saw illustrated above regarding the driver who, “sadly,” is now burning in Hell. That dissonance is easier to cope with if you reassure yourself that Those People really deserve to burn forever. People who love their children, people who mourn the loss of their children, clearly do not deserve such a fate. Therefore, hellbound sinners must not mourn the death of their children.

So yet again, this strikes me as Bad Writing that arises, in part, from Bad Theology. But it’s also just partly Bad Writing. Remember all that stuff your English teacher said about universal and specific? This is where that comes into play. This is why that’s so important.

Writers need to make the universal specific and to allow the specific to be universal. “For all the history of grief / An empty doorway and a maple leaf.” Tsion’s grieving fails in both directions. On the one hand, it’s too general — with nothing particular about Tsion’s grieving to distinguish it from any other father and husband. We’re never told anything about the actual woman and actual children whose loss he is mourning. The effect of that is to make his grief seem blandly generic, and since any grief we’ve experienced or witnessed was particular and not general and generic, we can’t fully relate to that. We’re not moved by it.

But that’s less of a problem than the other way in which Jenkins fails here, because on the other hand he’s also suggesting that Tsion’s generic, universal experience of grief is somehow exceptional and specific only to Tsion and to other RTCs like him. It thus comes across less like a description of this one man’s experience than like an accusation about everyone else.

Mallory Ortberg captured this pregnant insinuation in her piece on the woman who preferred animals to humans:

“I love my pets,” the woman said, as if someone had questioned it, or as if this was somehow an unusual or praiseworthy way to feel about pets.

When a generic sentiment like that is presented as exceptional, it always carries that implication of accusation. If we read, “The people of the tiny village of Milltown were still mourning young Tommy, who had drowned in the river late that summer,” we’re allowed and invited to relate to the grief of these townspeople. We relate to it because their particular experience evokes something universal. But if we strip away all those particularities, it turns into, “In small towns, people mourn the loss of children who die.” That’s not inviting, it’s accusing. It’s suggesting that people who don’t come from small towns cannot relate to this experience.

This comes up quite a bit in country music, which is filled with tribalistic songs celebrating life in small towns and the people who call them home. At their best, such songs include delightfully specific details that can bring a smile to the face of a lifelong Manhattanite. But at their worst, these songs do what Jenkins does here by treating Tsion’s grief as exceptional. Consider, for example, Scotty McCreery’s “Water Tower Town.” That title image is evocative, but the rest of the song is so full of banal generalities that it can’t be heard except as an accusation. When he sings, “Workin’ hard and livin’ right is the only life we know” it doesn’t come across as a boast about his small-town people, but as a criticism of big city people — or of everyone everywhere else.

Tsion Ben-Judah and Rayford Steele mourn the death of their children. But so does everybody else.

If the authors understood that last sentence, and if they’d allowed themselves to consider that thought for more than a second or two, then these would have been a very different set of books.

  • Daniel

    I’ve always wondered why no-one making a pact with the devil ever arranges the conditions in which their soul must be kept afterwards, like businesses do when they state you can’t work for a competitor after you leave them etc. “You can have my soul only if you agree to be nice to it” doesn’t seem like that big a thing to ask. And- sorry, I’m off on one now- if the gaining of souls is so important to the Devil, and to God, why has it never struck the arch-trickster Satan to make hell a bit less torturey and a bit more “infinite indulgence in sin” which would surely get more souls than God’s “you can finally meet me!” tactic? And (I think about this a lot, and am currently writing something with a character who employs a legal team to draw up his satanic contract so it’s completely free of loopholes and gives him maximum benefit) what happens if you use your satanically bestowed powers for good? Surely if you ask the Devil to give you the skills to end world hunger, cure cancer, fix all the problems with the environment etc. surely a just God would forgive you? I mean, it’s not like he was doing any of that.

  • arcseconds

    It makes a bit more sense if you think of Satan as he appears in Job — still on Heaven’s payroll.

  • Hexep

    Oh yeah. ‘Small town virtues’ don’t play in China. To us, small-town = squalor and snake-oil.

  • Daniel

    Which would imply that he’s really got the shit end of the stick- his whole purpose is to be hated by everyone except the people who ask him for help, which he’s allowed to give, on condition that afterwards he has to punish them remorselessly for ever. And all this for what purpose? I actually have quite a bit of sympathy for the devil. A question to anyone more knowledgeable about theology than me: why are God and the devil so eager to compete for souls? Is there a prize for the one with the most? Or is it just that the devil as rival to God needs souls to show his status- a bit like a celestial arms race? In which case, the same question comes up as before- being the master of temptation and all, why does the devil not make hell a little more tempting?

  • Carstonio

    I had assumed that according to the theology, it was the god who created hell and condemned the devil to rule there, with the latter having no control over his dominion’s tortures.

  • Daniel

    Point taken, but then he had the ability to raise an army against God. He was that powerful and able that he could some how organize an effective military operation against an all powerful and all knowing enemy. Surely someone who can do that can arrange at least a pub and maybe a quiz night in Hell?
    “Better to be events manager in Hell than serve in Heaven”

  • Jonna

    Right, so does that mean George Lucas is a bad person for not paying any attention to Endor Holocaust (when a significant fraction of the mass of the blown-up Death Star re-enters the atmosphere and burns the forest to cinder, at the very least) and actually portraying his characters celebrating with the doomed ewoks (who they fooled into assisting in their own genocide)? Or was that simply a failure of imagination?

    And how about the people here who engaged in Bruce Barnes Death Count? Are they murderers?

  • Carstonio

    The city-bashing of Water Tower Town uses obvious Southern Strategy language. But apparently the Southern distaste for the ethnic minorities in Northern cities predated the Civil War and was similarly couched in euphemisms. It’s poisoned the language to the point where “small-town values” refers to a general intolerance of difference.

  • damanoid

    I am fairly sure the book does just the opposite– Ender is extremely angsty and mopey about the unpleasant things he has done, while everyone around him does their best to shield him and assure him how necessary it all was. We even get those goofy semi-omniscient cutaways, when the Real Authorities agonize about how they are being so cruel to Ender, and how necessary it all is. Which goes back to my earlier point about his sense of martyrdom, and how the tragedy is ultimately made to be all about him. The reader is intended to ultimately forgive or simply ignore the people he has killed. Of course, he is never held to account by others, nor is he called to testify in order to punish those who fed him those lies. In the end, even the psychic ghosts of the murdered aliens absolve and love him.

    The book sets up a neat paradox where a child, which our society of course greatly values for their proverbial innocence, is specifically trained to murder an entire race of people. And since he’s innocent, he can’t be blamed. Of course, Ender is also held up as an uncannily mature supergenius, which tends to undercut that idea somewhat, or at least should.

    I think there’s quite likely a meaningful parallel here with ‘Left Behind’ and the idea of an infinitely good and merciful Savior who nonetheless countenances the eternal torture of all who fail to accept him. After all, it’s really their own choice, isn’t it? They made him do it. Jesus is very sad that they are choosing to be tortured for eternity by him. And the Real True Christian followers are likewise blameless. Yes, they worship the author of ultimate genocide, but he’s really pure and good at heart– and also supernaturally wise, so he really knows better than you about the justice of genocide and torture. It’s the victims who are really to blame.

  • damanoid

    Me: ‘I am fairly sure the book does just the opposite’

    I should clarify that this was addressed at your first point:

    ‘The impression I got from the book was that, being written to frame
    Ender’s own experiences, the assertion that he is still a good person is
    just rationalization on Ender’s part.’

    But it’s not Ender who does the rationalizing, it’s everyone else around him. In fact the whole rest of the book is set up as a rationalization, while Ender himself humbly demurs. In the end he is allowed to wander off into space, saintlike in his penitence.

  • Cactus_Wren

    Mercedes Lackey wrote a story about a TV preacher who pledged his soul to Satan in exchange for wealth and fame and endless sexual satisfaction, knowing he’d be able to get out of any such contract. He died secure in the certainty that was bound for Heaven because he’d repented of every single sin he’d committed. Just as soon as he committed them, every single one, he repented.

    But by his actions he’d led many thousands of people into sinful actions, and he’d never repented of their sins.

  • dpolicar

    Sure it does. The adults in Ender’s Game are culpable out the wazoo.

    But the narration doesn’t go out of its way to try to convince me that the adults are good and innocent, so I don’t find the storytelling dishonest around the adults… they’re people behaving badly, being presented as people behaving badly.

    Unlike Ender.

  • dpolicar

    He beats the other kids who put him into a corner, yes, and does so in a way as to ensure they never threaten him again, yes.

    Under normal circumstances, what would you say about a boy who beats another boy on a schoolbus to death because he couldn’t think of any better way to defuse the political situation that had arisen between them?

    Or, if you consider that Ender and the others don’t really count as children because of their exceptionality, what would you say about an adult who does the equivalent?

    Yes, I agree completely that whatever Ender is, the adults in his life made him that way. But he is what he is and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise.

  • GDwarf

    So you would say that things done by mistake or with incomplete or incorrect information are just as wrong as doing such things knowingly? ‘Cause, if so, that puts the guy who invented CFCs at the top of pretty much any “worst human being ever” list.

    I know that “intent isn’t magic” is pretty much universal here, and I agree…to an extent. The reason intent isn’t magic is because the harm is still done, but if you don’t intend to cause the harm you do then, while you are morally obligated to help right things, you aren’t morally in the wrong for it. If I trip and fall off a building and land on a person, saving my life but crippling them for life, then I am not morally culpable for that, even though I am morally obligated to help them however I can.

    What it boils down to, for me:
    Ender didn’t know he was committing genocide, or even that he was killing others.
    As soon as he knew he did everything he could to make amends.

    Those two things should pretty much absolve him of guilt, if not responsibility.

    As I said, it’s been a long time since I read Ender’s Game, and clearly you don’t like the book, but I think that blaming Ender, the character, for what you feel are failings of the story is pretty preposterous.

  • Daniel

    The guy who invented CFCs also put lead into petrol, and strangled himself to death in a system of pulleys he set up to help him move around when he became bed-bound through polio. He may have been the most unfortunate inventor ever.,_Jr.

  • dpolicar

    I didn’t even mention the genocide in the comment you’re replying to.

    On your view, is Ender guilty of murdering the boy on the bus? Is he guilty of murdering the boy in the shower? Those are the events I mentioned.

    blaming Ender, the character, for what you feel are failings of the story is pretty preposterous.

    I agree that this would be preposterous.

  • Lliira

    I have no idea what the “Bruce Barnes Death Count” is. But you appear to be claiming something ridiculous that I did not claim and would never claim, as it appears ridiculous. Changing “protagonist-centered morality means the writer’s morality is bad” to “anyone who enjoys doing something or other involving fiction is a MURDERER” — come on. You didn’t believe I was saying anything of the sort.

    The “Endor Holocaust” is fanwank. A better argument would revolve around Alderaan. I would say that Lucas did try to deal with the blowing up of Alderaan through the reactions of Princess Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Whether he succeeded is a more interesting question — but he tried. As for those terrible movies he made based on the comic strip Darths & Droids, I’d rather forget they exist.

  • Lliira

    You can only torture someone so many times, in so many painful ways, before they become used to it

    This is not actually true. People don’t get used to pain, or at least everyone doesn’t. In my personal experience, it actually gets far worse with time. I used to have a pretty good pain tolerance. After years of constant excruciating pain, I am now liable to cry if I stub my toe.

    Hell still doesn’t exist, of course, because the very idea is ludicrous on every level.

  • PepperjackCandy

    I grew up in a church that seemed, to me, to teach that the soul is separate from the body. At least we didn’t talk much about any kind of judgment day or bodily resurrection.

    We also didn’t talk about any kind of physical “second coming.” As a result, we were taught that taking care of the the Earth and solving real-world problems was a priority, because once we have gone on to whatever comes next, our descendants will have to live with and/or fix whatever we leave behind.

  • SkyknightXi

    And that conceit assumes that Objective Morality HAS an author. If it really is authored by God, it could be argued that from God’s perspective, it’s SUBjective.

    Even as an apatheist, it’s the kind of precept that bothers me. If everything is subjective with respect to God, can it be said that God is more than a beast of chaos and whim? And if not, what is there besides greater strength that meaningfully distinguishes him from Belial (I’d rather not use Satan/Lucifer because that would instantly attract Gnostic arguments, which I’m trying to steer clear of. The idea of how to find an unalloyed-objective morality is the point here.)?

  • SkyknightXi

    Maybe that explains the mind-blank interpretation of “God shall wipe the tears away from every eye” you see every now and again among RTCs. The haunting knowledge of people they knew and/or loved being consigned to endless agony in Hell would, in this scenario, ITSELF be torture to the saved. Although that calls up a new question–what was the POINT of perdition, if none of the saved (and maybe none of the angels, and maybe not even God) remember the condemned? Just purging the last remaining filaments of the primordial serpent Rahab?

    Note: The “point of perdition” is an allusion to the idea that knowing the punishments of the condemned is supposed to further evoke God’s mercy and love for the saved, in that he went that much more the distance to keep them out of that bind. You see it most often among Hyper-Calvinists like Vincent Cheung, and that evoked contrast is probably also the main point behind the arguments of Tertullian and Aquinas for that witnessing.

  • J_Enigma32

    I’m glad you brought that up, actually. Heaven is far more terrifying than Hell if you think about it.

    Hell doesn’t have to exist to torture the saved. Imagine that you’re a parent who died while your child was a teenager. You go up to heaven, and you get to look down and watch them suffer, and stumble, and trip, and fall, and you can’t be there when they need help the most. You can’t pick them up and hug them, and tell them it’ll be okay. You can’t be there when they need you the most. You just have to watch and do nothing; and it’d take an awful sick God not to let you check in on your relatives or at least see how your loved ones are doing.

    Heaven wouldn’t be heaven. There’s a line in the Blue Pimpernel that highlights this view: Renee asks a hallucination of her dead mother what heaven is like, and the hallucination responds “It’s not heaven without you.” Renee later takes this view in the second novel and develops into an atheist almost directly because of the posited existence of Heaven.

    And if God wipes every tear from your eye, that won’t stop more from forming. And if God removes the pain, he’s removing your love, so what was the purpose of having it to begin with?

    Now, classical Christianity has a solution to this problem: you rest until judgement day, when the dead are resurrected and *everyone* who ever was or ever will is called home. But death is just that, death; most modern people don’t hold that view – when you die, you go straight to Heaven or Hell rather than rest until the judgement day. And that doesn’t solve the problem of the damned.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I don’t think that it is fair to say that Fred really is trying to imply such and such because of what he [writes] nowadays…

    I don’t see how you can say that without denying the actual function of the written word.

    Also, I really dislike your tendency to fling ablist slurs about, as in your other post. The “r” word doesn’t become cute just because you’re pretending to aim it at yourself and surround it with malaprop salad.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I can attest to this, Even those who live in cities routinely – if you turn off the lights in your bedroom and let your eyes take some time to adjust you will be able to make out shapes and different shadings of darkness by only the weak ambient streetlight outside, or moonlight if the moon is reasonably bright that night.

    The human eye is a bit of a marvel that way. :)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Ooh, that’s a nice one.

    There’s another story I remember reading of, wherein a man, deciding his soul doesn’t exist, figures he might as well sign on the dotted line anyway. Imagine his surprise when bip! he’s with Ol’ Nick at the appointed day and hour.

    The devil taunts him by saying there was no way to get out – and says it in a way that implies that within three dimensions there is not, but the devil did not specifically include a fourth–

    and *BZAP*. :P

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Also, for irony, there’s that Swedish country-rock group who’s famous for Cotton Eye Joe. :D

  • hagsrus
  • PepperjackCandy

    I suspect that at least some of it is that they learn the accent in order to sell records. For example, Shania Twain is from Canada yet she has a very nice (to my admittedly uneducated ears) Tennessee accent when she sings.

  • PepperjackCandy

    My exposure to country makes me think that there’s a checklist of things to talk about and each song must have so many boxes checked off.

    See: The final verse of “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” (starting at 3:04)

  • reynard61

    So? These days, even *non*-Satanic contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on either. You’re screwed whether you sign on the dotted line or not.

  • Raksha38

    In 1996 there was a really terrible TV movie adaptation of the comic book series ‘Generation X’ which was an X-Men spinoff featuring Emma Frost and Banshee as the teachers to a group of new young mutants. The movie was terrible. Really awful! It was cheesy and clearly cheaply done, several of the characters from the comic were replaced with new characters (whose powers were cheaper to film), and they cast a white actress to play the Asian character Jubilee.

    But the guy who played Banshee was great! He was fun and charming and really channeled that character. He was too good for that movie and should have played Banshee in a much better adaptation.

  • Lori

    I think that just proves that Satan is less of a liar than the 1% and their political lapdogs.

  • Lori

    I still like The Simpsons’ take on it—you can’t sell what doesn’t belong to you. If the devil doesn’t realize that your soul is another person’s property it’s too bad for him.

  • Lori

    No, a patriot would know the whole quote: My country, right or wrong. If right to be kept right and if wrong to be made right.

  • Lorehead

    On the bus? He really doesn’t know what he’s doing, and by my recollection, when the adults drop in conversation that they covered up that the other kid died, and that that was what convinced them that Ender was the one they were looking for, it reveals that the innocence we thought Ender just lost was an illusion from the start. If that happened in the real world, with children that age, I doubt the juvenile criminal justice system would call it murder.

    I don’t see how you could call the fight in the shower anything but self-defense.

  • Lorehead

    To summarize, Ender is certainly not perfect, and whether you think that’s a problem with the book or not pretty much boils down to whether you think he was supposed to be?

  • Deird

    How did the US and Canada suddenly become part of this discussion? We were talking about whether it was a “fringe” belief or not – and you can’t suddenly define “fringe” as “not very prominent in North America” when the discussion wasn’t about North America.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The implicit discussion of LB tends to involve discussions of religious belief systems predominant in the USA.

    I’m well aware of the Eastern Orthodox church being well-establshed in Eastern Europe and in Russia.

  • izen

    Is Ben-Judah crying about his wife and children because he had failed to convert them so they are ‘sadly’ going to spend eternity in hell like the chauffeur?

    Or are they saved, so he is crying for the brief separation before he rejoins them in heaven.

  • damanoid

    “What it boils down to, for me:
    Ender didn’t know he was committing genocide, or even that he was killing others.
    As soon as he knew he did everything he could to make amends.

    Those two things should pretty much absolve him of guilt, if not responsibility.”

    I find it worrisome that this argument seems to have such appeal. Ender always knew that he was being trained to command the attack on the enemy planet. He knew there was a real-life genocide weapon among his arsenal. He knew that he was being given the option to use genocide, and– in what he was led to believe was a training exercise for the real attack– he chose to use it. He was given a literal genocide button, and he pushed it. His leaders engineered that situation precisely so he would not botch the attack by having a crisis of conscience, or mercy– and he didn’t.

    Imagine if our leaders had a genocide weapon as an option to solve their problems, and you were given the authority to determine when it is appropriate to use. Would you ever push that button? Is it really that difficult a decision to make? How contrived does a situation have to be, before you can push the genocide button and still be absolved of any guilt? Even if you think you’re participating in a dry-run to ensure the genocide button works when needed, shouldn’t that give you pause? Shouldn’t the question be whether we really need a genocide button at all?

    The plot sets up a defense that genocide committed mistakenly is not a crime. But how does that apply to real-life genocides? To the soldiers who massacred people because they really, truly believed those people were subhuman, or thought the others presented a genuine danger to their society, or did not see their atrocities as part of a larger picture? What were their real intentions? If we can say that “accidentally” genociding a people absolves its perpetrators of guilt, then who can ever be blamed? We are left to conclude that genocides just “happen.” Somebody builds a genocide button, somebody else presses it. But no one can really predict the true consequences of their acts.

    Also, the story never really comes out and says that the genocide was unnecessary either. Just like Ender beating those kids to death, which is presented as unavoidable and blameless on his part, and indeed necessary to his development as a warrior. So maybe the real message of the book is not just that people can cause genocide without being guilty; possibly the true message is that some genocides do not merit guilt at all, that they can in fact be necessary and desirable. Of course, the tender-hearted will still feel bad about it, but this should not be allowed to cloud our perspective of genocide’s potential merits.

    I am too ignorant of Card’s beliefs to say with confidence if there’s any kind of meaningful parallel there between the necessary genocide of ‘Ender’s Game’ and the genocides/slavery that played out as a background to Mormonism; but I do recall distinctly that Ender and his family are explicitly identified as Mormons.

    If Fred Clark ever gets too bored dissecting ‘Left Behind’ and feels the need for a change, I kind of wish he’d consider ‘Ender’s Game’ for review. It’s not a very long book and need not merit the page-by-page treatment. I’d be interested to hear his analysis. Then maybe I’d understand a little better why this book, which has always struck me as profoundly loathsome, seems to have such appeal to so many people.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Also, is Ender even old enough to be considered legally responsible for his actions? In our society we impose cutoffs for criminal liability on the basis of knowledge about the way childhood mental development occurs.

    The movie ages up the characters but ISTR Ender in the book is – what, 12? when he finally realizes he’s been the actual war leader.

    He may be unusually out of the norm for a child, but he is still one.

  • dpolicar

    Nope. Nobody in that book is perfect, and I don’t think any of them were supposed to be. Nobody in most books is perfect, and I don’t think they were supposed to be. The problem I’m talking about has nothing to do with perfection.

    That said, I’ve tried several times now to express what I’m trying to say, and I don’t think I’m able to express it better than I already have, so I’m content to drop the issue here.

    If that leaves you with the impression I’m talking about perfection, I regret that, but I’m willing to live with it.

  • dpolicar

    If that happened in the real world, with children that age, I doubt the juvenile criminal justice system would call it murder.

    Yes, I agree that in the real world the criminal justice system would probably not convict him of murder. If we’re talking about legal guilt and innocence then you’re absolutely right, he is legally innocent.

    I stand corrected.

    I don’t see how you could call the fight in the shower anything but self-defense.

    I call it something other than self-defense in both fights, because IIRC he continues to beat his defeated opponent after he has, even by his own estimation, won the fight. He does so because he believes that it’s not enough to win the fight, he believes he has to go beyond that point in order to fully establish his dominance and thereby prevent his enemy from later being a threat to him. In the course of establishing that dominance he beats his enemy to death.

    But as above, I agree he probably would not be convicted of murder in either case… a court would not have access to his thoughts, and could probably be convinced that he simply didn’t know what he was doing, especially since he’s so young (as IN notes below, the courts would probably assume he was incapable of being responsible for his actions due to his age).

    So, yes, he’s legally innocent of murder in both cases. I stand corrected.