Category Archives: The Halcyon Cycle
Andrew M Seddon is an author of Fantasy and Science Fiction who has written more than a dozen books. His four-star review of The Battle for Halcyon can be found here on Goodreads. On the other hand, for your convenience, it can also be found below.
You can check out the Andrew M. Seddon website here.
I typically don’t like to jump into the middle of a series, and so decided to read “The Halcyon Dislocation” before embarking on “The Battle for Halcyon”. I don’t know that it is totally necessary, because “Battle”, taking place a year after “Dislocation”, can probably stand on its own, but I appreciated knowing the characters and background situation first.
There is much to like about both books. Kazmaier has obviously put considerable time, thought, and effort into world-building, in the process of which he has combined science fiction with fantasy and created a unique and intriguing parallel Earth into which the island university of Halcyon is dislocated as the result of a physics experiment. Abandoned ruined cities, strange creatures, unusual races both human and non-human, the lurking threat of an ancient evil – all combine to provide a fascinating milieu for the story he aims to tell.
Particularly well-done is the depiction of the effects of atheism and secularism as embraced by Halcyon University – principles (anti-principles?) which flourish in our own universities and culture. The decay of Halcyon society following the death of the morally upright chancellor starkly depicts the consequences when the forces of secularism and atheism are set loose (as if the lessons of the 20th century weren’t enough). The death plants, which “resurrect” the dead into soulless, mindless beings are potentially illustrative of this (although whether this was Kazmaier’s intent or not, I don’t know). On an individual level, the imprisonment of a Christian student for “mental illness” because he prays and believes that God answers prayer, is chilling, and surely not beyond the bounds of credibility.
Kazmaier illustrates the consequences of willful departure from God by creating several races of humans: the Ancients, who possess some capabilities that regular humans lack, still seek to follow God; their opposites are the Bent Ones, followers of the evil Meglir who corrupt the good creation for their own ends; the Lesser Men, humans like ourselves, but lacking the wisdom and some characteristics of the Ancients; the Halfmen, degraded humans that follow their lusts; and the Apeman, soulless creatures that obey the will of Meglir. Best of all are the amiable Hansa, lacking the intelligence of humans, but wise, good-natured, and self-sacrificing creatures.
This depiction of the corruption and degradation of humanity and society is perhaps the strongest aspect of the two novels.
For those who like adventure, there is more than enough and to spare as the Halcionites, most prominently Dave Schuster and his friends Al, Pam, and Floyd, adjust to life in their new world. Dave’s slow journey towards faith is handled discretely. Spiritual themes are generally woven in naturally, although Kazmaier is not afraid to have his characters engage in frank discussions when appropriate. There are fewer instances of this in “Battle” than in “Dislocation,” perhaps because of the increased focus on action in “Battle”.
The romantic relationship between Dave and Arlana (an Ancient) is handled with humor (I love how she likes to call him “Youngling”), while that between Al and Pam is rockier but also satisfying.
While I enjoyed both books, “Battle” does not feel as polished as “Dislocation”. Both come across stylistically as a little stiff, perhaps because Kazmaier prefers to use dialogue tags such as “said Dave”, “answered Al”, “encouraged Pam”, rather than the reverse. Other readers may not mind this. First person thoughts interjected into a third person narrative felt intrusive. And there are several inconsistencies. For example, Dave is distraught when he loses his New Testament when captured by Halfmen, but there was no mention of him possessing or reading a New Testament before, and no mention of one ever again. Similarly, a Swiss Army knife and flashlight appear out of nowhere.
“Battle” could benefit from additional proof-reading and polishing. There are numerous missing commas and quotation marks, repeated phrases, too many dialogue tags, and a tendency to use a character’s name repeatedly, when “he” or “she” would suffice.
But technical and stylistic details aside, it is really the story that matters, and Kazmaier’s Halcyon Cycle is certainly a worthwhile, enjoyable series with spiritual depth that is natural and not forced. On the level of storytelling, Kazmaier delivers. Not everything is resolved at the end of “Battle”; Kazmaier wisely leaves the door wide open for a sequel. The battle of good versus evil isn’t over. And surely there is more to come for Dave and Arlana…
I definitely recommend this series.
Since high school, one way or another, I have been associated with universities. First as a student (undergraduate and graduate), then as a Postdoctoral Fellow, as a research collaborator, and also as an Adjunct Professor. I have also participated in academic pursuits such as writing and refereeing papers. Organic Chemistry was my focus and through that discipline I met many fine people.
A writer of futuristic fiction is concerned about where things are headed
As a writer of futuristic fiction, I am driven by “What if …” questions. Since universities have played such an instrumental role in our culture in molding the sequential generations, naturally enough, some of the “What if” questions deal with trends or potential trends I have observed in higher education.
In my novel, The Halcyon Dislocation, the movement and isolation of a hypothetical University of Halcyon to a parallel world sets up an experimental literary sandbox. One can ask the question, what would the university elites do if they had the opportunity to channel the thinking of their students in any direction they chose? What would they choose? How would they get there?
What would university elites choose if they could mold student thinking in any direction they wanted?
One of the problems that plagues science, indeed culture and politics as well is the question:
If I can do something, how do I determine if I should do that very thing?
The “can” is usually determined by data, experimentation, and collective scholarship, but the “shoulds” remain elusive since they depend on the question of objective right and wrong which is inaccessible to data and experimentation. In the absence of an objective right or wrong, the answer often becomes: “Because I have the power and I want to, I will do it and no one can stop me.”
The danger then, for universities, is the tendency to becoming factories of conditioned students rather than nurturing educated students who have learned to thoughtfully consider opposing points of view in humility and respect.
Becoming factories producing conditioned students, rather than educational institutions that enable students to thoughtfully consider different viewpoints with respect, is one of the dangers universities face
The antidote to this tendency to become ever more efficient conditioners of students as our manipulative skills and technology increase, is to make sure opposing voices (including religious voices) are not only allowed to speak, but are heard and considered. Free speech is the best safeguard against conditioned speech.
A Recent Example That Hits Close to Home
I know of Organic Chemistry Professor Tomas Hudlicky by his fine reputation. He wrote, and had accepted a paper in Angewandte Chemie (along with the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie is arguably one of the two best journals in chemistry). However, after the Twitterati ignited a Twitter storm (Twitter Gewitter?) everything changed for Professor Hudlicky, According to an article in the National Post by Peter Shawn Taylor, the accepted paper was withdrawn by Angewandte Chemie, the two referees were taken off the referees list (I’m sure as volunteers they have better things to do with their time) and the editor was suspended.
I respectfully suggest you read the whole paper, as I did, or at least read up to page 4, along with Note 2 which seemed to cause all the offense and then think about discussing the points Professor Hudlicky is making.
The text of the paper if it’s still available … Hudlicky Paper
In my view, the proper way to proceed is to have everyone, first read the paper, then present their best arguments in respectful discussion. A view or position that is not permitted to be questioned, is likely indefensible. If the case for the other side were compelling, why not make it? Is that not the mission of universities to encourage students to properly discuss opposing points of view with respect and leave the final convictions that come out of the discussion to the students? Apparently not.
Link to the original posting
Re-printed below in a more readable font
The main difficulty for me with the Halcyon Cycle has been the interval between books! On this occasion, (having previously written to ask when this was coming out) Peter kindly sent me a free review copy, which I found waiting for me on my return from a trip away. I was tired from my travels; so that made a perfect excuse to put my feet up and read – and I devoured over a third of the book in one day! After that, I decided I had better catch up on my other work and rationed myself quite severely. One tip: if, like me, it’s about 2 years since you read the last book I’d recommend re-reading that first. Maybe even re-read both. I found that I had become pretty hazy over some of the details: but I was so intent on following the story that I failed to notice the helpful glossary and maps at the back until I’d almost finished.
The book is very fast-paced, as Al and his friends engage in an increasingly desperate search to trace his wife and adopted son before they are lost forever in the terrifying abyss called Sheol. This leaves them less time for philosophical debate than in previous books. Nevertheless, the philosophical element is still present, covering such issues as the social bankruptcy of [tyranny], duty in the face of despair and whether the goodies are always good or the baddies irredeemably bad.
The book ends on a high note: but this is very evidently the calm before the storm. Key questions remain unanswered; and the eventual outcome is far from certain. Will good ultimately triumph over the evils that may arise from the depths of Sheol, from within the ranks of the Ancient Ones, or from Earth itself? Is there going to be another trilogy? I won’t be satisfied until I see the next series.
The first review of The Dragons of Sheol appeared months ago on Goodreads. I have always found David Hershey’s reviews thought-provoking and insightful. Here is his review of The Dragons of Sheol as well as the link to the original posting. I found this in my draft collection on my website and thought I should belatedly make it available for completeness since I have linked to several other reviews. David Hershey rated The Dragons of Sheol as 4 out of 5 stars. I have taken his comment of “there needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far” to heart.
This is the third book in the Halcyon series and the third that I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for free. Social media has lots of problems, but one of its positives is that you can connect with people. [I’ve] never met Pete, but I’d almost consider him a friend. Or perhaps a kindred spirit.
Pete loves fantasy and has worked hard in creating his own fantasy world. I recall loving the first book, The Halcyon Dislocation, and liking the second, The Battle for Halcyon. “Recall” is an appropriate word there, as it’s been years since I read them. I guess I’ll start the review with a negative (well, I did say nice things about Pete first!): there really needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far! Even Stephen King did this in his Dark Tower series and you can find summaries of that all over the internet. I imagine reading these books closer together would remedy this. But apart from the main characters, I struggled to remember.
On top of this, the primary big bad of the first two books is barely mentioned (Meglir). Instead the antagonist is Bigelow, a lieutenant of Meglir’s who has a personal vendetta against Al, one of the mains. But I couldn’t remember who Bigelow was. I pieced enough together as the story went, but a summary would have been nice.
Another thing to note about this book is simply its brevity. In a world of Sanderson and Jordan and Martin where world-building is everything, a lot is left to the imagination here. That’s not necessarily a negative. Yet it would be nice to know a bit more about secondary characters like Dwight and Tom and others who are usually around and sometimes say and do things but don’t seem well-developed.
Before I said Pete’s work reminds me of Lewis and Tolkien. Lewis’ Narnia stories were brief and the world was a bit shadowy as Lewis relied on the reader’s imagination. Even Tolkien’s The Hobbit includes 13 dwarves in Thorin’s company but most are not well-developed at all. Dwight and Tim are like Ori and Nori: they’re always around but you don’t know them. [Honestly], this book reminded me a lot of Terry Brooks Sword of Shannara series as I recall a few primary characters being complex and others just being there.
That said, I’m not gonna fault Pete for not writing a Wheel of Time rip off! Sure, a 600 page book full of details would be fun, but it’d be easy to lose focus. This book is about Dave and Al and Floyd and maybe 1-2 others. They are who we know and their actions drive the story. Each of them is a strong character. Reading their adventures remains fun.
And adventure they have! Dragons and spiders and other creatures chase them around the island of Sheol. Sheol, with its real world connotations was distracting as it’s quite different here. It’s not an underworld or land of the dead, though it is not a pleasant place either. Once I rid my mind of preconceptions, I found Pete’s creation scary and riveting.
Overall, it’s a great read. Pete’s best skill remains thing in real world style conversations into the story. Al and Floyd argue about God, Al reads his Bible, people pray. The characters aren’t preachy or unrealistic, they are simply Christian characters (or interested seekers) having an adventure and having conversations. Imagine Legolas and Gimli discussing the gods and such over a campfire during the quest. That’s what Pete gives us: the conversations other authors skip.
If you like fantasy, check this one out.
C. S. Wachter is a fantasy writer with more than seven books published including the four volume The Seven Words series. It is both delightful and instructive to read an encouraging review from an accomplished world-builder and fantasy author on the third book in The Halcyon Cycle, The Dragons of Sheol.
In case the links stop working and also for your convenience, the 4/5 star review is posted below …
When Al Gleeson’s wife and child are kidnapped by an old enemy, Al and his friends travel to Abaddon to stage a rescue mission. Abaddon is a fearful place filled with strong enemies; and, yet, the rescuers find friendship and help when least expected. The story is filled with twists and the rescue mission seems destined to fail at every turn.
This is an exciting story with superb world building. I felt the terror as the Necoran attacked and the ground rumble as the pachydons charged. The way the rebels work through the Guild and the feel of the city of Seth is wholistic and believable. And . . . of course, the dragons! Black. Brown. And the loveable Green.
So much of the action takes place on the terraces where my fear of heights caused me shivers when I thought of the immensity of the drop offs. Not for the faint-hearted but excellent fare for an armchair adventurer.
The action of the story begins with Dave, but he is only one of many characters. (The POV is restricted to only two—Dave and Al—so it is not overwhelming) Though there is a degree of depth to the characters, the depth is the fact that this is a plot driven story.
The Christianity is woven through the story in snippets of conversation, thoughts, and prayers. Some of the rescuers question the existence of God while others exhibit a strong faith. This is not a treatise on religion, but a fantasy and Kazmaier handles the Christian aspects well. But, deeper than any character’s faith or lack thereof, the very existence of Abaddon, Sheol, and the Bent Ones establishes the foundation of a Creator within the world-building itself. The Green Dragons express a hope in the Creator. Once again, well done.
Personally, I prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven stories. So, for me, this earns a four-star rating. It is a well-written book with interesting scientific details interspersed. I recommend you read the series starting with book one, The Halcyon Dislocation, to get a better feel for the characters.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review is my own unbiased opinions.
Writing a novel is a bit like cooking dinner for someone else: a badly prepared meal will appeal to no one, but even a well-prepared main course will not appeal to everyone, since tastes legitimately differ.
Having said that, it is always a special pleasure for me, as a writer, to find a kindred spirit that seems to appreciate the same things in novels that I do. I am so grateful for speculative-fiction-author Tessa Stockton’s thoughtful and insightful five star review of The Dragons of Sheol. Check the links below …
In case you have difficulty accessing the review on these sites, see below …
After having finished reading The Dragons of Sheol, I can’t help but come away feeling as if this is one of the most solid, well-balanced novels within a high fantasy, epic journey setting. This is not a subgenre in which I often read, as it’s not one of my favorites in the speculative fiction realm. However, the amount of work and detail the author skillfully presented was impressive. That in itself won me over, never mind the successful plotline.
This is some of what I appreciated about the book: deep symbolism, amount of fine detail, weapons hosting names, well-developed and likeable characters, as well as villains who make you cringe. There’s an array of interesting creatures—and I enjoyed that a vicious lup was adopted and turned rather cute and helpful. I also favored Hanomer, a critter with a hand at the end of his tail, and the green dragons were downright cool. The story held intriguing manners of communication, and the powers of nature were highly descriptive. Abaddon is evil and the dark magic that presides there invokes fear and trepidation as it should. The Dragons of Sheol is a complex story well carried out.
As a Christian reader, there are refreshing surprises along the way. One is with Al, a protagonist who kick-starts this journey in a search to find his kidnapped pregnant wife and stepson. The honesty that is painted regarding his sense of failure and defeat followed by purpose is realistic and relatable. And I appreciated most of all how questions were presented about the nature of God via down-to-earth conversations between characters; therefore, it never came across as preachy. A teaser from one of my favorite exchanges comes from character Dave in speaking to Al: “At the end of the day, my question still stands. Can God really love me if he’d let me choose a destiny that involves eternal torment?” It’s this kind of philosophical exploration that works—really works in causing one to think and ask those tough questions regarding spirituality and fate.
Overall, I was impressed with the amount of creativity, philosophy, purpose, sheer writing skill, and also a unique addition of scientific elements to cap this outstanding world-build. We are gifted by the author with the explanation of air pressure and how it is that dragons can fly, the topography of Abaddon, contour of the terraces, relative maps, and an in-depth glossary.
In offering something constructive, it would be with the chapter titles. Seems like an insignificant thing, and maybe it is. However, I as a reader find that an air of mystery would have had more impact. Many of the chapter titles here flat-out told me beforehand what to expect, and that kind of killed the suspense for me (because I especially love elements of suspense and mystery). As an example, when I read the chapter heading, “Necroan Attack,” I thought, “Okay, something called a Necroan is going to attack,”—and I was right! With all the interesting twists throughout this book, the chapter titles seemed, in contrast, too direct in telling. One of my writing coaches from back in the day said the best thing for a writer to give a reader is room for their own imagination to fill in some blanks. Tease them with hints of what a chapter might be about, but don’t summarize the chapter by its heading.
Those who admire J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will really dig this epic fantasy by Peter Kazmaier, as their influences are evident. Yet, I can also recommend this book in general, even if it isn’t what you’d typically read, because it’s very well done and deserving of a five-star review.
I received this book as an ARC for free and am giving it my honest review voluntarily.
In 2017 I reread and reviewed The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells. Since then I wrote and completed The Dragons of Sheol, my fourth book. As I was immersed in fine-tuning the plot this book, I was struck by the similarities and differences of H. G. Wells’ Moreau world and the world I was imagining for Sheol.
With that in mind I wanted to set the stage for that comparative discussion by revisiting and elaborating on my previous review.
My Previous Review Comments
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A thought-provoking book about the dangers of science unencumbered by morality and man’s penchant for wanting to play God. An added benefit for me: a chance to see how the relationship and nature of man and animals was viewed through the eyes of a late nineteenth century writer.
Why Revisit This Succinct Review?
SPOILER ALERT – I will be discussing important elements of the plot, so if you wish to The Island of Dr. Moreau for the first time, you may wish to skip the next paragraphs. Read the rest of this entry →
As a novelist, Christmas sometimes draws my thoughts back to writing about Christmas in some of the stories I have created. For those who have read The Halcyon Dislocation, this discussion may remind you of the scene in Chapters 15 when Dave Schuster and Al Gleeson and their companions stumble on New Jerusalem after a disastrous and fatal encounter with pony-sized wolf-like creatures that can communicate with each other and plan attacks. Read the rest of this entry →
The Dragons of Sheol has just received a five-star review on Goodreads. For your convenience you can read the text of the review below or check it out on Goodreads by following this link.
Thank you to all who have read and commented on this book. You are most appreciated!
Current Goodreads rating average for The Dragons of Sheol: 4.33/5.00 (3 ratings)
What the reviewer said …
The Dragons of Sheol is an exciting, action packed rescue mission into a land called Abaddon, a continent ruled over by ruled over by Meglir, an ancient who has given himself over to evil called ‘a bent one.’
Pam, the pregnant wife of Al Gleeson, has been kidnapped along with her little son and taken to Abaddon by Bigelow, her ex. Bigelow has given himself over to the dark side and allied himself with Meglir. Al is going to find his wife Pam and his stepson. They’re all in peril. Abaddon is a place that people shudder at the mention of.
Al is assisted by Dave and Arlana, friends from Feiramar, and a group of friends from Halcyon. Later they’re helped by Tandor, a guild member from the town of Seth who they rescue.
The characters were great, both human and non-human. They were noble and had integrity, even though they all had their struggles. I’m going to miss them. One of my favourites was Hanomer, a badger-like mammal with a hand at the end of his tail.
I loved the fellowship, the fighting scenes, the God explanations and the unity that existed amongst the friends. It’s adventure peppered with wise discussions about Al’s beliefs. Al’s faith is always there, but not overt. Occasionally, scripture was used for guidance when it was appropriate.
The world building was excellent. The scenery was more better than I expected, considering the Abaddon Plain lay ten kilometers below sea level and Sheol was a deep chasm in the middle of the plain leading down to the infernal sea. There are eight terraces which are about three kilometres wide. Dragons are on fourth terrace down.
Every level in Abaddon was different and some of the life forms were really scary. There were huge pachydons, giants with small heads called Necroans, hostile apes, trees that ate things and spiders on the eighth level that gave me arachnophobia.
Along with the fighting and fellowship was the fear factor. You always felt like their survival was on the knife edge, sometimes literally.
This is an epic, good versus evil story. It’s wholesome, and can be enjoyed from young adult up. If you enjoyed Lord of the Rings and Narnia, you will enjoy this too.
Peter Kazmaier is a skilled story teller and a man of faith. His finely crafted book starts with action and keeps up it’s pace, there are no boring bits. While the book is part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone book. I recommend it.
It’s no bother …
Accessibility to one’s readers is one of the benefits of being an indie author. So it’s no bother at all when someone sends me a question. Indeed it is a special delight.
I asked permission to share this conversation with my blog readers and it was granted providing I maintained the reader’s anonymity. I propose to do so by using the Latin name Aulaire (means well-spoken) for the reader.
The tough questions
Aulaire, you do ask me the toughest questions! Like you these situations you mention make me ask: “How can this be?”
Let me begin with a disclaimer: these are tough questions facing Christians (and for others too). I have some partial answers, but if we ever find ourselves in these these troubling situations, we will find out pretty quickly how hollow and incomplete my answers are.
Aulaire, on describing what troubled her about some passages, wrote:
“I find even in the old testament when God had Joshua going into the promised land [and] King David fighting nations opposed to Israel, how they slaughtered & killed whole people groups, even the women and children.”
1. We know that God is omnipotent. We often don’t realize, however, that omnipotence is inherently self-limiting. For example, when I write a book, I am, humanly speaking, omnipotent. I can write a romance, a book on economics etc. Indeed, I could write about anything at all. But as soon as I write my first line (“Dave Schuster sat in the Chancellor’s office …”), I have already limited my own “omnipotence” significantly. Many possible books are now ruled out. I believe God is in the same boat. As soon as He begins creating, He is limiting his own omnipotence. Thus Aslan (from Lewis’ Narnia books) growls when it is suggested the Emperor-Over-The-Sea not follow His own rules. This implies, particularly when sinful people are deciding for Him, that often God is left, in a given situation, with only bad choices on His plate. I believe He will, play His poor cards as well as He can at the time and still make it right when the story is complete, but in a given situation He may, because of our deal, only have poor cards to play (I know, Aulaire, you’re reading The Dragons of Sheol. You might check out the chapter on Al and Floyd’s discussion of God as a Bridge Partner).
2. I think genuine mercy was always an alternative to Old Testament law punishments. Joseph, as he sought to apply the Old Testament Law, could have had Mary stoned for adultery (betrothal had the weight of marriage) but he had a right to a merciful option and “resolved to put her away quietly.” The trouble in Joshua and David’s time: Israelites, acting like the people around them, had no problem exterminating their enemies. They sometimes showed a false mercy by sparing the bits they wanted (e.g. the cattle) and God condemned this self-serving, false mercy.
3. Jesus did not spare Himself our injustice. When God wrote Himself into our story, He took on all the bad bits. He grew up in a poor family in a subjugated nation. He was thought an illegitimate child of sin. His father likely died when He was young. He was hated by his own people, and of course, He was crucified unjustly at the young age of 33. God didn’t spare Himself, so how can I complain?
4. We must not assume that if actions occur in the Old Testament without comment that God approves.
Aulaire, speaking of historical events that bother her, wrote:
“And also allowing Hitler to continue as long as he did to exterminate the Jewish people.”
Fifty-two million people lost their lives in WWII. Given my background I had friends and relatives who lived through this terrible time from inside the Third Reich. I have seen the scars it has left on their lives. Asking when God should intervene to override our foolish and downright evil decisions is a difficult question. I think we almost all agree, we wouldn’t want to lose our God-image-bearer humanity by having Him control all of our decisions. So where would we have Him draw the line? I don’t know. I trust He knows best.
A mentor of mine used to draw a dot with an arrow going to the right. He would say the dot is my life now; the arrow is eternity. I trust God will use eternity to make things right.
I want to end again with the disclaimer: I don’t really have a completely satisfying answer (to me and likely to anyone else) on your questions, Aulaire. This is the best I have. Others likely could say much more.
Some additional material from QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO FAITH
Questioning Your Way to Faith is a short book that has two friends talk respectfully about some of life’s most difficult questions. I hope this chapter excerpt is of some value as it touches on the questions Aulaire raised.
Chapter 5 The Problem of Evil Committed by Christians
Around five o’clock, Al said “How about supper?”
“Why don’t you clean the fish,” responded Floyd, “and I’ll get the fire started.
“Sure thing; sea bass always tastes best when it’s fresh.”
Floyd nodded and headed to a sheltered dell beneath a rocky ridge to a small fire pit.
They had only kept one of the sea bass. Al began cleaning the fish. He heard twigs snapping.
Floyd reappeared. “Do you have any matches?”
“In the second drawer of my tackle box.” Al went back to his task. He deftly gutted the big sea bass and cut four generous fillets. He buried the head and entrails and carried the four fillets in the frying pan along with his knapsack into the dell. Floyd had a small fire going.
Al set the skillet down and unpacked a small grill, placing it between two rocks.
“You’ve obviously done this before,” said Floyd.
“This is one of my favorite things!” Al pulled out the small lunch cooler and produced a package of potato salad from the cafeteria.”
“What would you like to drink, Floyd?”
“What do you have?”
“My favorite wheat beer from Benson’s Microbrewery or cola?
“I’ll take the beer.”
Al flipped the fillets with his hunting knife and a freshly cut stick. He added salt and looked critically at the fillets. “I think they’re done.”
“Good. I’m starving.”
“Can you get the two plates in my knapsack, Floyd?”
“Sure. Boy I don’t normally like fish but that smells great.”
“There’s something special about fresh fish. Here, help yourself to the potato salad.”
They ate in silence. Then Al rinsed off their plates and the frying pan in the sea. When he came back, Floyd was nursing his beer and leaning back against a driftwood tree trunk looking up at the sky. “This is the life Al.”
“I couldn’t agree more, Floyd.” The evening sun tinged the sea orange.
The beauty of the sea and the sky is almost a meal on its own.
Floyd was silent for a while. Al looked at him. His friend seemed to be thinking.
Floyd cleared his throat.
“Al, going back to our previous discussion, your argument about God being good simply doesn’t add up. How many wars have been fought over religion? I remember reading that in the Thirty Years’ War, a Christian religious war between Catholics and Protestants, about two thirds of the population of what is now Germany was killed. The Philippines were converted to Catholicism from Islam by the sword, all except one island, which the Spanish couldn’t easily land on in force. Look how the Jews have been treated by Christians. How can God be the moral force you make Him out to be if so much evil is done by His followers in His name? Your argument would be much more convincing if Christians were actually a force for good rather than evil.”
“Floyd, in a great many ways you’re right. Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity. In fact G. K. Chesterton and others as I recall, made the point that the best argument against Christianity is Christians.
“Still I don’t think the argument against Christianity on this ground is as strong as you make it,” continued Al. “First of all, if you look at nations and peoples before the French Revolution, every one of them was religious. Therefore it’s easy to look at a multidimensional problem and say they committed evil because of religion. And what about politics? What about greed? What about power? Didn’t these play a role?”
“I’m sure they did. But the Thirty Years’ War was ostensibly a religious war wasn’t it?” asked Floyd.
“That’s exactly my point,” said Al. We pick from a host of causes and label it a ‘religious war’ when we could just as easily call it a war for political power and control. Have we stopped fighting just because we’re less religious?”
“I suppose not,” conceded Floyd.
“We haven’t,” said Al. “If we focus on governments that are openly antagonistic to religion, have they done any better? The French Revolution—after proclaiming the noble sentiments of equality, fraternity, and freedom—moved quickly on to the Reign of Terror, and then on to Napoleon’s long war to dominate Europe.
“Have the Communists done better? They’re avowedly atheistic and have killed a great many people in the pogroms and mass exterminations of dissenters. I think the root problem is not really religion, but a lack of respect for Freedom of Religion. If we respected the rights of people to make up their own minds without coercion, then we wouldn’t do these things. But all governments prefer a homogeneous populace. So there’s a tendency to make us all the same because then we’re easier to manage and govern. Coercion can just as easily be secular as religious.”
“How do those excesses excuse the Christians?” asked Floyd.
“They don’t, but I think people who raise this issue are overlooking an important fact.”
“What’s that?” asked Floyd.
“If you’re a power hungry tyrant, and you want your followers to join in a cause that’s dear to your heart, it will never do to say ‘Let’s beat up on our neighbors. I know they pose no threat. They haven’t done us a stitch of harm, but let’s kill them, take their land, and enslave them. Come on—it’ll be fun.’”
“The vast majority of people are too fair minded to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children on such an escapade. But if the war monger builds a case that the neighbor poses a threat and will attack us, take our freedom, our children and our lands, then the call to war becomes much more credible. The appeal to religion has worked for tyrants because religion was so valuable to the people. It gave meaning to their lives. And so by having that threatened, one could bend them to commit atrocities because in their fear they succumbed to the argument that the end justified the means. Today with the decline of religion in the west, we make the same calls using our new values. The threat is that others will impose their unwanted religion on us, take away our wealth, our children and our freedoms. The same story works. The same people are pulling the strings. Still religion is not seen as being as valuable as it once was, so it’s no longer used to justify evil. But other things are.”
“Still that doesn’t excuse them,” said Floyd.
“No not at all. If you follow the teaching of Jesus, the end never justified the means. That is a great trap. What makes things worse is that our evil nature always makes it seem as if the injustices foisted on us are grievous beyond words. And yet when we do the very same thing to someone else, it was a justifiable necessity on our part. We are hopelessly unsymmetrical in our evaluations.”
“Still why did they fall for it?” asked Floyd.
“I don’t know. The New Testament teaches us to regard others—even those who think differently from us—as brothers. We are to return good for evil and love our enemies. The end never justifies the means—yet Christians still can be moved to do things that go against their fundamental teachings. Why do they do it? Why do I do it? I wish I knew. I’m far from perfect, and so are they, I guess.”
“Floyd, I think you and I could agree on this question a good deal more if you substituted “religion” for “God” and “Christians.”
“Al, I don’t see how that will help you. Isn’t Christianity a religion?”
“That depends on the definition. If you think of religion as the institutions, the laws, the regulations that are supposed to bring us close to God, then Christianity, as far as I can tell from reading the New Testament, was never meant to be a religion. Indeed, in the Gospels, Jesus’ strongest words of censure were directed toward the Pharisees, the religious heavyweights of his day, and he accused them of keeping people who were truly seeking God away from God by loading them down with regulations, duties, and obligations which were the constructs of men and not of God. Christianity is much more about meeting a person, than following a program.”
“Okay you’re trying to draw a distinction between Christianity and religions. I’ve heard that before,” said Floyd.
“Floyd, getting back to the question about ‘religion being the root of all evil…’”
“I never said all evil, but I believe Christians are responsible for much of the evil in our world.”
“I can see why that behavior should bother me since I see clearly how they do not conform to the behavior God has set out for Christians. But why does it bother you? At the risk of being repetitive, if all people, including Christians, are the product of millions of years of evolution, through which we have been conditioned by our genes to eliminate competition and reproduce as prolifically as possible, then wouldn’t we expect the killing off of competition to be the most natural of activities? Would rape and pillaging not be entirely consistent with that conditioning? At their worst are these “Christians” from the Thirty Years’ War not acting exactly as one would have predicted based on evolution? So why the surprise? Why the expectation that they would be better?
“It seems to me the anomaly—from your point of view—would be those people who rise above this ‘ethic’ of me and mine first.”
“You have a point,” said Floyd. He shook himself and looked around. “It’s getting dark. We should be heading back. Will you put out the fire while I collect up our gear?”