Identifying Post-Christian Storytelling

Wednesday , 26, July 2017 11 Comments

If you have not read very much science fiction or fantasy from before 1940, then you are liable to struggle with this. If your concept of science fiction and fantasy is derived primarily from movies and television, then you will definitely struggle with this. And if Christian thought is so offensive to you that you’re actively engaged in some kind of non-stop culture war against it, well… you’re naturally going to pretend that what I’m saying makes no sense at all. Assuming, that is, that you’re capable of seeing the point in the first place.

What it comes down to is what authors and directors do on a scene by scene basis in order to establish, develop, and maintain the likability of the hero. And these creative choices do not happen in a vacuum. They are informed by a value system. And how these scenes play with an audience hinges on their culture.

This would seem to be a rather self-evident observation, but it is one that will be sniped at from any of a half dozen spurious angles. If you’re talking about the work of a particular author, then someone will point out how they were not professing Christians or how they had their own particular vices or how they were really brilliant at cocktail parties or something. If one can sidestep this distraction, then one still has to establish the fact that American culture was inherently Christian in the 19th Century and then well into the 20th. This of course can be deduced from a survey of fantasy and science fiction of the sixties and seventies, which was so aggressive in its attempts to transform the culture that you could reverse engineer what must have been the norm on the basis of what they held in contempt.

From there, one must delve into the question of whether there is not anything unique to Christianity that is not common to nearly every other culture in the world. And from there, one must establish that anything in American culture that appears to derive from Christianity actually did come from Christianity and not from some other religion or culture. And to answer that, one must establish that Christianity actually existed, that it was significant enough to influence culture and history at all, and that it was internally consistent enough to be compelling in a non-superficial way to someone that is actually significant.

Now… these sorts of reactions are merely that: reactions. They are not arguments at all and I won’t address them except to point out that this sort of thing is a great example of just how complete the cultural transformation has become. It is not enough for us to merely become a post-Christian culture. No, it’s now taboo to even suggest that we were ever anything else!

For another example, consider your reaction to McClintock!, the classic John Wayne film from 1963. How do you feel, for instance, when the Commanche chiefs ask the lead to read the following statement to the Indian tribunal:

We are an old people, and a proud people. When the white man first came among us… we were as many as the grasses of the prairie. Now we are few, but we are still proud… for if a man loses pride in manhood, he is nothing. You tell us now that if we will let you send us away… to this place called Fort Sill… you will feed us and care for us. Let us tell you this: It is a Comanche law that no chief ever eats… unless first he sees that the pots are full of meat… in the lodges of the widows and orphans. It is the Comanche way of life. This that the white man calls charity is a fine thing for widows and orphans… but no warrior can accept it, for if he does, he is no longer a man… and when he is no longer a man he is nothing… and better off dead. You say to the Comanche, ‘You are widows and orphans, you are not men. ‘ And we, the Comanche, say we would rather be dead. It will not be a remembered fight when you kill us… because we are few now and have few weapons. But we will fight and we will die Comanche.

Now, this film had been at pains up until this point demonstrating the respect the townspeople had for McClintock. The film breaks down how successful he was as a businessman and what it took for him to climb as high as he did. The film shows him to be savvy and a good judge of character. His sense of justice leads him to intervene on behalf of an Indian falsely accused of kidnapping. His kindness leads him to offer work to those that need it in such a way that they can maintain their sense of pride.

You would think that the guy could not be shown in any better light. But then the Commanche chiefs– whom he’d fought in previous decades– ask him to read that statement for them in their hearing. It’s an astonishing moment. And quite moving, at least to me. Which leads to the question of just what it is that happens to the people that watch this sort of thing and then feel inspired, awed, uplifted. I would have thought I was too sophisticated to enjoy something like this. That’s what I was told before I looked up some of these old films myself.

How can this even work? And what is the thing in me that this film operates on? How is it that these people from another time and place can play me like a fiddle? And why is it that the people that made this seem to know more about what makes me tick than I do myself…? It’s a mystery. And it’s no less of one due this sort of thing happening so consistently to me with not just old westerns, but old pulp stories in general.

But mine would not be the only possible response. You might watch this and sneer at it. It might strike you as incredibly unrealistic. You might declare that this film is actually offensive. Stupid. A relic. A fossil. You might declare that such a man as George Washington McClintock never existed. Cannot have existed.

And if that is your reaction, well congratulations. Because you are very much a product of a post-Christian culture. The film was not actually made for you, but for a different sort of person.

A people that had no idea how quickly they would disintegrate and be replaced with people like you.

11 Comments
  • Xavier Basora says:

    Jeffro
    A thoughtful article. So what replaced the old worldview isn’t so much counterfeit as an artificial worldview. I’d go so far as to say a vacuous one that’s so shallow it can’t sustain itself due to radical relativism. Further the postChristain storytelling is alienating because it doesn’t uplift but denigrates.
    I can’t stand to read contemporary fiction because it’s constant propagadizing and I just want to be left alone and entertained. My life’s tough enough as it is without being berated to death for wronghinking
    xavier

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Those people who tell you NOT to read the old books, NOT to watch the old movies, that something made or written in the past cannot be relevant today?

    They are NOT your friends, they are NOT interested in the truth or in what is best for you. What they are interested in is their agenda, their Post-Christian culture.

    Well, what about us? Does the PulpRev have an agenda? Yes. We say: Read the old books, watch the old movies and decide for yourself. I don’t think you’ll regret it, and you don’t know what your missing.

    For example, the movie that Jeffro quotes from above, McLintock? Not only does it have that scene described above, but it has action, romance, humor and Maureen O’Hara in feathers.

    Sigh.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Pardon, that should be “you’re missing”, not “your”.

    Sheesh.

    • Chris L says:

      John Wayne AND Maureen O’Hara? A no brainer. That lady was the only woman strong enough to stand next to the Duke. Damn those movies were good.

  • I agree with your points about the Judeo-Christian basis of American culture until the 70s or so.

    What I’m not sure of is how that connects directly with the scene you quote. That kind of scene would have worked well using any number of tribal honor cultures–Vikings, for example, or the Zulu, or the Irish and Scots clans. I’m not quite sure what the Christian basis has to do with it. Maybe you can explain more about the connection you see.

    • Hooc Ott says:

      “That kind of scene would have worked well using any number of tribal honor cultures”

      Jeffro pre-answered this:

      “From there, one must delve into the question of whether there is not anything unique to Christianity that is not common to nearly every other culture in the world. And from there, one must establish that anything in American culture that appears to derive from Christianity actually did come from Christianity and not from some other religion or culture. And to answer that, one must establish that Christianity actually existed, that it was significant enough to influence culture and history at all, and that it was internally consistent enough to be compelling in a non-superficial way to someone that is actually significant.”

      This scene happened with Christians. The characters the writers the audience. They all had the same Christian ideal of charity (it is literally one of the friggin 7 Christian virtues). It did not come from anywhere else.

      For David and any number of people genuinely confused about all this I really really recommend you read Oswald Spangler’s Decline of the West.

      It is primarily a secular work so you won’t freak out about Christianity. In it it dismantles the concept of cultural universalism and a progressive view of world history. In its place it proposes a model of unique cultures and uniques histories for each culture.

      For example cave drawings in France were not a beginning of art that was later built upon but an expression unique to the cave people who drew them and viewed them. In the same way Alfred and Saxon Christians were not building England they had no friggin idea what an England was but instead unified under a common culture religion and people to preserve that religion culture and people against a great destroyer.

      Now fine if you have problems with this model. But please if you are not just here to snark pseudo confusion and are genuinely confused about it then go read the book.

    • Bigby's Typing Hands says:

      It connects due to the reactions of a culturally Christian audience; not because of the speech, but the hearers of the speech. Its of a piece.

      Sometimes in this post-Christian era its easier to notice the effect when a classic work is introduced into a vastly different culture. Picture, if you will, explaining Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading or Lolita to someone in Saudi Arabia. Would they, could they, understand the existential dread of the first, the taboo of the second? No, the cues are entirely different. Its an open question if we are beginning to lose our own cues.

  • mobius says:

    Great movie, great scene. One of the few things on Netflix worth watching.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    This may help people. Then again it may confuse. Who knows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    “a proud people”
    “we are still proud”
    “loses pride”

    Now in that same quote there is a mention of Charity. Which is a Christian virtue and the movie is directly evoking it from Christianity. This ain’t the hospitality of Buddhist monks. Heck it isn’t even the film’s perhaps invented perhaps not Comanche virtue of charity “for widows and orphans” as the quote explains. This is straight up Good Samaritan stuff.

    Now go back to my quotes. “pride”.
    Pride is not a Christian virtue. In fact it is one of the seven deadly sins.

    And yet the audience is expected to honor the Chief and lament the tragedy here.

    The films writer knew what he was doing when he wrote Pride three times in that script. He knew his audience. He also probably had zero knowledge of Comanche virtue. The speech is invented to directly effect a Christian audience. Our virtue cannot save them. They would be sinners if they were Christian but they are not. They live and have a culture of their own and if we use force it will be snuffed out and lost forever.

    I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know how it resolves. But the scene can only work as intended if the audience has knowledge and deep roots in this stuff. You the audience and McClintock are stuck in a moral riddle. If you force charity the Comanche culture dies if you don’t they die.

    This is classic moral peril and can only work fully if the audience not only has morals but shares those particular morals.

    • Jeffro says:

      The speech itself is a separate issue. It’s that he is asked to read it by his former enemies that is the big deal. (I have no idea how the speech compares to historical Commanche statements and make no claim of its being adapted to suit the American audience of the time.)

      G. W. McClintock has the respect of the Commanche. This makes an already likable character even more likable.

      The Indian affairs bureaucrat…? He’s like the EPA guy from Ghostbusters or the Union boss from Outland. His scenes establish his unlikability.

      Now… this may sound like a trivial thing. But looking at, say, Rogue One… there has been a tremendous change in how likability and unlikability is established by writers. The old way is better. The new way… is incoherent.

  • Joe F Keenan says:

    Christian storytelling always has Logos (there are like 5 pages of definitions for the term), front and center. Logos can be defined (in short), as Truth, The Central Organizing Principle of the Universe. When one rejects Christianity (as compared to not accepting Christianity), one rejects Logos; one rejects Truth and Order. Apply this to literature and movies and you can now understand why modernist literature and movies are incoherent; they lack Logos, they lack Truth and the Coherence that flows from Truth. In short, modernity is incoherence. Likewise, this also explains why literature and movies centered around Logos succeed, they are Coherent and advance Truth.This is the difference between JRR Tolkien and GRR Martin. This is the difference between Myth/High Fantasy and GrimDark. One examines existential Truths regarding the human condition, while the other focuses on bowel movements, death, and despair.

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