Creative Responsibility

Right now, I’m about 100 pages into The Story of B by Daniel Quinn. If any of you have ever read this book, or Quinn’s book Ishmael, you know that he poses some provocative, rather controversial ideas regarding anthropology, environmentalism (he actually refers to his philosophy as “new tribalism”), religion, and sociology. Effectively, in discussing sustainability (if I can actually sum up what he says), the rise of “Taker Culture” and totalitarian agriculture (growing loads and loads of food for one’s own society, ruling over the animals and land around you) has our entire species on a downward spiral to extinction. What is going to reverse this spiral is getting human beings to live in harmony and connection with our “environment” (separating ourselves from the Earth was part of our mistake in the first place) and living in equality with it.

If you’re a Quinn fan, and feel like I just did that a huge injustice, I apologize, but this is a novel (the sequel to another novel, in fact), and for the sake of story telling, Quinn has a tendency to not be very clear about what he wants people to see.  Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with story-telling to illustrate a truth.  The problem comes when your stories either don’t communicate your ideas clearly, or worse, distort fact. For example, the main character in <em>The Story of B</em> is a Catholic priest, part of a fictitious order called the Laurentians, which was formed in response to the Reformation.  It’s purpose: locate the Antichrist ahead of everyone else, so they can prepare the church accordingly.

What’s wrong with that?  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this is how the RCC sees the Antichrist:

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.  The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. the supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. the Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

If I am interpreting this properly, the Antichrist comes in the form of humans believing that they don’t need God and Jesus Christ. It’s not a literal person (though Quinn may effectively identify B as the personification of secular messianism).  Protestant denominations (not sure about the Orthodox) share similar views regarding the Antichrist.  The idea of a physical antithesis to Jesus Christ is a product of premillenial dispensationalism, something  promoted by the Left Behind series and fundamentalist teachings within evangelicalism.  Effectively, through generalization (and creative license), Quinn distorts true understanding of Christian doctrine.

I do not intend to say that he means to do this, as if his goals are the dissemination of anti-Christian rhetoric, but creative license also comes with creative responsibility. One must, in an attempt to express truth through story, be careful not to distort smaller elements of truth for the greater whole they wish to communicate. I still have a lot more to go in Mr. Quinn’s book, and though I wasn’t overly fond of his generalizations and groupings of human beings in Ishmael, I’m going to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.  What’s funny about all this is that Quinn, defined by some as an anarcho-primitivist, is reigniting my interest in anarchism.  Time for new research!  Yay!

See y’all tomorrow!

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4 thoughts on “Creative Responsibility

  1. Thought, and feel free to correct me on this one: since Quinn isn’t writing his book (necessarily / directly) to contend with Christian Theologians, and trying to present his ideas to a “common” audience, isn’t the “common” depiction of the antichrist as that of a person, correctly or incorrectly? As in, ask a random person / random Christian, will they say the antichrist is a person or an idea? It’s been my experience (and here’s where I might be quite wrong) that the antichrist is perceived as a person, generally. If that is the case (is it?), if Quinn presented it as an idea instead of a person, wouldn’t he alienate / confuse a large faction of readers?

    That being said, I usually found Quinn’s story-telling to be sub par, and would have preferred if he just outlined his ideas in a nonfiction / research / essay sort of way.

  2. You make a good point. On this continent, yes, the Antichrist is depicted as a person, due in large part to the rise of premillenial dispensationalism in America in the last 150 years or so (think Left Behind series). However, those views, though they’ve had the loudest voice, are actually not the most commonly held view amongst Christians worldwide. Obviously Quinn isn’t contending with theology, but the whole argument felt very pigeonholing. To agree with you again, I do think this would be better off in non-fiction, essay format instead of a story. Stories can be hard to fact check, which, when posing thoughts of this nature, is kind of important.

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