Theological Critique: World of Vice and Fire

svalbard

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Maybe it is a cruel message but it is a far more believable tale than Doyle's The White Company and Sir Nigel(both of which, along with Scott's Quentin Durwood, I loved in my youth).

Doyle had a vision of the Middle Ages that were more fantasy than HF. Martin goes the other way. It is a very good article.
 

Narkalui

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I thought the article excellent, assuming Hitchins only read the SOIAF Wikipedia page.

Note to Americans: The Mail On Sunday, for which Hitchins writes, is effectively a fascist fanzine, it's pages filled with, at best, malicious half truths
 

Ursa major

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Are we meant to believe that Peter Hitchins's reading of the books is more than superficial? Surely not, when he can write:
It seems to me that Martin may, especially in his portrayals of the incestuous, limitlessly unkind Lannister twin siblings Jaime and Cersei, have rediscovered human evil in its purest form.
Even Cersei isn't purely evil (though she is trying her best)... and Jaime is a far more nuanced character.

There again, what can one expect of someone who doesn't seem to understand the Golden Rule (which is hardly the most complex of ideas). It does not state, as he seems to believe it does, "Treat people as badly as you dare to," or "Give big gifts only to those who can afford to give you equally big gifts in return." It isn't a hierachy of tit-for-tat behavour; underlying it is a call for empathy with the Other (albeit expressed with just enough in-built self-interest to make it sound practical).

What also comes across to me is that Hitchens is more cynical than many of GRRM's PoV characters (not something I expect he was aiming for).

I have a good idea why Hitchens has written his piece the way he has... but it's not really the sort of thing we discuss here on the Chrons, so I will leave it unsaid (although I do believe that the article says a good deal more about him than it does about either GRRM or ASoIaF).



** - Either that or he started skimming not far into the series.
 

Toby Frost

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Firstly, and I hope this doesn't infringe forum rules, I simply wouldn't trust P. Hitchens to write something that wasn't a right-wing polemic. By this, I don't mean that his politics are more or less conservative, like Tolkien, but that his aim is always to push a right wing agenda, a more classy version of "owning the libtards", "triggering the snowflakes" etc. There are many people on the cranky left who I wouldn't trust for the same reason.

Secondly, the arguments Hitchens makes about Martin's world could be made about Raymond Chandler's books. Those are nominally set in the real world, but in a made-up bit of the real world (Bay City) that is utterly corrupt. There are a lot of settings out there that are "godless", in which most of the characters are without morality and any sort of (Christian?) morals have to be imposed from outside, by force. And there are books like The Name of the Rose, which are steeped in Christianity and distinctly lacking in moral uplift.

Thirdly, I don't draw a line between corrupt fictional settings and general moral depravity, at least not a clear line. Wanting to read about violent, amoral times isn't a sign that you want them in reality. There's probably an argument that torture-porn is bad for you, but beyond that, I don't think there's a simple equivocation with one and the other.

It is true that Martin can't write as well as Tolkien or Lewis, but that is because he is not as good a writer, not that his politics are wrong. I wonder if Hitchens would say the same things about a Terry Goodkind novel?
 

The Big Peat

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Bet Hitchin's a fun guy to have round the dinner table!

;)
Depends how much you enjoy watching people be riled.


But to address the article:

I think Hitchens' article's thesis boils down to this -

Martin's SoIaF, because of its lack of consideration of Christianity/good (close to synonymous in this article), takes on a level of cynicism and nihilism in keeping neither with art as we know it or the medieval period as we know it, and therefore represents a threat to Christian/good societies.

However, I believe there are still considerable holes in his arguments.

The first is on the subject of how close it is to the medieval period. He mentions the Red Wedding; he does not mention that event comes straight from history. A better medievalist than me would be able to pick more holes but, without wishing to say his conclusion is wrong, his argument is flawed.

The second is in terms of its heroes and their values. He never mentions Jon Snow, yet there we have a hero who puts honour and the good of all above everything else. He clings to that honour even when he knows the dangers it comes with due to the fate of his family. There is nothing cynical to that and one could even impishly make a comparison between Jon's TV storyline and Christ.

He mentions Jaime and Cersei, yet not their character arcs, in which both are punished by events, and in which Jaime starts to repent and seek to make amends, while Cersei becomes more and more self-destructive. Again, a better theologian than me is needed to talk of what Jaime's redemption arc means in the context of Christianity, but there is definitely a redemption arc happening and to not even mention it weakens the argument. What of Davos Seaworth? What of Brienne? Yes, the Starks fall because of their honour, but they are not the only ones with honour.

The third and most important - to portray is not to condone. Does Martin show us these cynical, ambitious, cruel nobles beating the naive and honourable because he believes that how life is and should be? Or does he show them so we know the enemy in our midst? Or as a dramatic counterpoint so we can see the temptations presented to our hero, to be cynical and cruel, so their triumph over that is so much greater?

Of course, portrayal can have unexpected consequences and it is far to condemn a portrayal for its effects. But the author's intent should at least be considered. Likewise the readers' ability to divine the author's intent. At the risk of being flippant, most of us can work out the author doesn't think its cool to bang our siblings and throw little children off of towers.

All in all, Hitchens' argument isn't particularly convincing. Its too ignorant of what it deals with. I haven't even touched on the subject of the scale of nihilism in art (SoIaF is a bishop's sermon sat next to SAW). Maybe he'll be right that people will take an amoral message from SoIaF, but if so, he'll be right by accident.

Myself, I believe people will take a message to be careful and suspicious of those in power and the gilding with which they surround themselves - but also to be honourable, to see value in the marginalised, to hold firm in our values and not give in to our setbacks, and to seek to build a better world. Moral things.
 

Anushka Mokosh

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No English child ... “have certainly found a permanent place in English literature.”
No author and no person alive or dead gets to decide what stands the test of time. It is the only metric that counts in the end. Everything else must bow before it.

The modern world is too noisy and heedless for them... has departed from the world.
Or, you know, they are not the same people as you are with same interests and same experiences. Individual experiences mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, they are a shabby basis for good reasoning and valid conclusions. In a more formal language, anecdotal evidence is not really evidence of anything.

So I was only...his saints that civilized them in the past.
This is a rather romanticized version of the Middle Ages. They were too concerned with surviving measles or famine which descended upon them after their goods were confiscated by this or that nobleman.

For me, Conan Doyle’s description was a vital revelation. The men ... in the last era when it was possible for anyone in England to think such a thing.
Yeah, no. Literature of the time certainly tried to give some divinity to their lives, but that is far from an everyday reality of men of that time which was a (comparatively for us today) a harsh struggle against the odds for survival.

What men and women believe is so important that it is almost a solid fact, like an ocean or a castle. This is why I am often puzzled when I consider the curious absence of any explained common religious belief in J. R. R. Tolkien’s great epic ... Meanwhile, in neighboring Calormen, they bow down before the terrible monster Tash, who eventually turns out to be real.
Pantheism is a thing. Not every author has to follow the same staple and not every author has to use their works as an allegory.

Most such fantasy worlds have room for God. The anti-Christian—and anti-Lewis—author Philip Pullman has invented, in his alternative Oxford, ... and possibly too complicated to have as much of an effect as I once feared they might.
In my opinion, Pullman's book are reflection of author's beliefs to the point where no other alternative is allowed to exist. I don't like his books, but it is not because they might actually do something. I just think that characterizing and redeeming characters solely on the basis of their relationship with religious beliefs is simplistic and boring. It is actually rather the opposite of complicated. Also, something I noticed is that moralizing d-bags tend to equate a reader with a passive consumer of books who without any critical thought will instantly embrace whatever they read as the gospel of truth. It is not what happens...

But there is one important fantasy ... the subject is at least taken seriously again.
Aside from the extremist religious people and extremist atheists who already supported Pullman's beliefs, I highly doubt anyone else took those books seriously in the intent to draw lessons for real life from them. If anything, I personally found them to be difficult to effectively apply to our world because our world is anything but perfectly and easily divisible based on one single criteria.

But there is not so much hostility to Christianity in the world brought into being by George R. R. Martin ... It relies for its power and effect upon a profound cynicism about human goodness, which, I believe, did not exist in such societies. He gives twenty-first-century religious opinions to people who have fifteenth-century lives.
The author believes did not exist, but I very much doubt that human wickedness is a product of newer times. If anything, humans have grown in compassion and understanding and empathy (at least in most of the Western Cultures) and it is veritable if we just look at the rights people have nowadays compared to 100 years ago. The author argues the perceptions of Middle-Ages based on their belief. It has no support in any sources or any facts except that it references thoughts of people who already romanticized the Middle Ages.

In his imaginary country, virtue and trust are always punished. The most attractive major character, Eddard Stark, dies swiftly, unjustly, and horribly. He dies largely because he is so honorable and dutiful. His horrified family is scattered to the winds to suffer or perish. And from that moment on in the story, almost everyone associated with honesty, selfless courage, and justice is doomed. Almost the only likable figure who survives through all the books is the dwarf, Tyrion, who is occasionally kind, but also consumed with cynicism and despair.
Yeah, because accomplishing the goal no matter what it takes is more effective than having scruples. It is truth in fiction and has nothing to do with punishment. They are all, including Ned, playing a game of thrones. In Game of Thrones, you either win or you die. Winning is just easier when you are cunning and ready to do whatever needed.

Bravery and charity toward others are rewarded with death or betrayal. The simple poor are raped, robbed, enslaved, and burned out of their homes. Chivalry, a real thing in Conan Doyle’s world, is for Martin a fraud. All kinds of cruelty and greed, typified by the House of Lannister, flourish like the green bay tree. Treachery and the most debauched cynicism are the only salvation, the only route to safety or advantage. Perhaps the most intense moment of the entire saga, the “Red Wedding” is composed entirely of the most bitter betrayals, including a terrible violation of the laws of hospitality. Yet as far as I can see, the betrayers gain advantage by their action. Three major figures, all in the grip of different versions of amoral cynicism, dominate all the thousands of pages that follow, and while others are murdered all around them, they live on.
Sure, yeah. Which is why Cersei is so good at ruling the country and her position is so firm. Martin's world is not Conan Doyle's world. Nor does it have to be. They both have their own merit.

House of Lannister is not flourishing at all. If anything, it is withering away completely. Their betrayals and cruelty may have helped them in the short-run, but in the long-run, it is biting them in the ass hard.

It is often said that much of the narrative is based on the true and gruesome conflicts of England’s Wars of the Roses ... England in that era never sank into the utter misery and desolation portrayed here.
Citation needed.

Of course that Martin will not follow the framework to a t. It is inspired by the War of Roses among countless other historical event, not based on it. It is not an allegory of it, not a fantastical version of it, it is mostly a nod to it.

The story also leaks at both ends into worlds of supernatural horror or marvel...Princess Daenerys manages to hatch actual dragons from ancient eggs. But even in temperate, seagirt Westeros, lethal shadows can kill and spells are cast.
Yes. It is a genre of fantasy. It is bound to have the fantastical.

Martin cannot write as well as Tolkien or Lewis, in my view because he cannot draw on Tolkien’s or Lewis’s enormous storehouse of legend, saga, poetry, and literature. ... And goodness, he has the storyteller’s gift. It seems to me that Martin may, especially in his portrayals of the incestuous, limitlessly unkind Lannister twin siblings Jaime and Cersei, have rediscovered human evil in its purest form.
Far be it from me to say that Martin sometimes does not waste time describing minutest of details, but his inspiration comes from literature and history. Else, we would not be able to recognize influences in his works and the author raved about the War of Roses inspiration just a few short paragraphs before this one.

Jaime is not unkind. One of his biggest crimes in the eyes of the world happened because he sought to protect the innocent. That is at the very least kindness. And they are not the human evil in its purest form. They are both humans who make choices. What they did at any point in the books is far from worse than what others did before them or will do after them.

Until recently, I am not sure anyone would have dared to enter mainstream publishing or entertainment with unpunished wickedness of this kind... But it is a civilization very different from and inferior to one that acknowledges Christ as King.
Argumentation needed. Why would it be worse off for not acknowledging Christ as king? Because it is different from the author's belief system which is so fragile he cannot acknowledge it could happen.

It is like the author forgets that quite a number of atrocities was committed by civilizations and individuals who professed to acknowledge Christ as king. Slavery comes to mind. Pedophilia in Roman Catholic Church another.

Martin’s creation is a society in which man knows how to build and travel, to make himself comfortable, perhaps to cure and treat some diseases, and to fight wars scientifically—but in which there is no trace of Christ. The Good Samaritan is not known of here. Nobody has heard of the Prodigal Son, and the Sermon on the Mount has never been delivered... “Do as you would be done by” rapidly becomes the very different “Appear to do as you would be done by.”
Absolutely and categorically no. Arguably the best kings and queens and assorted nobles who were named were those concerned with "small folk". All of those messages are found in many cultures though in different stories and different ways. They are found in Westeros as well in the teachings of their religions.

And there are plenty of hypocrites who heard the word of Christ and only appear to respect it while actually not respecting and following it in the least.

In such a kingdom, power and virtue are entirely separate. The snarling brute rules, unrestrained by reminders that a just God will judge him in turn. He is wealthy, powerful, and clever, like the figures depicted by the Riace Bronzes. He sits at the pinnacle of a civilization of impunity, which delivers many joys to the rich and the strong, and misery to the weak and poor. Imagine that, stretching out in all directions and forever, and you have George Martin’s world.
No, you don't. Arguably, the strongest lesson Sansa learnt from Cersei who seems to actually depict what the author claims is the foundation of Martin's world is to have people love her instead of fear her.

As far as I can find out, Martin is a lapsed Roman Catholic and has quite banal views about how religion causes wars and God is a “giant invisible guy in the sky.” I do not think he has set out to make an attack on Christianity. I do not think he especially likes it, but I suspect he has discarded it, and so he has written an account of a world in which it simply does not exist. His fantasy greatly disturbs me, because it helps to normalize the indifference to Christianity which is a far greater threat to it than active atheism.
By far the greatest threat to Christianity are some of the Christians.

And influence of Christianity is rather clear in Martin's world, most notably in the Religion of the Seven. He offers a poignant critique through it of Middle-Ages Christianity which was wrought with debauchery at the highest levels while preaching something entirely different to its followers exempting the rich from their rules because they could pay to have their sins forgiven.

Some readers of Martin’s stories see a kind of Christianity in the worship of “the Seven.” ... Nor does anyone else. The worship of the Seven is exactly what atheists think Christianity is: an outward vesture.
Actually, there is a passage in the books which clearly states that the Seven are all aspects of one god, but that the distinction is lost on most believers much like it was for early Christians.

And Middle-Ages popes were often exactly that; "a cynic, corrupt and luxury-loving, seeking power, or a fanatic, also seeking power". Plus, that is a legitimate critique of Christianity. Many Christians do regard religion as "an outward vesture" and they are most notably among the rich and powerful. Then there is Davos who is not that. Martin clearly shows that there are all kinds of people and all kinds of worshipers.

A rival older faith, officially tolerated, survives in silent groves of ancient trees. There is also a rather nasty Drowned God, who seems to encourage piracy among seafarers (which suits them very well), and a highly intolerant Red God with a touch of the Cathars, ... This recalls the way in which, in our time, science and power walk hand in hand, often destructively and dangerously.
It does not. All of those deities are interconnected while the science folks are actually the Maesters.

And in the midst of this it is those who are most indifferent to justice and truth, and the most carefully concerned for their own selves, who prosper, and also who appear to be the wisest and cleverest. Is this not very much like our own age, as it develops? Our minds are emptied of faith and hope, and we are emptied of charity. God’s visible hand is nowhere. Dead is dead. What is stolen remains stolen. Corruption is becoming normal. No help can be expected, and there is no reason to believe that a divine justice awaits the greedy or the crooked. The rainbow and the comet, the thunder and the wind, have been explained till there is no wonder left in them. We laugh at the very idea of the devil. And now, for the first time, the world of selfism and indifference has its bard, whose stories are lodged firmly in the minds of tens of millions. If we cannot counter the cruel message of Game of Thrones with something better, we have much to fear from the years to come.
The author has it backward. The books are the reflection of reality and not the other way around and they are actually a reflection of reality that is worse than ours, a reality from which we progressed. Middle-Ages were a far more cruel world to live in than ours is. Westeros pretty much disregards a lot of our progress. People in our world often succeed on kindness, charity and generosity. There is still a lot of bad in the world, but on the whole, it is mostly getting better.
 

Werthead

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Ah, Peter Hitchens, the Lidl to his late brother Christopher's Waitrose (which isn't to say that Christopher didn't write an awful load of old tosh frequently as well, but he was at least better at it, and was less immediately obnoxious).

His complaint is that A Song of Ice and Fire is not romantic in the sense of Doyle's historical fantasies (which is what they were) were, which is weird, and their cold indifference is bringing down Christianity, which is a massive stretch. Lots of very strange correlations going on there. Chivalry existed in real lift, but it tended to disappear on the battlefield. Archaeological evidence from medieval battlefields show it was quite common for cavalry - basically knights at that time - to ride down fleeing enemies and slaughter them without mercy, and for archers to shoot down enemies fleeing the field. Hardly the chivalrous behaviour of an honourable victor.

I also find his idea that Phillip Pullman's account of a Christian-like Church where priests are corrupt and abuse children is some kind of fantasy outright hilarious. As we've seen recently, the Catholic Church is riven with such corruption.

This article is a splendid load of testicles.
 

ArstenWhitebeard

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I don't understand why so many Christians seem to think that fear is a virtue. you hear them describing themselves as god-fearing and Mr Hitchens, in this article, seems to think that the only reason people can act and be decent is for fear of the repercussions. Shouldn't you love your god, and be a decent person as a display of that love?

Man walked in fear and solemnity.
Kings genuinely feared God and his justice. And their subjects, in turn, did not dare to touch the Lord’s anointed
Tell that to Thomas Beckett and Henry II

an action done in fear does not reflect your true nature, it only reflects your fear. In legal terms, this is called duress.

The only appeal is to a very basic common decency, the absurdly overrated Golden Rule, which in a world without Jesus has two great unavoidable flaws. The first is that the weaker and poorer you are, the less other people are inclined to hope for favors from you, or fear your revenge.
I don't really understand this. the concept of the Golden Rule can be found in religions outside Christianity (ie. people who don't believe in Jesus) so the argument kinda falls apart from the get go. But also, the golden rule isn't "do unto others or you will be punished". the Golden rule is just a description of how you would act if you felt empathy.

The second is that, having no way to find the mind’s construction in the face, or to see into our neighbors’ secret hearts, we have very little true knowledge of the secret deeds and inward thoughts of others. “Do as you would be done by” rapidly becomes the very different “Appear to do as you would be done by.”
I admit that this one confused me. Is he saying that, with Jesus' help, he can read minds? and that, in a world without Jesus we wouldn't be able to read minds any more? in all seriousness though, can someone explain this sentence to me? I mean, to me he seems to be saying, without really knowing how a person wants to be treated, we can't really know how we should treat them. but what does that have to do with whether or not Jesus is involved? also, that isn't what the golden rule is about, the idea is that you should treat others how YOU would WANT them to treat you.

anyway, bottom line is this guy seems to have no faith in actual humanity, possibly because he reserves all his faith for god. out of curiosity I read some of his other articles and, without getting in detail because it really isn't relevant to this forum, he has some pretty crackpot ideas, at least in my opinion.
 

Ursa major

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in all seriousness though, can someone explain this sentence to me?
All he's doing is setting up a strawman, by applying an impossible test to the Golden Rule, or rather to the Golden Rule that he has invented (which bears no real resemblance to the real one).

One does not have to read the mind of someone to not treat them in a way that one would oneself not want to be treated. One only needs to know how one would not want to be treated. If Hitchens can't understand something as simple as that, for his own safety he shouldn't be allowed out on his own.
 
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