DeFlip Side #20: DeFlip Side Mailbag

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Welcome everyone. This is DeFlip Side.

Or, to be more accurate, this is the flip side to DeFlip Side, since tonight I’ll be featuring your side, not my side. All of this is just my convoluted way to tell you that tonight I’ll be reading letters sent by you, the listeners, in response to a previous DeFlip Side segment.

I heard from a lot of people after my recent review of the Christian Fantasy novel The War In Heaven by Theodore Beale. In addition to panning the book, I also took some pretty broad swipes at Christianity. Especially my observation that Beale’s work, like Christianity, doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. For some reason, a lot of people took offense to this. Jeeze! When did everyone get so touchy about religion, anyway?

It’s probably best to refresh you on some of the other things I said to help put these replies into context. First off, I said I don’t disagree with the concept of a Christian Fantasy novel, since all fantasy novels draw their source material from ancient myth cycles. But as I read, I got the impression that Beale is one of those ultra-devout born agains who takes every word of The Bible as the literal word of God. No metaphors. No allusions. The book also took an active stance against the concept of free, independent thinking, so I outlined what I see as the hypocrisy at the heart of Born Again Christianity. They tell you God gave you a free will to make your own decisions; but what they really mean is that you have the free will to do exactly what they tell you, or burn in hell for eternity. And I ended by saying that even if they somehow are right, I’d still pick hell over a life of mush-minded groupthink.

The first response comes from an old friend who frequently critiques my work, Tom Holste. Tom and I have butted heads a lot over the years due to our differing beliefs—he’s a devout Christian—and I always look forward to his insightful opinions.

Tom wrote:

“I found your analysis of War in Heaven intriguing. Sad to say, while I’ve never read the book, I could sympathize with much of what you said. If Beale is like most ‘Christian Fantasy’ authors (and it sounds like he is), he pulled the classic bait-and-switch: ‘I’m going to PRETEND to tell you a story, but once you start reading, I’m going to hit you over the head with the message over and over again.’ Never mind characterization, strong plot structure or genuine twists. That’s why I can’t stand to read much of it myself.

I also think Christianity can be the basis of good stories (obviously), though I would point out that, unlike Christianity, all the other myths died and fell by the wayside, because there was no truth at their heart.

I’ll venture to say that some of the trappings associated with modern-day Christian culture don’t hold up. The extra rules and legalism we create for ourselves (‘don’t go to movies!’), the hypocrisy often practiced in the church… I can honestly say, though, that when I go back to what the Word of God actually says on a given subject, I find it has yet to fail me.

A brief word about free will. God can create a plan of salvation, and God can give a person the right to choose that salvation or not. God won’t force a person to accept His plan, but He also won’t send a person to heaven anyway if that person stubbornly rejects the plan of salvation that God has laid out. That’s where free will comes in.”

I’m going to interrupt here and ask: how is that any different from what I said? The choice is still “Do as we say or go to hell.”

Anyway, Tom finishes by saying:

“I believe that heaven will be rich with the individuality and personality I see in many of my Christian friends. God weaves a rich tapestry. And before you get too settled on the notion of hell being the more fun place to be, I would first ask you to expel all images from your head of people dancing around in red suits with pitchforks. Instead, picture a God from which all love, happiness, and peace flows, then an existence devoid of Him and therefore any of these elements. Love of family, enjoyment of little everyday things, any sense of security—all gone, forever. When I warn people about hell, this is what I’m warning them about.”

To which I respond, Tom, that it turns out our notions of hell are quite similar, at least on an academic level. I never bought the fire and brimstone interpretation either. I’ve always figured that if hell existed on any level, it’s key feature would be the total absence of all hope.

We received another letter, this one addressed to Howard, from a fellow WUSB D.J. John O, the host of Salvage and Recovery Radio. He writes:

“Howard,

I have always thought that you put a tremendous amount of time and effort into this program and I know you have great affection for it as well. I know you are very attentive to every detail.

I (heard) a review on Christopher DeFilippis’ DeFlip Side, of some Christian Science Fiction work.

DeFilippis trashes the book, which sounds like a terrible piece of literature. I was disturbed, however, at his attack on born-again Christians and the Christian faith. He actually says that ‘Beale’s work doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny, kind of like Christianity itself.’ Howard, I was hurt and appalled at that statement and several similar ones. He also speaks of ‘a work designed to turn you into a Bible thumping aisle dancing mindlessly obedient creature of Christianity’ and talks about ‘the hypocrisy at the heart of born again Christianity’ There are more thinly-veiled attacks on born-again Christianity as well, such as ‘keep your prayers to yourself.’

Now, I don’t know exactly what a born-again Christian is. I look at all Christians as being part of one brotherhood. I was raised as an atheist and came to Christ nine years ago. Am I born again? I don’t know what that really means, but I do know that my faith is very important to me, and because of this I have a great deal of respect for the faith of others.

To be honest, while this really hurt me personally, I was also quite disturbed on another level. As a WUSB listener and programmer, the fact that ANYONE’s faith should be besmirched on our airwaves is unfathomable, especially in the context of an entertainment program like Destinies. It’s not a show where one would expect to hear controversial topics of a socio-political nature. Mr. DeFilippis states that Christian listeners might think he was under the influence of darker forces. I, however, would have to give the devil his due and say that if Beezlebub were involved, he would be making better radio than this over 7 minute diatribe about a bad science fiction novel. I have learned that if you are going to trash something, do it quickly. If it truly is bad, which I am sure this book is, then don’t waste a lot of time on it. Spend some time on something that people might actually want to read. Whenever I read a negative review, I usually leave after a couple of paragraphs. Why waste time reading about something that sucks?

I certainly don’t see any problem with criticizing a piece of literature or a literary genre, or in criticizing people’s behavior. But to brand a whole group of people so negatively and to attack Christianity is hurtful and irresponsible. This is not good radio.

Just to give you an idea what kind of response such a piece might bring about, I received a call just after it aired. It was a listener, obviously drunk, who really enjoyed the negativity of the piece and agreed with it entirely. He was only dismayed that Mr. DeFilippis spoke too quickly for him to understand the full diatribe. I wouldn’t think that this is the type of reaction you would have desired for your program.

I haven’t heard much of Mr. DeFilippis’ work, so I don’t know if this mean-spiritedness is a regular part of his reports. His contributions might need to be seriously considered in the future.”

Mean spirited? Me? Really John, I’m a pussycat once you get to know me. I just take my beliefs as seriously as you do yours and I’m not going to pull any punches when expressing them.

Our final letter comes from Theodore Beale, the author himself:

“Dear Christopher,

I read your recent review—no fear, this isn’t an outraged defensive rant—and I would encourage you to give the second book, The World in Shadow, a look before you reach the conclusion that I am simply incapable of writing.

While there are certainly writers of Christian Fiction who appear to be significantly challenged in the literacy department, the reception of my past work, done in non-Christian literary genres and under other names, would seem to indicate that I am not one of them. I find it interesting that only since I began using a Christian worldview as a base point around which to write, that some people have expressed the opinion that I have lost my ability to string words together. Indeed, the few overtly negative reviews seem to be less about my writing and more about the reviewer’s hostility towards Christianity.

I certainly do not have the talent of a truly gifted wordsmith such as Tanith Lee or Italo Calvino. However, I have spent enough time writing reviews and critiques to know that I should probably not be lumped in with the likes of Jerry Jenkins, Mercedes Lackey or Robert Jordan either. Not that I would mind their market success, you understand.

The War in Heaven is a rather clumsy book, primarily because it needed to set the ground rules for the books which follow. Should you trouble to review The World in Shadow, I think you will find it to be a more subtle, less predictable work.

The War in Heaven may well be a very, very bad book, but as a formerly nationally syndicated reviewer, I know that when a reviewer’s opinion is in complete opposition to the general markets, it often serves the reviewer well to revisit his thinking. Also, since about a third of my fan mail is from non-Christians who go out of their way to let me know about their lack of religious faith, I doubt that my readership is comprised entirely of brainwashed born-agains sans literary taste.

Anyhow, if you do happen review The World in Shadow, please let me know what you think of it, as I will truly be interested to hear your opinion.”

Well, you asked for it Theodore. Quite frankly, I had a copy of The World in Shadow but couldn’t see wasting the time. I did go through the trouble of looking up other reviews of it, just to be fair. And all the story excerpts I read confirmed my suspicions that it would simply be a continuation of your manifesto calling for the absolute adherence to scripture, with no room for debate or reinterpretation.

As for your assertion that The War In Heaven is a very clumsy book primarily because it needed to set the groundwork for the books that follow—that’s a load of crap, and you should be ashamed as a writer to try and justify mediocre work with such a poor excuse. Take a look at The Fellowship of the Ring, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Both of those were primarily set-up novels, and they didn’t seem to suffer because of it.

As for my reconsidering my opinion based on the positive reviews you have posted on your website: I wouldn’t care if the book won the Nobel Prize, united all the nations on Earth and ushered in an unprecedented era of world peace. I’d still stand by my assertion that it sucks.

Anyway, enough with this book already. My sincere thanks to all who took the time to respond—especially Mr. Beale. Keep right on hurling those rotten tomatoes. DeFlip Side it may be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have your say as well. After all, what have we been talking about this whole time?

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