In which John C. Wright explains how reading an slanderous anti-Christian short story helped him move on from atheism and embrace Christianity:
Mr. Chiang’s short story, as far as I was concerned, not merely failed of its object, but was counter-productive. One of the things that made me suffer no regret when I was called away from the cramped intellectual jail of atheism into a wider and more wonderful world, was my growing conviction that my fellow atheists were shallow, men without insight into real human nature. I read Chiang’s story and I thought: is this the best my side can do? Is this cheap slander the best argument we can muster against our hated enemies, the Christians? In those days I kept wondering why, since my side had the Sixteen-Inch Guns of Truth and Logic, our gunners kept shooting blanks. Why were we sneering all the time, instead of setting out the evidence?
To get a notion of the depth of the contrast I saw, find a comfy chair by the fire, read HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD by Ted Chiang, and then, without rising from the chair except perhaps to toss another log on the fire, pick up and read SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR by J.R.R. Tolkien, or perhaps LEAF BY NIGGLE. It does not matter whether you are an Atheist or a Christian or are another faith or uncommitted: anyone reading those two author’s work in contrast will see that one has an insight into human joys and human woes, a compassion toward even human folly or pride or sloth. And the other one shows nothing, no humanity, no understanding. The heart of Chiang’s work is not in the right place. Even though I thought Chiang’ world view was true and Tolkien’s was false, I concluded Tolkien’s insight into real life was keen-eyed, and Chiang’s was superficial.
He cites an earlier review of Chiang’s short story, written when he was, as he described at the time, “an unrepentant atheist”:
“The satire “Hell is the Absence of God” reads like it was written by someone who never met a Christian, or read anything written by a Christian. In this tale, those who see the light of heaven are grotesquely disfigured (their eyes and eye sockets are removed) and loose free will, and become perfect in faith, so that they are automatically assured of entrance into paradise. The main character, mourning after the death of his wife, seeks to find a spot where an angel is leaving or entering the world, so that he can, if only for a moment, glimpse the light of heaven, so that he can loose his eyes and his free will, but be assured of meeting his wife again in heaven. All goes as planned, but God capriciously sends the man to Hell in any case. Hell is not a place of torment, but a bland area much like earth, merely separate from God, peopled by Fallen Angels who sin was not rebellion, but free-thinking. Hence, out of all created beings, only the main character is actually suffering in Hell, since he is the only one who longs not to be there, and, thanks to his free will being destroyed, is the only one who loves God wholeheartedly. Again, all efforts of the main character to rejoin his wife are futile. There are secondary characters whose lives are also ruined and for no particular reason.
“I myself am an unrepentant atheist, but I would never pen such trite antichristian propaganda. If an author is going to set a story in an alternate universe where the Christian myths happen to be true, the author should become familiar with (or, at least, hide his contempt for) the source material. Read Thomas Aquinas or John Milton. Christians may be wrong, but they are not stupid.
“Over all, Mr. Chiang is an excellent writer, who writes wonderfully about big ideas, but weds them to a theme of dispirited nihilism. He is capable of subtle and penetrating characterization, except when he trots out a tired leftwing cliché, whereupon suddenly everything becomes flat and predictable (see, for example, his treatment of the CIA, Big Business, the Military, and the Victorian Age).”
And so we see that even shadow testifies to the existence of the Light. I thought Wright’s take on Chiang was spot-on. I have the collection of short stories to which he refers, and while I found them intriguing, and even bordering on brilliant, I also thought it was remarkable how every single one of them felt essentially flat. I didn’t know why at the time, but now I do. Put simply, Chiang is a tremendous talent crippled by postmodern secularism.
He is, as I once explained to R. Scott Bakker, a color-blind painter. It makes no difference how flawless his technique and his skill are, because when the sun is green and the grass is purple, there is a certain disconnect from the human experience that cannot be avoided.
As I said to Tom Kratman yesterday, in the end, WHAT you write is considerably more important than HOW you write. An accurate truth, even clumsily described, is more significant than a pretty lie, no matter how eloquently the lie is told.