The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

May 7, 2011

My Apologies to L. E. Modesitt (the dangers of equating a character's viewpoints with those of the author)

In a previous post, I interacted with L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s book entitled The Ethos Effect (Tor: 2004). In my post, I unfairly treated the viewpoints of the protagonist as those of Mr. Modesitt himself. This was both careless, unfair, and wrong of me, as Mr. Modesitt recently pointed out to me. I apologize to Mr. Modesitt and any readers of the original blog. Misrepresentation of an author is the 2nd greatest sin of writing (the first, obviously, being plagerism) The original post has been modified to clarify that it is the viewpoints of the characters, not necessarily those of Mr. Modesitt himself, that are being critiqued. The following is the statement from Mr. Modesitt (e-mail correspondance dated Friday, May 6th, 2011). This is posted with his permission (e-mail correspondance, May 7th, 2011), and he has graciously accepted my apology.

[beginning of correspondance]

"Dear Mr. Himes:
I have to say that I was somewhat surprised and greatly disappointed about your blog which discussed the philosophical points raised by my book -- The Ethos Effect
You certainly have the right, and in view of your beliefs, the duty to dispute ethical points at variance with your viewpoint.  And I have no problem with your dispute of the "beliefs" expressed in The Ethos Effect [although there are many parts of your argument I would dispute]. What you do not have the ethical right to do, however, is to assume that, out of the nearly sixty books I have published, the views expressed through characters in a single book represent or encapsulate my beliefs or views, especially since characters in other books express viewpoints which are in contradiction to those expressed in The Ethos Effect.  While I would not go quite so far as other authors who have noted that readers who assume that the beliefs of an author's characters are those of the writer are idiots, I do believe your blog goes far beyond the acceptable in claiming the beliefs expressed in the book represent my viewpoint on religion and ethics.. 
You will find different ethical viewpoints expressed many of my other novels, particularly in the current series, The Imager Portfolio, but also in Adiamante, Gravity Dreams, Empress of Eternity, Haze, and The Octagonal Raven, among others.
As a side note, I would also point out that no religion can exist without a component of humanism, since all religion on this planet exists, at least theoretically, to provide a better way of life for its believers, who are indeed human, and all doctrines, codes, revelations, from or about the divine are filtered through human perception and interpretation."
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
[end of correspondance]

He is, of course, absolutely correct to rebuke me, and I will endeavor to be more careful in future interactions with books of fiction. For the record, Mr. Modesitt is an excellent and surprisingly deep writer (last Christmas I gave the first two books of his Corean chronicles to my best friend, a fantasy aficionado). 

Regarding the last paragraph of his statement, I can concede the point to a certain extent, though I certainly can't speak for all religions. My definition of "humanism" and "humanistic," however, refers to the viewpoint that sees the good of humanity as the telos, the primary and end goal, of existence. (see, for example, The Humanist Manifesto II, online at http://www.americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II  [accessed 5/7/2011]; note especially the fourth paragraph in the essay proper, after the preface; the interested reader should also note that Isaac Asimov was one of the signers of the document; despite this, I still consider Asimov to be a great sci-fi writer, in his non-fiction as well as fiction)
To a certain degree Christianity and other religions do try to look out for the welfare of their adherents. Yet Christ showed compassion on all men, not just his followers (e.g. Luke 17:11-19), and Christians who fail to show compassion to those outside the faith in addition to those inside the faith have absolutely failed as Christians (e.g. Galatians 6:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:12).
Also, the point of Christianity is that we exist to the glory of God (the "supreme being," if you will), as 1 Corinthians 10:31 notes, and that anybody who joins a church or claims conversion simply on the basis of what it can do for them has missed the big picture. One does not follow Christ simply to escape judgement or for a "pie-in-the-sky" future, but rather because of Who and What he is. Furthermore, as an ideology, Christianity does not benefit from becoming closely tied to the state. One of the worst things that happened to Christianity, in my opinion, was Emperor Constantine and the eventual nationalization of Christianity. Furthermore, any Christians who attempt to force their views on others, either through the state or at the personal level, are not acting like Christians.

Mr. Modesitt is absolutely correct in the last line of his e-mail concerning "human perception and interpretation," and Christians should indeed recognize that we may be (indeed, often are) fallible in our interpretations. I would suggest, however, that this does not necessarily invalidate the concept of divine revelation itself. My own views are those of an inerrantist in regards to Scripture (in the original languages, of course), though I recognize a diversity of views regarding revelation in Christianity.

I thank Mr. Modesitt for his interaction, apologize for misrepresenting him, and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.


  1. In response, I would ask one question. If God acts largely through the beliefs and actions of men and women, how can an ethical human being not act against other human beings whose acts he or she believes to be evil or even has proof of such evil. When you talk of leaving the future in the hands of God, doesn't that abdicate ethical responsibility? Where then does one draw the line? Those were the sorts of questions facing the protagonists in The Ethos Effect.

  2. Thank you for the excellent question. I would respond by stating that Christians can and should (indeed, are commanded to) act against evil when they have the opportunity (e.g. hiding Jews in Nazi Germany, reporting a burgler in a neighbor's or one's own house, etc.) to the extent that their act does not violate one of God's commands in of itself. I guess my concern is primarily that Christians not respond to evil with evil, however (e.g. 1 Thessaloninas 5:15)

    It's true, however, that an over-reliance on, or overly-deterministic view of, God's control over the future would cause a person to neglect his or her ethical responsibilities, and we should constantly guard against such a negligant attitude towards evil and unjustness in the world. Yet just as Christ did not focus on toppling the Roman Empire (in many ways a great evil, from a modern standpoint) but rather on showing compassion and offering hope and forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection, so also a Christian's focus should primarily be on the spiritual (compassion, spiritual hope and identity, etc.) rather than on the course of history or the rise and fall of nations. Such an attitude, I believe, would help avoid the radically religious nation-state that features so prominently in The Ethos Effect (and, as I mentioned earlier, I believe Emperor Constantine to be one of the worst things to have happened to Christianity)