Letter From The Editor - Issue 56 - April 2017

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Issue 7
Stories
Silent As Dust
by James Maxey
Lost Soul
by Marie Brennan
The Price of Love
by Alan Schoolcraft
The Braiding
by Pat Esden
After This Life
by Janna Silverstein
The Smell of the Earth
by Joan L. Savage
From the Ender Saga
Ender's Homecoming
by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
The Talk
by David Lubar
Split Decision
by David Lubar
Comics
A Plague of Butterflies
by Orson Scott Card
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Writing Fantasy

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Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With James Morrow
    by Darrell Schweitzer

[conducted at Readercon, 2007]

Born in Philadelphia in 1947, James Morrow spent his adolescent years making short 8mm fantasy films with his friends, including adaptations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." His affection for satiric and philosophical fiction comes largely from the novels he studied in his high school World Literature course.

A self-described "scientific humanist," his work not only satirizes organized religion but also elements of humanism and atheism. The author is best known for his magnum opus, the Godhead Trilogy. The first installment, Towing Jehovah, winner of the World Fantasy Award, recounts the efforts of a supertanker captain to entomb the corpse of God in an Arctic glacier. The sequel, Blameless in Abaddon, tells of a small-town judge who prosecutes the Corpus Dei before the World Court. In The Eternal Footman, God's skull goes into geosynchronous orbit above Times Square, causing a plague of despair.

Other James Morrow novels include This Is the Way the World Ends (1986), a Nebula finalist, and Only Begotten Daughter (1990), winner of the World Fantasy Award. His early short fiction is collected in Bible Stories for Adults, including the Nebula Award-winning fable, "The Deluge." City of Truth, his one and only novella, also received a Nebula Award. Jim's current project is Prometheus Wept, which he describes as "a combination of Frankenstein and Lolita."

The author presently lives in State College, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Kathryn, his son, Christopher, and their dogs. He devotes his leisure time to his family, his Lionel electric trains, and his DVD collection of guilty-pleasure Hollywood epics.

SCHWEITZER: So what's all this stuff about reason? Your latest novel, The Last Witchfinder is not so much about witches and devils but about rejecting the belief in them.

MORROW Morrow: The Last Witchfinder doesn't deal with what many people mean by witches, witches as a feminist cult of healing and cosmic consciousness, nor is it about the sort of witchcraft we associate with the Third World, having to do with, again, curing disease, or perhaps with raising the dead. I am addressing the big problem that emerged in early Renaissance Europe, and which quickly became a kind of holocaust: the problem of the specifically Christian heresy of Satanism.

If you told fortunes in those days or practiced some other esoteric pursuit -- herbal healing, whatever -- you were vulnerable to the charge of Devil worship. The problem was not the practices per se, but the redefinition of them as evidence of a Satanic compact. Today Catholic scholars would argue that this kind of persecution was itself heretical, and should have been perceived as such. And, indeed, in the medieval era the Catholic Church held it to be anathema to go after witches.

But, for whatever reasons, theologians in the early Renaissance began noticing how damn much demonology there is in the New Testament. Jesus is forever casting out evil spirits and consigning demons to the bodies of pigs, wicked spirits that were once inside people. So you can't really argue that Christian demonology is an aberration. Sad to say, the persecutions trace to theologians paying attention to what's actually happening in the Gospels. It's not all that's happening, but there is an enormous amount of demonology in the New Testament, which seems to suggest a Satan, a Devil, a Dark One, has dominion over this world, and once you've interpreted the Gospels in that way, you start looking around for the agents of that Devil.

SCHWEITZER: Do you think the witch-hunting came from the top down or the bottom up? That is, was it a means used by the authorities to control the masses, or was it a matter of popular hysteria over matters people could not control -- the Black Death, Muslim pirates raiding the coasts of Europe, famines, etc. -- demanding action from the government?

MORROW: I imagine both were going on at the same time. But what interests me -- as a person who takes a very dim view of religious arguments about how the world works -- is the top-down, institutionalized persecution of supposed witches. It was highly systematic, codified in the Malleus Malificarum of Kramer and Sprenger. There was a whole elaborate infrastructure of ecclesiastical and civil courts to prosecute the agents of Lucifer.

Of course, one can also psychologize about outbreaks of witch persecution. This is especially common in the case of Salem: there are scholars who say, "Well it wasn't really about theology, it was really all about neighbors settling scores with one another." Or they'll say, "The Puritans were obviously taking their fears of the Indians and projecting them onto their neighbors." Arthur Miller's play The Crucible seems to say the Salem tragedy was really about the frustrated libidos of the girls who brought the accusations. Some historians even insist it was really all about the girls going batty because they were eating bread contaminated with ergot, a fungal disease of rye plants.

These interpretations are all interesting -- but, again, let's remember that the phenomenon of witch persecution went on for nearly three hundred years. That doesn't sound like hysteria to me. That sounds like something systematic and institutional. As I mentioned earlier -- and this was a discovery that I made while researching the book -- witch persecution is, alas, a logical implication of Christian theology. Yes, there is also some demonology in the Old Testament, but we find it largely in the famous translation authorized by James I, who fancied himself an expert demonologist, even wrote a book on the subject. The King James Bible was translated by witch believers, and this state of mind influenced many of their word choices. Think about that notorious line from Exodus, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Today a Hebrew scholar would translate it in much more innocuous terms. It would come out something like, "Thou shalt not provide a fortune-teller with his means of livelihood."

SCHWEITZER: Describe your book for our readers. It's about someone who wants to put an end to the witchcraft statues.

MORROW: A big influence on The Last Witchfinder is a book called Masks of the Universe by the physicist Edward Harrison -- whom I must get in touch with: I don't think Harrison knows there's a novel floating around that traces directly to his notion of the witch-universe, the "psychic space" in which most people lived during the Renaissance. The big discovery I made, as I continued my research, was that a person born around 1678 would have lived in the transition from Harrison's witch-universe to what we now call the Enlightenment. So I said to myself, "Hey, that's pretty damn dramatic. I won't need a huge cast of characters to make this epic happen. It can be one woman's quest. It will be the story of Jennet Stearne and her obsession with bringing down the conjuring statues of her day."

Also, being a feminist -- and knowing, as with Only Begotten Daughter, that for me it's always fruitful to put a strong woman at the center of a novel -- I imagined Jennet as not only living through the great rotation, from the witch-universe to the scientific worldview, but actually helping to make it happen. She participates actively in the paradigm shift, by campaigning to destroy the 1604 Witchcraft Statute of James I, which gave an outward appearance of rationality to the witch courts.

SCHWEITZER: Curiously, you did this as a form of fantasy novel.

MORROW: I was just on a Readercon panel about the continuum that ranges from mimetic fiction to the fantastic, from characters who merely change internally versus those who come to a completely new understanding of how the world works. I think The Last Witchfinder ranges freely around among all these coordinates. Obviously it's not a fantasy in the wizards-and-elves sense, but rather a kind of postmodern experiment that maps pretty well onto strictly mimetic historical fiction -- though, of course, it's all told by a very unusual narrator.

As you know, The Last Witchfinder is a book written by a book. It assumes a universe in which books are conscious and have agendas and write other books. So this free-floating spirit of Newton's Principia Mathematica is able to move effortlessly through time and space and therefore comment on the philosophy of science and Jennet's efforts to bring the new universe into being.

Up to a point, my Principia narrator is even willing to talk about the downside of science and technology. Near the end of the book, he-she-it visits the Place de la Révolution in Paris at the height of the Terror and possesses a priest who is subsequently marched to the guillotine -- the French Revolution, of course, being Exhibit A in any indictment of the Enlightenment. The Principia is willing to acknowledge that, while the Enlightenment came along just when it was needed, it was by no means an unalloyed blessing.

At the same time, The Last Witchfinder is obviously a defense of the Enlightenment. I take Exhibit A seriously -- but it's hard to find Exhibits B, C, D, and E after that. The Marxist totalitarian states are "atheist" or "neo-Enlightenment" in name only. Operationally, they function exactly like theocracies. No doubters allowed.

SCHWEITZER: At one of the funnier moments, the Principia does a critique of the Universal horror films of the 1940s, House of Dracula and so on. What does this do to the drama of the story to have this clearly artificial framework, which makes you stand outside of the story? It constantly reminds us that this is a story.

MORROW: I was certainly taking a risk. I tried to keep these interruptions by the Principia Mathematica to a minimum, so the "color commentary" occurs only once per chapter, and with clearly marked transitions: I use a typographical trick whereby the last sentence of a Principia interlude blends into the first sentence of the next scene in the main story. The preponderance of the scenes belong to a more-or-less realistic drama set in the past. I tried to establish that when Jennet and the other main characters are on stage, we are really in their heads, not the Principia's head. We're not getting the book's subjective account of the action. The events are supposed to be happening before our own eyes.

I did have a lot of trouble selling this book, and one of the agents I approached suggested removing the Principia narrator. He said, "I don't know if I can make things happen with this book, boosting you to a new level in your career. But if you'd take out the framing device, we would clearly have a flat-out historical novel, and that might go over better with editors."

Well, I just wasn't prepared to do that. Sure, I suppose that if that same agent had said, "If you kill the ghostly narrator, I can get Knopf to give you a hundred thousand dollar advance, and they will promote it as a breakthrough in historical fiction," then, yeah, I might have bitten that apple. But he was merely saying, "Consider taking out that clever postmodern gimmick, but even then I'm not sure that I could sell it."

SCHWEITZER: It would have changed the tone of the book profoundly. It seems to me that a straight, realistic treatment of this story wouldn't be as funny. It would be full of pain and loss and rage. It would be all about this woman avenging her beloved aunt who was burned at the stake in an act of gross injustice. But as the book exists, it has an arch tone which steps aside from the material.

MORROW: In retrospect, I see you're right. I don't think I consciously added the humor to leaven the horror. But maybe intuitively, as I was writing, I thought, "Well, I'd better make the Principia interludes funny, and that will serve as a corrective to the distressing subject matter."

But even with the satiric tone, I know the book makes people squirm. I didn't hold back when describing the ordeal of being tested for the Satanic compact: for example, the way a suspect was pricked with a needle to see if one of her blemishes bled, because if it didn't bleed, that proved that the protuberance was really a teat for suckling an animal familiar, or else it was a mark indicating that the woman was bonded to Satan. I also dramatize the other main ordeal -- the cold-water test -- pretty vividly. You tied a rope around the witch's waist and threw her into a river. If she floated, she was guilty, because water is the medium of baptism. Pure, running water is offended by a Satanist's flesh and wants to eject it. If the suspect sank and was thus vindicated, the witchfinder would try pulling her out in time, although I am sure there was more than one case of the accused witch drowning while being proved innocent.

One editor who almost bought the book felt that, even with all the funny observations by the Principia, the book was too morbid in tone. But I didn't want to compromise the torture and testing scenes, because the witch persecutions were really a kind of holocaust, as I said earlier. And yet, for whatever reasons, I still added a lot of satiric distancing. I guess that's the sort of writer I am.

SCHWEITZER: I think a lot of satire works this way. If you had written the novel absolutely straight, it might have been too shrill. Often the grimmest and blackest and most terrible things have to be treated in a funny manner, even if they build up to tragedy. You can name any number of writers who do this, T.H. White most especially. What I am suggesting is that the distancing is necessary because of the nature of the material. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to make it bearable.

MORROW: Novels that seem shrill, to use your word, preachy, novels that somberly tell the reader how he or she is supposed to be feeling about the material -- such books don't enjoy the same affection in our hearts as the more playful and satiric works. I think of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which is unrelievedly grim, totally without humor. Yes, it did galvanize people to reform some of the practices of the meat-packing houses, but that wasn't an artistic accomplishment. One critic made a remark to the effect that Sinclair "aimed to touch people's hearts and ended up hitting them in the stomach." Readers were repulsed to learn that the meat that ended up on their dinner table very likely contained bits of rat meat.

I've started an historical novel that will be in some ways analogous to The Last Witchfinder. I want to dramatize the story of Charles Darwin and the arrival of that universe, today's universe, in which we perceive ourselves as animals and understand they we're evidently connected to all the other species on the planet, and they're connected to each other as well. It won't be a biographical novel about Darwin, but rather an epic about the exploits of a character who's living during Darwin's life and times.

The whole story will elapse between the voyage of the Beagle, which ended in 1834, and Darwin's publication of his theory in 1859. Many years went by during which Darwin temporized and procrastinated and anguished over going public with his big idea. I have what I think is a pretty neat plot device whereby a clever woman, scheming but sympathetic -- I think her name will be Chlöe -- she has occasion to recapitulate Darwin's travels, collecting the very same specimens. Chlöe is hoping to claim a huge cash prize being offered by a Percy Bysshe Shelley cult. They'll award it to anyone who can prove or disprove the existence of God. Chlöe herself doesn't care about the God question one way or the other, but she plans to argue the case for atheism because she needs the money. Her nautical adventures will be as mimetic and dramatic as I can make them.

At the same time, I'm once again going to use a postmodern, playful element, whereby an insane bishop locked up in an asylum will be visited by homing pigeons, which are reporting in to him from a second expedition -- one that's out to find Noah's ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey. The Noah's ark team also hopes to claim the big prize, by proving God's existence. It will soon become clear to the reader that, as a function of the bishop's insanity, the pigeon messages are actually from the future: accounts of evolutionary thinking post-Darwin, such as Mendelian genetics and the deciphering of the DNA molecule. And, of course -- because the Bishop is crazy -- these messages also contain far more information than you could squeeze onto a piece of paper wrapped around a pigeon's leg.

SCHWEITZER: This is pretty much what you've always done with fantastic elements from the beginning of your career, use them satirically. I observe the paradox that most fantasy is about things we don't believe in and don't want to believe in. It is much easier to write a story in which witches or demons are real than one in which they are not. Do you have a sense of this?

MORROW: I think the reason that William Morrow ultimately published The Last Witchfinder as mainstream historical fiction -- and I'd have to say that, because of that decision, the book got a lot more critical attention than normal -- is that my witches do not have supernatural powers. My demons and devils are purely human inventions. The world of the novel is non-supernatural -- anti-supernatural, really, as we've been saying -- even though at the same time there's this crazy central conceit of a conscious book.

I guess my fantasy novels are ultimately pretty paradoxical. They use the supernatural to argue against the supernatural. In the case of Only Begotten Daughter I took the Christian argument at face-value. There is a creator God, and this deity has a particular interest in our species and this particular planet. But after taking that claim at face-value, I began exploring the possible psychology of a supernatural being, so that my heroine Julie Katz, who happens to be the daughter of God and the half-sister of Jesus Christ, decides she doesn't really want to be divine. She ends up hating supernaturalism. She becomes an advocate of evolution and subscribes to the scientific understanding of reality. I guess the book is questioning the assumption that embracing the Christian worldview -- or any other variety of supernaturalism -- is some sort of accomplishment or end state. Something like the opposite, I'd say. There are always more questions to ask.

You mentioned the Universal horror movies that are satirized at one point in The Last Witchfinder. I always find it strange how in, say, the Mummy series -- most of which starred Lon Chaney, Jr. -- when we get to the end of the picture, the characters don't seem to have noticed that the entire fabric of consensus reality has evidently changed completely. Everything that modern humans assume about Nature being driven by rational laws, without a supernatural substratum, has just been proven utterly wrong -- and yet the characters go right back to living their mundane little lives, as if the paradigm shift hadn't occurred. It's a very bizarre convention. Because if you really had a mummy running around in Louisiana or New England that would throw the entire Enlightenment argument about how the world works out the window. The Universal monster movies always beg the question of why the heroes and heroines don't have nervous breakdowns at the end.

True, in the universe of these movies, the vampires and werewolves and mummies operate by laws, too, and so you have Edward Van Sloan knowing exactly what it takes to vaporize a vampire, or Turhan Bey knowing exactly how many tana leaves it takes to get Kharis's heart beating, and how many it takes to get him shuffling around and abducting people. But these aren't remotely scientific principles. There's no explanatory mechanism involved. They're magic. Maybe someday I'll write a mummy novel in which the characters think through the full epistemological implications of their adventures, and end up going insane.

SCHWEITZER: I suspect that the serious answer to this is that most Americans today still live in the witch-universe. The Enlightenment has not penetrated below the level of the intellectuals. Even to this day most people believe in psychics, UFOs, astrology, ghosts, and such. They probably do believe in forms of magic. Certainly a lot of them do. Then there is the Christian Fundamentalist side of the population, which is enormous, who would probably be afraid to read your book because it would evoke the Devil. So I think the real answer is they're still in the witch-universe.

MORROW: Good point. I suppose The Last Witchfinder is not about the death of the witch-universe per se. It's about the death of the witch-universe as a political force that made courts and magistrates behave in abominable ways toward people we would now regard as innocent of any demonic compact. Of course, these victims weren't necessarily people of tremendous virtue. They weren't John Proctor in The Crucible. They weren't pure of heart. They were the outcasts. They were the people upon whom this sort of persecution could be performed with impunity.

I guess I'm saying that, yes, as individual private selves, we all want to live in a supernatural universe. It's instinctive, and we all have a right to our private fantasies. Nevertheless, the reining intellectual consensus, thank God, is that promiscuous supernaturalism is not the case, and we have no business putting gods and demons at the center of our political institutions. It's been remarked that the most important word in the United States Constitution is the one that isn't there -- the word "God." I think that's genuine progress.

Now, I know that our postmodern brethren have problematized, I think legitimately, the notion of progress. You always have to ask, "Progress for whom?" But I think even the Bush Administration recognizes that fundamentalism is a terrible idea. I am continually struck by the irony of Bush and his henchmen being perfectly happy to allow a low-grade, smiley-face, feel-good theocracy emerge on these shores, even as they pursue the opposite agenda in Iraq. I think of the recent Supreme Court decision that taxpayers cannot sue the government for having recently broken down the wall between church and state through so-called faith-based grants. I think of Bush going on record as saying he thinks Intelligent Design is commensurate with Darwinism and should also be taught in public school classroom. I think of his canceling stem-cell research for reasons that ultimately trace to his supposed personal relationship with Jesus.

At the same time, we have the Bushies realizing that what they want in the Middle East is a process we would have to call secular and rational. Saddam Hussein constantly used religion to manipulate his bleeding country, even though it was technically not a theocracy, and now the great fear -- great and also justified -- is that this same theocratic impulse will reemerge in Iraq in a different form, and that society will become every bit as much of a nightmare as it was before we invaded. Certainly for women Iraq threatens to become a nightmare. The Koran has very little in it that's good news for women.

The Bushies would never admit this paradox. They would never come out and say they're contradicting themselves. But what they're hoping for is some kind of neo-Enlightenment, secular democracy in Iraq -- a regime that religious skeptics like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would recognize and salute for its lack of a supernatural argument at its center.

SCHWEITZER: Despite which, in the United States, there was just a few years ago an episode of witchcraft hysteria in a day-school, in which they managed to get all the children to testify about Satanic ritual abuse. Remember that? It was Salem all over again, with neighbor suspecting neighbor, and people being assumed guilty until proven innocent and guilty by association. It was exactly the same phenomenon.

MORROW: That sort of hysteria, when it crops us, is always very disturbing. But at least today -- here in the post-Enlightenment West -- today we pretty much accept the idea that our courts and other legal institutions have an essentially secular mission. The Devil doesn't routinely appear before judges and juries anymore. Our justice system is not shot through with supernatural assumptions about the world, or even shot through with theism, and so the fantasies of children as no longer admissible, as they were in Salem. Yes, you do have to put your hand on the Bible when you testify in court, but after that something resembling reason kicks in.

So while that Satanic ritual abuse phenomenon was horrible, it was also short-lived, because at a certain point it became clear that the accusers didn't have cases, that they had run out of evidence, and that the children themselves were being manipulated. Anyone who knows even a little bit of child psychology would recognize that these kids were telling their supposed deliverers what they wanted to hear. The motto of the people who thought they were acting in the alleged victims' interest was "Believe the children." Well, it turns out that what they really meant was "Believe the children unless the children say they haven't been abused."

It was a terrible abuse of the trust that a child naturally has in adults, ironically in the name of protecting children. I think virtually no evidence emerged that ritual Satanic abuse was actually occurring. But, yes, it was hysteria, and one can certainly psychologize about it, as one can do about Salem. My novel is about the fact that at least we've gotten rid of fantasy, private delusion, and religious mania as admissible evidence. It suggests that, in certain public contexts, theism is a luxury we simply can't afford.

SCHWEITZER: Then again, you've written about God being dead and found floating in the Atlantic. I can't imagine this has been published in, say, an Arabic translation.

MORROW: [Laughs] Not likely. But I have to say I get quite a bit of fan e-mail from believers, and that's very gratifying to me. I think I value those letters even more than the ones I get from militant atheists, who cheer me on and say, "Go for it, Jim. Give the carcass of organized religion another kick in the groin."

I'm pleased to find there are a lot of readers out there, people of faith, who enjoy my novels as theological speculation, as thought experiments that satirize the misuses of religion. You can be part of an institution and still perceive its dark side. You don't have to resign from an institution to critique it. You might actually be doing the world more good by staying within your church and trying to reform it. In that regard, I may be in a worse position to do good than believers. I'm not actively trying to change the homophobia that seems rampant in so many evangelical churches, but there are people inside those evangelical churches, I am sure, who are making arguments against that kind of bigotry.

SCHWEITZER: At what point in your life did you abandon God and discover his corpse was floating in the Atlantic?

MORROW: It's true that I was once a believer, as a kid. My parents were not aggressively religious, but I think they did have an inoculation theory of church-going. You should give your son a small and harmless dose of religion, lest he discover one day that he had no natural defenses against it. I imagine they were afraid that otherwise I would show up and say I'd decided to become a monk or something.

So they gave me a generic, white-bread religious education, dragging me to a Presbyterian Sunday-school in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Naturally I ended up believing. How could I not? This was suburban Philadelphia in the 1950s. God was the default assumption. God in the air. God was in the water. I never thought of God as a thesis, a hypothesis about how the world works. I thought of God as a fact. Adults seemed to agree on this fact, and adults don't lie, so they?

Luckily, back then suburban Presbyterianism was a pretty tepid thing. It was not salvationistic. It did not threaten us kids with images of eternal damnation and fears that our sins would catapult us into the fiery abyss. But I do remember assuming that God was behind it all, and I know I prayed for good fortune in my own life.

My inverse road to Damascus was the World Literature course I took as a tenth-grader. Those of us in the honors English class at Abington Senior High School found ourselves suddenly confronted with the miracles and splendors of Western literature: plays and poems -- and especially novels -- that were alive with ideas, usually subversive and skeptical ideas. We learned that novelists were often people at odds with the received wisdom of their day. They were contrarians. These voices stood outside of their cultures and critiqued them -- and, above all, they were honest voices: at least, that's what I found in Voltaire's Candide and Camus's The Stranger and Kafka's The Trial and Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Even a believer like Dostoyevsky -- we did Crime and Punishment -- even Dostoyevsky dramatized belief as something that is troubling and paradoxical and terribly complex.

The honesty of these writers -- the voice of an anguished atheist like Camus -- that struck a chord with me. It really was a kind of revelation. It garnered my respect in a way that my Sunday-school teachers never did. The Presbyterians seemed to dodge all the hard questions. They weren't liars, exactly, but intellectually, for me, they left much to be desired. Gradually my faith evaporated.

Of course, it also helped that I'd never had an experience with the supernatural. I'd never encountered an angel or witnessed a miracle.

SCHWEITZER: How do you think you'd respond if you did?

MORROW: [Laughs] That's a really good question. I'd like to think that, if I really believe my own worldview, my first question would be, "Might I account for this angel, or this out-of-body experience, or this miracle, or whatever, in strictly material terms?" But, sure, okay, if my supernatural experience was something utterly unequivocal, fine, I guess I'd try to swallow it.

But let's remember that most religious arguments about the world are far more optimistic and soothing than the secular-humanist view. We'd all like to believe our deaths aren't synonymous with oblivion. We've all got a built-in -- and highly suspect -- motivation to believe in the miraculous. We're predisposed to embrace supposed evidence for the supernatural simply on the grounds of our mortality. Religion solves the death problem, so of course it's always going to win the battle for the private human psyche.

So I like to think it would take more than one angelic visitation to convince me that angels are factual. It's often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I hope I would spend a lot of time worrying about whether I was deluded, whether my angel was entirely subjective, whether he was just wishful thinking, whether this was incipient schizophrenia.

I am continually struck by the fact that, whether the argument is coming from the New Age camp -- "crystals heal," "astrology works," that sort of claim -- or by those with conventional religious views -- I am struck by that fact that the main thing that's going on in every such instance is a person, a mere human being, standing in front of you insisting that the supernatural is the case. That's it. Period. A person. Nothing more, nothing less.

At the last Conference on the Fantastic in Fort Lauderdale, I noticed that our pathetic little convention was happening alongside a presentation attended by thousands of people who all wanted to hear this guy talk about life after death. He had lots of messages from beyond the veil that he wanted to share. The crowd lapped it up. Nobody seemed to notice that all they were actually getting was a person very much like themselves, and in many cases probably better than themselves -- more honest, less egomaniacal, less publicity hungry -- doling out the inside dope on the afterlife.

There is nothing you can go out and do yourself to corroborate the worldviews of charlatans. In those few cases where those of New Age or supernatural persuasion have allowed a test, some tentative attempt at falsification, their claims and beliefs have always come a cropper. Every systematic investigation of astrology or ESP or prayer suggests that there's absolutely nothing happening there. This malarkey is not a new understanding of reality. It's wish-fulfillment at best. It's stuff that we'd prefer to be the case. But it doesn't seem to be the case -- not in this life, and not in this universe.

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