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It Wasn’t My Star Wars!

I glanced at my watch. There was no way they could wrap this story in the time left for the movie! Where was this thing going?

I must admit I was shocked at several of the turning points in the story that I never saw coming. I mean, really, that whole thing about the parents?

And, I did not want HER to like HIM at all! And yet, there was a growing attraction there I never saw coming. Really! Can’t she see his dark side will always win out over his good side?

And, abandoning the training as a Jedi to save your friends? That can never turn out well.

I wanted to scream at the screen! I wanted to rant and rave in protest. This is NOT how I would have written the story. In fact, I had written MY version of the movie in the months and months since the previous movie and I would never have done this. A different director from the first movie had taken this train down a dark and dank tunnel and taken the wrong track!

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A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

Sometime in the fall of my senior year in high school, I channeled Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy. In 1972, Star Trek had been off the air for three years. But, thanks to syndication, it was showing in the afternoons on my local television station. And, there was a brand new Star Trek cartoon on Saturday mornings.

When I first started watching Star Trek in September, 1966 I was 11 years old. I know. I’m getting up there. But, when I reach the age of 80, I’ll officially call myself a “senior adult”. And, then, maybe not. William Shatner is still going strong and he’ll be 84 this month. And, his best friend, Leonard Nimoy — well more on that later.

At the age of 11, I could not understand the nuanced messages hidden in the Star Trek story lines. I totally did not get the significance of the first televised interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. But, by the time I was 17 and a senior in high school, I got it! Watching the original series as an older teenager was like watching an entirely new show!

kirk spock mccoy cool

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He’s Dead Jim!

“I’m a doctor, not a mechanic!”

That particular bit of universal wisdom has come true for me time after time. When I open the hood of a car, I see large, dark, greasy shapes. My wife, on the other hand, looking over my shoulder as I interpret an MRI sees the same thing — large, dark, greasy shapes. One man’s Rorschach is another man’s blueprint for disease detection.

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy was the originator of that quote. Throughout his appearances on the original “Star Trek” and subsequent animated series and movies, Bones was well known for his curmudgeonly manner. But, what Bones never lost was his “humanity”. Time after time, Bones would butt heads with Mr. Spock in the classic emotion versus logic debate.

For a young boy fascinated with the prospect of a shining, interstellar future, I was attracted more to Bones than any of the three men comprising the triad of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. More than anything, I was impressed with Bones’ unflinching devotion to his patients regardless of political or personal restraint. His patients, even when they were aliens, were human and Bones preserved their humanity.

When I felt God’s call to become a doctor, I pictured myself with the bold idealism of Dr. McCoy. I found myself throwing myself in front of the bureaucratic buses for the sake of my patients. It was his devotion to do whatever it takes to heal his patient that still inspires me today, 33 years after I graduated from medical school. Star Trek did that for me.

I guess that is why it so saddens me to read Mike Duran’s latest blog regarding Gene Roddenberry’s atheism. This was no mystery to me. The atheistic and naturalistic worldview was the dominant force behind Star Trek: The Next Generation and the sequels, DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager. For a few years, the head writer of Voyager was an outspoken atheist and her worldview saturated many of the stories of Voyager.

Interestingly enough, Roddenberry’s “Bible” on how to write for the show demanded that the future of mankind was so rosy, so Edenistic, so perfect that the writers of the show had to remove any conflict that could arise among the crew of the Enterprise. Is it any wonder the show did not do well until the Borg arrived? Is it any wonder that the greatest villain Roddenberry created was the omniscient, omnipotent, immortal Q? Here is Roddenberry’s concept of God. Capricious. Mercurial. Peevish. Delighting in tormenting mankind. Judgmental and harsh. And totally without mercy or love.

On another note, Bill Nye, the Science guy recently released a video in which he pleads with parents NOT to teach their children any form of creationism. He, along with Dawkins and Harris and the late Hitchens maintain that belief in the supernatural is dangerous to mankind. It is destroying us. And, they maintain that to teach children about the supernatural is tantamount to child abuse. Christians are religious pedophiles!

What is fascinating about this entire discussion is the totally disregard for sound, rational evidence for design in the universe. They dismiss this wholeheartedly as merely “the appearance of design”. What are we squabbling about? Semantics. Marilyn Robinson in her excellent book, “Absence of Mind”, has taken exception to this conclusion. She maintains that our appreciation of “supernature” or possible forces, worlds, beings that cannot be confined to our “natural” realm are absolutely essential to humanity. Without a concept of the supernatural, there would be no imagination. We would only consider what our senses can detect. Such imagination spurs art, literature, music, sculpture, innovation, and even scientific discoveries.

I was watching an episode of Doctor Who just the other night in preparation for the new season. In this episode, love literally conquered all, defeating the nefarious plans of the metal “Cybermen” to remove emotions from a father’s brain. The father’s love for his son triumphed over the purely mechanistic, scientific machinations of the Cybermen. Afterwards, the Doctor was trying to deconstruct the man’s conclusion that love had won the day. He was trying to explain away the “love” phenomenon as merely brain chemistry and our “genes” trying to preserve themselves and then he stopped. He realized he was getting nowhere with us puny, immature humans. So, he agreed. Love had won the day.

And, here is the conundrum. The evidence is there. Rational discourse can be had. There is abundant scientific, historical, and philosophical evidence in favor of the existence of a transcendent intelligence behind the universe. But, to believe in such requires us to recognize the presence of a purpose; a plan for this universe. Such purpose implies that as humans we are a part of that plan; that we play a role. If we play a role in the “story” then this implies there isn’t true freedom to be and do what we want. We are subservient to the “story”. Mankind resists such a scenario. In our madlong rush to be totally free of authority, we throw the evidence in the wastebasket. We play the “God of the gaps” card and say that any “supernatural” explanation cannot be accepted.

Time and again, when I have asked such individuals why they will not consider this profound evidence for the existence of an intelligence, the reasons always boil down to personal preference. “I do not want to have to submit myself to such authority. I want to be free.” What is troubling is how such personal preference can end up producing an intolerant position among materialists. Their strongest accusation against Christians, for instance, is our intolerance. And yet, they take the high position of science and only science and are themselves intolerant of all other viewpoints.

Roddenberry eventually had to compromise his vision in order for the sequels to Star Trek to be successful. The bottom line: money! Rather than throw Star Trek under the bus for the purpose of sticking to a higher set of materialistic values, Star Trek changed its “Bible” to allow conflict to exist. The future, it turns out, is not so rosy after all. Q is fallible. Man always falls to his lowest instincts. Evil rears its ugly head time and time again. Hmmm! Is this an indictment of religion or is it the brute reality that mankind has yet to rise above his fallen self? No matter how advanced our knowledge, our civilization, our technology we still kill and maim and have anger and jealousy and suffer from unbridled pride. We still have our way. We still live by “survival of the fittest” although this really means “survival of the richest or the most powerful or the most intelligent”. And, we fall time and time again as mankind.

 

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: Creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: That life arose spontaneously by chance!” — George Waldt

 

Notice the reluctance to accept the evidence is based on very subjective, personal “philosophical” grounds. History teaches us that when a civilization loses it moral and ethical base; when a civilization abandons transcendent values; when a civilization glorifies unbridled “freedom to do whatever we want” that civilization fails miserably. Without transcendent values, we are mere animals.

And, it is troubling that instead of acknowledging the incredible contribution of such institutions as Christianity, the detractors focus on the failings. And, those failings have NOTHING to do with the tenets of such a worldview. These failings, instead, point to the universal inability of man to rise above his destructive selfish impulses. And, here is the reluctant realization. Those impulses are a direct outgrowth of naturalistic philosophy. Where this is no love, there is hate. Where there is no compassion, there is oppression. Where there is no sense of the divine, there is a sense of ultimate depravity and hopelessness. We need God. We need the divine. No matter how technologically advanced we may become, we will cease to be humans if we cease to love.

In 1991 L. D. Rue spoke of the need to replace the outdated and delusional concept of God with a “Noble Lie”.  The Noble Lie “is one that deceives us, tricks us, and compels us beyond self-interest, beyond ego, beyond family, nation, [and] race.” “Without such lies, we cannot live.” He acknowledged that at least the idea of a transcendent origin of values and worth was absolutely essential for us to continue to function as humanity.

My suggestion to individuals such as Roddenberry (who has passed away), Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, etc. is to focus on man’s tendency to abuse ANY system of belief (and there are many beyond religion) and stop making God the focus of their attacks. The problem is NOT with God. The problem is with MAN!!!!

Can we not agree to disagree with civility? Can we not acknowledge the contributions of adherence to a worldview that has resulted in much altruism, good works, and, yes, scientific advance? Can those who adhere to a purely materialistic view not treat others with common decency and respect? This is my plea. Rail against God all you want. But, realize, that no amount of scientific argument, no amount of philosophical argument, no amount of rage against the abuse of systems will kill God. Accept that we will always believe in our spiritual side and this belief is absolutely essential to the future of mankind.

Instead, let us all speak out against the abuse of any type of system where human value is reduced to that of brute animals. Let us acknowledge the important of such immaterial virtues such as love, mercy, compassion, and self sacrifice. Let us agree that theology and science can co-exist as important disciplines with the potential to improve our human condition.

In most Communist countries in the 20th Century the underlying worldview was based on atheism and Darwinism. These societies devalued human life in favor of the state. Only the fittest were allowed to survive. If we stop and consider the quality of life of these individuals who lived under Stalin and Chairman Mao it would be insane to think such a life was of value or advanced humanity. In fact, over 100,000,000 people died in the 20th century alone at the hands of these systems.

One only needs to use common sense to see there has to be a balance between the natural and the supernatural. Man is a spiritual creature. No amount of scientific dogma can eliminate the basic human need for love, even if it is just biochemical in origin. Our place in the universe will depend on our imagination; our inspiration; our quest for something bigger and grander than ourselves. Belief in God accomplishes this. Where we fail is in taking that belief and abusing it for personal gain. This is what must stop. The abuse.

Whether you believe in a Noble Lie or the Way, the Truth, and the Life we must learn to work together and stop vilifying each other. We must join together to fight against the insanity of the abuse of any belief system. Can we not do this? After all, Spock and McCoy often had heated, angry arguments and yet, the men were like brothers. In fact, in one of the most successful of the Star Trek movies it was Spock’s “katra” or soul that was saved by placing it in McCoy’s mind. The two truly became one. I don’t see why rational, reasonable discourse can’t replace the strident, hateful condemnation that typifies Roddenberry’s “Bible” and the best selling books by the “new atheists”.

 

As Ravi Zacharias said, “Religion begins with man. Theology begins with God.” And, unfortunately, man will always screw things up!

 

I may be wrong, of course, because I’m a doctor, not a philosopher!

 

What Happens? The Three “C”s of Plot

James Bell Scott in his excellent book, “Plot & Structure” defines plot very simply: “The what happens is your plot”. What happens? In my editing of “The 12th Demon” I learned some powerful lessons about plot and today I wanted to talk about the three “C”s of plot.

 

COHERENT

Is you plot coherent? Is it believable? Does it make sense? In one scene in my upcoming book, I have a new character grab two men by the neck and use them like clubs to knock people out of his way. Now, that might work for the Hulk, but it is not a real life possibility. I had to change this part of my plot because it was not believable.

In “The 13th Demon” I originally had an angel appear and save the day. But, my editor suggested this was too much of a deus ex machina. What is this? Here is what our venerable Wikipedia has to say:

 “god out of the machine” is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

Such a device is not coherent, it does not make sense and is too far fetched to be believable. Make sure your plot stays believable in the context of your story. Plot movement should make sense based on what has happened just before. If I wanted to bring in an angel, I needed to hint early on that such an intervention was possible so the audience would then be anticipating such an event.

COHESIVE

Does your plot hold together? Or, is it full of “plot holes”? In “The 12th Demon” I somehow had to get my main characters from Dallas, Texas to a foreign country. I couldn’t just drop them out of the air into the fray in, say, Transylvania. There had to be a reasonable string of actions leading to them arriving in the foreign country.

Also, there was an object/person very important to the final events in the book that I planted early on in the story. My editor heaped effusive praise on me for carefully planting this object early on so when it did appear it was not out of the blue but its journey through the story to the final events held together and made sense. That part of my story was cohesive.

For instance, Spock just happens to be on the very ice planet that Cadet Kirk is exiled to by the alternate time line Spock and there just happens to be a Federation Outpost with, wait for it, Lt. Montgomery Scott who just happens to have an old shuttle that just happens to have a transporter that can be configured to beam Kirk and Scott back onto . . . well you get it.

 

CONTINUITY

Continuity as it applies to characters. Because, characters can be used to advance the plot. In “The 12th Demon” I introduce an attorney whose function early on is to create a tension between Jonathan Steel and Josh Knight over the guardian issue. But, I also used this person in later plot developments. He became my “whipping boy”. Problem was, once I used him to advance plot I violated his basic character. In each subsequent scene he seemed to be a totally different person from the scene before. His character lacked continuity. I had to go back and recreate his character and make sure his use as a plot device showed continuity with his character.

 

So, there you have it. I learned these three “C”s in my editorial process. Make sure your plot is believable, that is COHERENT. Make sure your plot holds together without plot holes and is COHESIVE. And, finally, make sure your plot shows continuity particular with your characters.

 

Next, I’ll finish up with a discussion of those “characters”.

 

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