I meant to do this much sooner. Like, within the first week or two of creating this blog. But I’d forgotten just how much work a blog really is. One “urgent” post followed another as I strove to meet my self-imposed deadlines and to get my word in on this or that topic while it was still at least sort of relevant (my post on Man of Steel is an example of failure). All the while, this post remained on the back burner.
But no longer. It’s time to talk about Fred Clark, the Slacktivist.
Fred is one of the great treasures of the internet.
If he’s anything at all like the persona he presents on his blog (and that persona has been consistent for more than ten years now), he’s an absolutely wonderful person. But that is the least that I can say to recommend him and his blog.
First, Slacktivist (the blog) is one of the best resources for writers on the internet.
Let me explain that. Fred has spent the last ten years or so reviewing the Left Behind books by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins…although “review” is kind of the wrong word. What he’s done is tear them apart, page by page, explaining in microscopic detail how these books are not only the worst in the world, but quite possibly the worst ever, both as literature and as theology.
(That’s his assertion, anyway, and he makes a very good case. I encourage you to visit that link and see for yourself.)
What this has done is create a huge archive of information for writers on what not to do. Between Fred’s own posts and the discussions in the comments (though a few of the former and several years’ worth of the latter were sadly lost in transition to a new website some years back), writers get what amount to free weekly seminars on research, developing themes, recognizing annoying personal quirks, connecting with an audience, and above all, characterization.
In fact, starting soon, I’m going to start making regular posts with links to some of my favorites among Fred’s “Left Behind Friday” posts as a service to any fellow writers who happen to be reading this blog. Stay tuned.
Second, Fred provides us secular and mainstream-religious types with useful anthropological information.
I was raised Catholic; I went to religious ed on Monday or Wednesday nights, depending on when my grade level was scheduled. I served as an altar boy (my brother and I always bickered about who got to light or put out the candles). I was Confirmed under the name Michael, because I thought warrior angels were awesome (if I had to do again, I would go with “Francis”). I went to various religious summer camps. My folks were serious about it, no doubt. Even so, we didn’t hold ourselves separate from the world. I had plenty of Al Hartley and Spire comics, but I also had plenty of X-Men. There were plenty of religious and inspirational books on our shelves, but so was Stephen King and Judith Krantz. Whether a movie or TV show’s message was Christian enough wasn’t a big factor in whether we watched it. We were in the world. In short, pretty much the definition of mainstream religion.
Fred was and is an Evangelical Christian. Whole different animal. Maybe a whole different species. It’s an insular society, very carefully patrolled to prevent intrusion and corruption from outside forces (which, yes, often conflicts with their stated purpose of bringing the whole world into their fold). Fred gives us outsiders a look into the traditions, politics and beliefs of this society, sometimes with gentle humor, sometimes with righteous anger. It explains a lot of things about their politics, and is yet another resource for the writer.
Finally…well, this one is a bit more personal.
As described above, I was raised Catholic. These days, I no longer consider myself Christian.
Part of this is because I studied a bit of religious history, and now I can’t unsee all the strings and seams. Every religion evolved with, and from, the society it belongs to. If you look at them, you can often see how they were set up to fit the opinions and interests of that society’s ruling class (like karma, the world’s oldest way to tell the poor and downtrodden that they deserve to be poor and downtrodden; also, I wonder which ancient Hebrew elder was grossed out by shellfish).
Even so, most religions have some good ideas mixed in with them. For example, most at least suggest that the wealthy and powerful don’t have the right to unbridled acquisition, and that those who have a bit more have a responsibility to those who don’t have enough.
Unfortunately, very few people actually live by those good ideas. Instead, religion is just another tribe to belong to, another reason to hate the Outsider.
That’s why I quit.
For a long time, it seemed to me that Christianity, at least in the United States, was the religion of bullies. It seemed to exist for no other reason to make sure that everyone stayed in their place. Any token gestures toward helping the less-fortunate were counterbalanced by a hardcore resistance to social justice. It scorned the poor and the alien on the assumption that they must have done something to deserve their suffering, all the while venerating the wealthy and powerful – especially those who belonged to their tribe. It was obsessed with sex, and worked hard to make sure that sexual “sinners” were treated as second-class citizens while ignoring that other sins (like Greed, Pride and Wrath) even existed.
Let’s not even talk about the outright exploitation and crime that were covered up because they were committed by respected leaders.
Some people didn’t seem to really like any of this, but they felt obligated to behave this way anyway. If there was any wisdom or goodness in the teachings of Christ, His followers didn’t reflect it.
Until I met Fred. Fred was the first Christian I met on the Internet who seemed to be interested in something other than how his Christianity made him better than Those Heathens. He was the first one who even suggested to me that there just might be something good and noble in Christianity after all…that there were actually some people out there who behaved like Christ taught. Through him, I’ve met others who have turned that suggestion into a belief.
I still see the strings and seams, but at least now, they make something with at least the potential to be good. And that, as a wise man would said, ain’t nothin’.