Obsession

http://www.novelguide.com/ckfinder/userfiles/images/Lost%20Horizon.jpgI’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about something I don’t talk about in public very much–Jesus Christ.

I’m also going to talk about James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon. And the wide world of geekdom.You see, Lost Horizons encourages a very strange virtue: Moderation.

“If I could put it into a very few words, dear sir, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excesses of all kinds—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself.”

The first time I read this I disagreed with it quite strongly. I was young at the time and idealistic and read “Lives of the Saints” and “Voice of the Martyrs” and thought there was no such thing as an excess of virtue. That was before I grew up and saw what an excess of virtue could do to people. Before I met Christians who believed it was possible not to sin, and thus hurt people and moved on, not believing they’d don anything wrong. Before I’d seen beautiful friendships torn apart over doctrine, because both party believed it was the epitome of virtue.

Believe me, an excess of virtue is a very dangerous thing. Christians have to sin, stumble, and fall so that they are forced to crawl back to Grace and beg for pardon, and be reminded that they can not be saved on their own merit. It’s a cycle of ups and downs that’s painful to go through but a necessary by product of living in a fallen world. We succumb to pride so that we can be broken, so that we can learn to be humble again. But soon the pain fades away, and we become proud of our humility, and begin the cycle all over again.

So yes, I now firmly agree with the Llama of Shangri-la. All things in moderation, unless you’re God himself.

To be fair, this topic has been covered already in a four part series on Speculative Faith. If you want to read it, I encourage you to do so. You can find it here:

Part I: Can Geeks be Good Christians?
Part II: Forgiving and Forgetting.
Part III: Straining the Gnats.
Part IV: Geeky Idols

So there you go. Can a geek be a good Christian? My take on it, absolutely. Before I go further let me first clarify: I love geeks. Most of my friends are geeks. I’m a geek. I’m proud of my geekiness. My dad is a bit of a geek. I love geek culture. I go to conventions. I’m a science fiction writer, for heaven’s sake.

And sometimes it bothers me. It bothers me deep down, in that place in my heart that I know better then to try to ignore. It says things like: You’re proud to be a geek? What does that mean, that you’re some how superior to non-geeks? That non-geeks aren’t cool enough to be friends with you?

Of course not, you want to say, and brush it off. But no, really. Look at your life and ask yourself the question again.

There’s nothing wrong with watching TV and loving fictional characters and having fandoms. But do you ever talk about anything else? Do you show that kind of enthusiasm in helping others, and doing housework? Is it the most important thing in your life? Is your geekdom an idol?

So I want to talks about fans, fandom, cosplay, etc. The word fan comes from the word fanatic. Fanatic means: “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion <they’re fanatic about politics>” You can’t reason with a fanatic. You can’t change their opinion. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. You’re best off giving up and walking away. Does that remind you of any “fans” you know? I do not describe myself as a fan, at all. Lately I’ve been actively taking a step back from activities that might get me labeled as such. I don’t participate in “fandom” or “fangirl behaviour.”That’s because, to me, that means three things: Pride, selfishness, and idolotry. And once you set foot on that path it can lead quickly downhill to other things.

Look at all the giggling maniacs on tumblr and facebook and youtube who want to marry famous actors, or at least sleep with them. That’s idolatry and, in some cases, adultery. Dressing up as someone and trying to be them? That’s called worship, and if you’re not worshipping God then it’s idolotry. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up and pretending from time to time. But if your’e doing it to feed an obsession then you need to take a step back and ask yourself why.

Wishing you lived in a fantastical universe isn’t healthy. I’m sure they’ve done studies on this. But more than that, it’s selfish. When you moan to your friend about wanting the Doctor to come take you away in your TARDIS you’re rejecting the life you have, the friends you have, and the family you have. I don’t care if you’re alone in the world and the most miserable person on the planet. Wishing yourself away or lusting after a fictional universe is selfish, self-centered, and a slap in the face of the God who created it and you. It’s called having a pity party, but we disguise is as having a fandom. Becoming obsessed with something that doesn’t exist means rejecting the world that does exist, and everyone in it.

And finally let’s talk about pride. Let’s talk about the flame wars, the hatred, the sides people take on frivolous, unimportant issues! We get so caught up over arguing about the newest plot twists that we stop treating each other with the respect we deserve as human beings. We allow our fandoms, and geekery to carry us away to such an extent that we become the villains of the story. We justify our poor behaviour with our idols. It’s not the real world, so it doesn’t count as much. You’re not insulting a person, you’re insulting their character or fandom, so insults aren’t as reprehensible as they’d be otehrwise considered. We make ourselves out as “experts” and tell everyone else that we’re right, they’re wrong, and fight to the death for our stance. We leave behind traits like love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

http://michaelmcfarlandmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/coexist-hi-res-620x206.jpg

Of course, we spread obsession to other parts of our lives as well, and every time we do so it harms us.The villains of stories are most often driven by obsession. Obsession, or addiction, drives us to kill, steal, and harm the very thing we want. Obsession turns us into dragons, no matter what our original intention. Obsession has put the life of many a celebrity in danger, as mobs threaten to destroy the very thing they worship. Does that tell you something is wrong, that you’ve crossed a line somewhere?

Of course it’s not just geeks. You can be obsessed with other things, such as football, shopping, or video games. But I’m talking to the geeks of the world because that’s where the temptation lies for me–that’s where I understand it best.

Tom Hiddleston is one of my favourite actors, but I don’t want his name tattooed on my arm. I don’t “fangirl” over his performance, or write fanfic involving me and Loki. Loki is an incredible character, and Hiddleston’s portrayal of him presents real passion and talent. If I met him I would want to talk to him intellectually, and as such it’s my responsibility to treat him as an intellectual in casual conversation as well. Which means not screaming ‘HE’S GORGEOUS!” in all caps on Youtube videos, or otherwise behaving in a demeaning manner to both of us.

Neil Gaiman is an incredible writer, and an inspiration speaker, and one of my favorite famous people ever. He’s not going on any signing tours. Any good “fan” would be crushed by this, because what about future books they can’t get autographed for their collection? But I’ve read his reasons, and I agree with them. I applaud him for what he’s doing, because he’s right. Standing until three in the morning for a scrawled signature is rediculous, and he’s making a huge stand by not encouraging it. The thing I value most about him is his inspiration work, and he plans to continue that. I plan to continue reading it and seeing him when he comes to speak in my area again.

And of course I love Star Trek. I’m a bit furious with the new Star Trek movies. But my reaction to those movies (and the reactions of those who can’t believe I don’t want to see Into Darkness) is part of what woke me up to my own behaviour. I’m protecting a fictional universe as if it matters, and giving no regard to real world people who oppose it. The movies don’t matter. They’re mindless bits of fluffy entertainment! Will I continue to discuss and critique them from a literary standpoint? Of course, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. But at the end of the day the characters of Kirk and Spock are just that, characters, and I need to let them go.

There is only one thing in my life that should be more important to me than eating, sleeping, breathing, life, liberty, freedom, and happiness. There is only one thing that should be so important to me that I can give in the status of an obsession, a fandom, or offer worship.There is only one person who deserves to be held up as a God, who’s name should be on my lips from the time I get up until the time I lay down, to whom nothing else can ever take precedence, and who I will serve until the death. If I ever become obsessed with anything else, no matter to what degree, it is idolatry and betrayal of the worst kind.

So go out into the world. Be a geek. Change the world, and make it a better place. And when you plan your next costume think to yourself–why am I doing this? When you get excited about a new movie ask youself–who am I serving? And when you can’t stop talking about something exciting on facebook, on twitter, in chat, take a step back and wonder–am I being disrespectful to the people around me and the one who created me?

“And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Keep it in perspective, and keep your soul.


Comments

Obsession — 6 Comments

  1. Excellent thoughts, Katie. The only caution I’d throw out is that it’s definitely possible to overthink things — you’ve skirted this, but it’s definitely a tendency I know I’m prone to. Then I spend time worrying over whether I’m ‘in the clear’ or not, and that’s just as much wasted time and energy. Lately I’ve been convincing myself to just ‘when in doubt, the answer’s no’ and skip spending the time on something like this.

  2. I’ve had this tabbed on my browser for over a month, because I know it’s important and want to respond to it, but it makes me too uncomfortable. You have some very good points here, but I just feel there’s a lot to say for the other side of things too-yes, too much passion can be bad and even idolatry, but passion in and of itself is not a bad thing.

    • Oh, I agree entirely. The underlying philosophy of Shangri-La in “Lost Horizons” is passionlessness, and that deserves a blog post of its own becuase I couldn’t agree less with anything. Passion is important. Passion defines us. We’re created to love things, and do stuff. I think the underlying question we all need to ask ourselves is what are we passionate in and why? The why is important.

      I wrote a blog post once about balancing two extremes–and this is definitely one extreme, passionlessness being the other. It’s like a tightrope journey, finding a middle ground that’s neither stagnation nor idolotry. The thing to bear in mind is that both are very real possibilities–dangers we should guard against at all times rather than lapsing into complacency with one or the other.

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