Monday, 30 September 2013

Cruz And Norberg

Poul Anderson displays the innermost thoughts of the seven contestants in The Devil's Game (New York, 1980), including a fascinating contrast between Orestes Cruz and Ellis Nordberg.

The murdered Communist, Cruz, is a far more sympathetic character than his Christian murderer, Nordberg. Anderson, a political conservative, shows us why some men have become Communists. He often wrote with sympathetic understanding of religion in general and Christianity in particular but also understood the inhumane mindsets of some Christian traditions.

Some of Cruz's teeth rotted in childhood; others were "'...knocked out in prison...'" (p. 33)

"'...my brothers are being shot, flogged, clubbed in the testicles, left starving among lice and cockroaches...I am going to spend the money on guns and propaganda and liaison with my brothers in Cuba, Africa, around the world.'" (ibid.)

We each make our own response to Cruz's speech but it is to Anderson's credit that he gives us that speech and then later writes Nordberg's self-serving prayers:

"'You want me to prosper, for an example of your mercy and to become able to do your work in this world.'" (p. 191)

Well, Nordberg wants Nordberg to prosper so, of course, the Lord must want this as well.

Of Haverner, who offers the prize of a million dollars, Nordberg thinks:

"I gather he's not a Christian. Nevertheless the Lord has seen fit to make him mighty upon the earth, even as Cyrus was made mighty to free Israel, as Augustus was so there'd be a Roman peace wherein the words of our Saviour could be heard. My Cyrus, my Augustus." (p. 194)

Thus, Nordberg modestly compares himself both to Israel and to the Savior! I find that first sentence irritating. Everyone must first be classified as to whether they are "a Christian" or "not a Christian." That makes about as much sense as classifying every science fiction writer as either "Poul Anderson" or "not Poul Anderson."

(For Cyrus, see Anderson's Time Patrol story, "Brave To Be A King"; for Augustus, see Neil Gaiman's Sandman story, "August".)

Nordberg wonders how someone:

"(...can be religious and not rejoice that we're afflicted with one less godless Communist.)" (p. 195)

The subject of this wonderment is one of the servants whom Cruz had gone out of his way to befriend.

Of Cruz, he thinks:

"(...I hope you enjoy yourself, Orestes Cruz, looking up from hell)." (p. 194)

I have encountered this in some Evangelicals, genuine gloating at the supposed future damnation of their opponents. I was indoctrinated in an admittedly different Christian tradition where we were told that we must "judge not." We do not know how anyone else stood with God and cannot say where they are in the hereafter.

According to Nordberg, an adulteress is:

"That whore, that slut, that bitch, that tramp, that abomination in the sight of the Lord." (p. 200)

No, man, she is just an adulteress. However, she, another of the contestants, shows every sign of being as manipulative and self-seeking as Nordberg himself. Hence, his antipathy towards her. Bizarrely, he even imagines forcing sex on her as a way of bringing down her pride and showing her that she "...is less than dust in the sight of the Lord." (p. 197) And one reason for deciding against this is that he might suffer the embarrassment of impotence. (Anderson has created an extraordinarily complicated character.)

That "It is a sin" is another reason against (ibid.) But not a big reason. As I understand this version of Christianity, a man, once saved, cannot be lost. He will, of course, be punished by being made to feel bad about his "sins" but that is as far as it goes.

I could write even more about Nordberg's mental contortions but that is plenty. By contrast, the "godless" Cruz is refreshingly straightforward and honest.

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