Friday, February 27, 2015

The Cross and the Vampire: A Review of Dracula

Book Review:
Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Team Hairbrush?
It’s not an overstatement when I say that I hate modern vampire fiction. (It’s like what would happen if a tacky horror movie had a child with a cheesy romance novel.) Even if ‘Twilight’ isn’t just a badly written fantasy, but a Mormon “allegory” constructed using time-proven literary scaffolding (as argued by John Granger at Hogwarts Professor), I still think the only good thing about it is how easy it is to make fun of. 

And as I had heard Dracula described as the novel that defined the popular form of the vampire, it wasn’t on my list of “classics I want to read.” The popular form of the vampire is this hot bad boy who has an unfortunate desire to suck human blood, but don’t worry because that’s not a real obstacle to true “love”…right? Yuck.
But that is not the story of Dracula.

Count Dracula is an evil, creepy, blood-thirsty creature that no one, no one ever ever ever, would fall in love with. (Unless you’re a psychopath.) Count Dracula is a long dead human who is possessed by the devil. Although he can control wolves and rats, shape shift into a wolf or bat, and control the weather, this is not “cool” like it would be presented as today. Count Dracula is clearly, unquestioningly, and refreshingly evil. And in a world that consistently blurs the lines between good and evil, Dracula is a breath of fresh air.

The book opens with excerpts from the journal of Jonathan Harker, a, English solicitor sent to consult with a client in Transylvania about the property he has bought in England. As he stays in the Count’s castle, Jonathan quickly begins to notice a myriad of concerning details about the Count’s habits and appearance. The man has red eyes, sharp canine teeth, seems to be nocturnal, never eats, keeps Jonathan locked in one part of the castle, and has no reflection in Jonathan’s shaving mirror. As Jonathan grows more suspicious and starts trying to find answers, the Count grows more menacing, and all the horrifying dangers of Dracula's castle close in. Jonathan finally chooses to tempt death in a perilous escape attempt rather than face even worse at the Count’s hands.

The book is continued with excerpts from several people’s journals and diaries, as well as an occasional newspaper clipping. Count Dracula makes his move, taking a ship to England, and there, in the darkness of the night, preying upon young women. Only six people know what he is and what he is doing. It will take all their combined strength and cunning to thwart him. Using the strategies and tools found in tradition, they risk their lives and souls to fight the powers of darkness. 

Dracula is a clear cut “good versus evil” story. The cross and the bread of Communion are the best weapons the protagonists have, and although Count Dracula must be destroyed, it is the devil possessing him who is the real enemy. In fact, Jonathan’s fiancĂ©e Mina points out that the men fighting the Count should do so with a feeling of mercy, knowing that they are freeing what was once a man from the horrible fate he has been bound to after his death. Not many stories have a character who is fully evil and yet still finds a measure of redemption.

With clear, Christian, old fashioned values, brave, smart, feminine women, strong, courageous, manly men, and a story that manages to be deliciously creepy without feeling spiritually oppressive, Dracula is what I wish every horror story would be. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Cure For God

Coffee from the alley...
Today, I was sitting in the downtown Bend library drinking a maple latte from Lone Pine Coffee Roasters. And I read an article, in a magazine called “Skeptical Inquirer,” about skeptical scientists trying to figure out why, over eons of history, human beings have believed in gods. 
Whether a pantheon of distant deities, or one towering all-powerful cosmic figure, whether a vague idea of something higher or a elaborate and detailed doctrine, this belief has marked centuries of human history with a broad and sweeping brush. 

“God” has toppled dictators and begotten tyrants. “Life after death” has inspired men to spend their lives as barefoot hermits, or to end their lives along with their enemies in a blaze of fire. “Morality” has spawned unimaginable kindnesses and inconceivable horrors. What is it about this idea, that, though expressed in a myriad of different and even opposite ways, always boils down to the same basic idea?

“God created the world. There is an afterlife, and men will be judged after death by their deeds. Men ought to be good.” Even in the varying ideas and expressions of “goodness” we find, at their origin, overwhelming similarities.

Sir Isaac Newton. Famous scientist. Famous theist.
So how does a materialist, a skeptical follower of the scientific method, explain this phenomenon? The article I read attempted to offer a satisfactory explanation. First, they explained the problems with a number of common reasons given for why men would invent gods. None of them proved convincing enough. So they offered their own explanation.
According to the “Skeptical Inquirer,” people have an innate desire for everything to have meaning. For the trees to be there to give the animals oxygen to breathe. For the animals to exist to provide human beings with food, help, and companionship. For human beings to exist for the pleasure of God.

And because of this innate desire for meaning, humans invented god. A belief that is so entrenched in the human psyche that it takes years of education and conditioning to stamp out. So built in that even the children of non-religious parents believe it, at least until they’re twelve years old or so. 
God comes from a belief in meaning? Where did the belief in meaning come from? Why believe in meaning if there is no such thing in the universe? Where does the beauty and mystery in the world come from, why do we persist in seeing something, if it is not there? 

Artists or barbarians?
The article made a vague claim that a belief in meaning had some sort of evolutionary advantage, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Why would a man who spent his time sitting around pondering the meaning of the universe have an evolutionary advantage over the man out hunting and not bothering about such metaphysical concerns? It seems to me that it would be just the opposite.

In the article, the insulting and erroneous assumption was that religious beliefs are the domain of the poor and uneducated, and that the cure for God was education. I know from my own experience that this is completely untrue. I know many well-educated and intelligent people who believe, if not in a specific God, in at least some higher Power. In a meaning to the universe. It is a part of the human soul that even the anti-God education system has failed to eradicate. 

As for me, I do not base my belief in God on the fact that over the ages, everyone has, although I see in that fact a problem that the skeptics still have not been able to explain away. 

I believe in God because I see a meaning in the world. I see a beauty that defies chance. I see actions that prove Love exists. I see a beauty and a mystery hiding behind the cosmos that shouts of a God that not only exists, but created, as we his children attempt to create, that loves, as we his children long to love, that has the plan that we his children yearn for.

I am sure that God has a satisfying explanation for the development of the skeptics. For now, we can quietly note that if a skeptic continues to educate himself, he will find that education is not, in fact, the cure for God. It is the cure for skepticism.