Friday Posting: On my favorite topic–Writing!


A reader asked me a number of questions about Fugitives of Chaos, particularly the role of religion in the character development. I was an atheist when I wrote that book, but my reader reads into many a Christian, or at least Theist, viewpoint or idea, and he wonders why I an atheist treated an enemy religion so respectably.

At the risk of robbing the magic trick of the magic, I would be happy to share with anyone interested the author’s thought process behind the writing of the scenes in question.

I add a caveat. Never trust an author describing his creative process. First, much of what happens is inspirationcall it the muse or call it the subconscious mind, as poetical or psychological outlook prompts you. The only thing we really know about where ideas come from is that it is unknown. The process of discarding ideas is better known: the writer can sometimes identify why he rejects an inspiration that seems not to work. This depends on a nicety of judgment about the effect he is trying to craft. Second, an author will boast about himself when asked about himself, which makes the reading unrewarding for anyone who takes artists too seriously. Take everything written below with a grain of salt.

Another caveat. If you haven’t read the book in question, the discussion will be unrewarding.

First my reader asks a general question about how I came to write the scene where Thelxepeia the siren reveals that she is a Donatist. Why wasn’t I more obvious about my atheism when writing scenes where differences of religion are discussed?

The short answer is that, so some readers, it was perfectly obvious.  Here is one critic who noticed the contempt for Christianity in the book:

The long answer is that I did not mean it to be obvious. I was writing to tell a story, not to sell my personal brand of soap.

The story-logic makes demands, once the story is rolling under its own inertia, that an artist has no real choice but to satisfy. The artist’s only real choice is whether to be true to the chastity of the muse or to force her to play the harlot. In Phillip Pullman’s AMBER SPYGLASS, his muse plays the harlot: he has events unfold and characters utter dialog which do not spring out of the plot logic, but, rather, because his inner psychological forces impel him to sell his particular brand of soap. He is an artist (a better artist than me when he wants to be) but this third book lacked artistic integrity.

In the case of ORPHANS OF CHAOS, the story logic demanded, once you have a world with pagan gods running around on it, that the narrative address the question of the status of non-pagan gods. Keep in mind that, to an atheist, the Christian myths seem no more sacred than the classical myths: Jehovah is no more sacred than Jove. So the question naturally arose—if Jove was mere a creature like Boggin or Dr. Fell, what was Jehovah?

In my first draft of that scene, I had Thelxepeia simply say Jehovah was a creature like her, named Baphomet, who sought to overthrow the rule of Jove, and replace the state religion of the Empire with his own. His only difference was that he was solitary, irrationally jealous of the worship of other gods.

While this is a perfectly reasonable idea for an atheist to toy with, it did not fit the mood of the scene, which required Thelxepeia to come to pity Amelia. The scene required Amelia to have some irrational hope of escape, some reason to think she could break out of her strict prison. Furthermore, Thelxepeia was a Christian, and so it was not logical that she could think Christ was merely a fraud.

As an atheist, I thought it would be an amusing slight against Christianity to have a pagan goddess be a Christian. As double irony, I would have her be a Schismatic of a dead and long-forgotten Church that makes the same claim to universality and exclusivity as all the other denominations, a creature old enough to remember the confusions and crass politics surrounding the creation of the canonical Bible. If the Donatists are right, then everyone else from the Nestorian Church to the Greek Orthodox to the Roman Catholic are wrong and hell-bound. If you were not born in North Africa in the Fifth Century, you are just as out of luck as a man from the antipodes. My point was to show the absurdity of Christian pretensions (show it unobtrusively, of course—-why drive away Christian readers? Their money is green).

Well, a devout Donatist cannot tell the story of Christ being a fraud. Nor could I have the siren be a willing participant in the fraud, because the point of sirens as monsters in Greek myths, is that they Tell the Truth about fate and the future to men, so that every man strain to hear, and it kills him. A monster like that cannot and should not lie. So logically I had to pick which atheist line I would take: I decided to have Thelxepeia be devout.

She is from the same paradigm as Amelia, and that paradigm, in my book, was one which recognizes the limits of knowledge, the uncertainty of Heisenberg, the relativity of Einstein. Her version of religion had therefore to be somewhat mysterious. She sees Amelia’s prayer fly up, but she cannot track where the energy goes. Is Amelia actually being helped out of her chains by the same God who helped the Israelites escape from Egypt? The plot logic would not allow me to bring in the God of Abraham as a character, so the scene could not answer the question unambiguously. It had to be somewhat mysterious. Even your humble author does not know (or care) who or what heard her prayer: sometimes drowning sailors are rescued by dolphins. Is that a miracle? Did Neptune send his beasts? Is it natural? Is it coincidence? The paradigm of Amelia cannot answer the unanswerable.

Once I decided Thelxepeia actually was a Christian, the plot logic required an explanation. Being an efficient engineer of stories (read, “lazy”) rather than make up something of my own, I decided to use something off-the-shelf. I decided merely to borrow a charming little folk tale from the Irish. There is a story that a mermaid asked Saint Patrick whether she had a soul that could be saved. The saint laughed in scorn and said it was no more likely that the dead staff in his had could bloom into flowers again than that a sea-fairy could have a soul: immediately the staff burst into flower. Of course I made the folk tale more sinister by having the mermaid be a maneating siren, and having her come to slay the saint, and being terrified, rather than pleased, to find she had a soul.

The concept of the great chain of being is one which not merely Catholics but most ancient philosophers held. Thelxepeia believes it because it is true to her character; it makes her sound archaic. It also justifies to herself her own collaboration with a hierarchy she regards as cruel and unjust. Jove is not a nice man.

The reason why the mermaid is frightened of the humble saint, of course, is that, in folk tales, you Christians are creepy and scary. Your crosses drive back vampires, your exorcisms banish demons, your churchbells drive back storms, your Inquisition burns witches, even though witches have magic powers like Samantha Stephens. You overthrew and suborned the Empire, and even Julian the Apostate was helpless before your evil magic.

(I should mention: it was not until I became a Christian that I realized how scary Christians seem to their foes. Here am I, newly vowed to a faith that says I may not lift a hand to defend myself, may not hate my deadly enemies even in my secret heart, but must to pray for them and love them even when they come to kill me; and yet perfect strangers write in to my livejournal to tell me that they quail in a perfect cold sweat of terror, stockpiling arms, because we Xtians are about to oversweep the world and install a Theocracy so tyrannical it will make the Pharaoh seem like an anarcho-capitalist. It happened more than once: people writing me to tell me they were afraid of me. Now, I assume they are not actually afraid of me, because otherwise I would merely pass their names and IP address along to the Holy Office, so that the Jesuit albino-assassins or Benedictine-built killer-robots could come beat them to death with radio-active crucifixes. I hope I am wrong, but I secretly suspect it is puffery, a pose of moral superiority. I have to be painted the aggressor, so that they can paint themselves the victim.)

In any case, for your friendly atheist who does not believe in vampires and witches, if I am writing a story where the monsters from Greek myths, sirens and so on, are the bad guys, and honest appreciation for fairy stories means the evil Christians have to have the power to cast out demons and scare the pants off mermaids: hence the scene where Thelxepeia converts. If I had been pulling an Anne Rice, and writing a scene where vampires were the good guys, the Christians merely would have been frauds, and their crosses have no power.

You see, since I didn’t believe in witchcraft or in crosses, I did not have any burning need to support one over the other—in real life (or so I held at the time) they are both equally charming, equally false, and equally absurd.

So then:

1. Why is Amelia particular to the God of Abraham?

She is British. It would have been out of character for her, raised in a very old fashioned school with a very old fashioned education, to assume the Far Eastern notions of religion needed to be weighed equally against the claims of monotheism.

Her agnosticism (or open-mindedness or indecisiveness, take your pick) about religion is not her most important characteristic, and it would have placed undue emphasis on a side-issue to draw out the paragraph where she thinks (rather flippantly) about religion had she raised and dismissed each of the major world religions in turn.

2. Why wouldn’t she be atheist like Victor?

Victor’s paradigm of the universe is a combination of the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius and the mechanics of Newton. He is a materialist who regards the workings of the mind to be a mechanical, material process: brain electrons pushing each other around, nothing more. He is an atheist because there is no room for supernaturalism of any kind in his world-view.

Amelia’s paradigm is a combination of multi-valued logic systems, relativity, quantum mechanics, Goedelian mathematics, non-Euclidean geometry, and modern notions of the limitations of knowledge. She does not trust logic to give a complete picture of the universe. She regards all models as incomplete, all measurements as uncertain. For her to have a firm opinion about something unknown and unknowable, such as the existence of Hegel’s Absolute or St. Anselm’s Being Of Which None Greater Can Be Conceived, would be alien to her mind-set. So she accepts it a possibility.

Now, since she is a bit of a smart-aleck, she decides to pray to an Archangel rather than a God, calculating how to maximize her advantages and minimizing her risk. That way, (so she calculates) she gets whatever alleged benefit accrues from prayer, without taking the risk of offending a jealous God should He turn out to be the Jewish or Muslim version instead. She figures Gabriel knows who his boss is. This “game theory” approach to religion is part and parcel of the modern scientific mind-set which seeks to operate within the limitations of incomplete information.

There is also a bit of dry humor involved here: the author is poking fun at religion by showing how someone who regarded the claims of religion dispassionately should actually act: and it the opposite of faith. Because of Amelia’s paradigm and personality, piety is simply alien to her character. In her own way, she is even more skeptical than Victor. At least Victor believes in logic.

3. What inspired you to write her to be non-atheist, but also to have her pray AND also to have her prayers mysteriously answered – especially at the right times?

The reason for Amelia to be an agnostic I explain above: she is the agnostic paradigm. Victor is the atheist, Quentin is the Gnostic, Colin is the pantheist. They are paired opposites. One believes one cannot know; one believes there is no God; one believes knowledge is all; one believes all is god.

Was her prayer answered? The text is ambiguous on that point. As is true with much in life, the facts are open to more than one interpretation. Victor would have called it coincidence. Colin would have said her own mental power, her faith or her desperation, created the result. Quentin would have said the ritual, not the God, caused the prayer to be answered.

The operative word in your question is mystery. Amelia, the agnostic who believes no absolute truth, nor that any formal system can be complete, lives in a world-view of mystery. Had the prayer been answered and obviously the interposition of a particular God, there would have been no mystery. Had the prayer failed, there would have been no mystery. The drama is greater if something mysterious happens when an agnostic girl, for once in her life, prays a sincere and desperate prayer.

The text establishes that magic works and that the pagan gods are walking around on Earth in disguise: it would have been out of place assume, without a word, that all the gods of East and West exist, except for Jehovah. As an atheist, I had no more loyalty to Jehovah than I did to Jove. So I could not elevate Him to a particular unique status either by having all the claims made about Him be true, or denigrated him to a particular unique status by having all the claims about Him be false. Neither could I have Jehovah come on stage as merely one pagan god among many: that would be untrue to the myths told about Him. Jehovah’s partisans say He is omnipotent and aloneit is the main thing said about Him. He can be a madman compared to the other gods, or a lunatic god with delusions of grander, but he cannot be one god among many.

From a dramatic point of view, I cannot have an omnipotent character on stage, because whatever an all-powerful being wants, he gets, and there is no drama. Logically then, my only option is to have Jehovah perhaps exist and be offstage, and perhaps have one or two things happen which might be ascribed to Him. Anything more definite than that spoils the drama.

I am not Ted Chiang and I am not Phil Pullman. I was not writing an atheist anti-Christian diatribe and disguising it as a story. I was writing a story that was supposed to be a story and I happen to be an atheist. Those two facts are not connected.

I happen to be an atheist, but my story obviously is not atheist: in the world described in the tale, there are obviously gods who obviously walk around and do things. So while I am free to use Jehovah as a character with as little respect or reverence as I use Jove or Odin, I am not free to betray the character. Artistic integrity forbids. I cannot make Mars a peace-lover or Aphrodite chaste. That would be artistic treason. For an alike reason, I cannot make Jehovah not (at least arguably) older and bigger than the other gods. I can make Jehovah falsely claim to be older and bigger than he is (this is the approach taken in Stephen Brust’s TO REIGN IN HELL) but then the falsehood of the claim has to be part of the drama. The gods in Roger Zelazny’s LORD OF LIGHT are false gods, and so is the Great God in Fritz Leiber’s GATHER DARKNESS: but both of those books were about the rebellion against a technological theocracy. The rebellion was the whole drama. It is not the kind of thing you can bring up as a side-issue.

Ted Chiang in his short story HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD, in my personal opinion, although it is a well crafted story, and even shows genius, betrays his integrity as an artist. He takes a character that someone else made upJehovahand tells a lie about that character.

Mr. Pullman wrote a trilogy in which the first book shows adroit craftsmanship: better than mine, as I said. His preaching instinct usurps the story from his story-telling instinct, and like most usurpations, there is a guillotine: his plot logic and his character continuity both got the axe.  He is not even trying to tell a story by the third volume: this volume should be regarded as advertising copy for the product he is trying to sell, and judged and critiqued on that basis. Do not even ask if it is good art: ask only if it is effective propaganda.

Look, I do not believe in Santa Clause any more than I believed in God, but if I put Santa Clause into a story of mine, I would not make him an baby-eating ax-murderer. People who do that kind of thing are writing satires, and their main business is putting across the contempt they feel toward Santa, or the hate they have for childhood. If you are not writing a deliberate anti-Santa diatribe, you have to treat the character honestly: fat belly, red suit, ho ho ho, eight tiny reindeer, the whole nine yards. If you want to add something to the character, feel free, or reinterpret him: but it has to be an interpretation that has that magic quality known as integrity.

Amelia asks to go to Chapel on Sunday because it is the kind of thing prisoners can sometimes get civilized or semi-civilized captors to agree to. She wants to get out of the cell, of only for a moment. Once in the chapel, she prays because it would be unreasonable for a character in her situation (she was literally in chains for gosh sake!) not to notice and be moved by the parallel to the Moses story, the rescue of the Israelites from slavery. She is in a foxhole. People in foxholes pray: that is just a fact, and it would be dishonest for an atheist writer to ignore that fact. We atheists don’t like it, but it’s a fact of human psychology.

If my main character prays in a world where there are real gods, and her prayer goes unanswered, then the spell I am trying to cast as a writer is broken: the audience can see I am an atheist and that I am deliberately trying to make a point. “All the gods are real BUT NOT YOURS, silly reader!” is not the kind of claim that can pass by without breaking the suspension of disbelief. I could not afford to break the spell. I was not trying to go out of my way to preach atheism. My atheist views are there, but they are not crucial to the story.

4. It would seem to me that being an atheist at the time of the writing, it would have been better for her prayers to be left unanswered and her conclusion about the existence of God to be similar to Victor’s. Why did you have her pray and have her prayers answered?

As above: the story drama required it. My sense of honor required I not be a partisan for my own views.

Look, now that I am a Christian, not all my characters are going to be Christians, and not all atheists are going to be pederasty-pimping child-murderers or drooling idiots.  Milton treated even the Devil with more honesty than that.

5. Morality existing like the laws of physics is a metaphysical assertion. I am curious as to how you came to conclude that Amelia’s paradigm had to have a moral dimension?

Ah, this is a question I shouldn’t answer, because a magician should not reveal his secrets. Nonetheless, the answer I think is interesting in and of itself. I also put this forth as a cautionary tale: please do not assume that an author is doing something for the purpose of partisanship that he might be doing for reasons of drama. And sometimes the reasoning is very convoluted.

As a writer I set myself the impossible task of describing the Fourth Dimension to my readers, who are three dimensional people who cannot imagine the Fourth Dimension. Furthermore, this had to be a magical and mystical version of the Fourth Dimension, not merely a scientific or geometrical idea. There had to be something there, and it had to be interesting, and it could not be something merely alien, uncouth, or odd.

In SKAYLARK OF VALERON Doc EE Smith sends his characters into the Fourth Dimension and has them meet …. Wait for it! … seahorses with propeller tails. My reaction as a reader was (WTF!?) one of severe disappointment. Stepping into the fourth dimension, in order to be dramatic, had to be strange, but no so strange that it meant nothing to my readers and nothing to Amelia.

If she goes into the fourth dimension and sees nothing more exciting than a hypercube, where is the drama?

I decided that the Fourth Dimension was the attic were all sorts of things we poor 3-D folk think of as abstract or mental or spiritual exist. So Amelia sees the parallel dimensions of the dream-universe, the past and the future. She sees music and mathematical forms, and sees the internal nature of objects.

I had to describe sense impressions we humans do not possess, for objects that we cannot perceive or imagine. I am not talking about x-ray vision or ultrasonic hearing: the fourth dimensional being has to perceive something alien to our plenum, but part of it.

An impossible task! So I cheated. I stole from my betters.

The only writer I know who ever successfully described the operation of alien sense organs and actually made the organs seem like they perceived some different dimension of reality was David Lindsay in his singular VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. 

Amelia’s sense organs in the fourth dimension are the sense organs that Maskull grows on Tormance, no more, no less. I merely used different words for them.

If you are familiar with that odd classic, the Arcturian sense-impressions are:

a.                   Poigns: shows the “internal nature” of objects, such as the fruit that is persistent and melancholy. Amelia has this sense unchanged.

b.                   Breves: read thoughts. Obviously this was too powerful for a character in an intrigue story to have, so Amelia is able to detect the inner meaning of objects and symbols, including languages she does not know. I combined this sense with the one above.

c.                   Sorb: shows the usefulness to the will. I did not change this. Amelia can detect the utility of objects, what they are useful for and to whom. This detects the “final cause” or entelechy of objects, including ones not manmade.

d.                   Probe: displays the moral nature of the universe. I did not change this. Amelia can see moral obligations as an interplay of threads or lines showing equilibrium and quid-pro-quo. As befits her relativistic world view, she does not see ‘truth’ or ‘justice’ or moral concepts like that: she sees mutuality. The relativistic/agnostic view of justice is contractual or quasi-contractual. Lying is wrong in this world view because you “owe” people the truth. 

e.                   The Third Eye of Wombflash Forest: this sense impression is not given a name, but it allows for intellectual insights not connected with the ego of the viewer. Amelia has the ability to detect the Leibnizian monad, a concept I borrow to refer to the nexus between the mind-body duality.  In my system material bodies that became more mindlike got free will, and minds that got more bodylike lost free will.

f.                    Earthrid’s Third Ear: a sense that turns sound into rhythm. I did not use this one, but the sirens, who share Amelia’s paradigm, no doubt have something along these lines.

g.                   Leehallfae’s unnamed organ: it turns traces of the divinity into either sustenance or sexual pleasure. Amelia has nothing like this, but the Olympians clear crave human worship and attention, even if it is offered only to concepts to which they are associated.

In one of the scenes, Amelia draws parallels between her four sense impressions (poign-breve is combined into one in my system that shows meaning; sorb shows utility; probe shows moral obligation; third eye shows the monad relation) and the four paradigms of chaos.  Meaningfulness is Colin and the dream-lords of Night; utility is Victor and the Lost; moral duties is Quentin and the Fallen; Monadology is for Amelia and the Prelapsarians.

So this is a long trek through the wasteland for a small sip at an oasis. The reason why natural non-manmade moral obligations form part and parcel of Amelia’s paradigm was because David Lindsay invented a sense impression that detected duty.

Since I myself, in real life, think that duties are natural and not manmade, and that morality is a branch of logic (reasoning applied to human action)  the same way geometry is a branch of logic (reasoning applied to magnitudes, points, lines, and figures), I found it an easy concept to weave into the plot.

One need not be a Christian to believe that moral rules are real. 

6. Ms. Daw and Quentin both have scathing things to say about atheism regarding Dr. Fell and Victor. I was wondering if your characters made you reflect upon your own atheism – that a body of pure matter with no soul is empty?

I was an atheist but I was never a materialist. I thought the word “soul” was either meaningless, or else it referred to the mind. The mind is that which contemplates itself: it is self-awareness. The mind is that which discovers meaning. Contemplation, awareness, and meaning are not concepts that can even theoretically be reduced to mass, extension, and duration. All concepts in physics can be reduced to mass, extension, and duration.

So, the answer is no. Nothing said by Daw or Quentin gave me any pause or caused me to reflect on my philosophical system. They are mystics: mystics say scathing things about reason.

(Ms. Daw? Guffaw! She would rap you across the knuckles with a ruler if you called her that. She is Miss Daw, thank you very much. )

7. I thought that Quentin’s analysis of Christianity was very interesting – about how Jesus is a myth that resonates with all the others myths in his paradigm. Quentin’s theory sounds almost like an echo of C.S. Lewis’s statement that Christ is “the true myth” or “myth become reality” – where all the myths, hopes and dreams of humanity come together into history in Jesus Christ. I think I might be reading into what you have written, but again, I still would not have been able to tell you were an atheist by what you write.

This is not really a question, but I will make a comment on it anyway.

Back when I was an atheist, I began to realize that the fortress my side occupied, the atheist viewpoint, had been infiltrated by a large number of people who called themselves atheists, but who were, as best I could tell from their actions, not atheists at all, but merely antichristians. They were not pro-reason, they were merely anti-Christ. They said the Christian God was a god no more real and no more realistic than other gods, but their actions belied their words. They feared and hated the Christian God with fear and hate no other god provoked. Even meaningless symbols (like the Pledge of Allegiance) made them jump as if stung. They were technically atheists in that they did not believe the Christian God was real, but if the Christians became atheists on Monday, I was convinced these faux-atheists would become theists just to spite them by Tuesday.

There was no other god they didn’t believe in. They were antimonotheists, so to speak, but not antipolytheists.

I will give three examples: the bad guy in Pullman’s DARK MATERIALS is not Allah or Buddha or Uranus: it is Jehovah. The big corpse in TOWING JEHOVAH by James Marrow is Jehovah; the author told me his villain, Lovejoy, is a mockery of C.S. Lewis, who as not, it must be said, an apologist for any religion but one. The assassin in THE JEHOVAH CONTRACT by Victor Koman is sent to kill Jehovah, not the generic concept of god.  

If the Christian God was a god no more real and no more realistic than other gods, then he should be treated like other gods. If we admire Apollo for his beauty and Athena for her wisdom, or we think the wrath of Achilles or the longsuffering patience of Odysseus is worthy of artistic admiration, then, by the same token, the wonder of the Creator who made the stars, or the Christ who bled to save mankind, or the patience of Job or the wrath that drowned the world in Noah’s time are likewise worthy of artistic admiration.

You see, I took the antichristians living in my camp at their word. I started treating and thinking about the Jesus myth as a myth. Story-wise, I found to my surprise that it was a more moving and thoughtful story, more morally mature, having a more serious note, than parallel stories told by Greeks. Attis and Dionysus and the other Summer Kings and Corn Gods of the pagans really do not have a parallelism to the Christ story that stands up under inspection.

The sobriety of the Christians and their tales was driven home to me when my best friend from college, after studying the magical beliefs of many peoples, became convinced magic was real. He saw things he could not otherwise explain. He became a pagan.

He did not become what I would call a pagan: someone devoted to the ashes of his fathers and the altars of his gods. The paganism of the ancients is immensely patriotic. The whole point of ancient paganism was respect for the city fathers of the city and the sky-father in the sky. The paganism of the moderns, in contrast, is anti-nomian, anti-Establishment. The point of neopaganism is rebellion against the Church and her Roman discipline, her strict Hellenic rationalism, her strict Jewish moral code.

The ancient pagans were obsessed with purity. They burned Vestal Virgins found to have dishonored their chastity. They honored Diana the Virgin. The modern pagans are rebels against Puritanism: they are fascinated with impurity. They honor Diana the Lesbian.

I found that when I questioned him about his pagan beliefs, he did not have the serious answers any Sunday School teacher or door-to-door Mormon would have had ready. He had no metaphysics, no theory of the afterlife, no system of morals. His religion was indeed a return to primitive religion, and that included the drawbacks of primitivism. My friend’s paganism was incoherent and inchoate. His belief was young. The Christians, even the uninformed Christians, were part of an age-old tradition that had considerable thought behind it, including pagan thought.

With apologies to my friend, I fear I found that his lack of intellectual fiber shockingly frivolous, considering the sobriety of the topic. He was following no religion. He was making it up himself. He was picking and choosing from dead traditions, and not taking notice of any part of the tradition that displeased him. I was amazed to see some of my friend’s coven: promiscuous girls adoring chaste Diana the Virgin, lesbians being married with blessings from Hera or Hestia, who guards the sanctity of marriage with a dragon’s eye. At that point in my life, I realized that my hated enemies the Christians had more substance to their philosophy than did the witches and neo-pagans I knew.

It was during this point in time that I wrote up the character of Quentin Nemo, whom I wanted to be more intellectually serious than a neo-pagan. I wanted him to be a real pagan, the kind of boy who would not walk away from a corpse without at least trying to bury it with due and solemn rites: a boy who took his rites seriously. I modeled him after John Dee or Prospero, a warlock whose knowledge comes from reading books, not at all a character who just makes up stuff out of his own head, picking and choosing what his fancy turned to.

Quentin could not dismiss the myth of Jesus without breaking character. He is a warlock: in myth, the warlock respects the power of his enemy, the priest. A monotheist might say that the idols of the enemy are merely sticks and stones; but a polytheist never says that, not a real polytheist. He says that the White Christ is the god of the Southern Peoples, and a weak god. The real witch-doctor does not say the Cross of the Great White Hunter is powerless; the witch doctor says the mojo, the spirit power, of his mumbo-jumbo, of his six demon bag, will overcome the mojo of the Cross.

For the sake of his character development, I want Quentin to be a real pagan, not a neo-pagan, a real warlock, not someone playing at warlockery. A real warlock might trample a cross to please Baphomet, but he cannot possibly think the cross is non-operative. You cannot be a vampire and not believe in God any more than you can be a Genii and not believe in the Seal of Solomon.

An honest pagan would admit that Jesus is a Vine God no less dignified than Dionysos, and Jehovah a Sky-father no less paternal than Jove or Odin. It is telling that neo-pagans are willing to admit the gods wear any masks they wish, but not the mask of the Great Judge of Doomsday.