As I write this letter I look at you in your crib, and know that in all likelihood it will be the last time that I see you. In a few hours I will join the largest gathering of parents, brothers, sisters and other civilians in UEE history. We have been mobilised by a common danger, one that threatens your future, and one that our government and military have repeatedly failed to address.
Long, long ago I realized late one night that what I believed could not possibly be factually true. Worse than simply lacking objective truthfulness when stacked up against the observations about reality and morality that I had been willfully ignoring and studiously trying to explain away with apologetics, the source document for my belief wasn’t even internally consistent with itself.
Like so many ex-Christians before me, for just a brief time I dangled on a tightrope between belief and disbelief as I moved from one world to another, from one worldview to another, from one entire working paradigm to another. For some of us that time lasts a good long while, maybe even years. For others of us, that abrupt flash of sudden comprehension, that crystallizing gasp of awareness, that feeling of all the puzzle pieces falling right into place, it happens in a heartbeat.
I came to awareness about some of the more downright evil aspects of Christianity before I realized that the religion’s claims couldn’t possibly be true even by its own standards. For one evening, I wrestled with the suspicion that my god might still exist, but that if he did he must be the most evil being in the entire universe–and certainly was no friend to humankind. That moment of yawning realization felt like being slowly poured out of a cup onto a red-hot frying pan.
Today I want to talk about a brief moment of crisis I experienced during that evening when I realized with a shuddering jolt what it would mean if the Bible’s god really, truly existed in the form that I’d been taught was true my entire life–when I allowed myself to really consider what things like “free will” and “eternal Hell” really meant.
The reason I’m talking about it today was that I was reading about something on a gaming site that got my attention and reminded me of that night.
I am not a soldier. I own and run a small business. I served my time in Squadron 42, but that was a long time ago. Since then I have grown older and my reflexes have dulled. My main responsibilities now are as a parent and a husband. It is those responsibilities that are now compelling me to do my utmost to protect you. That is why I have joined Operation Pitchfork.
We talked not long ago about Star Citizen, that new indie game put out by Chris Roberts, the new Messiah of gaming. SC is going to be the all-singing, all-dancing space game for Serenity fiends, Star Wars fanatics, lonely Trekkies, and babbling Babylon 5 and Farscape vagabonds alike. A big part of its appeal is how truly open-ended and “sandbox” the environment is planned to be.
Have a ship. Have a hundred. Have none at all. Be someone else’s crewhand, or play a character who is happily planet-bound. Become a preacher. Have a nightclub on some seedy cesspool of a planet. Swear by your pretty floral bonnet that you.. will.. end him.
Open a space station that may become the hope of the galaxy for peace and understanding. Become a pirate. Become an insurance broker. Become a miner. Become a general. Become an artist. Chances are it will all be there one way or another. Play alone and never see another player. Play on servers with thousands of other players.
Thanks to the huge bank that Mr. Roberts is getting from his crowdsourced funding, the goals stopped sounding way-out-there a few dozen USDmillions ago. The community that has sprung up around this game–even two years from anything vaguely resembling release–is huge and passionate.
The game is about outer space. Some of the events in it are military; some aren’t. One of the military events involves space aliens destroying a human colony on another planet. It was supposed to end with Earth more or less ignoring the colonists’ plight. But very early on, a player-run counteroffensive called “Operation Pitchfork” rose up against that attack. Now, keep in mind: this attack is in SC’s background. By the time the game is finally released, this attack will have occurred already. The counteroffensive is slated for the tail end of beta testing.
And it will fail.
It will completely, totally, fail.
It will fail without any question and without any chances of success.
There is no way it can succeed.
And the people involved are gonna do it anyway.
The Last Great Act of Defiance.
Already the materials pouring out of the playerbase are starting to grab attention–with super-inspiring letters to their equally-fictional children ingame (which I’m taking the liberty of blockquoting in this post because damn) and fan-made videos so stirring that dang, arthritis or not, they make me want to rush out and join the military.
I seriously don’t think Chris Roberts expected any of this excitement over what seemed like a fairly routine ingame background event. It wasn’t even meant to be the most important event that had ever evented in the game. It was almost the level of “fluff”–that sort of routine destruction that gamers always expect in their source materials, just background noise that gets plots moving in the right direction and Just-Sos racial enmities and NPCs’ attitudes.
That attack has now taken on mythic proportions, with the game’s developers taking notice and starting to incorporate the players’ participation and ideas into the game’s canonical evolution–and they will be running the actual counteroffensive so that later, surviving characters will have this very rich backstory to remember and discuss and live with ingame. And honestly, I’m not super-surprised by the idea’s popularity. It’s very clear to me that it feeds into that very human love of “The Last Great Act of Defiance,” illustrated here:
What makes this Operation Pitchfork even more remarkable is just who is involved. The counteroffensive will be made up of non-military personnel–characters who retired from the military like the writer of the “Letter to My Daughter,” certainly, but also farmers and shopkeepers and cigar rollers and housemaids. Earth cannot help at all on any official level. That’s why it’s called “Operation Pitchfork.” It’s a civilian counteroffensive. It will be fought against a monstrous alien force of unguessable and definitely superior numbers and technology.
But what the hell else can someone do after hearing about something like that attack happening?
All the world loves an underdog, and it don’t get a hell of a lot more underdog than Operation Pitchfork. I’m sure Chris Roberts was just flabbergasted to see the response to that alien attack–as more and more and more people signed up for this fictional counteroffensive. And they are signing up for one simple reason:
In this game, people will ask each other a question as old as humanity itself: “What did you do when you heard about this evil thing that happened?”
There is something in the human breast that cannot bear cowardice and taking the easy path. Those who oppress us would love for that to be so: keep your head down. Don’t make waves. Don’t risk it. Don’t resist. Oh, we might even behave the way they want for a long time. But I don’t think most of us can do it forever. Even when the stakes are impossible, we still rise up against oppression. It’s not about the winning necessarily; it’s about the resistance itself.
Because Fuck Him, That’s Why.
In Good Will Hunting, there’s an intense scene where Will reveals that when his foster father asked him to choose the instrument of his own beatings, he always chose the wrench–“because fuck him, that’s why.” I totally understood–and I bet everybody else watching did too, even those who faced that kind of abuse in their pasts, even if we ourselves lacked the courage to do that at the time. Those sorts of stories nurture us and show us the way and put words to our situations. Utterly futile gestures of defiance are part of the human condition and always have been. That’s one reason why religion seems to try so hard to stamp them out and demonize them if they’re not properly harnessed.
It is possible that when you are old enough to read this, some misguided people will attempt to rewrite history. They will blame your father and others like me for any ongoing Vanduul attacks. We will not be there to defend ourselves, having sacrificed our lives to buy humanity some time. Of them, I suggest you ask one simple question: “Where were you?”
I’m talking about this stuff now because Operation Pitchfork reminded me very suddenly of that night, long ago, when I dangled suspended between “oh fuck me running: this god is downright evil” and “wait, wait, this whole thing can’t be right at all.”
For a very brief moment, you see, as I studied my Bible, I struggled with the realization that the god depicted in the Bible wasn’t actually a good god at all. Might made right, in that worldview, and he happened to be very mighty so whatever he said was right, by definition (this idea is also called divine command theory and it’s one of the more screwed-up ideas to come out of religion). It was a relief to me to realize that the Bible contradicted itself enough that it couldn’t possibly be talking about a real god, but let’s be clear here:
That night I realized that if this god existed, then I would be obligated to spend my life actively resisting him–even if I lost. I certainly would not keep denying that he existed if I thought he did; denying something I thought was reality would be counterproductive. Instead, I’d use my finite lifetime to do whatever I could to resist. Even if I lost everything, I would find a way. Even if I would face the worst consequences possible for denying this omnipotent being, resistance would be a moral imperative at that point.
It was a stunning few hours as I worked through the last lingering tail ends of doubts and finally arrived at the realization that none of it was true anyway–which raised some other big problems for me when I realized that people were speaking in this god’s name to trample over others.
All that it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing. I’m grateful that we’re not dealing with a real live god, but folks, just because he doesn’t exist, that doesn’t mean that horrible things aren’t happening that need us to do whatever we legally, peacefully can to help stop them. This deity’s nonexistence is really only the tiniest bit of good news in a sea of bad news. I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t relax just because the Bible isn’t objectively factual. People are still claiming this nonexistent god’s authority to justify their crimes, overreach, excesses, and cruelty.
We all have our own risks and abilities. Some of us face huge risks for even minor acts of dissent so have to be careful; some of us are able to speak more freely and do much more. All over the world, as more and more people wake up to the sheer unmitigated evil that religion can wreak on societies, pockets of resistance and defiance are springing up. I see signs of this peaceful resistance on display all over the world as people push back against those who seek to own them.
That’s why I love humanity. We can see impossible odds, absolutely ludicrous chances, even certain failure and death, and still see the struggle as so important that we’ll go charging into it anyway. Our own pride will not tolerate the idea of us standing by and letting evil happen without saying and doing something. So here’s to us: here’s to humanity. And to every person who right now struggles against injustice, may you never lose your courage.