The Freethinker’s Child is a horror novel by Sean Phillips, a regular visitor to Freethunk who comments on my posts and we’ve emailed back and forth on various topics, debated a bit and so forth. I was interested in his book since I collect autographed copies of works by authors and artists I run into and so I asked him for a copy. Because it’s a fiction piece on the eternal security of the soul it may have an interest to some Freethunk visitors who like the horror genre. The best way to describe the feel of the book is John Saul meets Frank Peretti with a little Stephen King thrown in (as I’m reminded of Cycle of the Werewolf).
The horror genre itself works as a vehicle for Sean to expose the doctrine of Eternal Security; the idea that once saved by Christ, always saved by Christ. The problem with this doctrine is fairly obvious as we have to ask, “What if I kill someone, am I still saved?” Context matters, yes, however, if you accept Jesus Christ into your heart and then go on a killing spree? What good is salvation that protects mass murderers? Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer were professed Christians before they died.
And that’s where we meet Jebson Proust. From the back cover: “…the charismatic pastor of Carlsville Holy Gospel Church, a man of dazzling persona who virtually owns the town and its budding university.” Proust is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in more ways than one. Proust has taken over a small town with his Christian university, church and community interests. We don’t know what he’s exactly up to, but the prologue suggests he’s not talking to god but the other guy.
The freethinker’s child in question is the son of the token atheist, Dr. Collins who was invited to teach at the university to give it an air of unbiased learning. Unfortunately, young Sam Collins can’t keep his mouth shut and parrots many of his dad’s ideas, in a less civil manner. From the book when another child, the son of a Christian couple, describes Sam’s behavior: “‘Sam’s always braggin’ about he’s smarter than everyone ‘cuz he doesn’t believe in God or go to church. If anyone ever says something about Jesus, he calls them a dummy, and tells them he’s way too smart to believe.'” Not exactly how most atheists would like to be represented, a simplified playground retort to larger questions of god’s existence, science and reason. Children aren’t exactly known for sophisticated theology (remember the Transformers versus Gobots debate, who would win? Or maybe I’m dating myself).
Sam stirs up the wrath of Jebson Proust which is immediately noticed by the hero of the book, David Louther (and I’m betting Louther was chosen because it sounds like Martin Luther, a reformer of doctrine–just a guess though). Louther came to Carlsville to work for the University and the token atheist. He is a freethinker of sorts himself, questioning Jebson’s firm stance on the validity of Eternal Security. There are several dialogues throughout the book on for and against arguments, but David is our guide to the end that shows Eternal Security is a farce.
In full disclosure, the author is Christian, but the book is a critique of a known Christian doctrine. It is a fast read and done in the manner of what I would call popular writing (like I mentioned, Frank Peretti and John Saul). I wouldn’t pick it up to delve deeply into theology. It is entertainment with a twist, one that shows, at least by supernatural means, that Eternal Security allows for too much freedom to ever be of use to a religion that professes to be moral. As an atheist, I take issue with salvation to begin with and have made the point several times that using blood atonement to forgive sins makes no sense unless you believe in a god with limited powers (they can only forgive if this or that ritual is done). To me salvation is a free pass on past crimes, no matter how horrible. Hitler indirectly killed six million Jews through his government sponsored cult, but if he professed Christ before his death (and was executed instead of shooting himself) then he could go to heaven–that is the Christian message.
Eternal Security itself is a ludicrous position that extends the free pass far into the future. Once saved, always saved? Why not cheat, steal and kill and make your life better if there are no eternal consequences. Sure, you might go to jail, but it was worth the risk if your eternal soul is secure. For atheists, we’re about the here and now which means the risk is great if we do anything to get ourselves thrown in jail (that was your life, it’s gone). It’s about reason and rationally understanding what is going to be a good life using morality to live peacefully with others. There are more believers in jail than atheists because when someone is caught, they tend to to turn (or often return) to religion after the fact–religion never made them moral when it counted.
Christians will probably like Sean’s horror novel. Atheists might be amused but also annoyed at the token atheist who is shown to mainly have an interest in protecting his university standing and reputation (which may be true of many academics). The book could have expanded further, but as a horror read with some theological bantering, it’s a nice escape on a “dark and stormy” afternoon. The timing might be perfect as we enter into October and one of my favorite holidays…