Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nick Seafort and the Delusion of a Rule of Life

Back in our pregnancy days, my wife and I were selecting baby names for our child, and I suggested "Nicholas" if it was a boy. This selection was in reference to the main character of the Nicholas Seafort Saga, a series of science fiction novels by David Feintuch. Although the series was never very commercially successful, I long found the character of Nick Seafort to be among the most gripping in fiction. This was a person that I could admire, in spite of his flaws, and I wanted my son to see in the pages of these books a person worthy of his emulation.

Now, when I glance through the pages of the Nick Seafort novels, his world seems so unrealistic. To Nick, nothing is more important than upholding his word and fulfilling his duty. It is these traits, along with a bit of cleverness and luck, that propel him to great fame and glory.

Nick lives by a code, largely framed by his oath of enlistment to the UN Navy and the Naval Code of Regulations. He would rather die than break a letter of them. People, especially troubled young men, gravitate toward him as they desire to become like him (much to Nick's befuddlement).

I'm no Nick Seafort, but my wife has told me that I'm rather similar in that I live by a set of rules; a code of conduct and principles. I was never conscious of this trait until my wife asserted that I view the world this way more greatly than anyone else she has ever known, including her own father.

So perhaps the United Methodist Church appealled to me because of its codification of everything in The Book of Discipline. I knew this book backwards and forwards, and assumed it to be the rulebook for Methodist life. Of course, I read enough in the news to know that it was not always followed (e.g. the homosexuality controversy). But I always assumed that those above me, such as my District Superintendent, my DCOM, and the Bishop, would act in good faith to adhere to the Discipline, or at the bare minimum, give lip service to it.

So as I followed the complaint process, I figured that I would greatly inconvenience these overlords as I argued solidly and indisputably that the subjects of the complaints had violated the Discipline. To weasel out of the plain text of the Discipline would require great effort.

I was to be disappointed. When I filed a complaint against my DS, Bishop Whitaker simply refused to process it. And so, as his actions were contrary to the Discipline (among other charges), I filed a complaint against him to Bishop Ward. In doing so, I provided a five-page single-spaced argument with numerous citations from the Discipline about how Whitaker had violated the Discipline. Ward responded in a single sentence that she found no violation of the Discipline. When I pressed her via e-mail to explain, citing the Discipline, how I was wrong, she simply refused.

My assumption that senior Methodist officials would give even a whit as to the regulations of the Discipline was completely false. I had lived by a code, but found that others did not.

I found that one cannot appeal to the law to a person who has no regard for it; one cannot appeal to righteousness to someone who has no conscience. So I dropped the matter, realizing that it was futile to continue.

In a more realistic novel, Nick Seafort's sense of honor, adherence to his word, and obedience to Naval regulations would have gotten him booted out of the Navy in disgrace, if not killed.

That's why I'm no longer sure that I want any future son to be named Nicholas. I wouldn't want him to read the novels and think that a life of honor and integrity has any future. Nick Seafort, by his own example and leadership, encouraged people to become greater, more noble men and women. But if set in our own world and not a fictive one, Nick would have been found dead in a corridor with a knife in his back.

I don't think that I want a son of mine to end up that way. I don't think that I want my son to be a sucker. Like his old man.

I want him to grow up cunning and crafty. I want him to know when to tell the truth and when to lie through his teeth. And I want him to value his own security and that of his family above anything else.


Divers and Sundry said...

I find this post sadder than the one in which you renounce Christianity. I never liked the Seafort Saga, though.

"My assumption that [anybody] would give even a whit..."

Yeah, I hear you. I've decided nobody cares.

bob said...

When my first son was born I was thinking of characters I admired from novels. At the time I was reading a lot of Heinlein and the Character that impressed me was Lazarus Long he is an independant rogue whose code of ethics while different than mine lead him to survive and survive well.
Needless to say I couldn't sell Lazarus to my wife as a good name for our son.
For an idea who Lazarus Long is there is a short book ( the Notebooks of Lazarus Long) kind of a diary of what he beleives in.

John B said...

You make a serious error in your assumption, thinking that the written rules supersede the unwritten rules. That is never true regardless the organization or group of people. And if you hold to that assumption you're bound to be burned again.

From someone who cares, but understands how systems work.

John said...

Yeah, I'm bound to. That's why I think that I've learned for good that whatever is on paper is quite meaningless, except possibly as a weapon against me.

Going into the DCOM meeting, I did actually anticipate getting kicked out. I just expected that, in some nod to what the UMC meant on paper, they would pretend to be doing so out of pastoral duty, rather than unashamed and naked retaliation.

And going into the complaint process, I did anticipate that the complaints would be ultimately rejected. I just expected them to have to, at least tangentally, address what the Discipline said on paper.

I thought that they would have just enough sense of shame to hide their actions behind a fig leaf of word play or Christianese bullshit. They did not.

But, as I've said in the past, I'm glad that they were so brutal, because they made a clean break with Christianity so much easier. I don't have to second guess myself. They could have left gray areas for me to doubt about myself and them, but chose not to.

Richard Hall said...

You've obviously been badly hurt John. However, I can't help wondering about the other side of the story. I'm about as far outside the system that's distressed you so much as it is possible to be, but I strongly suspect that there other perspectives on what has happened. I don't know why I feel compelled to write this, but I do.

John said...

I don't know what to tell you, Richard. No one denied the facts of the complaints that I made against the DS and Bishop. No one denied what I said happened at Lake Butler. In fact, they refused to discuss it at all. If there's another side to the story, they don't appear to be interested in sharing it. And if I ever did anything wrong, these people had plenty of opportunities to bring me up on charges in the church courts system. Instead, no one even filed a complaint against me.

Divers and Sundry said...

"they don't appear to be interested in sharing it."

This is part of where I think the "not caring" comes in. It's not that I think people concerned with institutional maintenance (and that is a necessary part of church life) don't have feelings. But they're done now and see no need to deal further with this. They did the job they saw was theirs to do. I just don't think they have any idea of how great the fall-out sometimes is.

the reverend mommy said...

I would love you to write a novel based on your experiences.

John said...

That's not a bad idea, Rev Mommy.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the people who get the jobs in the UMC. Instead of looking for the best minister and ministry to the church and the people political and insiders get the jobs. In callings, Samuel did not have to be brutally questioned by his pastor, he was told to accept the calling. Until the UMC stops playing politics, protecting a worn out seminary processs, and rejecting those who are classed as evangelicals, and closing churches based on the ability to pay money into the system, people are going to be the victims of violence. Good luck and hold on to your faith.