Orson Scott Card – Fallen Author

Literature Orson Scott Card

There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Orson Scott Card’s writing. I read “Ender’s Game” in middle school and loved it, and read it a few more times as a teen and was fascinated by the things I’d missed the first time around. It was a masterpiece. I especially used to like his short fiction: it was raw and rough hard sci-fi. He had a talent for capturing the darkest elements of human nature and the struggle we each must personally make against them.

Through the years, though, I found I tired of Card. His new books were increasingly bland, predictable, andrepetitive. I eventually gave up entirely, since if I really wanted cheap pulp-fiction sci-fi, I could find better examples elsewhere.

Fast-forward a few years. I learn that Card is involved with the National Organization for Marriage, an organization I have never liked much because of its dishonest anti-gay rhetoric. Even before I lost all faith in the LDS church, I always had issues with the church’s political stance on gay marriage… I was okay with religious organizations dictating moral standards for their members, but for society as a whole…?

More recently, I had the misfortune of happening across this little bowl of tripe. Card’s essay about “the hypocrites of homosexuality” is nothing we haven’t all heard before. My main objections to his reasoning are his insistence that the laws of god as purveyed by the “prophets” is unchanging (when LDS church dogma has in fact evolved rapidly for the last couple of centuries), his “I’m the victim here” condemnation of his own critics, and his sleight-of-hand transition from condemning the idea that the church should accept homosexuality to condemnation of all legal recognition of rights for gays.

The first is self-explanatory: sure, the will of the prophets can’t be contradicted, except when later prophets overturn “God’s word” entirely. To suggest that the church never changes its mind in response to the moral progress of society as a whole is to ignore entirely the church’s historical stance on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Or should we still kill anyone who marries across ethnic boundaries?

Card’s defiantdefenseagainst his “satanic” critics is laughable. At the end of the article, he notes that just as he predicted, he had been unfairly labeled for his upright and honest writing as “homophobic” and other related terms. While it is true that Card never directly advocates violence or hatred toward gays, he consistently refers to their feelings in a way thatdismissesthem as selfish or unnatural. He even advocates kindness toward individuals, but outright animosity toward gays as a group. Poor Orson! How dare those mean old gays and their brainwashed friends attack him for his honest portrayal of their sinful lifestyle?

Finally, Card pulls a funny little trick when hetransitionswithout warning from defending a church’s right not to condone homosexual behavior (which I grudgingly accept) to insisting that government ought to condemn the same. He makes the argument that government ought to defend its citizens against such offenses as murder, and the same goes for gay marriage! I think the difference is obvious, but if it isn’t, I’ll point out that gay marriage does not hurt those who don’t approve of it as long as they don’t engage in it. You can babble all you want about churches losing their tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform such nuptials and such, but frankly I am an advocate of removing tax-exempt status for churches entirely (treat them like non-profits or something for all I care, it’s just silly to give them specialprivilegesjust because they have “church” in their names). The bottom line? The LDS church need never condone gay marriage as far as I am concerned, but has no right acting as a political entity trying to ban the same at a state of federal level. The individuals in the church are free to vote as theirconsciencedictates, of course, and if they choose to vote for intolerance, that is their decision. That’s what we have courts for — to prevent the “moral” majority from needlesslyoppressingminorities.

How did Card go from the masterpiece of Ender’s Game to the pile of steaming poo that constitutes this essay? I wish I knew… How do authors so fall from grace?
One theory (purely speculative) springs to mind. I remember my father telling my young self that he suspected Card of having strong homosexual feelings himself, and of struggling with said feelings because of his LDS faith. This was simply based on my father’s assessment of Card’s writings.
If this was true, it all begins to make sense. Card’s lifelong struggle and self-hatred due to his hidden homosexual tendencies have finally manifested themselves in his old age as hatred toward all thing to do with homosexuality. We all attack most vehemently what we hate most about ourselves. In addition, he seeks to “redeem” himself from his earlier, darker (and brilliant) writings by writingincreasingly-conformist books filled with more and more tiresome apologetic viewpoints designed to ameliorate his inner Brigham Young. The tortured young author has become the self-righteous old puppet of his religion’s ideology. And now he rides on the wave of fame (and maybe shame?) of his earlier self in order todisseminatehis uncreative ideas about how other people’s sexuality should be treated.

Mourn with me a moment, brothers and sisters, for the passing of a great author, not into a noble death, but into shameful triviality.

Cross-posted from my blog No Answers.

18 thoughts on “Orson Scott Card – Fallen Author

  1. I too believe that Orson Scott Card is not only a self-loathing closeted gay, but also a self-loathing closeted atheist, who nevertheless honestly believes that religion makes him, and every other believer, a better person.

    I have read pretty much everything Card has ever written, starting when I was still a TBM myself, but I still think that Card can be a great story teller. But based on that, I’ve developed my own rant about Card, which I’ll reprint here:

    I was re-reading Xenocide by Card recently, and found a comprehensive set of explanations for why God hides everything he does from any kind of empirical observation and in addition, Xenocide lays out why books that are not historically true can be spiritually useful.

    This line of reasoning can be applied directly to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
    In addition, though I cant remember what book it was from, Ive seen a character in one of Cards books argue that not believing in something bigger than yourself makes you miserable.
    Basically, what I see is that Card understands that religion is fantasy, but truly believes that religion makes society better, and believes that faith makes people happy.

    I’ve also read Cards opinion articles on homosexuality. In these, if you read between the lines, Card is saying that he fully understands the culture of homosexuality, and the passion that gays feel about their issues but he rejects that as a way of life. Now, he doesnt come out and say he has had gay experiences but he does write of a few experiences that his gay friends have had mmhmmm

    As the final kicker for me, in multiple fiction books Card writes justifications for giving up your own sexuality for the good of society. For instance, in Hot Sleep, the story starts out in a foundation-like planet (think Asimov), and a gay character is chased off his home-world to a new planet, to start a new colony. This gay character makes a noble sacrifice to give up his own homosexuality, so that he can help populate the new world.

    Basically, what that boils down to, Is one set of justifications for a gay man giving up a gay lifestyle.

    This was published around the same time Card was married, and was only the first time I am aware of that Card wrote with this theme.

    In Children of the Mind, Ender has had a falling out with his wife, who has joined a religion which requires complete celibacy. Ender agrees to comply with this requirement to be with his wife.

    Here we have a character who provides yet another justification for giving up his own sexuality to help society, in this case, the culture of the woman he marries.
    I believe this second situation is Card revisiting his reasons for giving up his own sexuality, and given that he had been married for about two decades at this point, I believe this is the reason he writes this part of the story so convincingly.

    I could be wrong about all of this, but I do believe that you can learn things about the lives of authors if you pay attention to recurring themes in their work.

    Also, given how Card thinly veils the book of mormon and mormon theology in his work, it seems difficult to argue that the sexual themes in his work are far removed from his own experience.

  2. It has been a long, long time since I have read the first Ender’s (and I disliked it so the following might be biased), but didn’t it have descriptions of naked children in it? Piling on each other if I’m not mistaken? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  3. Whether or not Card is gay, what I don’t get are the gay friends of people like Card (or Kirk Cameron who’s been in the news recently) who come to their defense. It’s not just a “first amendment” type of defense either, but apparently there are gay people out there who think sodomy should be an arrestable offense again. I guess all this acceptance of homosexuality is making it harder and harder for people to not to fall into temptation. So what they want is to live in a society that treats “gay sex” like their church does — something that rips you from the whole.

    It doesn’t matter the vitriol of their friends, I guess, when the bottom line is all about stopping sin. The bit about treating individuals nice, but the group not, is along these lines: an individual unto himself isn’t having sex with anyone, but the gay community is just one a big, sinful orgy that must be stopped at all costs. These people should attend any gay rights parade and take a hard look at the demographics (lots of straight people, young people, kids) to better understand why their logic sounds so small and hateful.

  4. Here’s my Card experience:

    When I was a young teen, my brother John would often recommend sci-fi/fantasy novels for me to read. I read quite a lot of them and enjoyed quite a lot of them. He recommended “Ender’s Game”, but from his description — although enthusiastic — it didn’t strike me as something I was interested in reading. And at the time, the fact that he was Mormon was a huge selling point for us (since we were believers), but I didn’t end up reading it.

    Now — even though so many people say “Ender’s Game” is great — I’m sure I couldn’t enjoy it. Now that I know what I know about Card, I’d go through the whole book thinking “This is what justifies giving this guy a platform to spew his homophobic nonsense?!” And that would be if I actually wanted to read the book, which I don’t

    Also, it would be interesting to go find John and get him to repost his response to “Enders’ Game” and its sequels. As I recall, it was essentially the classic “declining trilogy” cycle: The first one is fantastic, the second is OK, but is kind of a pale shadow of the first, and the third is so bad that it makes you reconsider whether the first one was really as good as you originally thought…

  5. I don’t think most people want to make a great sacrifice and then be told it doesn’t matter.
    If I was braving a raging blizzard and trudging through massive snow drifts on frostbitten feet to deliver life saving medicine to a remote cabin and when the cabin was finally in sight, here comes a snowmobile racing by to save the day– that snow mobile is getting torched.

  6. @5: The thing is, there is no blizzard. Or at least, from the perspective of Card and the whole lot, our belief that there’s no blizzard is part of their blizzard. Yet, somehow we aren’t using a snowmobile. We’re just walking through the blizzard as if it weren’t there. You’d think they’d notice this discrepancy and stop trudging.

  7. Suzanne — good analogy. It’s no surprise that gay people who’ve decided that it’s too late to try a same-sex relationship are among the most hostile to the idea that one can be happy in a gay relationship.

  8. On Ender’s Game, I highly recommend the critical essay Creating the Innocent Killer by John Kessel. Kessel describes the novel as a story of “guiltless genocide”, and gives his view of the mechanisms Card uses to achieve this end.

    Whether or not you think Kessel’s take on Ender does justice to it, the parallels with aspects of Mormon culture are striking. I don’t think anything Kessel mentions is unique to Mormonism, but some things that Card (intentionally) takes to extremes in the novel are also taken rather far in Mormon culture. As far as I can tell Kessel doesn’t have Mormonism in mind at all, but he picks out many features of Ender’s Game with echoes there. Of course Ender is not an allegory of Mormonism, and it does not match up point for point. What’s interesting is to think about the ways in which it does, and then about how the Mormon aspects compare with American culture in general.

    To give a very quick version of one of the obvious examples, Ender is systematically bullied, persecuted, and assaulted by a steady stream of enemies, just because that’s how the universe is set up. They hate him for his character and his excellence. He has no one but himself to turn to for protection. So far it sounds a lot like the church history I learned in Sunday School. However, Ender is far more dangerous than his enemies, and can take care of himself. His knack for violence extends to its immaculate application: no matter how brutal his actions, his essential innocence is untouched. At this point, I am reminded of President Bush’s “they hate us for our freedom” explanation for Islamic extremists, and subsequent American applications of violence in military combat. So, how Mormon-y is Ender in the ways Kessel points out? I think it goes beyond generic American attitudes, but read the essay and see what you think.

    Dave, you also reminded me of this interview with Card, which I think is good enough to deserve a link” as well.

  9. I think there are a couple of ways that the morality of Ender’s Game/Card that Kessel describes very much reflects Mormonism. Card’s view that

    …there are some people who are good before they act, and some others who are bad before they act, and that goodness or badness is exhibited in their actions. These “bad” people cant do good, and good people cant do bad

    is straight out of the Book of Mormon:

    For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:8)

    The other thing that struck me thanks to Kessler’s essay is how very much the abusive/neglectful adults in Ender’s Game who abuse/neglect Ender “for his own good” are like the Mormon version of God. Just like Graff and the other adults in the book, Heavenly Father ignores his children and lets them suffer, but it’s all for their own good. It’s building character/faith, teaching a lesson, etc. The abuse and neglect is all really proof of how much God/Graff loves us/Ender.

    As for Card’s other writing, he jumped the shark long ago. The Alvin Maker series began with three very good books, followed by a long gap, then two mediocre but still enjoyable books which consisted mainly of his characters wandering around an alternate American history in search of a plot while Alvin evolved into an invincible superman, then another long gap, and then a perfectly execrable book that demonstrated that card had completely lost interest in his own story and characters. He might as well have called it “His Contractual Obligation Book.”

  10. guiltless genocide

    This makes me think of how gay suicides in Mormonism end up as guiltless tragedies from the perspective of the Church. All the Church tried to do was “love” people more (ensure they don’t sin), but the person who kills themselves is ultimately considered “too weak” to “fight the good fight.” Blame is deferred…to the homosexuality of the person (or to Satan for creating the “temptation”), as opposed to the heterosexism of the culture.

    Basically, an overarching “good” is assumed among the faithful, so “bad” actions aren’t acknowledged as bad. The “badness” is exported to somewhere else…something abstract. A lot of faiths have morality systems like this, unfortunately.

  11. This is a fascinating thread, much because I know several of the participants as well as OSC. When we were students together at BYU, OSC held the same strong anti-homosexual opinions. In fact, when he organized his first theatre he had a talk with the actors and told them that he did not want any gays in his troupe. One of his best friends disappeared after that meeting. I personally do not subscribe to the theory that OSC is a closet gay, but I do find it odd that three of his very closest friends at BYU were, in fact, gay unbeknownst to him. His early writing also included several gay characters. One of my colleagues back then came up to me and asked how OSC “as a Mormon could write the most positive gay characterizations he had ever read.” I had no answer then and I have none now. But to comment on Alan’s primary question . . . as a relatively out gay LDS man who has known OSC for most of his life . . . I am happy to stand up for OSC in everyway excepting when it comes to his rants against homosexuals. Nowadays when we talk, we talk of things on which we agree and never mention the one point an which we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Proposition 8 nearly decimated our friendship because of the heated arguments we had. Other than on that one issue, wherein his brain seems to just shut down, I’ve always found him to be kind, loving and generous to a fault. I don’t think this view is all that strange. I think most of us have friends whom we dearly love, but who have one or two attributes we would like to burn out of them. I know I have some that my friends would like to eliminate from me.

  12. “The novel [Treason] is as much Card’s own physical autobiography as an obviously spiritual one. Through the narrative of Lanik Mueller, Card reflects on psychological and emotional difficulties he had suffered because of a specific physical condition that afflicted him during adolescence and deeply altered his self-image.” Michael R. Collings, In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization, and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card, 48.

    In the novel Collings is referring to, Lanik grows breasts.

    A lot of people bring up the possibility that Card is a self-loathing homosexual as a kind of “gotcha” criticism of him. For me, that very real possibility actually makes his story more tragic and understandable.

  13. I am literally sick to my stomach after finding out about Card’s viewpoint considering how much I enjoyed basically all of his novels. Unfortunately, once someone’s mind is made up like his, there is little point trying to change it or even argue with the bigot. My only personal relief will come when I burn all of his books in my backyard and send him a video of it.

  14. Hey y’all.

    Kidding.. I am not a bumpkin or ‘Burntney Spurs’. I do reside in the southern U.S., though. Not FROM here, praise The Almighty. Just a transplant, who’s becoming hotter & sicker & more nauseated by the minute. (I find I’m running hotter the older I’m getting, & I’ve always been physically repulsed by humidity as well as the sight of bugs–ALL bugs…)
    Sorry for the tangent there.. I’m actually here to praise this thread for the positive & constructive interaction contained within, & for the respectful feedback you’ve given each other in response to the posts.. I’m having a very hard time finding any comments threads on the internet nowadays that don’t also contain pure hate & assassination of each others’ characters as various differences in opinions become more apparent as the number of responses & respondents increases.
    I also want to add a comment here in response to the conversation re OSC:
    It doesn’t take an advanced ‘gaydar’ or an empath with

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