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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Matthew Bowman

Gordon: You recently moved to the the St. John the Baptist parish in Front Royal, How is it different from your last parish, and how has your new parish contributed to you spiritually?

Matthew: My previous parish (also a St. John the Baptist, ironically; this one in Silver Spring, MD) was an unusual sort of parish in modern America: very modernist in many ways, yet still very Catholic. It helped when we were assigned a new parish priest some years ago, who was quite firm about Catholic teachings but in a way that was kind to those who had simply received bad information, something all too common in the modern Church in America. That priest transformed it from being simply the closest church to my home (and the most handicap-accessible of anything nearby) to being a place I could feel was a home for faithful Catholics. After he arrived, for example, I never again saw anyone with a pro-abortion bumper sticker in the parking lot.

My new parish is one I’ve been familiar with for some time, as it is the only parish within half an hour of my alma mater, Christendom College. This parish is one of the reasons I moved here, rather than a place closer to my job in DC, because I already knew it was one of the most tightly-knit parishes I’d ever experienced. For example, at the previous St. John’s, people tended to clear out quickly, with few staying after to chat with friends; there was always a traffic jam in the parking lot immediately after Mass. At this St. John’s, there’s never a jam of any kind – except at the door, where only bad weather will keep people from having conversations with each other long enough to bump up to the next Mass on the schedule.

St. John’s in Front Royal is also an extremely charitable parish. Every year, for the Bishop’s Appeal, this parish is one of the very first to reach its donation goal; and many years, it’s been one of the top donators, even over areas with much more wealth. The giving doesn’t stop there, and one can always count on other parishioners to step in when they know someone needs help. It’s an old-fashioned parish, but one that’s not dominated by the elderly. To say it’s full of children and young couples would be an understatement. Several years ago, St. John’s converted the foyer into a large cry room, specifically to handle the amount of young ones at every Sunday Mass.

Gordon: When and why did you did convert to Catholicism?

Matthew: Well, that’s a bit of a long story! One thing I like to joke about, which usually gets people very interested to hear more, is that I’m Catholic because of the Redskins.

It began with my mother, who was raised in Alabama in a respectable Protestant family. After she married my father, a strong atheist, and had my older brother Michael, she began to feel her faith mattered more. What would she raise her son as? What would she teach him? Did she even know enough to try?

So she began investigating further, though keeping it from my father at first. She joined Bible groups and different churches, but it didn’t seem to fit for her. She even tried a Catholic church, which was a big step for her because of both her upbringing and my father’s specific bias against Catholics. Nothing fit. Yet certain things kept drawing her back to Catholicism, such as how her Protestant Bible groups could never explain to her why, if they focused on the literal truth of the Bible, they insisted that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about His Body and Blood.

Well, my father was no great fan of the Church, but he was a football fan. He grew up in rural Idaho, a completely different world from my mother’s upbringing, and never had a home football team to follow. When he joined the Navy and was eventually assigned to DC, he became a devote of the Washington Redskins. This was in the early 80s, when I was born. After almost eight years of that, moving to his next assignment (in Hawaii) was a big adjustment for him, because he couldn’t follow his favorite team live. A year later, he was assigned to teach at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, where he still couldn’t get Redskins games on broadcast TV. As a result, he decided to spring for cable.

And that’s where the Redskins lead me to Catholicism, because with cable comes EWTN. My mother started watching Mother Angelica, and she began to understand why Catholicism drew her, yet none of the parishes she had visited had felt welcoming. Every single one of them she had seen had been infected by the American attitude, post-Vatican II, that worship should be simple and modernist. Watching EWTN convinced her that these parishes had gone astray, and that Vatican II hadn’t been the huge change that some claimed supported their own ends.

But there was still a problem. Her own upbringing, and her husband’s bias, kept her from taking that final step. Catholicism drew her like a magnet draws a needle, but there was still a part of her that was afraid to make that commitment. The biggest step she had managed was enrolling my older brother Michael in a Catholic school.

Eventually, three years passed, and my father was informed he would be reassigned again. The problem was, the Navy didn’t know exactly where. It came down to two choices; and of course, in the military, you have no input on where you’re assigned. He was simply told the two choices so that he could start looking for homes and schools in both locations, as it was coming down to the wire.

Well, we might not have any pull with the military, but my mother decided to try prayer. So one day, when my father was out of the house, she gathered us children together; my older brother Michael, my younger sister Christina, and me. Our prayer was simple and to the point. Lord Jesus, send us where You want us to go.

Almost immediately, the decision came back from the Navy. They had completely changed their minds. Gone were the two previous options; instead, they had settled on a third choice, seemingly out of the blue. My father was being assigned to the American embassy in Rome, Italy.

It’s hard to get a clearer sign than that without burning bushes or lights from the sky. My brother finished his final year of high school in our first year there, and decided to attend Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH. I still remember my parents arguing about that, with my father unhappy about the choice. But while there, my brother officially converted, and he was our mother’s sponsor into the Church. Sadly, our father remains an atheist to this day.

My sister Christina and I were young enough to simply be taken along for the ride. We had been raised with such a generic understanding of Christianity that even I, at thirteen, didn’t really grasp the change that had happened. And my mother and I have very different approaches to our faith; as I said previously, I struggle with being spiritual, but that’s my mother’s strength. Mine is in understanding the interconnected thought of thousands of years of history and philosophy and theology that goes into explaining the nuances of doctrine (not that I am or have any calling to be a canon lawyer, mind you!). Because my mother was unable to provide this, and neither of us knew it was necessary for me, I’m sorry to say that this resulted in me being a cafeteria Catholic, even though I didn’t even hear that phrase until my twenties.

But there was one more important event that happened before we left Rome, and that was the rededication of the Church of Santa Susanna, on Sunday, June 27th, 1993. I was never interested in attending church, and usually put up such a fight that my mother would leave me behind half the time. This time, however, she insisted, and no amount of protest would sway her. She made me dress up, and so I was overheating in the Roman summer while we were waiting outside through a strangely long line. Once inside, the thick stone walls acted as natural air conditioning, and I quickly switched to shivering. I was miserable, crammed in by a huge crowd, unable to see anything, and to top it all off, my mother wouldn’t let me read a novel.

Finally, there was a huge commotion at the back of the church. I couldn’t see what was going on, but suddenly my mother was pushing me toward the center aisle. The other people in our pew resisted at first, but then they saw it was an eleven-year-old boy and their annoyance turned to smiles and they helped me along. I didn’t know why I was moving in that direction, but it was apparently important to everyone else.

Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now, the rededication of a church is a matter for a bishop, and this particular church was very politically important to boot, being the only parish in Rome with regular English-language Masses. So of course, the Bishop of Rome was there. I don’t remember John Paul II’s face, but I remember his white robe as he hugged me for a long time. And I remember something I had never felt before in my life: comfort at being in a church. All the misery of being there, crammed in with the press of humanity, completely drained away.

I firmly believe that without that moment, my life would have taken a very different turn. As I said, I was a cafeteria Catholic as a teen and young adult, led astray by bad teachings and my own desires. If I had never felt comfortable in a church, I’d have moved on to seemingly greener pastures, seduced away by promises of the pleasures brought by drugs and sex.

It very nearly happened anyway, but I had a minor obsession with Ireland at the time (okay, and now), and my mother and I convinced my father to agree to send me to a three-week study abroad program hosted by Christendom College, called Christendom in Ireland. That was a culture shock, and like nothing I had ever experienced. To put it in full perspective, my original plan had been to go to Franciscan University like my brother, until my mother got sick. I stayed to live at home to take care of her, while attending a local college and studying physics. She had never liked how she was keeping me from attending a good Catholic college, though, and jumped at the chance to send me to Christendom even for a short program.

The real culture shock came when I started the new semester, though, and realized just how much Christendom had clicked with me, despite being so utterly alien. Christendom provided the perspective I had been lacking, the perspective my mother was incapable of giving me (not for lack of trying). Its focus on rationality and the interconnectivity of Christian history spoke to me like no homily ever had before, precisely because I lacked the context to understand them properly. All it took was for me to admit one day to my mother that I wished I had gone to Christendom instead, and I was swept away by her preparations. By the end of that semester, I was enrolled at Christendom for Spring 2005, giving up my studies in astrophysics for history and literature.

That April, of course, was the death of Pope St. John Paul, and the election of Benedict XVI. Some joker that I will be forever grateful to hung a banner in the cafeteria shortly after that read “The Cafeteria is Now Closed! ~ B16.” Confused, I asked a friend what it meant, and for the first time learned the phrase “cafeteria Catholic.” A year later, I had cause to remember that moment, and realized with shock that at the time, I had been a cafeteria Catholic, someone who picked and chose the parts of the faith that I liked, conforming a church to myself, rather than myself to God.

As I said, my conversion story was a long one, full of twists and turns. If things hadn’t gone just right, my life would be very different, and far, far unhappier.

Gordon: What have been some of the most interesting courses that you have taken at Christendom College?

Matthew:: The most interesting by far was “The Inklings,” a cross-discipline history/literature course on the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams, and their influence on culture and fiction, as well as a look at Chesterton as an influence on them. I can safely say that no single course at Christendom prepared me for my career as an adult like that one did – though I didn’t know it at the time, of course.

Beyond that, I would have to say that the best and most interesting thing about Christendom is their core curriculum. Every student has to take, or at least qualify out of if they are transfer students, two years each of history and literature, three years each of theology and philosophy, one year of political science, and of course math and science requirements. Being a former physics major, I obvious was overqualified for the latter, but despite my efforts I couldn’t get my previous credits in any of the other subjects to count as more than simply electives.

When I went through the program, however, I discovered why. Multiple professors were teaching the same subjects, with their own unique spin on the topics, but with about three-fourths of the program set by the department rather than the individual professors. Rather than stifle things, as one might expect without experiencing it, it instead expanded the amount that could be covered. Since each professor knew what would be covered in another department, they could spend less time on redundant information and more on the details. That 75% mandated by the department was more detailed than anything I had received at any secular school, and there was still room left over for the professor’s own particular focus. It was a lot of work, and my professors will be the first to tell you that I wasn’t an exceptional student; but I learned more there than I could have anywhere else. Even if it had never been useful for me in a career – which it has – I would still consider it worth it. And in fact, during a long stretch of time where I was unemployed because of my physical handicap, I never once regretted that education. Sometimes there are more important things in life.

Gordon: Please provide an overview of your responsibilities as Director of Communications at Daniel Morgan Graduate School for National Security.

Matthew:: DMGS is a unique graduate school; we’re the only one in the nation that focuses on training national security and intelligence professionals for real-world knowledge and application, taught by professors with real-world experience. In fact, it was a bit of a challenge to get the school approved (it’s only a few years old, and I’ve been with the school since the beginning), as we have a far higher than normal number of adjunct professors. This is because we focus on people who are active in their fields, rather than full-time academics.

My job at the school is to process information for the public, and to help others do the same. I frequently downplay it as being a glorified editor, but since I enjoy being an editor, that’s not really as bad as it might sound. I work with everyone, from students to staff to faculty, and help them present things to intended audiences. Sometimes this means helping a professor rewrite a paper he’s writing on the Communist Party of Vietnam, making certain that the information he gives in the paper is understandable to those outside of his field. Other times it’s helping a student understand effective communication in the field of national security. One of my first jobs at the school was drawing up a sample curriculum. Another was to do research on the American Revolution, specifically on the life of Major General Daniel Morgan, the namesake for our school. (Incidentally, that particular job made me gain a professional loathing for the very historically-inaccurate movie The Patriot.)

In summary, I’d have to say the best short description of my job is “troubleshooter.” I edit, rewrite, research, and advise. Much like with the fiction editing I started with, and still do on the side, my job is to help others do their jobs more effectively.

Gordon: What are your responsibilities with Novel Ninja Freelance Editing?

Matthew:: Novel Ninja started out after I lost my first post-college job. I was mired in depression and unable to find work. While at that previous job, however, I was living with Regina Doman’s family. Regina Doman is a fairly famous Catholic novelist and editor, and at the time she was in charge of the (now-defunct) Catholic fiction wing at Sophia Institute Press. I overheard her talking about the backlog of submissions she had, and offered to help out. This was my first professional editing job, and it turned out I had a knack for it.

So, when I was back with my parents, unemployed and feeling low, I decided to hang out a shingle as an editor. It was just something I’d do until a real job came along. Instead, it turned into a career. As far as I know, I’m the only Catholic freelance editor specializing in science fiction and fantasy, and one of the few SF&F editors who doesn’t put politics over stories. I have worked with Catholics, atheists, Protestants, and pagans; Republicans, Democrats, Communists, and Libertarians; and while I specialize in SF&F, I’ve also edited romance, mystery, historical fiction, and dystopia; my only content rules are that I will not touch erotica or anything that insults the Catholic Church.

The name “Novel Ninja” came about because of my particular belief in how an editor is supposed to function. My job, first and foremost, is to make the author look good. I should be completely invisible; in fact, while it’s probably to my detriment, I rarely even mention which books I’ve edited precisely because it’s not about me. I’ve had friends who haven’t realized I edited something until they saw my name in the acknowledgements. On the other hand, the most powerful form of advertising is word of mouth, and the majority of my clients come to me because a friend recommended me.

Of course, my position at DMGS has resulted in me having to cut back on the time I’ve spent with Novel Ninja, but I’ve refused to give it up even when working overtime for the day job. This might not be what I can spend most of my time on, but it’s definitely my calling. Not only are there people out there who feel they can trust me over other editors they could choose – because I’m Catholic, or because I don’t share a particular political philosophy, or because they know that I will go deep into the details of a story and they need someone they can learn from – but I also find it’s the best way I can bring my faith to the world. The truth of God shines through even when a story isn’t overtly Catholic, and even if I can’t combat an entire culture that seems bent against me for my beliefs, I can do what I can for what I can.

Gordon: Based on your experience, why have so many younger Catholics left the church and what can we do to help reduce this challenge and to interest more young people in becoming Catholic?

Matthew:: It’s  interesting that you ask this question at this particular time, because I have a young friend who left the Church last year to become pagan. We recently reconnected, and she admitted the reasons why she left, and also something more telling: that she stopped talking to me not because she didn’t like Catholicism, but because she felt that I wouldn’t want to have her around.

That, right there, sums up the reasons why people leave the Church, at any age. Human nature is the same no matter whether you’re twenty or seventy. If you don’t feel connected, you will try to find that connection elsewhere. If no one is reaching out to make you feel welcome, you will necessarily feel rejected. And if anyone is berating you for feeling different, for feeling like the expression of Catholicism they adhere to is not enough, well . . . how can you not feel drawn to someone else who might be offering what you lack? My friend, despite knowing me for several years, thought that I would reject her like so many others had.

I’m not going to go into the details of my friend’s problems; that’s her story to tell, not mine. Suffice to say that her experience with Catholicism in her formative years was similar to mine, only more so. We both felt disconnected from what was around us, from the single expression of Catholicism that stood before us, and we were being driven away by those too inflexible to realize that the Church is called “catholic” because it is universal. The major difference was that she actually had more integrity than I had. I coped by picking and choosing and calling myself Catholic when I didn’t actually follow the Church. She responded by stepping away entirely, because she had too much respect for the Church to indulge in half-measures.

We don’t have as much of a crisis in the Church as many think with regard to the youth of today. In fact, many of them are reversing the trend of modernity over tradition, as my generation rises to positions of leadership in their parishes. I run a site called The Catholic Geeks, where we promote fiction, games, and Catholicism, and frequently take on the challenge of explaining difficult concepts such as the proper role of elements of the liturgy, Church history, explaining doctrines versus disciplines, and so on. Young people of our generation and later respond, and many from older generations who are tired of the watered-down Catholicism of the 70s and 80s that replaced the mercy of God with simply “being nice.”

We don’t have as much of a crisis in the Church as many think with regard to the youth of today. In fact, many of them are reversing the trend of modernity over tradition, as my generation rises to positions of leadership in their parishes. I run a site called The Catholic Geeks, where we promote fiction, games, and Catholicism, and frequently take on the challenge of explaining difficult concepts such as the proper role of elements of the liturgy, Church history, explaining doctrines versus disciplines, and so on. Young people of our generation and later respond, and many from older generations who are tired of the watered-down Catholicism of the 70s and 80s that replaced the mercy of God with simply “being nice.”

As I said, it’s not about just the youth; when my mother, born in the 40s, was searching for the true core of Christianity, she was initially turned away by how bland Catholicism was. It took watching Mother Angelica to realize there was more out there. A fallen-away Catholic author I know – a bestseller and a household name in science fiction – once told me in private that he dropped away from the Church he was raised in because of that same blandness. Until he met me, he had no idea that the Church was still more than (as he put it) “Peter, Paul, and Mary worship bands.” A mutual friend of ours, someone he introduced me to that fronts a goth band called The Cruxshadows and wears his Catholicism on his sleeve (even though said sleeve is made of leather and ripped cloth), got married in the Tridentine rite, and it was the first time that author had been to a Trid mass since the 60s. He hadn’t even known it was still possible to find those. In fact, he hadn’t known, until I told him, that there was a regular Trid a half an hour from his own house.

Real Catholicism is not mere appearance – how you dress, how you speak – but rather substance, an ancient practice that is renewed every day so long as it isn’t stifled. The Church doesn’t dictate to us how our customs should be, only what our intent is; and even there, it’s far less restrictive than Hollywood or Internet memes might lead one to believe. The Church has room for those who dress like 50s housewives, 60s hippies, 70s yuppies, 80s punks, 90s goths, and 2000s hipsters, precisely because it is not tied to any one decade or even any one century. The Church is in this world, but not of it, and so limiting things based on mere appearance is to limit the Church herself.

Sometimes people react to that by pushing back against anything modern, which itself is wrong; the Church never dictates culture, only doctrine, because the first changes and the latter never does. It’s entirely possible to be too focused on traditionalism and completely miss why tradition is not doctrine, confusing substance for appearance all over again.

One thing I frequently repeat to Catholic students looking to write Catholic fiction is that the best way to promote Catholicism is to promote Catholicism, not attack whatever might be different. If we want to promote an alternative to a culture that considers casual sex the norm, that doesn’t mean to avoid sex or sexuality. God created the human body; it is therefore good, and it is only human choice that might misuse it. The opposite of casual sex is not celibacy, but rather marriage; and so to promote an alternative to the modern expression of sexual pleasure above all, we must instead promote marriage.

And just as my friend’s story sums up why people leave the church, that right there sums up how they come back. They come back when they feel welcome, when they feel like they are part of something greater, and when they realize that the expression of Catholicism they had been exposed to before is too narrow to be the real Church.

We are Catholic, and we are many. We will endure, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us. And think about that for a moment: gates are a defensive structure. Christ told us not merely that the Church will never fall, but that we will be victorious – even if we march on Hell itself.

Gordon: How popular are the Marvel superhero films with your friends?

Matthew:: Very popular. It’s interesting, since Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios are effectively two separate divisions that have little to do with each other. The Comics side has been attempting to promote odd modernist and political ideas at the expense of stories; meanwhile, the movies have been huge hits, precisely because they are entertainment first. Many people have attacked the films for being too lighthearted, too full of jokes; or for promoting something other than a modernist, political message like one might find in today’s comics. In truth, if they were not entertaining, then they would not be selling.

This is something that needs to be looked at by anyone wondering how to promote their idea of stories. Look at what sells. Figure out what audiences want. The Marvel movies sell not because of jokes, but because of an expression of heroism that has been lacking in our culture at large. All too often, we get told that our heroes are flawed, and therefore cannot be looked up to. The first is true, but the second is not. We are all of us flawed, and a true hero is one who moves beyond that to sacrifice for others. All good hero stories follow an example written on our hearts; our idea of the hero was written into us when God created us, and that is why the Gospel story plays out the way it does – because Christ is the ultimate hero. All others, whether they intend to or not, whether they lived before Him or after, follow His example.

Superhero movies, especially of the sort that Marvel has been releasing, have been powerful examples of this drive for heroism. My friends are not the only ones who respond to that. Audiences will sit in theaters for the action sequences; they will return again and again for the good storytelling and the heroic decisions. Once again, children are able to look up to these fictional characters and desire to be like them – the monstrous Hulk who has to control his anger, the self-denying Captain America, the quick-witted Black Widow trying to atone for her sins, or the prideful Doctor Strange who only gains true power by learning humility first. Icons like these have been rare, even missing from the lives of both children and adults, and now that they’re back they’re stronger than ever.

Gordon: Who is your favorite Catholic superhero and why?

Matthew:: Absolutely Nightcrawler, one of the X-Men characters. Like with many superheroes in recent decades, sometimes he’s been taken in odd directions and frequently his Catholic faith has been all but erased, but he was once the most prominent Catholic character in comics.

For those who don’t know the character, he’s a mutant; mutants don’t just have special powers, but frequently look very different from the human norm. Nightcrawler – real name Kurt Wagner – has it worse than most. He has blue skin, pointed ears, fangs, backwards-bent ankles, three fingers on each hand and two toes on each foot, and a tail with a spade-like point. He has the power of teleportation, but every time he appears and disappears, he does so in a puff of sulphuric smoke. In other words, except for the color blue, he looks like a classic Devil image.

He was introduced in the 70s when Marvel decided the X-Men series needed more non-Americans, and he was recruited in Germany where Professor Xavier (the founder of the X-Men) had rescued him and the priest who had taken him in from an angry mob. The priest was named Fr. Wagner, which is where Kurt got his name.

There have been many different origins in different X-Men series; the above was the comics line, but my favorite was in a cartoon series that aired in the 90s, where Kurt had been living in a monastery rather than in a priest’s house. There, the nearby villagers had become convinced that the monks had fallen away and were harboring a demon, but the monks protected him nonetheless. Again, Professor Xavier arrived to quell the mob, but I’ve always enjoyed the idea of this character growing up in a monastery rather than a circus freak taken in by a priest only shortly before becoming a superhero.

Regardless of his origin, he remains my image of a Catholic superhero because there was a storyline where he left that life to enter a seminary. He was in training to be a priest, and it was handled very well. He eventually left and returned to lay life, but it was an important part of his character history and one that the current Marvel Comics would never allow.

Before I move on to the next question, though, two other Catholic superheroes deserve mention. One has a similar origin to Nightcrawler, except that the reason he looks like a demon is because he was created in a demonic ritual. He’s known as Hellboy, from the Hellboy series. However, he was rescued by a human and raised Catholic. Some years ago, a movie was made based on the comics, and it didn’t skimp on this element, producing a joke among Catholic fans: Literal spawn of Satan, still prays the rosary. What’s your excuse?

The other one is in the graphic novel Confessor, part of the Astro City series. It’s the second in the series, and can be read as a stand-alone story. I highly recommend it, and if I were to tell you why, I’d ruin the story for you. Just go read it, and enjoy the idea of a Catholic Batman-like character with a priest motif.

Gordon: You mentioned you specialize in science fiction and fantasy. What about SF&F do you find most interesting, and what is your favorite SF&F film?

Matthew:: Films . . . oh, I can’t really tell you. There are too many to narrow down as any one favorite. It depends on my mood, honestly. Sometimes I might want the quirky humor of the B-grade Hallmark film The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns, and other times I’ll want something serious like Blood and Chocolate, a movie about werewolves in Bucharest that didn’t get nearly the reception it deserved. Sometimes it’s something popular, sometimes it’s something I liked but was panned by critics. I suppose the best such film in recent years might be Rogue One, the Star Wars anthology film that came out last December. That still doesn’t mean it’s my all-time favorite, however. I really can’t say what that might be.

As to what I find interesting about it, that’s a much easier question to answer. Fantasy and science fiction let us explore things beyond our current lives. Both G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about the need for that sort of escapism. Chesterton wrote that such fairy tales (this being long before the surge in popularity of the genre, so they were typically called fairy tales if anything, rather than fantasy) are more than just nursery tales, but rather refreshed one to look at the world around us with wonder. He wrote in Orthodoxy that fairy tales “make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”

Similarly, Tolkien wrote in his famous essay “On Fairy Stories” that the escapism provided by these tales is necessary; it is not the Flight of the Deserter, he says, where the reader abandons his responsibilities in the real world, but rather the Escape of the Prisoner, hemmed in by a fallen world’s day-to-day drudgery and needing a renewal of mind and spirit.

God gave us imaginations that can contemplate not only His Creation, but the what-ifs of how He might have done it differently. Whenever someone tells me that it’s better to focus on the realities in front of me, I think of natural philosophers in Paris in the 13th century, who insisted on putting limits on God based on their own narrow understanding of reality. Among other things, this included the idea of distant worlds where life might be flourishing. These were condemned by a 1277 bull issued by the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, opening up permission for philosophers at the University of Paris to explore other ways God might have done things. A very important (though not widely-known) French physicist in the 19th century, Pierre Duhem, considered that the true start of modern scientific inquiry – coming about from a bishop admonishing early scientists for thinking the world is simple enough for one person to comprehend.

Science fiction and fantasy let us explore that concept of a wider world in a way that only stories can. Fantasy can let us look at man’s relationship to the natural world alongside the spiritual, exploring ideas such as “What if there were forms of magic God let us use?” or “What if elves live beside us?” Science fiction lets us explore worlds where technology shapes our lives rather than living things, and how that changes our relationship with each other. Both let us do things in different ways, with the ultimate effect of producing a sense of wonder for how things really are today – and perhaps how things might be in the future. After all, much is made of how Captain Kirk’s personal communicator paved the way for the modern cell phone!

Gordon: What are some of your favorite books?

Matthew: Once again, so many to choose from. It’s easier than films, though.

My most enduring influence on how I think of fantasy is David Eddings’ Garion series, a collection of twelve books (a five-part series, with a five-part sequel, and two prequels) that shaped what I expect from the epic fantasy sub-genre. Similar to that in science fiction, and especially the sub-genre military SF, is David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which can be thought of as “what if C. S. Forester, author of Horatio Hornblower, wrote Star Wars?”

Another series is The Dresden Files, a series that, while it has a few adult elements, stands out for many things; but to Catholic fantasy fans, particularly because of the high treatment Catholics get in the series despite the author not being Catholic himself.

Another good Catholic fantasy series is The Wizard in Rhyme, by Christopher Stasheff; who also wrote a science fiction series with heavy Catholic elements as well, which in turn produced a comedic book about a fictional saint (introduced in the sci-fi series), St. Vidicon to the Rescue.

An alternate history fantasy/mystery series of short stories can also be found, reprinted last decade in one volume for the first time: Lord Darcy, by Randall Garrett. These are the most overtly Catholic fantasy stories I’ve ever read, describing a world where the laws of magic were discovered instead of the laws of physics, and where magic works according to Catholic morality. Both Lord Darcy and The Wizard in Rhyme are books that prove Catholic stories can have wide market appeal.

I really could go on about great fiction, and I know that there are authors who will probably read this interview who will be disappointed I didn’t mention their books. Unfortunately, after a certain point, it will just be quicker to give an abridged list of my personal library. I try to review a lot of them on my sites,  and the, so I’d encourage your readers to go there and take a look.

Gordon: You are one of my favorite Catholic superheroes for doing this super interview.


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