Eugene England: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Orson Scott Card


The Redemption of Orson Scott Card

Eugene England

This paper was first presented at "Life, the Universe, & Everything XV: An Annual Symposium on the Impact of Science Fiction and Fantasy," Provo, Utah, February 28, 1997. It has been edited by symposium staff and will be published in Steve Setzer and Marny K. Parkin, eds., Deep Thoughts: Proceedings of Life, the Universe, & Everything XV, February 27- March 1, 1997 (Provo, Utah: LTU&E, forthcoming). For more information, contact Marny Parkin,

[01]   Orson Scott Card is a radical Mormon. He's certainly not a liberal, at least by our current popular Mormon definitions, and, despite calling himself a conservative and often talking like one in his Vigor Newsletter and Nauvoo online discussion group, he is definitely not conservative by current popular Mormon standards.

[02]   No, he's a radical--deeply committed at his core to both the Church and the Gospel and to traditional family values, to the point of great self-sacrifice, and also willing, in his fiction, to attempt to get at the roots of the most fundamental questions and issues affecting the Mormon religion: the nature of God, of evil, of prophethood, of gender roles, the sources and solutions to homophobia, racism, religious intolerance, war, and even capitalism. Orson Scott Card is not only the Mormon author most widely read by non-Mormons and by far the most prolific and versatile writer of Mormon fiction and arguably the best, certainly the one most praised and honored. He is also the one who to this point best--and most radically--fulfills the great prophetic hopes for a world-class as well as genuinely Mormon literature.

[03]   In 1888, Orson F. Whitney set out the highest goal of Mormon literature in sentences that still rivet us and move Mormon critics to exalted hope in the future and sometimes to despair about the present: "We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. . . . In God's name and by His help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven, though its foundations may now be low in earth."("Home Literature") What this future apostle may have only intuited, but we must never forget, is that Milton and Shakespeare were radical Christians. Yes, they were in some ways devoted to encouraging and promoting the rather conservative values of small groups of religious people--Milton the Puritans and Shakespeare the English Anglican Royalists--but they were also, among the world's writers, two of those most radically subversive of the inferior values of their own people and universalist in their vision. Both of them created Christian literature that was designed not only to teach religious truth but to actually change their audience of somewhat self-satisfied, "chosen," people--to move them to repentance and healing, especially to move them beyond their partial view of Christianity and thus partiality against the marginal people in their societies--those Christ called "the least of these." Milton and Shakespeare were, in the phrase someone has used to describe a first-rate religious leader, able to "both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." That's what I mean by "radical." Shakespeare and Milton were radically religious and moral, and I think Card is the closest yet to fulfilling Elder Whitney's prophecy precisely because he is a radical Mormon.

[04]   But lately I've been a little worried about Scott. I've wondered if his theology hadn't begun to show itself not so much radical Mormon as conservative Christian, even Manicheistic, that is, inclined to see all existence as divided between the competing and nearly equal forces of good and evil. And I've wondered if Card had lost some of his courageous outspokenness on the central Gospel issues, his willingness to be, at whatever cost, a speaker for the dead and different. So, it was with both pleasure and relief that last year I read Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (TOR 1996). I had been thinking Orson Scott Card (the writer, not the Latter-day Saint) needed some redemption himself, and I found it in this remarkable novel.

[05]   Most of you are familiar with Card's career. For me, it breaks into three rather distinct periods: Beginning in the early 1970s, as a student here at BYU, he wrote, and produced or published, about ten plays on Mormon subjects, with themes ranging from Moses (Stone Tables, which I just learned yesterday he's turned into a novel for Deseret Book)--ranging from that to Church history (Liberty Jail) to contemporary Mormonism (Elders and Sisters). He also served as an editor and writer for both the Ensign and Sunstone.

[06]   In about 1977, Card began writing science fiction, and his first published story, "Enders' Game," won the 1978 John W. Campbell Award for the most promising new sci-fi writer. He went on to publish dozens of stories and novels and win a large following and an international reputation for his fiction and his speeches at sci-fi conventions, which were often in the form of a devastating satire of religious bigotry in the persona of a Bible Belt fundamentalist preacher, Brother Orson. The huge majority of his readers and listeners had no idea he was a Mormon, and he openly stated in a letter to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (summer 1985) that he "would never attempt to . . . overtly preach the gospel" in his fiction and thought he represented Mormon theology best when he did "not speak about it at all."

[07]   But in that same letter he recognizes, as I think all experienced and deeply religious writers (like Milton and Shakespere) do, that what he is makes all the difference in his fiction:

[08]   As long as I don't interfere with my own storytelling, I suspect that my works will always reveal my beliefs, both orthodox and unwittingly heretical. And I believe that such expressions of faith, unconsciously placed wtihin a story, are the most honest and also most powerful messages a writer can give; they are, in essence, the expression of the author's conceived universe, and the reader who believes and cares about the story will dwell, for a time, in the author's world and receive powerful vicarious memories that become part of the reader's own.

[09]   It has been precisely Card's "conceived universe" that I have worried about recently, especially in two books he has written in the 1990s, Lost Boys and Treasure Box. Both of these seem to me to reflect a view of evil at odds with orthodox Mormonism as I understand it--and, more seriously, to lose the powerful edge of social criticism and utopianism that Card developed in the mid to late 1980s.

[10]   It is interesting that just about the time Card made that statement in Dialogue about not speaking openly in his work about his Mormonism, he began to contradict himself. What might be called a third phase of his work began with publication in 1984 of Woman of Destiny, a much-praised achievement in Mormon historical fiction based on the life of a fictional plural wife of Joseph Smith, that has since been republished as Saints (with a more seemly cover) and is still very popular among Mormons. With this novel, Card came out of the closet, as it were, and subsequently published a large number of openly "Mormon" works: from his first Mormon sci-fi stories, "Salvage" and "The Fringe," also in 1984, through the rather thinly veiled fantasy version of Joseph Smith's life in the four volume Tales of Alvin Maker series (still not complete) and the five-volume more fully veiled version of the Book of Mormon as a future voyage in space, to what might be called domestic Mormon realism, with a touch of magic realism, in his first "mainstream" novel, Lost Boys, published by HarperCollins in 1992 and a remarkable story, "Christmas at Helaman's House," in which a wealthy Mormon family gives their home to their bishop to use for the homeless.

[11]   For me, the crucial moment of change, in the process during 1984-85 when Card emerged as our most important and radical Mormon writer, was when he expanded that first published sci-fi story, "Ender's Game," into the famous, prize-winning novel--which, by the way, seems on its way right now into being made into a major studio Hollywood movie.

[12]   In the process of that expansion of story to novel, Card extended the stunning surprise ending in a way that changed the tale, from a merely brilliant combination of the age-old conventions of the coming-of-age story with the popular spacewar formula, into a much more moving and deeper work. He also converted Ender Wiggin (and Card himself) into a speaker for the dead and the different. By imagining the killer of a whole race of intelligent beings turned into a Christ-like figure, who writes their story and resurrects their progeny, Card moved firmly into a larger moral and religious world, where issues of diversity, unconditional love for the "other," and thus healing through giving and accepting grace, even the Atoning grace of Christ, become central to his work. Every aspiring Mormon writer (as well as all serious readers) should go over that ending again and again and remind themselves that the remarkable act of imagination and literary skill that it reveals led to books that have won the most prestigious literary prizes of both the science fiction and the Mormon communities: Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead made an unprecedented sweep of both the Nebula and the Hugo two years running, and their sequel Xenocide and then Lost Boys both received the best novel Award from the Association for Mormon Letters.

[13]   Those books have enriched both American and Mormon culture with new visions of ethical possibility and challenging theological speculations and questions. For instance, the second of the Alvin Maker series, The Red Prophet, focuses on the association the Joseph Smith figure has with an American Indian whom he has healed and who becomes an absolute pacifist Christ-figure. This prophet shares spiritual powers and visions with Alvin and leads him ultimately into what I find one of the most moving scenes in all literature, partly because it is modeled closely on one of the most moving scenes in the Book of Mormon, that of the "Lamanites" who when converted to Christ refuse all violence, bury their weapons, and allow themselves to be killed--but move their attackers to conversion and peace. Card skillfully translates this scene into a typical American frontier massacre but with a profound difference: the Red Prophet stands with his people in passive acceptance of death that both condemns and begins to heal the violence of the whites, a testimony both to the unique power of redemptive love and also to its great cost.

[14]   In the third volume, Card becomes the Mormon writer who has dealt most thoroughly (though still indirectly) and most affirmatively (and yet perhaps most hauntingly) with the black presence in Mormon American experience--something we Mormons are still largely in denial about. A black baby, Arthur Stuart, whose mother gave her life for him escaping slavery, becomes central to Alvin's quest for the meaning of his own life and allows Card to explore one of the worst horrors of slavery--the sexual use of slave women by their owners and the selling of the resulting children away from their mothers. But Card also creates intensely moving scenes of sacrifical love by blacks and of reconciliation and new relationship with whites, especially between Alvin and Arthur.

[15]   Though it seems distant from contemporary Mormonism, Card uses this fantasy context, perhaps intuitively, to explore what Tony Morrison, the Nobel-prize-winning black author and literary critic, rightly sees as the combined "fear and desire," the fascination and guilty repugnance, that haunts white American contemplation of black sexuality, and Card provides his Mormon readers powerful hints for reflection on both our own unique complicity and our own unique hope, in Joseph Smith, for an alternative to American racism. Card creates a subtext that suggests the guilt over centuries of white sexual misuse of blacks that likely undergirds white fantasies about black sexual prowess and sexual threat to whites--and whites' irrational horror about miscegenation, which some Mormons have picked up and emphasized down into the present. With self-serving scriptural interpretations and specious reasoning that parodies the American slaver's theology adopted by some nineteenth century Mormons, Cavil Planter convinces himself he is called by God to father as many children on slaves as he can and to spread them throughout the South to reduce the amount of evil black blood. He even invents a racist God to command his actions and excuse his lust ("You see the face that you invented for me in your own mind, the body conjured out of your own imagination").

[16]   This is, of course, a direct parallel to the process by which one popular and corrupt Mormon concept of God was invented, in attempts to rationalize the denial of priesthood to blacks by defining white innocence over against black sinfulness from the preexistence. Card thus deconstructs for his Mormon readers the influential work of those few Mormon theologians who have provided a rationale for exclusion of blacks from the priesthood that would blame them rather than whites, and then, most destructively in the books by John Stewart and John Lund, to develop a destructive but still influential concept of a God who shepherds his favorites from stage to stage with special privileges and codes others with color and poor birth conditions to punish them.

[17]   But Card also provides a positive model for Mormon attitudes and behavior by making the Joseph Smith and Emma figures models of unracialized Christian openness, even sacrifical love. Peggy (the Emma Hale parallel in the Alvin Maker books) risks much by insisting on tutoring Arthur Stuart privately when the town fathers won't let him attend schools with the white children, and Arthur becomes Alvin's constant companion and apprentice, developing his own spiritual gift of perfect hearing and recall of voices, including God's. A supreme symbolic connection is made when Alvin uses his own gifts to save Arthur from the finders who come from the South, tracking him with their knack of perfect recognition of his biological "signature," based on a hair or skin sample.

[18]   In an unmistakable parallel to Mormon baptism and endowment, Alvin, standing naked with Arthur in the Hio River, uses his own gift to search inside Arthur to find that "signature"--and, using his sense of a "string" that "connects" them, "heart to heart . . . breast to breast," he changes Arthur's DNA to be more like his own: "Just a little. But even a little meant that Arthur Stuart had stopped being completely himself and started being partly Alvin. It seemed to Alvin that what he was doing was terrible and wonderful at the same time." And what he is doing, he realizes, is crucial to the last stage of his apprenticeship-- and that is to be a Maker of humans. He remembers something that Arthur Stuart had heard and repeated perfectly, from a redbird that is clearly the Holy Ghost: "The Maker is the one who is part of what he Makes" (288).

[19]   Card's ideas about Makers and their opposite, "the Unmaker," seem to me crucial to his radical theological perspective and contribution--and perhaps key to his recent theological wandering that perhaps could use some redemption. It is fitting that Card's great insight, the notion that both God and his children need each other to realize their full being, the Maker becoming part of what he Makes, is given by a revelation through a little black boy, a representative of what has been perhaps most "other" in American and Mormon experience and conscience. Theology and moral perspective come together, for good or ill, and if there are any problems with Card's theology in the Alvin Maker series, they are redeemed, as in Pastwatch, by his moral passion.

[20]   Fairly early in the first Alvin Maker novel, Seventh Son, we get some sense of Alvin's particular calling and quest--to develop, through apprentice and journeyman, into a master Maker of humans--and then Card evokes what it is that the young Maker must oppose and what power he can use to oppose it through a recurring nightmare: "[It] came on him, waking or sleeping, and spiked his heart to his spine till he like to died. The world filling up with an invisible trembling nothing that seeped into everything and shook it apart. Alvin could see it, rolling toward him like a huge ball, growing all the time" (124). Alvin's friend Taleswapper (a wonderful version of the Romantic poet-seer modeled on William Blake) helps him name and thus understand this "nothing" and why when it invades his mind he "couldn't stop fidgeting until he'd done some weaving or built a haystack or done up a doll out of corn shucks" (127).

[21]   Taleswapper calls this force the "Unmaker," an evil more fundamental and dangerous than the devil ("[who] can't afford to break everything down . . . or he'd cease to be" [128]). I would call it radical cosmic entropy, and my inclination to depersonalize the Unmaker, to see it simply as the tendency of all being toward less being, unless actively countered by intelligence, may indicate where I have come to differ, I think, with some of Card's recent theology, which seems to have personalized evil into something like Manicheism. The seeds of this in Card now appear to me in a passage from Seventh Son that I praised some years ago for the way it reveals what Alvin sees in the Unmaker. Alvin can see what he does precisely because Card had thought carefully about Lehi's great discourse on ultimate being and its relation to opposites in the Book of Mormon: "It must needs be, that here is an opposition in all things. If not . . . all things must needs be a compound in one; . . . having no life. . . And if these things are not . . . there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away" (2 Ne. 2:11-13). Lehi's is a radically comprehensive, but impersonal, insight into the way being itself depends on the energies created in the conflict of opposites, and I was greatly impressed with Card's ability to challenge his readers, including Mormons, to move past our fixation upon the devil and particular forms of "evil" to the underlying struggle between being and non-being, making and unmaking, that makes existence, salvation, joy, all good things possible.

[22]   But Alvin's version, I see now, is more personalized than Lehi's--and points toward the increasingly personalized evil in some of Card's recent work:

[23]   Alvin knew all kinds of opposites in the world: good and evil, light and dark, free and slave, love and hate. But deeper than all those opposites was making and unmaking. So deep that hardly anybody noticed that it was the most important opposite of all. But he noticed, and so that made the Unmaker his enemy.
[24]   The intense feeling here, that reduces the impersonal tendencies of the universe to a hated and feared and fightable "enemy," now seem to me to undermine the ethical insight Card was developing at the same time--that any reducing of the "other" to enemy, or even to something totally encompassed in our notion of its fundamental and fixed nature, tends to violence toward others and violation of ourselves. I now find some of that in the Unmaker, as we see that concept taking form in the Alvin Maker series, but it first became clear to me in Lost Boys. There the evil that is hinted at in the prelude chapter and then powerfully pervades the last part of the novel--though it is certainly countered by the sacrifical love of the boy Stevie--seems to me to take on a Manicheistic quality. The "Boy" inside Bappy that compels him to kill the seven lost boys and Stevie seems to be a personal form of the Unmaker that has independent and ultimately unredeemable existence.

[25]   Suddenly, as I write, these critical words seem completely inadequate--and unfair to my friend Scott. Despite what I've just said, which I believe, I've also recently reread the ending of Lost Boys and wept my heart out. My daughter, who has two little boys of her own, says she wept for two days. So, whatever else you hear me saying, remember I'm recognizing that, bad theology or not, Orson Scott Card is our greatest storyteller and understands, like Shakespeare and Milton, the power of redeeming love.

[26]   Treasure Box did not move me as much, so I'm not going to apologize for criticizing its theology. In that novel, the nature of demonic evil is revealed in what seem to me blatantly Manicheistic forms--such as a succubus who seduces the prtoagonist and almost gets him to unloose a "dragon," which is a one-of-a kind superdemon who has power to do damage in the world on the level of a Hitler. These demons seem able to create evil with something very much like the omnipotence of God and seem to be defeated or merely slowed down or delayed, if they are, almost by accident--or only by an equal and opposite divine intervention. This focus again seems to be to undermine Card's carefully developed ethical power, though certainly not entirely. Amidst all the horrific happenings of this cracking good story, Card does raise one of his most interesting questions: what difference is there between the natural power the rich and intelligent have over others and the evil power witches and demons have over their victims. At one point in Treasure Box the very wealthy protagonist, who has just used his money and connections to get his way in a crucial matter that may save the world but has probably damaged someone who got in his way, reflects, "How much power do you have to have before you're a monster? How easy do you have to make your own life at others' expense before you're evil and deserve to be destroyed?" (269). Good questions, which Card doesn't here really suggest answers for, as I think he does in his best work--but also questions which in their form in Treasure Box again imply a kind of Manicheism I worry about in that focus on destroying evil beings.

[27]   Christ's command to "Resist not evil" seems to me to suggest a great danger in personalizing evil and attempting to destroy it. Though it is certainly true that one of the devil's greatest wiles is to convince us he doesn't exist, I think an even more effective tactic he uses to lead us astray might be to convince us he does exist--and in a particular form, a person or group that we can attack. I think it's very dangerous to give evil personal and assailable form. This may simply be a difference in temperament between Card and myself. He freely admits that he draws lines--and he recognizes that he draws them differently than I do and that he may be wrong. But actually it's very hard for me to draw lines at all. I know that the apostles and prophets sometimes draw lines and that Christ appears to occasionally, but the Savior I know most deeply and personally doesn't draw lines--he's intent on saving everyone, including even the devil, if he can, and puts no limits on his efforts to do so.

[28]   Well, my main point today is that no such lines or limits exist in Pastwatch. Columbus, who, just five years ago, at the quincentennary in 1992, lots of people cast into outer darkness, is, of course, redeemed in Scott's book, but so are lots of others, in fact all the others and in some astounding ways--and all mainly through redemptive love and grace. For those who haven't read it, a quick summary: With his best storytelling skills, Card moves us back and forth between two timelines which finally come together in a way that changes the past and the future for most humans. We see Columbus grow up, develop and display his particular genius, and make his voyage. At the same time we learn of people two hundred years from now, who after a period of war and plague and disastrous environmental depletion feel the earth is healing enough to turn their attention to the past, develop more and more sophisticated machines to view it in detail, and eventually learn how to intervene in it.

[29]   Card characteristically focuses these enormous events, affecting the disparate courses of whole civilizations and eventually all earth-life, on a few remarkable characters. The first we meet is Tagiri, who starts out as merely one of many well-trained pastwatchers, essentially doing her genealogy in Africa. A combination of particular genius and compassion and what we would call the spirit of Elijah, moves her to start moving "backward" in lives to understand the causes of what she sees on people's faces, which leads her to study slavery, which leads her to study the man who effectively started the American-African slave trade, which leads eventually into an enormous project to turn the hearts of the father to their children and children to their fathers-- that is, to convince the people of her own time to end their own lives by sending three people back in time who are able to change history after Columbus to one without slavery and environmental exploitation and war but also one where Tagiri and her people simply don't exist.

[30]   Is that clear? Well, it gets more complicated, but Card brilliantly keeps not only two actual but three possible stories going. As the Pastwatch machines become more sophisticated, Tagiri, with another watcher who becomes her husband Hassan, discovers that a man and woman in Haiti, facing the slavery of Carib peoples begun by Columbus, actually sees Tagiri and Hassan watching them from the future and prays to them as gods who could deliver them from Spanish oppression and slavery, and thus Tagiri becomes convinced that it could be possible to actually affect the past and that she should answer the prayer. With the help of Hassan, Tagiri comes to understand the crucial role Columbus played in producing their own sick world of the 2190s, not only slavery but "the pillaging of America that financed the terrible religious and dynastic wars that swept Europe back and forth for generations" (47). and also produced the "age of technology," with its "machines that sucked all the oil out ot the ground and let us carry war and famine across oceans and continents until nine-tenths of humankind was dead" (48). They articulate what seems clearly Card's view, based on a large dose of research that he documents at the end of the book: "Columbus was no monster. . . . His vices were the vices of his time and culture, but his virtues transcended the milieu of his life. He was a great man" (48). They see in him "the place where the smallest, simplest change would save the world from the most suffering" (48) and agree to spend their lives finding out if it might be possible to do it and then, if the people of their own time agree it's worth it and right, to go ahead. But the process is slow, and it is actually their daughter, Diko (named after Tagiri's ancestor who lost her son to slavery and whose life-long grief haunted and motivated Tagiri)--it is Diko who makes the crucial discovery, and Diko and two other fascinating and diverse members of her generation who go back to redeem Columbus and the world.

[31]   Diko, in her study of Columbus, notices what no one else had, that at a crucial moment on a beach in Portugal after he has nearly drowned, he has a vision that energizes and changes his life, turning him from his obsession to free Jerusalem from the Muslims to absolute conviction that he should go West instead and will find gold there and convert many to Christianity. But because she can see the vision, a wavering presence in the air above him that Columbus sees as the Holy Trinity, she knows it is not a religious vision, which would be seen only by Columbus and not recordable on the Pastwatch machines. It is, instead, a holograph created by some other Pastwatchers, who like themselves had found the crucial cause of their wounded civilization in Columbus, who in a different time stream had carried out his obsession to lead a crusade to Jerusalem. Those other watchers, whom Tagiri calls the Interverners, had indeed turned Columbus to the West and prevented his crusade and consequent destruction of the great Muslim civilization and its treasures of knowledge--but thus produced the exploitation of the Americas, slavery, and the dying civilization that now Tagiri wants to change, even at the sacrifice of herself and her husband and people.

[32]   Tagiri's fine-tuned ethics and deep compassion will not assent to the new Intervening until two conditions are met: that all her people agree, even though their own existences will end the instance Tagiri pulls the lever sending back her daughter and the other two one-way time-travellers, and that those who go back with them take copies of all world history that Pastwatch has recorded, a "library of the lost future" that can remain hidden and preserved from about 1492 until technology develops enough to make that alternate time line, its stories and people, known to the new one. Card does one of his little in-jokes here, his way of what he calls saying "Hi" to his own Mormon people in a book for non-Mormons, by having the essential directions recorded on metal plates.

[33]   But Card does more than make in-jokes with his Mormonism. I quoted him earlier about placing "expressions of faith" in his stories that "are the most honest and also most powerful messages a writer can give; . . . the reader who believes and cares about the story will dwell, for a time, in the author's world and receive powerful vicarious memories." That way of blessing his non-Mormon readers occurs often in Pastwatch. One example is the scene where, before they leave, the three Interveners have had the plates placed in their skulls that contain an account of their mission and directions to the libraries they will deposit. The Chinese surgeon says to them,

[34]   "Save the world, young man, young woman. Make a very good world for my children."
For a horrible moment Diko thought that the doctor didn't understand that when they went, his children would all be snuffed out, like everyone else in this dead-end time. . . .

[35]   Seeing the consternation on their faces, the doctor laughed. . . . "When you go back, young man, young woman, then all the people of the new future, they are my children. And when they hear your phony bones talking to them, then they find the records, they find out about me and all the other people. So they remember us. They know we are their ancestors. This is very important. They know we are their ancestors, and they remember us." (248-49)

[36]   Certainly that is a passage that contains the Spirit of Elijah and will form "powerful vicarious memories" for all who have ears to hear.

[37]   The decision to go ahead with the Columbus project--and the force that convinces all people on the earth to vote for it--comes when scientists realize that the healing of the earth they are engaged in cannot succeed, and here Card, echoing his mentor, Hugh Nibley, radically challenges our politically conservative Mormon antienvironmentalism by letting a future scientist describe the world we seem hell-bent on producing:

[38]  "Already we're taking people out of the factories and putting them into the fields. But this won't really help, because we're already farming very close to one hundred percent of the land where there's any topsoil left at all. And since we've been farming at maximum yields for some time, we're already noticing the effects of the increasing cloud cover--fewer crops per hectare. . . .

[39]   "The ocean has its own problems. . . . We harvest as much fish as we dare. . . . Any more, and in ten years our yields will be a tiny fraction of what they are now. Don't you see? The damage our ancestors did was too great. It is not within our power to stop the forces that have already been in motion for centuries." (237-38)

[40]   In a famous essay collected in Approaching Zion, "But What Kind of Work?," a follow-up to his even more famous, "Work We Must, but the Lunch Is Free," Nibley paraphrased President Kimball's denunciation of Mormons for "(1) contempt for the environment, (2) the quest for affluence, and (3) the trust in deadly weapons" (255). Nibley then went on to claim and demonstrate that in these three "vices, Utah leads the nation." Almost as if he had used Nibley for a text for Pastwatch, Card shows how Columbus, serving as what Tagiri could see was "a fulcrum of history," could be redirected in a way that would greatly reduce all three vices of antienvironmentalism, materialism, and militarism--and Card radically challenges his Mormon readers, as well as others, to reconsider the path we have been continuing on from Columbus and whether we might change it.

[41]   To increase chances of success through triple redundancy, Diko and two companions make the journey, but this provides Card a way as well to create additional powerful emblems of the redemptive process as one which requires that we see, with Nephi, that "all are alike unto God" (2 Ne. 26:33). Diko, a tall black woman, goes to the Caribs her mother had first seen praying to their future watchers and prepares them to receive Columbus and his Christianity--and also to teach him a higher form of ethical Christianity when his ships are lost and he and his most receptive men are left alive but marooned there. The ships are destroyed by Kemal, a devout Muslim who quite enjoys thwarting the Christian Spaniards, who that very year under Ferdinand and Isabella had expelled his people from Spain. But he also reveals himself to the Spaniards and gives his life in a clever maneuver that sews the seeds of distrust in Columbus's crew in a way that gets Columbus separated from them and into the healing hands of Diko.

[42]   The third intervener is Hanahpu, a descendant of the Mayans, who has used Pastwatch to study his ancestors and neighboring civilizations and developed a remarkable theory about how they were weakened by human sacrifice and lack of metallurgy--and with very little change might have been more than a match for the Europeans. He returns ahead of Diko and Kemal in order to start the creation of that alternate future (or "past," depending on your perspective). He appears as a God, cows the crucial group with his transported technology, teaches them the advantages of renouncing slavery and sacrifice in exchange for the metal-making skills he gives them--and the ways of bloodless conquest through alliances he teaches them. He also, like an appearing Christ-figure in America (another little in-joke for Mormons), teaches them a form of Christianity that is easily assimilated to the modified form Diko helps Columbus and his crew create as they teach it to the Caribs. So when the Mainland powers learn to build ships and spread out to form alliances with the Caribs and Spaniards, they can unite into an increasingly powerful and united group that, near the end of Columbus's life, ventures across the Atlantic to peacefully invade Europe and set the course for the alternate, peaceful and non-exploitive, development of the whole world that Tagiri had dreamed.

[43]   Card shows off his intellectual prowess a bit with the Kemal and Hunahpu figures. Kemal had developed and proven some remarkable ideas about the sources of the Noah's flood and Atlantis stories that Card, on the basis of his reading and imagination, makes quite convincing. And Hunahpu's ideas about the ancient American civilizations and alternative directions they might have taken are developed from some very serious recent academic work that Card has educated himself about and that he surveys in his bibliography. But he is, in Pastwatch, principally the delightful storyteller and radical Christian I most love and appreciate. He represents Hunahpu first appearing to a carefully selected raiding party of Zapotecs, and in an hilarious, gripping scene, involving everything from using his knowledge of their personal pasts to an apparently very authentic mutilation, with lots of blood, of a part of his body unmentionable here. I assume this scene is based on Card's research, unless it's another of his jokes. Anyway, Hunahpu both convinces the Zapotecs he is a recognizable god they should follow and begins to change their culture in radical ways by invoking a higher god he calls "the King of Xibalba":

[44]   "As you see me shed my blood here, so the King of Xibalba has already shed his blood for the lords of Xibalba. They will drink, and never thirst again. In that day will men cease to die to feed their god. Instead they will die in the water and rise up reborn, and then eat the flesh and drink the blood of the King of Xibalba. . . . [He] died in a faraway kingdom, and yet he lives again. . . .

[45]   He looked around at them, at the awe on their faces. Of course they were hardly taking this in, but Hunahpu had worked out with Diko and Kemal the doctrine he would teach to the Zapotecs. . . . It would prepare them for the coming of Columbus . . . to receive Christianity as something they had long expected. . . .

[46]   "You are wondering if I am the King of Xibalba," said Hunahpu, "but I am not. I am only the one who comes before, to announce his coming. I am not worthy to braid a feather into his hair."

[47]  Take that, Juan Batista. (285-86)

[48]   That last line is, of course, not Hunahpu's as much as Scott's own characteristic brand of humor. Card's characteristic radical obsessions about the ethical nature of Christianity also come through strongly in these scenes of teaching redemptive truth to the Zapotecs and Caribs. When Hunahpu is led to the war party's village he begins making radical changes right away, with silent asides so we can see clearly what Card wants us to see him doing:
[49]  "Where are the women of Atetulka? Come out of hiding, you and all your children. Come out and see me! Among men I would be a king, but I am only the humblest servant of the King of Xibalba. Come out and see me!" Let's lay the groundwork of somewhat more egalitarian treatment of women now, at the beginning. "Stand with your families, all of you!" (287)
[50]   Then, based on his knowledge of their potential from his watching them, he calls forth the couple who will lead his revolution, first the woman:
[51]  "Speak loudly!" Hunahpu commanded. . . . "The voice of a woman can be heard as loud as the voice of a man, in the Kingdom of Xibalba-on-Earth."

[52]   That's about all we can do for egalitarianism right now, Hunahpu said silently, but it should be revolutionary enough as the story spreads. (288)

[53]   Then he calls out a slave girl and frees and honors her:
[54]  "Where is Xoc? Yes, I mean the slavegirl, the ugly girl you captured and no one would marry her!"

[55]   She was thrust forward, a filthy thirteen-year-old with a harelip . . .

[56]   "Today you are a free citizen of the Kingdom of Xibalba-on-Earth, Xoc. You belong to no man or woman, for no man or woman belongs to any other. The King of Xibalba commands it! There are no captives, no slaves, no servants-for-life in the Kingdom of Xibalba-on-Earth!" (290)

[57]   And then he adds, silently, "For you, Tagri."

[58]   The scenes where Columbus is literally redeemed, that is, where he learns to be a true Christian and accept his new role in the Columbus project, is even more revealing of Card's radicalism--and his own redemption from anything like a narrow Manicheism. Card is unsparing in letting Diko speak, from her knowledge of Columbus's other future, of how he had been the greedy, unthinking exploiter that both his own priest and biographer, Father Bartholome de Las Casas, and his modern debunkers have seen:

[59]   In the prior history it never crossed Cristoforo's mind that he didn't have the right to go straight to any gold mine he might find on Haiti and take possession of it.

[60]   [Diko] remembered what Cristoforo wrote in his log when Guacanagari's people [the Haitians] worked long and hard to help him load all his equipment and supplies off the wrecked Santa Maria: "They love their neighbor as themselves." He was capable of thinking of them as having exemplary Christian virtues--and then turn right around and assume that he had the right to take from them anything they owned. Gold mines, food, even their freedom and their lives--he was incapable of thinking of them as having rights. After all, they were strangers. Dark of skin. Unable to speak any recognizable language. And therefore not people. . . .

[61]   What am I expecting of Cristoforo, really? Diko wondered. I am asking him to learn a degree of empathy for other races that would not become a serious force in human life until nearly five hundred years after his great voyage, and did not prevail worldwide until many bloody wars and famines and plagues after that. I am asking him to rise out of his own time and become something new. (319-20)

[62]   But that is exactly what Card is able to make us believe Columbus was capable of doing. When they first meet, Diko gets Columbus's attention and forms an unforgettable presence in his mind by telling him of his vision on the beach--which he had never told anyone--and then begins to teach him:
[63]   "You are not yet fit to teach these people Christianity, Cristoforo, because you are not yet a Christian."

[64]   He reached back his hand to strike at her. It surprised her, because he was not a violent man.

[65]   "Oh, will hitting me prove how Christian you are? . . .

[66]   "I didn't hit you," he said.

[67]   "But it was your first desire, wasn't it?" she said. "Why? . . . . Because to you I'm not a human being, I'm a dog, less than a dog, because you would not beat a dog, would you? Just like the Portuguese, when you see a black woman you see a slave. And these brown people--you can teach them the gospel of Christ and baptize them, but that doesn't stop you from wanting to make slaves of them and steal their gold from them." (337)

[68]   Diko gets a sense of the force of this man, a man that Card clearly has respect for, based both on his research and his conviction, from the Book of Mormon account, that this is a man the Lord could use for his purposes:
[69]   . . . She sat on her sleeping mat and trembled. Wasn't this exactly what she had planned? To make Cristoforo angry but plant the seeds of transformation in his mind? Yet in all her imagining of this encounter, she had never counted on how powerful Cristoforo was in person. She had watched him, had seen the power he had over people, but he had never looked her in the eye until this day. And it left her as distrubed as any of the Europeans who had confronted him. It gave her new respect for those who resisted him, and new understanding of those who bent completely to his will. Not even Tagiri had so much fire burning behind her eyes as this man had. No wonder the Interveners chose him as their tool. Come what may, Cristoforo would prevail, given time enough. (339-40)
[70]   Though this time Columbus gets angry enough to leave, later, when Kemal has destroyed his ships and lighted the sparks of a mutiny that will eventually drive Columbus back to Diko where he can begin really to learn, he reflects on what she had begun to teach him:
[71]  . . . Until I spoke with her, I didn't question the right of white men to give commands to brown ones. Only since she poisoned my mind with her strange interpretation of Christianity did I start seeing the way the Indians quietly resist being treated like slaves. I would have thought of them the way Pinz***n does, as worthless, lazy savages. But now I see that they are quiet, gentle, unwilling to provoke a quarrel. They endure a beating quietly--but then don't return to be beaten again. Except that even some who have been beaten still return to help, of their own free will, avoiding the cruelest of the Spaniards but still helping the others as much as they can. Isn't this what Christ meant when he said to turn the other cheek? If a man compels you to walk a mile with him, then walk the second mile by your own choice--wasn't that Christianity? So who were the Christians? The baptized Spaniards, or the unbaptized Indians? . . . . Was it possible that God had brought him here, not to bring enlightenment to the heathen, but to learn it from them? (355-56)
[72]   This is a remarkable, concrete realization of a radical idea from the Book of Mormon that Card understands well. As members of an aggressively proselytizing church, we Mormons must face the fact that Christ's charge to take his Gospel to the world has inspired in some Christians a missionary zeal that has been destructive to the cultures and even to the lives of nonChristian peoples. The widespread and thorough discussion, during the 1992 "quincentennary," of the nature and consequences of Columbus' "discovery" of America, raised important questions that we must face as we confront throughout the world very similar challenges to those that the voyage of Columbus brought to the Catholic Church: What is the spiritual status of people, especially of other races, who have long "dwelt in darkness," and what is our responsibility to them and ourselves as we intrude upon them with the version of the Gospel of Christ developed in our own narrow culture?

[73]   The Catholic answer was, of course, mixed and in many ways a failure, but Catholic thinkers like Karl Rahner have tried to describe the increase in understanding for all of us--the new paradigms made possible--from the mistakes made and new perspectives gained from the crucial historical experience of proselyting Christian cultures colliding with very different cultures. For instance, Rahner has articulated a way of understanding, given God's universal love and power, how Christ's grace must have been operating in non-Christian peoples all along: Christianity cannot "simply confront the member of an extra-Christian religion as a mere non-Christian but as someone who can and must already be regarded in this or that respect as an anonymous Christian. It would be wrong to regard the pagan as someone who has not yet been touched in any way by God's grace and truth" (Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions, p. 131). This is, of course, precisely what Card represents Columbus, at the heart of his redemption, coming to underestand.

[74]   The Book of Mormon has given us a crucial additional concept to help us improve on the Catholic experience, as we face our own transition into a world church. We have always been taught very clearly that God did not first reveal Christ's identity and saving Gospel at the meridian of time but has done so again and again from the very beginning, in dispensation after dispensation and in all parts of the world. Indeed the Book of Mormon Preface declares that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations" (my emphasis). And early in the book we learn at least one of the ways Christ so manifests himself. The Lord asks Nephi,

[75]  "Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth. . . . I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it . . . and the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Isreal . . . and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it." (2 Ne. 29:7)
[76]   I can only understand those passages as giving even more concrete meaning to Karl Rahner's claim that Christ's grace has already come to all peoples on the earth. It seems to say that every nation has been given, directly, in their own tongues, some manifestation of Christ through the word of God and then goes on to promise that "the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews" and both will have the words of the lost tribes and vice versa--which seems to mean that God's intent is that all his children will be able, if we try, to share the words given by God to all other peoples. This means to me that we are to look in every nation for those scriptures: In India, is it the Hindu Baghavad Gita; in China, the Tao Te Ching; among the Ogalalla Sioux, Black Elk Speaks. In Russia is it Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, in England, Shakespeare and Milton? And what about Samoa and Switzerland? I don't know, but I feel called by that revelation to Nephi to search with an open mind and heart.

[77]   Part of our mission, it seems to me, is to identify and then learn from the scriptures that God says have been given "unto all nations." We are called to learn how to delight in the diversity of revelations and other manifestations of his grace that God has given his children everywhere and to honor and learn from those he has inspired to minister to and teach those children. On February 15, 1978, the First Presidency under Spencer W. Kimball officially declared:

[78]   The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

[79]   The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believed in the gospel. Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.

[80]   I delight in that call to appreciate God's respect for diversity--even while struggling with its challenges and often failing. Pastwatch has been a great help to me, and I am grateful to you, Scott. In this be all your sins forgiven.

[81]   Of course, there is a huge theological problem for Mormons if we take the book too literally. We believe that each person has an eternal and indestructible intelligence, so alternate futures or pasts, which erase the literal existences of billions of children of God, even while preserving their stories, seems impossible. But, of course, Pastwatch is not about some literal future or past but about our own present, where slavery, racism, sexism, subjugation, war, environmental degradation, and greed still abound. Inspired by the Interveners, especially their Christ-like, that is, sacrifical and impartial, love, we can choose a different present and future.