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literature

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Gender, Fear, and Politic: “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

lhd-ursulakleguin

The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling… (1)

The Left Hand of Darkness has come to be considered one of the greatest works of science fiction. The book portrays the efforts of an ethnologist, Genly Ai, makes to try to unite the people of the planet of Winter with the Ekumen of Known Worlds. What happens in his efforts  will be explored thematically in what follows. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gender

Le Guin has come to be known as a major innovator in science fiction by putting forth feminist ideas in the form of novels. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter is populated by humans who have genetically been modified to be essentially genderless. But it goes beyond that, because in each monthly cycle, people become either male or female during a time of fertility, and then become effectively “neuter” again.

The novel is oriented around questions of how this may affect perceptions of gender. It is largely narrated from the perspective of Genly, who himself has many assumptions about what men and women are like from his own gendered society. In reading Genly’s thoughts, the reader is exposed to notions of duality. At one point, Genly attempts to explain what a woman looks like and who a woman is in his own society to one of the inhabitants of Winter:

I suppose the most important thing… is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners–almost everything… (252-253).

Ultimately, Genly admits defeat in attempting to explain what women are like. He says they are “more alien” to him than the aliens of Winter (253). But Genly, in his own mind, has much to think about women. He often thinks of women as submissive, foolish, and perhaps a little weak. They are tied down through childrearing while men are to be dominant in society. Genly’s own thoughts on the topic serve as a foil for the reader’s thoughts about gender. By placing the reader in Genly’s mind, and seeing the absurdity of his views of gender lined up against an effectively genderless (or potentially gendered?) society, one is forced to consider one’s own views of gender and the power structures which may accompany it.

Jarringly, the inhabitants of Winter are always referred to with male pronouns. The reason is explained at one point as having to assign the Gethenians (those inhabitants) some pronoun to use. But the fact is that the Gethenians may be both the mother of some children and the father of others due to the way their procreative cycle works. One is forced to wonder at the wisdom of using the male pronoun for such persons.

The implications of a sexless society (or again, potentially sexed?) are used as a way to view our own society. We are told to “Consider” various aspects of how reality might change if gender were not viewed as a way to predetermine power structures:

Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything… Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. (100)

We’ll consider the implications of this below, but for now it is merely important to see the dialogue happening within the story. What are your views of gender? How do they impact your view of the “other”?

Fear and Politic

Gender may be seen as one way of viewing the “Other,” but fear is a powerful tool, and it applies to any duality or disjunct which allows one to see strict delineation between self and other. In a discussion with one of the inhabitants of Winter on politics, Genly is asked if he knows what it is to be a patriot:

[Genly responded] “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean love of one’s homeland…”

[The Gethenian replied] “No, I don’t mean love… I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year.” (20)

Once again we see the recurring theme that the “Other” is to be feared and fought against. Whether that “Other” is a gendered other or an alien or simply someone from a different country, The Left Hand of Darkness forces readers to consider their own fears. How might one’s own feelings about the “Other”s in their own society shape their interactions with them?

Truth

The line quoted at the beginning of this post is echoed throughout the book: truth is what we make of it. We may choose a reality. But Le Guin’s portrayal of truth goes beyond relativism. Instead, truth matters in the telling. “Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive” (1). Thus, lies may come across as true or believable due to how they’re told, and they may “become true.” Of course, this means not that reality itself changes, but rather that one’s interaction with truth or falsehood may itself determine one’s belief in either one.

Reflection

The Left Hand of Darkness is steeped in critical theory. Le Guin’s discussion of gender is perhaps the most obvious point of this: readers are forced to consider their own ways of thinking about male/female dichotomy through the eyes of a man who is struggling to force his categories onto beings which do not neatly fit into either bucket. Some may immediately critique Le Guin and suggest she is trying to blur gender lines and do away with any distinction between man and woman. That may well be what she was doing (I don’t know), but that should not prevent readers from acknowledging they have their own biases about what genders are or how male/female should act (or not?). The novel forces introspection and reflection.

Similarly, how does one’s view of the “Other”–whether made other by gender, country, kin, or belief–get shaped by one’s own presuppositions about what that “Other” should be? Here are dynamics of power, politic, and fear.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a highly reflective novel. By integrating literary criticism and critical theory into her fiction, Le Guin forces readers to examine their own views. Whether one agrees with the various aspects of feminist thought Le Guin includes in the work, one will consider these aspects with new light through the reading of the novel.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 2010). Originally published by Ace in 1969.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “The New Atheist Novel” by Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate

tnaa-bradley-tateThere are moments in which you pick up a book and are delivered into a completely unexpected and fresh-feeling experience. The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11 was one such experience for me. Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate take readers on a journey through the literature of four modern authors who, they argue, are representative of a new form of novel: the “New Atheist Novel.” This novel is a kind of counter-mythology which invents the transcendent within an atheistic universe. Bradley and Tate analyze the work of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, and Salman Rushdie. The authors show how some have shifted their polemic after 9/11 to viewing religion as a kind of one-size-fits all mentality that has no distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Bradley and Tate apply critical theory to the works of fiction presented in this book in incisive fashion. They draw out themes of the authors analyzed in order to show how often they are just as guilty of irrationality as those against whom they pontificate through the voices in their novels. 

Ian McEwan’s fiction, they argue, shows a distinctly New Atheist bent. He sees religious persons as ultimately violent and anti-intellectual. Interstingly, McEewan’s vision of transcendence develops through music and the written word. His post 9/11 writings show a more distinctly anti-Islamist bent, which sees religion as a failure of the imagination. However, Tate and Bradley argue that McEwan’s imagination is itself failing in its capacity to see the radical Muslim act of terror as inherently symbolic and transcendent itself.

This kind of analysis proceeds across the authors analyzed, from Martin Amis’ cliché-filled war against cliché to Salmun Rushdie’s more even-handed but nevertheless anti-theistic vision of the “Quarrels over God.” The analysis of Philip Pullman’s work is perhaps the highest point of the work, as it shows how even in disagreement, one might learn from the “New Atheist Novel.” Pullman’s work shows the myth of the death of God as a kind of human transcendence and freedom from restraint. This vision may be seen as a sometimes on target critique of religion which sometimes becomes authoritarian and too bent towards heresy-hunting. Tate and Bradley ultimately see Pullman’s fiction as a kind of neo-heresy which is attempting to purify religion of its alleged bent towards fundamentalism and too-small vision of deity.  

The book’s usefulness goes beyond simple critique. Instead, it gives readers a chance to interact with all literature in a critical fashion. Moreover, Bradley and Tate are not entirely unsympathetic to the “New Atheist Novel” and show how it may help to inform future discussions. The critical interaction is not merely critical but also constructive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the book is that its thesis doesn’t seem to carry throughout. The “New Atheist Novel” makes its debut with McEwan, but by the time the author’s reach Rushdie’s slightly more amiable vision of religions in conflict, it seems to lack cohesion as a concept. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the “New Atheist Novel” is more of an “Anti- (or Alter-) Theistic Novel” which encompasses not mere anger against religion but rather a critical and sometimes polemical and mistaken vision of the “religious other.” Thus, it seems in the end the “New Atheist Novel” namenclature might not be inaccurate after all, but I tend to think–and the authors reinforce this–of the “New Atheism” along specifically Dawkinsian lines of thought, and Rushdie and Pullman’s works did not seem to fit this usage of the term. A minor gripe, but one worth noting.

This is a book well worth reading and referencing. Don’t be deceived by its length (111 pages of text); it truly has an enormous amount of useful information and discussion. I took a monstrous amount of notes on this book given its length. It will get you thinking, whatever your own view. I recommend it without reservation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology– I share a quote from The New Atheist Novel which discusses the notion that there is a mythology growing up around atheism.

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe” by Harry Lee Poe

eeapmu-poeEdgar Allan Poe. His name immediately calls to mind images: a black raven haunting one’s thought, the beating of a heart driving one mad, gruesome, macabre deaths. It also brings to mind thoughts on the man himself: twisted, slightly mad, alcoholic, broken.

Are these images of the man’s work and life accurate? Harry Lee Poe (a cousin of Poe’s) argues that they are not. Instead, this kind of imagery is a result of both the popularization and the character assassination of one of the great American literary giants.

Harry Lee Poe’s work, Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe is a fascinating journey into the mind, times, and works of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Myth of Edgar Allan Poe

It is interesting to note that from the time he died, Edgar Allan Poe’s person was the target of a character assassination which would give rise to the popular portrayal of him as a dark, haunted drunkard. Rufus Griswold, a man who portrayed himself as a minister despite having never been ordained, published a work which has remained in the popular consciousness through the present day. In it, he falsified information about Poe and heavily edited a number of letters from the author in order to portray him as the dark, fearsome man he is often imagined even today. Harry Lee Poe exposes this mythos by noting the work of Arthur Hobson Quinn, who in 1942 published the letters Poe wrote alongside the altered letters Griswold used to make the image he created.

Thankfully, Edgar Allan Poe’s (hereafter EAP) image has been recovering in scholarship, but the damage at a popular level continues to be seemingly ubiquitous. The image of Poe as a brooding man matches what people wish to see when they read his works of horror and thrills. However, Harry Lee Poe (hereafter HLP) notes that there is much more to EAP’s body of work than is often known.

The Broader Poe

EAP’s body of work had its share of horror and mystery, but it also featured humor and satire, science fiction, and beauty. Remarkably, EAP contributed to the formation and even creation of entire genres which are extremely popular today. His science fiction was, at the time, known as “hoaxes” because no actual genre existed in order to encompass them. He also wrote the first detective mystery works to be known in literature. He was innovative and unique in his contributions to literature. He truly stands easily among the literary giants of all time.

The distribution of his works is also worth noting. EAP intentionally wrote in a number of different ways about a number of different things. HLP documents his major tales, numbering each under headings of genre. The results are surprising: EAP wrote more humor and satire than he did horror. Yet he is largely known today only for the latter (24-27). It is worth looking at Poe’s entire body of work in order to understand the man.

Mystery and Reality

One of the central parts of Poe’s work involves the writing of mystery stories. As has been noted, EAP was the first to write in the specific genre of detective mystery stories. EAP’s use of the mystery story shows that he assumed the problem of evil as a very real difficulty. However, the concept of a detective mystery story, in which the reader, through the characters, seeks to solve the mystery and find the one who committed the crime. In short, there is a broader concept of justice involved in a mystery story. Unless there is justice in the universe, the problem of evil cannot present a difficulty for one’s worldview, for evil could just be a given.

EAP, who had written horror stories already, moved the blood and gore from the climax of the story (horror) to the beginning (mystery). The rest of the story would not be about the blood and gore, but about righting a wrong: “injustice cannot be allowed to continue… the sense of justice assumes the basica rationality and order of the universe so that Truth may be discovered. The reader wants to know the truth” (115).

Beauty and Love

The concept of beauty was central to EAP’s work. He used the concept to evoke a particular feeling related to the injustice of crime, but he also saw beauty as a way to point beyond the mundane. “Beauty constituted to Poe evidence that human experience is not bound by time but belongs to eternity” (83).

The different varieties of love are exemplified throughout Poe’s works. Affection, friendship, and passion are developed by HLP to explain EAP’s concepts of how these related to the world at large. Each of these concepts could be forces for the positive or for ill. Affection, friendship, and passion could each become corrupted, and each would lead to devastating results if one allowed this to happen (86ff). Love provided a difficulty for EAP, for he saw that it may tell us about something beyond the world: it may inform us about God. But if it could be perverted, does that suggest an outside source from which love sprang, which we corrupted (107-108).

Eureka

Perhaps the most interesting portion of Evermore is the discussion of EAP’s own views as he expounded them in his work, Eureka. In this work, Poe examined the mystery of the universe. He held that the universe had a beginning and was actually expanding. He argued that light and electricity belonged “to the same continuum.” His view was close to the modern theory of the Big Bang. Yet EAP thought of this around a century before the latter came into vogue. Because the universe began, “Poe concluded that a God exists who created the universe for his pleasure. Love and Beauty provide a glimpse of God… Pain, suffering, evil, and death are the contingencies of physical existence that are left behind” (55). EAP saw the universe as a grand story, which was “the plot of God” (ibid).

The reasoning behind EAP’s amazingly prophetic vision of cosmology was found in his own observations. He noted the difficulties presented by the notion of an infinite universe, including the fact that the night sky had places where there were no stars to be seen (known as “Olber’s Paradox”).

In Eureka, EAP postulated a deity. It seemed intuitively obvious to him that if the universe began to exist, God must exist. Given that his own observational evidence led him to the conclusion that the universe began, he concluded that God exists. Moreover, he posited that this deity would have to design the universe and guide its expansion from a primordial particle (152). However, this deity was essentially pantheistic, which was his solution to the problem of evil. Each individual person would become Spirit individualized. God would become all-in-all, thus bringing holiness to all.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Beliefs?

HLP argues that EAP may indeed have become an orthodox believer late in life. Having already come to the conclusion that God exists and that the universe had a beginning (itself something EAP noted matched remarkably with the Biblical account), Poe would come forward at a Sons of Temperance meeting. HLP notes that such a move cannot be abstracted purely as coming out against alcoholism (something EAP struggled with himself). Instead, the group was explicitly evangelical in nature. Coming forward would be similar to someone today coming forward at a Billy Graham meeting (166). Those interested in Poe’s beliefs must therefore come to one of two conclusions: either he was “the charlatan and scoundrel that Griswold said he was” or “he had a conversion experience.” The Sons of Temperance taught explicitly evangelical Christianity, which would suggest that if EAP was genuine, he had come to accept a more evangelical, orthodox faith before he died.

Conclusion

Few works have intrigued me as much as Evermore has. Edgar Allan Poe has been a favorite of mine for some time, but I admit that I had bought into the stereotypical picture of the man as much as anyone else. Having only really read his horror and some poems, I have not had a complete vision of his actual body of work. Harry Lee Poe does an exemplary job of showing how EAP explicitly viewed his works as a growing body of interconnected themes, seeking to find the mysteries of the universe.

Edgar Allan Poe was a visionary. He was a great American author whose writings paved the way for hundreds of years to come. He was also well ahead of the science of his day, and similarly had already deduced the theological conclusions well before others had attempted to do so. Harry Lee Poe has presented a convincing, thorough look at EAP’s entire body of work. Having done so, he makes the man even more interesting than the myth. Edgar Allan Poe’s explorations of the mysteries of the universe leaves me profoundly interested in the man and his body of work. I highly recommend Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe to you.

Source

Harry Lee Poe, Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber

I love science fiction. One of the main reasons is because it provides a medium for authors to share their philosophical outlook for the world. Some authors portray their vision of what the world would like like if…. and what fills in that “if” is that which the author would like readers to be wary of our condemn. For example, distopian fiction often takes some aspect of society and shows how if we allow it to run rampant, we will create a world wherein we would not want to dwell. Other authors use science fiction to portray an ideal (or nearly ideal) society and show how the things they are promoting or believe fit into that ideal society.

Ben Bova and David Weber are two of my favorite science fiction authors. Bova blends hard science fiction (sci-fi which is largely focuses upon the applications of science that is at least seemingly possible) with great storytelling. His “Grand Tour” series of books is the story of humanity spreading across our solar system and even finding life on mars and founding a colony on the moon. David Weber writes military science fiction on an epic scale, complete with amazing battles in space (and who doesn’t like some big explosions in space?). I was fascinated to see both authors interact with Christianity, particularly on a fundamentalist level, and see how they took that discussion.

David Weber

David Weber’s book, The Honor of the Queen portrays its main character, a woman named Honor Harrington, becoming involved in a wartime crisis between two nations which are complementarian in nature. Complementarianism is the belief that women should not be ordained in the church and it is a very real and somewhat pervasive view within the Christian church today. I have discussed it and the rival view that women should be ordained/treated as equals (egalitarianism) at length elsewhere [scroll down to see other posts].

What really struck me is that David Weber fairly presented firm believers as a spectrum. He showed that believers can be reasoned with and even persuaded to believe differently based upon evidence. Furthermore, he showed that even those who may line up on the side with which he disagrees [presumably–I don’t know where he stands on the issue] are not all (or even mostly) blinded by faith or foolishness. Rather, although there are some truly evil and disillusioned people, Weber shows that many are capable of changing their position or at least acknowledging that rival views are worth consideration.

The most vivid portrayal of this theme is found in a conversation between Admiral Courvosier and Admiral Yakanov. Courvosier is from the same nation as Honor Harrington and wholly endorses his female officer in a position of command. They discuss Captain Honor Harrington:

[Yanakov responds to Courvosier’s question about his society’s reaction to Honor]: “If Captain Harrington is as outstanding an officer as you believe–asbelieve–she invalidates all our concepts of womanhood. She means we’re wrong, that our religion is wrong. She means we’ve spent nine centuries being wrong… I think we can admit our error, in time. Not easily… but I believe we can do it.”

“Yet if we do[” Yanakov continues, “]what happens to Grayson [their world]? You’ve met two of my wives. I love all three of them dearly… but your Captain Harrington, just by existing, tells me I’ve made them less than they could have been… Less capable of her independence, her ability to accept responsibility and risk… How do I know where my doubts over their capability stop being genuine love and concern?”

The exchange is characteristic of the way Grayson’s people are treated throughout the book. They are real people, capable of interacting with other views in honest ways. They feel challenged by a view contrary to their own. Some react poorly, and there are extremists who are blinded by hatred and anger. Yet all of them are treated as people with real concerns shaped by their upbringing and backgrounds.

Honor Harrington ends up saving Grayson, and at the end of the book, she is commended by the rulers of that planet. She talks to the “Protector” [read: king/president]:

“You see,” [said the Protector] “we need you.”

Need me, Sir?” [Responded Honor]

“Yes, Grayson faces tremendous changes… You’ll be the first woman in our history to hold land… and we need you as a model–and a challenge–as we bring our women fully into our society.”

Weber thus allows for even ardent supporters of specific religious backgrounds to respond to reasoned argument and to change. They are capable of interacting on a human level and deserve every bit of respect as those who disagree with them. Again, there are those who are radicals and will not be reasoned with, but they are the minority and they do not win out.

Weber therefore presents religious dialogue in The Honor of the Queen as a genuine interaction between real people from differing backgrounds. Those who are “fundamentalist” are capable of changing their views when challenged with a rival view which out-reasons their own. Religious dialogue is possible and fruitful.

Ben Bova

Ben Bova’s whole “Grand Tour” series has a number of dealings with “fundamentalists.” He never really defines the term to be specifically Christian but one can tell when reading the books that it is pretty clear he is referencing hardcore fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.

I recently finished reading Mars Life, one of the latest in the series. The book focuses upon the continued research following the discovery that there was once once intelligent life on earth. There are major forces that are slowing down the exploration of Mars in the book. First, Earth is dealing with a number of major problems from global warming. There is flooding that has almost submerged Florida and other areas of the Midwest (in the U.S.) and the rest of the world is suffering even worse. Thus, people are wary of giving money to research on Mars when there is so much to do more locally. The primary impediment to Mars exploration, however, are the “fundamentalists” (again, an ill-defined term which seems to include some version of Christianity, given that they reference the Bible) who are actively working to cut off funding because they perceive the discovery of life on Mars as a direct threat to fundamental beliefs like anti-evolutionism and the like.

Bova’s treatment of extremist positions in religion is somewhat disingenuous in my opinion, particularly when one compares his portrayal with that of Weber. Bova tends to illustrate religious fundamentalists as a black and white issue. Basically, if you are a hardcore believer, you’re in it for power and control, you are willing to incite violence to achieve your ends, and you are incapable of reasoning. Again, note the contrasts with Weber’s depiction above. A few examples will help to draw this out.

On page 142 and following there is a discussion about putting together a panel to discuss the finding of a fossil on Mars. The interaction shows that no matter what, fundamentalists cannot accept scientific findings:

“Look,” said the bureau chief… “everybody’s calling it a fossil…. …”Call it an alleged fossil, then,” insisted the consultant (from the fundamentalists)… [The group then continues to suggest terms for the fossil:] “A probable fossil?” …”A possible fossil”… [Then, finally] “Say that the scientists believe it’s a fossil and until proven otherwise that’s what we’re going to call it.”

Here one can see that fundamentalism is intrinsically tied to an anti-science mentality. The key for them is to use words which deny absolutes, essentially skirting issues rather than discussing the truth. But that’s not all there is to it. Later on, one of the fundamentalists is engaged in a discussion about “requesting” that some lyrics in music they view as morally reprehensible be changed. The musician flat out refuses, angering the fundamentalist in the process. The section closes as follows:

[The musician] was shot to death at a Dog Dirt concert three months later. His killer surrendered easily to the police, smilingly explaining that he was doing God’s work.

What is interesting about this example is that it is illustrative of a number of such examples throughout the book. These are completely unrelated to the main plot. Rather, it seems what Bova is doing is very explicitly showing that fundamentalists are unafraid to use immoral tactics, censoring, and even incite violence in order to get their way. Theirs is an unquestioned and unquestionable faith. Those in power in fundamentalism are inherently evil and devious. They only want to control. Again, these asides are in no way tied to the plot of the book. It’s almost as though Bova is preaching a different worldview, one which views religiosity as inherently dangerous and violent, with few exceptions.

There is one positive example, however. A Roman Catholic, Monsignor Fulvio DiNardo, who is also a world-renowned geologist decides he wants to go to Mars to find the answer to a question about faith which is pressing on him. Namely, why God would exterminate an entire intelligent species. His thread in the story seems to show two things: first, that fundamentalism is inherently incapable of responding to reason; second, that it is possible to have reasoned faith and science together. The second point is illustrated very well when DiNardo is finally on Mars. He suffers from a likely stroke and is dying and begins a dialog with God:

Why did you kill them, Lord? They were intelligent. They must have worshipped You in some form or other. Why kill them? How could you–

And then DiNardo understood. Like a calming wave of love and peace, comprehension flowed through his soul at last… God had taken the Martians to Him! Of course. It was so simple, so pure. I should have seen it earlier. I should have known. My faith should have revealed the truth to me.

The good Lord took the Martians to Him. He ended their trial of tears in this world and brought them to eternal paradise. They must have fulfilled their mission. They must have shown their Creator the love and faith that He demands from us all. So He gave them their eternal reward…

The light was getting so bright… Glaring. Brilliant… Like staring into the sun. Like looking upon the face of… (297-298)

So Bova does offer a counterbalance to fundamentalism, and I appreciate that portrayal. Although DiNardo’s death and his revelation receives very little further comment (and no further comment at all on the revelation), it seems as though it is positively portrayed.

A reason for criticism is that Bova is uncompromising with fundamentalists. I’ve already drawn out his portrayal of them, and it seems to me to be a bit disingenuous. Although there are plenty on the “religious right” who would be all too happy to be able to legislate all morality, control the media, and deny well-attested scientific findings, I have hardly found that to be the majority. And certainly, fundamentalism is not a homogeneous entity filled with people who are trying to control everyone else. I’ll grant that this is a work of fiction, but in light of how Weber was able to handle a fairly similar issue with respectful portrayals of the ‘other side,’ I had hoped for more from Bova, whose work I enjoy greatly. For Bova, it seems, religious dialogue is not a real possibility, with few exceptions. Fundamentalists are incapable of reasoning and are barely even convinced believers; rather they are using their positions of authority within their organizations to consolidate power and execute their own prerogatives on their witless followers.

Fair Discussion

It seems pretty clear to me that David Weber provided a better model for utilizing science fiction in religious dialogue than Ben Bova did. The people representing the ‘bad guys’ in Weber’s book did have some who were truly evil and/or beyond reason, but also had many with whom reason resonated. When confronted with rival views, they were thoughtful and even receptive. On the other hand, the characters with whom Bova disagreed were a true black/white dichotomy with the “good guys.” Fundamentalists were bad. Period. He portrayed them as power-hungry, censor-happy maniacs. Although there was one notable exception (the Catholic priest, DiNardo), who showed a bright spot for “believers” at large, he was by far the exception.

It seems clear this study has applications for real-world dialogue about religion. When we interact with other worldviews, we should be capable of treating the other side with the same kind of dignity we would like to be treated. Although other worldviews may have their extremists who will not respond to reason, our attitude should be that of the humble friend trying to explore the beliefs of the “other.” The “other” is not that which must be demonized, but rather understood and with which to interact.

More Reading

I explore the theological implications of life on other planets.

I discuss a book which will change the way you think about about the notion that religion is violent. It also deals with the notion of the religious “other” as a construct.- William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence.

Sources

Ben Bova, Mars Life (New York: Tor, 2008).

David Weber, The Honor of the Queen (New York: Baen, 1993).

SDG.

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Really Recommended Posts 02/03/12

Says the Madman, “Humanity is Dead, and We Are Its Murderers”– An insightful post which argues that naturalism has undermined the worth and value of humans.

Zombies of Christianity– I really enjoyed this discussion of the diversity of doctrine in Christianity and how to approach it.

My latest post on abortion generated some controversy, but I’d like to point out that scientifically, the unborn simply is a human being. One can find this not only in numerous medical textbooks on embryology, but also in the words of abortions-rights advocates themselves. Check out this phenomenal post which outlines the fact that the unborn are human beings, period- Medical Testimony.

C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest Christian Apologists of all time. Check out this post which brings us Beyond Mere Christianity.  Interested in literary apologetics? Check out Holly Ordway’s guest post on my blog here.

A Response to the Problem of an ‘Evil God’ as Raised by Stephen Law.– An excellent article, which I don’t fully agree with (I think Edward Feser answers the challenge correctly, for example), but which provides a thorough critique of Law’s position.

The Artist: A Film Review and Reflection- Holly Ordway shares her thoughts on “The Artist.”

How Many Atheists in America? Fewer than You Might Think– Pretty self explanatory.

Guest Post: “The Vision of Literary Apologetics” by Holly Ordway

Why is apologetics, the defense of the Christian faith, important?

In one sense, Christianity needs no defense. God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, does not depend for His existence on our belief. However, many people who do not know the living God are separated from Him in part by intellectual obstacles. Removing those obstacles by showing that Christianity indeed makes sense on a rational level is an act of love and care for our neighbor. Defending the faith also builds up a strong foundation for believers. A securely built house has a solid, well-built foundation, so that the vagaries of wind and weather don’t damage it or cause distress to the inhabitants. It’s natural to have questions and doubts – think of the disciples, asking Jesus “increase our faith!” or the man who cries out “Lord, I believe: help my unbelief!” Apologetics helps strengthen the foundations by providing answers to questions and doubts, so that the Christian can grow stronger in his or her faith.

What about “literary apologetics”?

Literary apologetics is that mode of apologetics that functions through the use of the Imagination in stories, poetry, drama, and song. Imagination is a mode of knowing; it is the twin sister of Reason. Imagination that is not grounded in Reason can become what JRR Tolkien called “morbid fantasy,” unhealthy and unhelpful; conversely, Reason that is not supported by Imagination can become sterile, rigid, and unfruitful. Literature is particularly well suited to bring these two often-separated sisters together, so that Reason and Imagination can illuminate the path to truth.

Stories, poetry, and drama can help us to both comprehend the truth (with our intellect) and apprehend it (imaginatively and emotionally). As with rational argument, literature cannot in itself bring a person to know Christ, but it can open doors, challenge assumptions, and most importantly provide a glimpse of experienced truth. Stories invite readers to indeed “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Literature can best fulfill this role when the author is committed both to expressing the truth and to creating a good story. The best literary apologists – CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, GK Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and others, just to name those of the past century – did not set out to wrap a moral in a story, or explicitly to promote Christianity through their fiction writing. Rather, they believed fully and deeply, and sought to glorify God in all that they did – and so their stories show the truth, in deep and satisfying ways.

Today, we need a new generation of Christian writers who will do what those great writers did. We need well-informed, thinking Christians, who know their Scripture and theology, are committed to living out the Christian life in word and deed, and show forth that living truth in their work.

We need writers who will immerse themselves in the best writing of centuries past and learn from it, and be able to draw on that rich treasury of imagery to do new things.

We need writers who are willing and eager to view writing as a God-given calling, and to joyfully pursue the craft and art of it with dedication and hard work.

Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch! We have the works of Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, MacDonald, and others to study and learn from. Going further back, we have an absolute treasure chest of writers: Coleridge, Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Spenser, Dante, to name just a few.

We are not limited to the great writers of the past, however. We have people who even now are taking up the challenge of writing to draw people through the imagination to know Christ. In England, the poet and scholar Malcolm Guite (www.malcolmguite.com) is doing marvelous work with poetry. In my own blog, Hieropraxis (www.hieropraxis.com), I am attempting to cultivate an appreciation for literature and literary apologetics, as well as writing my own poetry.

To be an effective literary apologist means a commitment to the craft of writing, so that the great and glorious truth of our faith is presented to the world in the most beautiful, powerful, gripping, and transformative ways possible. It also means a commitment to community. Just as Lewis and Tolkien were part of the Inklings, commenting and critiquing each others’ work, so too the writers of today need the kind of community where “iron sharpens iron.”

In the Cultural Apologetics program that I head up at Houston Baptist University (link: hbu.edu/maa), we pay close attention to literature and the arts in the service of apologetics. In addition to myself as a ‘literary apologist,’ Dr. Michael Ward (author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis) is now on our full-time faculty for the MA in Apologetics, teaching on CS Lewis and Imaginative Apologetics and also on Literature and Apologetics. In addition to helping apologists learn how to use imaginative means to present apologetics arguments, we hope also to encourage Christian writers to do new creative work. The Thesis option for our MA can be either an academic thesis or a creative one.

I think we’re at the beginning of great things for literature in the service of God. My friends, let’s go further up and further in!

Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith (2010; 2nd ed. forthcoming, 2014, Ignatius Press). Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.

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