Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a Hugo Award-Winning science fiction novel that reads like a kind of modern Canterbury Tales. The theological depth and beauty of Simmons’s Hyperion is as profound as it is repelling. The stories told in the novel range from horrifying and vulgar to profound and deep. Each traveler has their own purpose for being on the journey, and Simmons draws readers in with these tales. Here, we’ll discuss one story that moved me deeply. There are, of course, SPOILERS in what follows.
Sacrifice and Sacrament
One story, in particular, sticks out for me. That is the story of the “cruciform” told by Lenar Hoyt, a Roman Catholic priest who tells the story of Paul Duré, a priest who was exiled to the planet Hyperion and researches a strange population there. As readers go on, they see through Duré’s eyes, that the people he’s researching are apparently immortal, and that they follow the way of the “cruciform.” This leads Duré to believe he has found something that will bring life to the Christian church at large–rock solid evidence that Christianity is true and that everyone should follow it.
But as the story goes on, we discover that the immortality of these people is something much more horrifying. The “cruciform” is really a kind of parasitic organism that sustains the host humans while draining their will to do anything other than serve it. The price of immortality is unconscionably high. Pain removes the cruciform creatures, but it manipulates the others into killing the host only to resurrect them from whatever is left so that it can continue living. Duré, unwittingly, had consigned himself to an endless existence serving the cruciform.
Duré, though, discovers a way out: he burns himself continually so that the cruciform will at last remove itself from his body. Hoyt finds him and is able to end his years of endless torment by removing the cruciform and allowing him to die at long last. The cruciform was a mockery of Christian salvation and resurrection hope, something Duré himself came to realize. His own death was a kind of sacred sacrament, a burning away of the evil of artificially discovered immortality that brought nothing but misery and a deliverance into the eternal life after.
Duré wrote, in one of the entries after he realized the abomination that was the cruciform:
If the church is meant to die, it must do so–but do so gloriously, in the full knowledge of its rebirth in Christ. It must go into the darkness not willingly but well–bravely and firm of faith–like the millions who have gone before us, keeping faith with all those generations facing death in the isolated silence of death camps and nuclear fireballs and cancer wards and pogroms, going into the darkness, if not hopefully, then prayerfully that there is some reason for it all, something worth the price of all that pain, all those sacrifices. All those before us have gone into the darkness without assurance of logic or fact or persuasive theory, with only a slender thread of hope or the all too shakable conviction of faith. And if they have been able to sustain that slim hope in the face of darkness, then so must I… and so must the Church. (91)
The sure and provable scientific fact that Duré had been seeking when he found the cruciform initially confirmed his faith before the horror of it made him literally burn it away. But what he found in its stead was a newfound hope, however slim, that in the face of darkness and evil, without the most persuasive evidence, his faith could sustain him. It’s a profound commentary on Christian hope, and one that should be read fully to experience.
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Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Infant Baptism and the Imagination?
I was reading through Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition (edited by Andrew Davison) and came upon a quote which I thought exemplified some of the beauty of infant baptism:
A child baptism… is a wonderful argument in itself for the religious dimension. Even apart from the putting on of Christ, dying to sin[,] and regeneration at its heart, the simple fact that a family brings a baby to church is a religious act. They are seeing their child apart from themselves… she is truly real to them. To offer a baby for baptism is to affirm that she is more than a bundle of rosy flesh and a needy mouth. She means more than she seems. In a young infant we encounter reality and it leads us upwards. (42, cited below)
The “imagination” involved in this is not so much a imagination in the sense of “making up” but rather in the sense of experiencing and accessing a different reality. The parents bring their child in to be baptized, thus affirming that this is one who needs God as much as any other; one whom God has called. Infant baptism is an “encounter” with reality which “leads us upwards.” It goes beyond the water and the words and becomes Word and Sacrament. I thought this was a beautiful quote to illustrate the nature of an infant baptism.
Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).
Sam Harris recently debated William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Good from God?” See my comments on the debate here. During the debate, Harris argued that the rituals of Christianity can be seen as a kind of lunacy. Harris said, “[Religion] allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions what only lunatics could believe on their own. If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.”
Consider what Harris is claiming here. Basically, he’s saying that to believe a cracker becomes the body of Jesus is a kind of lunacy. Interestingly, throughout the debate he issued these veiled (or not so veiled) insults to Christians at large, and quickly retreated from them when he was called out. But that’s neither here nor there.
My contention is that Harris’ implicit argument against the rationality of the Sacraments (and Christian rituals at large) contains an implicit assumption. Once that assumption is exposed, his argument fails. The implicit assumption is this:
1) Christianity is false
Yeah, I’m serious. The reason is because the only way Harris’ argument makes sense is if one assumes a priori that Christianity is false. For consider his objection if Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then God exists, Jesus was God, Jesus told us what would happen in Communion/the Eucharist, etc., etc. But then if Christianity is true, it is perfectly rational to hold that the uttering of certain words as part of a ritual would be causative in the sense that God said it would be. So Harris’ argument turns on the assumption that Christianity is false.
But perhaps I’m missing Harris’ point. Perhaps he is instead trying to say “Look at what you guys do! It’s crazy if it’s something else!” But again the only way this would make sense is by assuming Christianity is false. If I believe Christianity is true, then I have no reason to think the rituals involved therein are lunacy or anything other than perfectly rational worship of our God.
But it could be pressed that it does seem as though Harris’ assertion that Holy Communion would be viewed as lunacy in other contexts is in some sense correct. For were I to do the same with pancakes and Elvis, I would be seen as a lunatic. Why not the Christian too? Well, then the question would have to be what kind of evidence do we have for thinking Christianity is true as opposed to other beliefs? In short, if the Christian is epistemically justified in believing Christianity to be true, then Harris’ argument is exposed for what it is: a facile argument which shows how deeply Harris and the other “New Atheists” fail to understand the position they attack.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.