Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On A Canticle for Leibowitz

A redated post.

This is a Wikipedia commentary on Walter Miller's science fiction book A Canticle for Liebowitz. Lewis is often credited with coming up with the expression "You don't have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body," But it really came from Canticle.

5 comments:

JD Walters said...

Now that's my cup of tea! I'm a HUGE science fiction fan and I love it when Christians engage secular culture and reveal the jewels of truth encrusted in the stifling materialism of our age. You can find so much theology in most master SF writers. Freeman Dyson even wrote an article on it here:

http://www.ctinquiry.org/publications/reflections_volume_7/dyson.htm

There's even a sci-fi novel on the subject of the soul! See Robert J. Sawyer's "The Terminal Experiment". Personally I learned to deal with the problem of evil by reading and re-reading Ted Chiang's masterful novella "Hell is the Absence of God". It's a better treatment than most theologians give and the guy isn't even a Christian! To say nothing of Stephen King, some of whose works (The Stand, Desperation, The Green Mile) are explicitly theological. There's a lot of good to glean from the fascinating world of science fiction. Plus, despite the theological lessons, it's just plain fun!

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Miller was a good Thomist and knew that "the soul is the form of the body."

Your link mentions Anthony Boucher who was the editor of Canticle. Boucher was also a Catholic and wrote the great short story, "The Quest for Saint Aquin." I recommend it to anyone who wants to be optimistic about the role of reason in faith.

Another book on the theme of faith, learning and reason and the spirit of Pre-Vatican II Catholicism is James Blish's "A Case of Conscience." In some ways it is dated, but Blish - who was an agnostic - managed to write a book steeped in Christian theology. That's where I was first exposed to Manichianism at the age of 12, which seems to have led to a lifetime interest in Christian history and theology.

My personal favorite line from Canticle is about the cat who mistakenly thought that it was called to be an ornithologist when
it was only called to be an orniphage.

I often feel that way.

kbrowne said...

JD Walters,

I completely agree with you about the value of that amazing story 'Hell is the absence of God.' I think if I were asked by an alien from a planet with no religion what religion is like, not what religious teachings are or why people believe them but what it feels like to live in a world with religion, I would point them to 'Hell is the absence of God' and C.S.Lewis' novel 'Till we have faces.'

But how can Chiang's story have taught you to deal with the problem of evil? That I don't understand. I remember very well the incomprehensible misery of that story. Surely it showed the dark side of religion and of life.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Based on those recommendations, I have downloaded Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God" to my Kindle. I love being able to do that, but if you folks are wrong, then I'm out a dollar.

unkle e said...

Now the important matters are rising to the surface! In my misspent youth (in the1960s) I was an avid reader of sf, especially in anthologies like Amazing. In sf, I came across ideas that I didn't read anywhere else (though doubtless they were out there somewhere), like:

* what to do when the "other side" launches a successful nuclear strike and only a few survivors remain - JG Ballard's "Voices of Time" gave an existential answer whereas another story centred around the remaining US authorities trying to locate the last remaining "missile launch" button to try to make sure revenge was not taken - any lessons for today??

* what to do when everyone thinks you're the Messiah and you know you're not?;

*how God felt before he created (Eric Frank Russell's "Sole Solution") and what might lead to the end of creation (Arthur Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God");

* the dilemmas of how to behave when humans meet a new galactic civilisation, of distinguishing artificial humans from real one, and of mind swapping (or is it body swapping?);

* many other stories of how real humans behave in unusual or stressful situations, not always as logically and scientifically as we'd like to think!

All of this was mind-expanding to a teenager and young adult, and I'm sure influenced who I am today (for good or ill!).

I remember the name "A Canticle for Leibowitz", it had such an evocative sound, but I never read it. perhaps now I will. Thanks.