Saturday, April 23, 2011

Old Heresies vs New Prophets

Let's look at one more story from Infinite Space, Infinite God II. Yesterday, the end of Barton Paul Levenson's An Exercise in Logic had me on the edge of my seat. When the story begins, though, the situation seems familiar - as familiar as a futuristic alien planet can be. We meet Sr. Mary Julian, an expert on alien religions and formal logic, sent to negotiate for the lives of thousands of human colonists, soon to be destroyed by an asteroid launched by the Honendo satellite network. The pro-life arguments, clash of cultures, and linguistic issues are all too familiar, recognizable through the fantastic setting and circumstances.

At first glance, Sister's two specialties seemed unrealistically disparate. She is an expert in both comparative religion and formal logic. The more I thought about it, though, the more sense the pairing made. When studying other religions, one must be intellectually cautious. Without a fastidious study, it can be too easy to miss the sometimes subtle differences that make Catholicism stand out. "The study of comparative religions", as Fr. Ronald Knox once put it, "is the best way to become comparatively religious."

The Same Old Heresies

In this vision of the future, many of the same challenges exist, only in somewhat different circumstances. Sister still deals with questions of the sanctity of life and dignity of the person. "How can you live without sex?" she's asked. "Why had the Pope declared that auto-indenture for birth lab clones was slavery?" This isn't surprising; many of the "new" problems we face today are really reiterations of old heresies, too. For example, today, some say that Jesus was just a good teacher - a creation of God, rather than God Himself. This isn't a 21st century invention; it's a 4th century heresy called Arianism. Those who decry matter as evil or corrupt only echo the gnostics of the 1st century. Its comforting, in a way, to know that these errors have been defeated already and will be again. We have a history of sure answers we can turn to to understand and overcome such mistakes, and we have the promise of Christ that His Church will never fall into error.

In this story, Levenson has also captured the experience of arguing to defend life and that all-to-common, subtle condescension that creeps in.  In my own debates, I've been called stupid, told I need to stop making a fool of myself, and told that I'll know better when I "have a few more years behind me". Every time it happens, we have to learn from the experience - to remember how easy it is to give in to anger or frustration. In the story, Sister feels that same pull and does an admirable job keeping cool in a terrible situation. In the end, it is rarely a purely intellectual argument that sways, but we can win by our minds and hearts, with prayer and God's grace.

The author also has a delightful sense of humor. My own is decidedly punny, so I especially enjoyed "this is a full habit" answered by "I didn't ask how often you wore it."

All New Prophets
The way Honendo receive prophecy is familiar as well. Our Old Testament prophets and judges were sent by God, spaced out over time. They were sent to different places and by different means. They were not the Messiah, the final and full revelation of God, but they were what the Honendo called luendo.

What of our Messiah, though? Jesus is the revelation of God. There can be no more public revelation. Could these luendo be legitimate prophets of the one true God? I don't see why not. God reveals His truth in many ways, and Jesus was the fullness of revelation to man. God only knows (I mean that literally) where the Honendo are on their journey to know God. They have at least a few atheists, as well as widespread polytheism, so I assume they are, like us, a fallen people. (I'm relieved, at least, that we humans won't be the snake in their Garden!)

If we compare their religion to our own, I think Sister would agree with me that they're in a pagan, pre-Old Testament era. They're coming to know truth through God's prophets, very slowly, a bit at a time. They have yet to learn that there is one God rather than a plurality of gods. Perhaps this incident - and this next luendo - will be their first nudge toward monotheism. In this story, we may be bearing witness to the birth of their Abraham.

You can purchase ISIG2 directly from Twilight Times Books as well as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

1 comment:

Karina Fabian said...

I love these--it's a whole new take on the story!

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