I Grok God

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Much about Stranger in a Strange Land revolves around a human (Smith) returned to Earth with no god concept other than a vague notion of “Old Ones,” and Jubal Hershaw, an earthling who finds more than a little satisfaction needling the earthly options.  The leading candidate within the story is the Fosterites, a praise and worship congregation – depicted far ahead of its time based on the year of the book’s release (1961).  Despite frequent admissions to their seeming sincerity, Heinlein undercuts the Fosterites with frequent nods to raking in the cash from slot machines and sanctioned consumer products.

Towards the end, the Man from Mars has borrowed some of the trappings of the Fosterites as a means to teach what may, or may not, look like a version of Scientology.   Not only is there a progression through the ranks of understanding, but the properly trained mind can do amazing things, including body transformation, levitation and causing people and things to un-exist.   To be fair, Smith’s “Church of All Worlds” doesn’t charge for membership.

On with the quotes!

If God existed (concerning which Jubal maintained neutrality) and if He wanted to be worshipped (a proposition which Jubal found improbable but nevertheless possible in the light of his own ignorance), then it seemed wildly unlikely that a God potent to shape galaxies would be titillated and swayed by the whoop-te-do nonsense the Fosterites offered as “worship.”

This caught my interest because Heinlein, presumably expressing his own ideas in the viewpoint of Jubal Hershaw, is honest with his uncertainty.  He’s agnostic - not persuaded, but not discounting the god concept.

The other is the “whoop-te-do nonsense.”  Christian worship is offered and embraced in many forms today, but traditionalists still question the worthiness of praise and worship styles that are not respectful, in considering one entering the presence of the Creator of all that is.   I love the words of many hymns, but... the music bores me.  I’ll move on.


But with bleak honesty Jubal admitted that the Fosterites might own the Truth, the exact Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  The Universe was a silly place at best... but the least likely explanation for it was the no-explanation of random chance, the conceit that abstract somethings “just happened” to be atoms that “just happened” to get together in ways which “just happened” to look like consistent laws and some configurations “just happened” to possess self-awareness and that two “just happened” to be the Man from Mars and a bald-headed old coot with Jubal inside.

Amen.  And thus begins, at minimum, a nod to the necessity of God, which should or could (but often does not) lead to an individual to consider what effect, if not obligation, that might have on their own perspective of life, more specifically our origin, the shifting sands of morality, the meaning we might find here, and our eventual destiny.  And that’s a fairly bitter debate.  But I love the way he put it.  I might have used it in some earlier blog posts...

No, he could not swallow the “just happened” theory, popular as it was with men who called themselves scientists.  Random chance was not a sufficient explanation of the Universe – random chance was not sufficient to explain random chance; the pot could not hold itself.

Personally, I like the dig at “scientists.”  I did not have formal religious training in an academic sense, but I wonder how much different my logic and processing of life would be affected had I gone to a university in the days when Theology was the Queen of the sciences.  The various studies/majors found their place within the overall Theology that united all types of learning in purpose – unity from diversity.  That role has been usurped by NCAA football. (Go Clemson Tigers!)


All names (Gods) belong in the hat, Ben.  Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death.  This leads to endless inventions of religions.  While this conviction by no means proves immortality to be a fact, questions generated by it are overwhelmingly important.  The nature of life, how ego hooks into the body, the problem of ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe – these are paramount questions, Ben, they can never be trivial.  Science hasn’t solved them – and who am I to sneer at religions for trying, no matter how unconvincingly to me?  Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can’t rule him out because he owns no fancy cathedrals.  Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic.  He may be the Messiah.  The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!"

The book pre-dated the sexual revolution, but the Heinlein’s “free love” depiction of sexuality is a main theme throughout.   That said, religion is where he spends his most time, as the former takes instruction from the latter.  Sin.  Taboo.  Shalt nots, etc.  He has some fun with it.  As would hippies in the 60’s and since.

Heinlein sees how the god concept shapes life similarly to what I noted after the last paragraph (origin, morality, meaning and destiny).  He’s hungry for that understanding, because he understands the significance of a creator.  He knows there is a theist answer but can’t come to a specific agreement about it.  But at least he recognizes not only the cause (scientific impossibility) of his belief in something, but also his need for it... that God shaped hole I mentioned recently.

 

(and don’t forget to hover your pointer over each picture for more fun).

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