Orthodoxy and Science Fiction

north-pole-moon21If you are 55 or younger (as a guestimate), then you have grown up in an age in which science fiction has been a major genre of the culture (whether as writing or movies, television, etc.). I began reading some science fiction as a teenager and quite a bit when I was a college student. I have shared a home for a number of years with a now adult son who was and is a great fan of science fiction.

Strangely, I have long thought of science fiction as a form of modern theology – or at least of modern theological thought. It is a sad tragedy that a science fiction writer, in at least one case, was so bold as to create his own religion – but it seems a not so strange result from a genre that is so inherently theological.

Why do I consider science fiction theological? For the simple reason (for the really well-written material) that it has to imagine a world or a universe and what is true and not true for that universal system. There may or may not be any overt religious material in a particular science fiction work, and yet the world it imagines inherently contains rules and norms and a “way things work” such that some theological account is created.

Some years ago, as a protestant pastor, I had an underground missionary from Nepal come and speak at my parish. He was an old college friend and one of the bravest Christians I have ever known. As he was completing his talk to my adult class, a youngish female (who seemed distressed by his talk) asked him about the morality of interfering with another culture.

I could not help interrupting at the time and pointing out to her that the moral rule she was invoking was the “Prime Directive” from Star Trek, and not a part of Christian theology. My guest was far wiser than I and said instead, “There is nothing that can be done to protect them from the outside, modern world. It is already there. But if you have questions, come with me to Katmandu!”

“Come with me to Katmandu,” will always ring in my ear as among the most inviting missionary challenges I’ve ever heard.

But, of course, the point of this small story, is to demonstrate the impact that a science fiction television show can have on a modern, American Christian. She had internalized the moral thought of a work of fiction. Doubtless there are many such examples in our pluralistic culture.

To its credit, the exercise of Science Fiction, gives people permission to imagine the world as other than they have always thought it to be. It is an exercise in the imagination – but an exercise than can help someone to realize that there may be other ways of seeing than those they presently know.

The Orthodox faith is not a work of science fiction – indeed, there is no fiction within it. However, it gives an account of the world and man’s place within it that can seem as foreign to a modern man as any work of fiction. It tells us that the world we see and experience is a distortion and that we do not see things as they truly are. That is quite a challenge and a bold claim. However, such a message does not necessarily fall on deaf ears if the hearer has already found ways to imagine the world other than the givens of his own culture.

The Christ who has been preached on these American shores is a very modern version of the expected Messiah. His teachings have been filtered through a lens that assumes the emptiness of the material world. His message, in this culture, has been transformed into a very high form of morality, but a moral tale nonetheless. As such His words compete with those of every moral teacher. Invariably in that company, His teachings are seen as ideal but not practical. Something good but not something by which people can live. His teachings and commandments are trumped by the failure of their usefulness (in a utilitarian world).

The doctrine of the Resurrection is seen as primarily directed towards the “after-life” and not towards the salvation and recreation of the entire created world. I recall some years ago a well-meaning Anglican priest saying to me that he’d feel much more comfortable with the doctrine of the resurrection if we could find the body of Jesus. I choked at his comment, completely caught off-guard. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, if we could find the body of Jesus, it would mean much more as we sought to comfort someone about the loss of their loved one.” Obviously, this seriously misinformed priest (if not heretic) had equated the resurrection with mere survival and found the entire story of the empty tomb and the encounters with Jesus after the resurrection to be competely problematic.

By the same token, Orthodox insistence (with the exception of Japan for reasons of law) on the burial of a body rather than the practice of cremation, seems peculiar to most people. The body is dead, has now served its purpose, and is to be discarded in a respectful but inexpensive and non-intrusive manner. Orthodoxy seems primitive on its insistence of burying a body – and down right macabre when it displays the incorrupt relics of saints, or the hundreds of skulls of martyrs that I saw in the monastery of St. Saba in Palestine. The Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body and the renewal of all creation runs afoul of the economics and sensibilities of a culture which (though strangely materialistic) has no particular respect for material things. We want material things because we can use them not because they have any value. As such, our materialism exhausts us and depletes us of spiritual strength. We are not living properly because we do not properly see the world.

The world as revealed to us in Christ Jesus may not be a work of science fiction – but it is just as foreign to the modern world as any work of fiction might seem. To be a Christian means to become a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and thus not a citizen of this world. It is a confession that the world as it imagines itself is seriously mistaken and lives in enmity with its Creator. Only a life of profound repentance and the miraculous work of the Grace of God can renew our mind so that it is fit to inhabit the Kingdom.

Strangely, there is a hunger for just such a transformative work. It is often manifest in works of science fiction and similar things. I recall my daughter’s stories from the year 2000 when she lived in deep Siberia. To her surprise, there was a thriving “society of creative anachronisms” (as we term them in America) where hundreds of young Russians gathered in the woods of a weekend to dream and live out the fantasy life pictured in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Here were the historic compatriots of St. Seraphim and Theophan the Recluse, of St. Sergius of Radonezh and Barlaam of Khutin, running around and playing elves and dwarves, wizards and orcs for lack of any better imagination. Admittedly it was a brighter imagination than the 5-year plans of Stalin’s frightfully unimaginative Soviet Regime – but it was infinitely short of the imagination and reality of Holy Russia. That reality has returned to the consciousness of many and a true transformation is occurring in Russia in various places – thank God.

For us in the Western world, our imaginations continue to run rampant, fleeing the confines of the legal/moral metaphors of the Enlightenment and modern West. Never has humanity been more reduced in its personal definition, its religion robbed of color and meaning. The realities of Geneva and Puritan England are competitors with Stalin’s Russia. The human is not liberated to a greater life but constrained to something that is less than human. No wonder the children of such worlds read science fiction and imagine something better.

But something better and something Real, has entered the world in the birth of Jesus Christ. The universe is not made smaller by His coming, but extended beyond all human imagination. And this is not found simply in the musings of theologians. Rather, it is more completely found and expressed in the lives of the Christian saints – who demonstrated the limits of reason and the false confines of space and time. In the manifest life of the Church we have seen the human raised to the level of Divinity. We have seen that God became man so that man could become god. And this has been in no theoretical manner, but in the brute manifestation of transfigured flesh and blood.

The Kingdom of God is not science fiction, but is probably what the heart of science fiction (at its best) has hungered for. In our world we want something more and we like to imagine it. Our imaginations take many forms and are not surprisingly colored by the scientific language of our cultures. But the dream is not a false hunger – simply a manifestation of the human instinct that there is something more – something better. We will not find the answers in fiction nor in the sudden appearance of extra-terrestrials. The answer is found in the true meaning of the world in which we live (indeed I believe this true world is often the very cause of our varied imaginations). Our hope does not lie in pretense nor in weekend games in the woods, but in the heroic lives of the men and women who have taken Christ at His word and have gained entrace to the Kingdom of God. They have lived and do live as the often silent witnesses of a world not seen by most. It is a world whose wonder is the stuff dreams are made of.

39 Responses to “Orthodoxy and Science Fiction”

  1. Steve Says:

    Thank you for a very interesting post.

    It reminded me of two things:

    1) A book I saw in the library about 20 years ago, about globalisation of culture, with the title “It’s video night in Katmandu”. That reinforces the idea that cultures are influenced by other cultures, whether we like it or not.

    2) When doing research for moy thesis on Orthodox mission methods, I asked yough people in the former Second World countries what had drawn them to Orthodoxy, and several of them answered that it was science fiction. One said that he had been a fan of science fiction, and when he read C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy it opened his eyes to a completely different vision of Christianity, and he wanted to learn more.

  2. Orthodoxy and science fiction « Khanya Says:

    […] and science fiction Jump to Comments Excellent article by Father Stephen on Orthodoxy and science fiction. I have long thought of science fiction as a form of modern theology – or at least of modern […]

  3. Sean Says:

    Father, bless

    I need to ask something that has long troubled me: I am referring to the insistence of the Orthodox Church in burying, rather than cremating, dead bodies. I am a cradle-Orthodox and this issue is a bit problematic for me. The Church insists on the burial of bodies and rejects cremation in view of the resurrection of the dead during the Final Judgement. But, if this were true, then we would have to admit that people who died in a fire and thus their bodies were turned to ashes upon their death won’t be resurrected. In the same manner, someone who died after having their bodies torn or otherwise misformed will be resurrected accordingly. To me the insistence of the Church lies basically on the quote of the Old Testament “Thou art earth and to earth thou shalt return”. Yet the Holy Father unanimously teach that we will be resurrected in an incorruptible body, one that will be like the body of Jesus after His resurrection and not like the earthly one we possess now. I sincerely and whole-heartedly ask you to shed some of your light on this matter, since it is something that has be in my thoughts for a very long time and I am not able to find an answer that will allow me to fully place myself with the Church’s position.

  4. Scott M Says:

    Sean, I will point out that burial instead of cremation has, until very recently, been the way in which all Christians have approached their dead. It’s not an Orthodox teaching, per se. The Orthodox have simply continued to hold to the same practice and teaching as much of the West has shifted in the recent past. Nor is it an absolute. As Father Stephen noted, the law in Japan requires cremation and the Orthodox Church accommodates that. It’s not done so that God will be able to raise the body. God can do what God will do. In the Resurrection, our bodies will in some sense be continuous with our present bodies, but they will be acts of new creation as well. Objections like the one you mentioned were raised by ‘pagan’ philosophers in the earliest centuries.

    Christians typically bury rather than cremate because we live in hope of the Resurrection and the body is not something that has been used up and discarded and which now must be disposed. Rather, it has been the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is sacred.

    Or so it seems to me.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    The Church does not insist on burying bodies instead of cremation because it will effect the resurrection (some of us have been eaten by lions and digested, or burned, etc.). We bury bodies intact out of respect for the body, and respect for the resurrection. People today often cremate for economic reasons and because they think the body is now nothing special at all. Cultural forces are difficult in this matter. But as long as it can, Orthodoxy will continue to ask us to respect the body and hold it in great honor – burying it with all respect and dignity – and intact. Scott M’s reply is better than mine. Be sure to read it.

  6. Karen B. Says:

    Fr. Stephen, I don’t think it’s merely Star Trek fans who have this concern about missions changing/destroying local cultures. I’m a missionary in West Africa, and I get asked these same type of questions often, by folks who I am quite sure have never seen an episode of Star Trek. Remember, our culture PRODUCED Star Trek. Star Trek reflects the culture, as well as influencing it. Long before Star Trek our culture (at least those educated in most liberal arts colleges) was being influenced by Margaret Mead and other anthropologists to exalt culture as inviolable and sacred.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Good point.

  8. Chris Jones Says:

    Christians who are concerned about the impact of missionary work on existing cultures should read the life of St Innocent of Alaska (there’s a fine biography of him by Paul Garrett from SVS Press, though I do not know if it is still in print. I read it about twenty years ago).

    St Innocent was a missionary to the native peoples of Alaska. His approach was always to present the Gospel as the fulfilment of all that was good and true in the culture of the people he was preaching to. Not everything about a culture — any culture — in this fallen world is good and true, however, and the Gospel truly preached and truly lived will transform and change a culture, just as it transforms and changes individual persons. As we software engineers say, that is not a bug, it’s a feature.

    The tricky part for missionaries, it seems to me, is to make sure that it is the Gospel, and not their own culture — however superior they may think that it is — that they are preaching. It is one thing to transform a culture by imparting the Gospel, and it is quite another to “civilize” that culture, and by civilizing it, in fact destroy it.

  9. Steve Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Your essay brings to mind Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Zemeckis’ Contact.

    Both stand as “good” secular icons of the one true God, who is sometimes near and sometimes far.

    Thank you once again for your words and your prayers.

  10. The young fogey Says:

    [anorak]

    The Prime Directive was made up one day by one of the show’s writers, Bob Justman, and just like the liberal 1960s America on which ‘Star Trek’ was obviously based and the neocon one more recently, it was usually disobeyed (Captain Kirk would do what he thought was best for the planet, d*mn it… which was spread the American way!).

    [/anorak]

  11. Sean Says:

    Thank you for your responses, both Scott and Father Stephen.
    I admit it was a difficult point for me, but now I can understand why this is the stand of the Church. I do believe that our body is sacred, being the vessel of our soul, and that it should be given due honour after our death. Cremating it would seem like using a can which contains orange juice to drink the juice and then dismiss the can as mere rubbish. I totally get the point. Thanks again, that was most illuminating!

  12. Steve Says:

    Sean,

    In Matthew 8:22 Jesus says: “Follow me and let the dead bury their dead.” Later in Matthew 22:32 He says that: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

    In the first verse Jesus is saying that the spiritually dead should bury their physical dead. But then in the second, He is saying that these physically dead people, though they seem dead, are in fact alive to God.

    Not sure where you even got the idea that the body should be treated like rubbish, but it does not appear to be scriptural.

  13. Matthew Markovich Says:

    Re: Cremation
    I find it odd that one part of the world finds cremation honorable and another finds it not so. I have read the Eastern Orthodox arguments and others who favor burial as superior to cremation and am unconvinced.
    I find this ‘western’ attitude arrogant and presumptuous; this is one point where I believe the Orthodox Church position is in error or at the very least provincial. Saying, ‘we have always done it this way’ and are still doing it this way because of “tradition” (not Tradition) is to me, a sign of a lack of faith.
    Just one uneducated guy’s opinion. Personally, I would like to completely disintegrated. No muss no fuss no ashes.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    We love you so much we’d like to take much fuss and any kind of trouble necessary. I suspect that as in Japan, legal issues may make this a moot point ere long.

  15. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    It has nothing to do with burial being “superior” to cremation as if people somehow are showing greater love by burying them. It has to do with the sort of symbolic statement being made. Symbolic actions really do have meaning, and traditionally Christians have taken great care that these actions say “Christian” things.

    Cremation makes a great deal of sense with a view of the body where the soul or spirit is the real you, and the body is a temporary vessel. Burial makes a great deal of sense where the body is not meant to be separated from the soul, but is an essential part of the whole person whom God is redeeming.

    Cremation says:

    This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
    My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
    The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
    And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

    Burial says:

    This is my Fathers world, Oh let me neer forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.
    This is my Fathers world, The battle is not done.
    Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied
    And earth and heaven be one

  16. Matthew Markovich Says:

    Dust to Dust Ashes to Ashes. I am sure GOD has all our DNA on file. He made us once and can do it again. Buried bodies disintegrate, are eaten by natures creatures and destroyed into nothingness by natural means. Eventually nothing remains, given time. Symbolism, even of the highest intention, fails, in the end.
    I am just saying……………
    it is all moot, now.

  17. Steve Says:

    Matthew Markovich,

    I do believe you are missing the point somewhat.

    – – –

  18. Collator Says:

    Any thoughts on embalming? I have been told that it is also against Orthodox tradition, and I understand this on an intuitive level. Does the Church oppose it mainly on the grounds that, at the opposite extreme from cremation, it attempts to unnaturally preserve the body as if death did not exist?

  19. Lucy Says:

    I really like this post and its relating science fiction to our desire for the transcendent. I like sci-fi (some of it anyway) and I agree that there is a hunger in our time for mystical meaning. In sci-fi worlds, the fantastic can be true, but it still has to make sense, as you say. That’s one thing I’ve found in the Church – so much of it seems fantastic, and yet, it makes sense. At least it does to me (obviously, I should put a disclaimer here that it makes sense when I can see it, which is not often – but once in a while, something clicks and I get it, if only for a brief moment). I wonder if there is any relation between a person’s enjoyment of sci-fi and his or her faith practice. It would be interesting to me to know which “denomination” reads the most sci-fi.

    My last comment is on the last paragraph. I have to admit that I sometimes find the world of the saints to be… intimidating at the least, frightening sometimes. People who heal overnight from horrendous torture? Who can have flames shoot out of their fingers? Who can travel across long distances without using their feet? It just makes me wonder sometimes (and I suppose this is the point of your post, so I’ll just state the obvious) how much of the REAL world I am missing.

  20. Lana Says:

    Lucy,
    I was reflecting on the same thing yesterday while I was in church….. an overwhelming feeling came over me while standing there thinking about the Holy Spirit, saints, angels, surrounding and protecting us all….. I kept thinking how absolutely undeservingly close I was to such company…..

  21. fatherstephen Says:

    Collator,

    I have not seen a prohibition on embalming unless the departed has received communion in their last hours – in which if they are embalmed the blood needs to be buried. I have not done many Orthodox funerals, thank God, my congregation is rather young. Another priest could answer such questions better.

  22. handmaidleah Says:

    When we do not care for our dead in a personal way, we wind up with an aversion to the body, it becomes just a vessel to be shucked (a tad gnostic), and an aversion is created toward the dead.
    Back in the day ones family members would wash and dress the person, lay them out on the dining room table and sit vigil until the burial. Now we hire strangers to “deal with” any unpleasant task. What was once an honor – the final loving act of a family towards its dead, is removed.
    At Orthodox funerals, as the people file by to venerate the body of the person, we sing about giving “the last kiss.” This is an act of veneration -just as we do an icon, though many do not, perhaps because of this aversion to death and the body.
    People are people, alive or dead and deserve respect, care and our prayers. A proper burial is an act of love for the Orthodox and it need not be expensive.
    At Holy Dormition Orthodox Church (Calhan, CO) – as the casket is being moved out of the Church and the people are singing “Svya ti Bozhe, Svya ti krepki, Svya ti ber smert ni, po mi lui nas!” The pallbearers stop before reaching the Narthex and the priest places the Gospel on the casket, opens it and reads from John 6 (He who does not eat my body and drink my blood has no life in him, etc.,). This is a pious local custom and is very beautiful. Burial then continues…
    As Orthodox Christians, made in the image & likeness of God, we, who have partaken of His very Body and Blood, for us to be casual about the “disposal” of the departed makes me shudder.

  23. Mat. Donna Farley Says:

    An excellent post, Fr. Stephen, and intriguing followup discussion by all. I just want to recommend two books you may find interesting.

    Re: Science Fiction and Religion, Mormon writer Orson Scott Card has a wonderful essay in his book _Cruel Miracles_, in which he argues that Science Fiction is the only literary field still producing serious religious literature.

    Re: the Christian underpinnings of _Lord of the Rings_, see _Secret Fire_: The Spiritual Vision of JRR Tolkien_ by Stratford Caldecott.

    (surfed here via the Khanya blog)

  24. The young fogey Says:

    ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is loosely based upon the Mormon theology of its creator.

  25. asinusspinasmasticans Says:

    One scientific question that bothers me intensely is the absolute radio silence of the Universe. Statistically speaking even if only one in a hundred star systems had planets, and if only one in a hundred planets were capable of generating carbon-based life, we should be awash in information-bearing microwave, but the Universe is strangely silent, and we feel alone.

    Somebody said that the USA is the strangest country on the globe. Our daily life appears science fiction to a majority of the inhabitants, but we are so unsatisfied that half ous are waiting for the Rapture and the other half are waiting for the aliens.

  26. luciasclay Says:

    Growing up as a sci-fi fan ( not so much the fantasy fiction ) it had a huge impact on my worldview. It was not until I became older I realized the extent to which it was really peddling a ideology.

    It all assumes that man is ascending and eternally getting better. It all assumes rationality and reason are supreme. Generally it assumes that morality is something we have invented out of our own brilliance. Finally it assumes that all spirituality is rank superstition or is at least all equal.

  27. Steve Says:

    Luciasclay,

    Superstition and the class system seem to go hand in hand. The more superstitious a society, the more rigid the unwritten rules that govern how people interact. There are many forms of superstitions, but they all share one thing in common.

    If you look at some religions of the east, it is always the “enlightened” few who enslave the many. These “ideas” I’m afraid, are as old as the hills.

    In the west, it is access to jobs or privileged information and networks (nearly always with an appended political agenda) that enslaves the poor and downtrodden, thereby distorting justice. It is this more than anything else that rakes the ire of God.

    Slavery is first and foremost a state not of the mind, soul and body; but of the spirit. Ask for the gift of discernment if in doubt, it can make all the difference.

  28. Aaron Haney Says:

    Or, if you were one of the elite group of Hale-Bop Comet cult members who committed suicide several years back, you were waiting to be raptured by aliens! Which, strangely enough, sort of seques with Luciasclay’s observation about progressing or evolving to a higher plane of being but with the added element of being assisted by aliens, a la Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” or any number of other SciFi books and movies with a similar theme…

    All that to say I definitely see that yearning to once again be “godlike” as we were before the Fall (and can be again through Christ Jesus) as driving SciFi and Fantasy literature.

    PS- didn’t Fr. Seraphim Rose also ponder these issues in his “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future”?

  29. reader john Says:

    I understand the “green” attraction to the simplicity of cremation. True Orthodox burial is much like the burial of a Trappist monk, except that the Trappists use no coffin, the monk being buried in his prayer robe that he received the day he made his solemn vows.) It is inexpensive, involves no embalming, a simple pine box, a wooden cross and it ends up cluttering nothing and, once the cross has rotted awayand the body decomposed, preserves a 4’x8′ plot of very fertilized earth. What could be “greener???”

  30. Steve Says:

    Isn’t that what Jim Jones and David Koresh believed?

  31. Audra W Says:

    What about organ donation?

  32. Carl Says:

    “If you look at some religions of the east, it is always the ‘enlightened’ few who enslave the many.”

    I’m curious how many have been enslaved by mystics, Orthodox, Buddhist, or Hindu. I cannot think of reading of any cases of that in my research on them. Usually it is the other way around: the enlightened become the servants of all (or at least keep to themselves in simplicity).

    Which is not to say that Eastern religions haven’t been perverted to be used as tools of the state. But the quoted sentence as it stands is anti-religious poppycock.

  33. kay Says:

    Quoting Steve:
    “In the west, it is access to jobs or privileged information and networks (nearly always with an appended political agenda) that enslaves the poor and downtrodden, thereby distorting justice. It is this more than anything else that rakes the ire of God.”
    What??

  34. Seraphim Says:

    With respect to cremation, it is wrong in part, if not in whole, because it destroys relics. We are all called to be saints, some few of us live up to that calling. If cremation were common funerary practice then we would loose the relics of the saints of our generation, robbing the generations after us. How could we ever have an incorrupt body of a saint exuding myrrh if our habit is to pitch our corpses into the oven the first chance we get?

    As for the SF post it was a refreshing read. I’m a space generation baby. My parents worked for NASA from its birth, and the race to space was a normal part of our dinner time converstation. Rocketships to the moon are just part of the way I process the universe. So to see SF spoken of for its theological content and potenial is an unexpected treat. And I would agree that it is an inherently theological genre because it is always asking, “What is man,” “What does he mean,” and “Where is he going (and is he ready for the trip).” But despite that just try to find a priest to have a serious theological conversation with you about the implication of the creation of non human sentient beings (robots/computers or uplifted animals), and the incedulous blank stare to serious converstation quotient will be very high.

  35. coffeezombie Says:

    @Seraphim I did once come across a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, of which a couple episodes consisted of two Orthodox priests discussing zombies. It was actually a very interesting conversation (and surprisingly relevant to the Faith). I have yet to find that podcast on the site since, however.😦

  36. Marsha Says:

    coffeezombie,

    is this the podcast you referred to?

    http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/paradosis midway through the page, Zombies part 1

  37. Glory to God for All Things - “Orthodoxy and Science Fiction” at Live the Trinity Says:

    […] Read the whole thing at Glory to God for All Things. You do not have to register. […]

  38. coffeezombie Says:

    @Marsha Yes! Glad to see it is still there! Thank you!

  39. Sarah Says:

    This is fascinating! As one who is mad keen interested in astronomy and science fiction alike, having grown up with this (a child of the 70’s and 80’s – the ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ generation) I find SF’s theological implications compelling. ‘Contact’ for instance rather than disputing the TRanscendant, actually comments insightfully upon Faith. The metaphore of ‘Superman’ is unmistakable; (is it simply me, or have others made the connection also?) As for the sorry state of a vibrant, living Christianity in the UK and Australia particularly, this comment of Fr. Stephen’s “…Never has humanity been more reduced in its personal definition, its religion robbed of color and meaning. The realities of Geneva and Puritan England are competitors with Stalin’s Russia. …” would seem to explain the beginning of the end in chilling accuracy. In its striving for the incontestable, ‘logical’ one dimensional world of words, did the ‘Reformers’ of the UK instead merely serve to starve the faith of its lifeblood and oxygen with the tragic collapse of Christianity in the above nations mentioned the sad fruit of their labours?

    As for the state of the human being, it has been my observation over time that society at large (especially the individualistic consumerist, materialist tendancies of the West have a hard enough time valuing the living, let alone the dead; how do we treat our fellows with disabilities? how do we treat our elder fellows? the measure of a community’s ‘civilization’ is best measured by the manner in which the weakest of the weak – those robbed of their voice – are treated. As a person with a disability, the creeping attitude of certain Ecconomic mindsets has come to see us more as a liability…(I am not even going to entre into the debate this statement often produces concerning self determination and drive for betterment and improvement within disability circles – different debate for a different forum – and yes, I see both sides of the argument).

    Furthermore, as a people, we in the ‘West’, generally speaking, like to think scientific superiority and knowhow has given us the leading edge to rise above the natural conditions and constraints of life as we mould our environement to meet our needs, and even ourselves. the thought that we cannot control this last great ‘barrier’ is unpaletable to say the least, hence the taboo over death and the dead that has arisen over the last 40-50 years. Additionally, the fixation ‘we’ have with ‘youth culture’ makes the thought of anyon even over my age somehow repellant (and I am not quite 40 yet). the elderly are disenfranchised of their position as the elders of the community and seen as little more than burdensome children who know nothing and have nothing to offer – packed away into instututions sadly, often, with not even anyone to visit them. Our fixation upon physical perfection in particular also feeds dangerously into the above. In my darker moments, I invisage an orwelian world coming to pass far more quickly than I care to think about as many have lost the abiding hope and strength/tools/resources to be gained from a solid and robust faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.Ever seen ‘Logan’s run’? It is also a lack of these spiritual tools, by and large that makes the thought of death and loss even harder for those still alive than it otherwise is. Within Christian circles, ‘Speak it, claim it’ theology along with the advocacy of ‘prosperity gospel’ leaves entire denominations enfeebled and unable to cope with suffering, hardship, loss, disability, illness. The saints (though even in my present Anglican context, they are never ever mentioned – too ‘Catholic’ for Evangelical Anglicanism, clearly bring hope for in their lives – many tragiclly lived with much loss, sorrow and suffering, that our Lord and Saviour IS there – right with us – even through the darkest hour, and, that even those with the most solid of faiths do not escape the hardships of this life; Christianity is no ‘golden ticket’; rather, it is a real and ongoing source of strength and hope in our finite, mortal existance(though i wish my theological classes could have slightly more productive conversations than those centring around the abscence of women other than virgins or widows among the ranks of the saints – yup; my school has fallen foul of extreme political correctness that in certain ways blinds us to the underlying beauty and depth of our faith)…

    Well, I have rambled on quite enough for the moment;

    SArah,
    PS: perhaps Fr. Stephen might like to consider writing an article concerning Astronomy and the breathtaking revelation of God’s beauty, power, love and majesty that is written in the heavens – even if one cannot see it, the variety, the makeup, the understanding we have of our solar system, the heavens in wider context speak of the Creator’s love and beauty loud and clear. Whenever I am really down, simply listening to an astronomy documentary re-anchors me with my Creator in a way nothing else can; though to many, this may not make sense.
    australia.

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