Monday, November 17, 2014

A Baby's Ear

Still more on the question Is science fiction dying? I'll begin with a long quote:
One morning in 1938, shortly before leaving the Communist Party, while feeding his young daughter, [Whittaker] Chambers concluded that the shape of her ear could not be explained by Marxist materialism. Something this beautiful and unique, Chambers observed, implied design, which implied the existence of God. Understanding the divine gift of his daughter Ellen, also strangely related to the horrific irruption within Chambers of the "screams" from Communism's suffering victims. He writes "[O]ne day the Communist really hears those screams. [The screams]  . . . do not merely reach his mind. They pierce beyond. They pierce to his soul." A soul in agony, in this case, a person under persecution by Communist authorities, has attempted to communicate with another soul through memory and across time. The crucial significance of both episodes rests in Chambers embracing the presence of his soul, thus denying the false materialism of Communism and the darkness it had covered him in. As Chambers observed, "A Communist breaks because he must choose at last between irreconcilable opposites--God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom or Communism."
The quote is from an article called "Two Faiths: The Witness of Whittaker Chambers" by Richard M. Reinsch from Religious Liberty (Vol. 22, No. 1). You can read it by clicking hereWhittaker Chambers was vilified, as the True Believer is always vilified (if not imprisoned, tortured, exiled, or murdered), by his fellows when he finally awakes. In any event, he was not alone, though his conversion may have covered a greater distance than most.

Chambers' thoughts are echoed in popular culture, in the lyrics of "Isn't She Lovely" (1976) by Stevie Wonder, written on the birth of his daughter Aisha:

We have been heaven blessed
I can't believe what God has done
Through us he's given life to one
But isn't she lovely made from love

And in the lyrics of "Heaven" (2003) by Live:

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote "Hitch your wagon to a star." That exhortation is as good for the science fiction writer as anyone--maybe even better. But if science fiction has hitched itself to science, and science has hitched itself to materialism, which says that parents love their children only because we all have selfish genes, then it can be no wonder why science fiction--or our society as a whole--is in trouble.

While at Columbia University, Whittaker Chambers fell in with likeminded men, among whom was Guy Endore (1901-1970), a translator and a writer of novels and screenplays, including many genre works. The Werewolf of Paris, from 1933, was and is widely admired. The cover art, showing either a were-beagle or a giant-sized woman, is by William Randolph, who I find, through the wonder of the Internet, wrote a letter to Weird Tales, published in August 1928.

If you think I'm done, think again: Unlike Whittaker Chambers, Guy Endore never seems to have come to his senses. He went on believing in Leftist or Statist causes all his life and even became interested (according to Wikipedia, that fount of all information) in mysticism, theosophy, and Synanon. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in "The Miracle of Moon Crescent" (1924):

You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief--of belief in almost anything.
I have written before that a decadent society doesn't reach for the stars, but atheists and materialists just might, for they are likely to be forever consumed by the unquenchable need to show that the universe is in essence material (if that's not a contradiction in terms) and that their fervent belief in the non-existence of God will be borne out by their explorations. Remember the rocketship Integral, designed for a mission "to subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets," from the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921).

Finally, people from Synanon appeared as extras in George Lucas' dystopian film THX-1138 (1971). I guess if you follow any line long enough, it comes around to make a circle.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley


  1. I wouldn't bet on current atheists to do much about subjugating the universe.

    Many are quasi-religious in their environmentalism, deifying the natural world to the point where they call themselves "caretakers" and have a "duty to preserve nature" and the "diversity of life"

    You can make an argument for self-interest -- you don't want to make your environment unliveable. You can suggest an aesthetic preference for nature in a certain configuration.

    But "caretakers" and "duty" smack of religious notions that they supposedly don't have. Caretakers for whom? If God doesn't exist, you owe no allegiance to any collection of atoms, have no duty.

    I think the notion, for some readers and writers, that science fiction needs to depict a plausible future is a cloud over the genre.

    If you imagine the plausible future development of science and technology, it seems some dark, grim, and inhospitably alien things are likely in store.

    If you reject that through some plausible mechanism, you often go back to the dystopia.

  2. Dear Marzaat,

    I think you're on the right track when you write:

    "I think the notion, for some readers and writers, that science fiction needs to depict a plausible future is a cloud over the genre."

    For some people, there is only one plausible future: dark, negative, and nihilistic. And the reason there is only one plausible future is that those same people--people of today--are dark, negative, and nihilistic. I would suggest that a worldview like that, by its very nature, can't survive. How can pessimism--a lack of faith in the future--survive into the future? I guess it can survive if pessimism is renewed in every generation, but, again, " a renewal of pessimism" seems like a contradiction in terms. It's like in the movie Idiocracy: The supposedly smart people don't reproduce; only the stupid people do. The irony is that the smart people are actually stupider than the stupid people. At least the stupid people are smart enough to reproduce. Likewise, those who are hopeful and faithful will bear their hope and faith into the future; a person's pessimism dies with him.

    In short, science fiction once believed in the infinite future, i.e., any number of plausible futures. A dark, negative, nihilistic viewpoint narrows plausibility to almost nothing, and in the case of the end of the world (as the poet wrote) nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

    Thanks for writing.