Yes, that was David Brin's famous "Name The Beasts" riff, which I have given in numerous talks and speeches, but which was never posted online, till now.
What God Wants From Us?
In the spirit of the season, I've been getting mail asking that I offer something theological - even pastoral - for the end of the year. (Indeed, to denote completion of a dismal decade that I first labeled the "naughty oughts.")
Perhaps theology seems a bit of a reach for an astrophysicist and science fiction author. Or, perhaps, those professions uniquely qualify me? In any event, I'll oblige by posting two excerpts from my novels.
The first one is from EARTH (1989), a book that is getting a lot of attention today, for having predicted massive dumps of military and diplomatic secrets in the early 21st century, rattling governments powerless to keep up with amateur cunning and changing values. (Sound familiar?) But the excerpt that I chose for today is about a completely different matter. It portrays an argument between two theologians in the year 2038.
(Oh, note that EARTH (now in 20+ languages and a Hugo nominee) pre-dated the World Wide Web, yet was credited with predicting its blogs, tweets and hyperlinks... though my address may seem clunky compared to today's "dot" URLs. Well, you can't get everything right!)
I'll follow with this "theological" excerpt with another one, from my new novel in progress, entitled EXISTENCE.
========= begin excerpt from EARTH: p207-208 =========
Query by T.M. -- “Monseigneur, according to the bible, what was the very first injunction laid by the Lord upon our first ancestor?”Reply by Msgr. Bruhuni -- “By first ancestor I assume you mean Adam. Do you refer to the charge to be fruitful and multiply?
T.M. -- “That's the first command mentioned, in Genesis 1. But Genesis 1 is just a summary of the more detailed story in Genesis 2. Anyway, to “multiply” can't have been first chronologically. That could only happen after Eve appeared, after sex was discovered through sin, and after mankind lost immortality of the flesh!
Msgr.B. -- “I see your point. In that case, I'd say the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. It was by breaking that injunction that Adam fell.”
T.M. -- “But that's still only a negative commandment... “don't do that.” Wasn't there something else? Something Adam was asked actively to do?
“Consider. Every heavenly intervention mentioned in the Bible, from Genesis onward, can be seen as a palliative measure, to help mend a fallen race of obdurate sinners. But what of the original mission for which we were made? Have we no clue what our purpose was to have been if we hadn't sinned at all? Why we were created in the first place?”
Msgr. B. -- “Our purpose was to glorify the Lord.”
T.M. -- “As a good Catholic, I agree. But how was Adam to glorify? By singing praises? The Heavenly hosts were already doing that, and even a parrot can make unctuous noises. No, the evidence is right there in Genesis. Adam was told to do something very specific, something before the fall, before Eve, before even being told not to eat the fruit!”
Msgr. B. -- “Let me scan and refresh my ... ah. I think I see what you refer to. The paragraph in which the Lord has Adam name all the beasts. Is that it? But that's a minor thing. Nobody considers it important.”
T.M. -- “Not important? The very first request by the Creator of His creation? The only request that has nothing to do with the repair work of mortality, or rescue from sin? Would such a thing have been mentioned so prominently if the Lord were merely idly curious?”
Msgr. B. -- “Please, I see others queued for questions. Your point is?”
T.M. -- “Only this -- our original purpose clearly was to glorify God by going forth, comprehending, and naming the Creator's works. Therefore, aren't zoologists crawling through the jungle, struggling to name endangered species before they go extinct, doing holy labor?
“So you see it's impossible for the End of Days to come, as your group predicts, til we succeed in our mission or utterly fail. Either we'll complete the preservation and description of this Earth, and go forth to name everything else in God's Universe, or we'll prove ourselves unworthy by spoiling what we started with -- this, our first garden. Either way, the verdict's not in yet!”
Msgr. B. -- “I ... really don't know how to answer this. Not in real time. At minimum you've drawn an intriguing sophistry to delight your fellow Franciscans. And those neo-Gaian Jesuits, if they haven't thought of it already.
“ Perhaps you'll allow me time to send out my own ferrets and contemplate? I'll get back to you next week, same time, same access code.”_
========= end of excerpt from EARTH: p 207-208 =========
Next - and finally - let me post here an excerpt from EXISTENCE (in progress). In this scene, an astronaut contemplates the tsunami of mail and requests he has received, since becoming famous for discovering a verified alien artifact in Earth orbit, bringing it home, and awakening the virtual emissaries or simulated beings residing inside. While he and the object are in quarantine, he deals with fan mail and entreaties, including one of a theological nature.
======begin excerpt from EXISTENCE =======
Even putting aside unsolicited requests -- if Gerald pondered only those from groups he had joined -- the list was too long to cope with... that is, unless the aliens offered some fantastic new way he might copy himself. Now that would be useful interstellar tech!
For example, what should he do about the Church of Gaia: Jesus-Lover Branch? They wanted Gerald to offer an online sermon, for next Sunday’s prayoff against the CoG: Pure-Mother Branch. Some fresh new insights could help tip the current standings.
They especially wanted to know -- as the human being who had closest contact with the artifact entities -- did he feel that any of those alien species still knew a state of grace? Like Adam and Eve, before they bit the apple?
Or, if not -- if they had fallen, just like Man -- then did each of their homeworlds also receive an emissary of deliverance -- their own race-savior -- the way one had been sent to Earth? If some of them said yes, then how similar were their stories to the New Testaments?
Lastly, if the answer to all of these questions turned out to be no... then what did Gerald think about the notion -- spreading rapidly among some Christians -- that humanity must awaken to a new obligation? A burden and proud duty to go forth and spread the Word?
In other words, now that we know they are out there -- so many trillions of souls who wallow in unenlightened darkness -- is it now our solemn mission to head out, delivering Good News to the stars?
Well, at least it was a more forward-looking dogma than his parents’ greedy fantasy -- fixating on some gruesome apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. Even as a boy, he could see that those unctuous, “loving” prayers for an impending end-time were kind of sick, incorporating a nasty shaedenfreude --. hand-rubbing relish -- as they savored what fiery armageddon would do to all those benighted folks out there who happened to recite the wrong incantations.
And yet, he found equally unappealing the righteous atheism of some classmates at Carnegie-Mellon, so contemptuous of anyone seeking “purpose” behind it all. In restive silence, Gerald had wondered, was there an interpretation of God and Jesus that might be compatible with the spectacular universe revealed by science? Not one a measly six thousand years old, of course, but congruent with a cosmos that had endured almost fourteen billion years, so far, and containing quadrillions of stars?
At least this new zealotry -- the notion of sending missionaries forth across the light-years -- had a positive spin. Even if those proposing it had little concept of the sheer scale involved, the fantastic impossibility of sampling more than a corner of one galaxy. At minimum, it was ambitious, imaginative, forward-looking, and pondered the potential of using technology for good.
Still, a public sermon? Gerald’s stomach churned.
He turned down the CoG-JeLoB folk politely, promising to ask the artifact entities about such matters, when the moment seemed opportune.
For all I know, this kind of thing is what they meant by “Join us.”
Perhaps it’s “enlist in our religion -- or roast in hell.”
It could even be, “adhere to our dogmas -- or face an interstellar crusade.”
I can’t wait to find out.
=== end excerpt from EXISTENCE=====
Here's hoping these passages inspire a smile or two, some new thoughts? And above all, one of the most sacred things that human beings can do -- polite, curiosity-driven argument!
Joy unto all.