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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/23/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 4
Table of Contents
First Principles (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When we see the world enflamed in fighting in the name of religion, it is easy to forget that religion's original intent was to save the world from the moral evil of atheism. [-mrl]
A Psychological Basis for God (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been giving some thought to the concepts of religion and God and how the conceptions of God--or the gods--might have originally formed. I am trying to see if there might be a psychological basis for the belief in something bigger behind it all.
Now immediately I am sure I have offended the person who believes that all of the their conceptions of God came about by divine revelation. Some take the Bible literally and say it tells us precisely how our ideas of God were formed. They believe from the Bible that there was a time when God actually communicated openly with humans. But even they have to admit that there are multiple religions that contradict each other about God. They have to allow that there are a lot of people out there who have different opinions of God than they do. Okay, then let me say this speculation is about all religions with the possible exception of the One True Religion, whichever religion that happens to be (assuming it exists).
In the past in this notice I have theorized about the origins of the concept of God. I said that I think that the concept of God may be a memory from the first year of life. Much of the forming of our personalities comes about in the months. Smoking may be an outgrowth of infantile thumb-sucking and the psychological dependence on that oral habit. Similarly some belief in a larger being may come in the earliest months after birth. In the first days of life you basically know only that there is yourself and there is The Other One. The Other One is big. She feeds you. She takes care of your needs. She gives you affection. Your world is better because she is there. At times she even disciplines you. As you grow older this woman takes a very different role in your life. But the idea has already been implanted in you that there is this huge guardian looking after you. If it is not this human-sized woman, it must be something bigger. Hence, you have God.
Another possible origin of God is as insurance. You think, "Yesterday my neighbor's house was struck with lightning. I don't want that to happen to me. I need something to do to protect myself. I need some logic on who gets hit and who doesn't. No human can protect me so let me pray to something bigger controlling it." If you don't believe in God you have no protection from lightning. You have no protection from disease. At least believing in God gives you a plan for what to do to protect yourself from uncontrollable things like lightning and disease. You either admit to yourself that you have no protection from lightning or you tell yourself that there is someone who controls the lightning and you are staying on his good side. If you think that way you just become very religious.
And there is more to it than that. Suppose you are convinced you know what God wants of you, you do it, and you still have bad luck. Then you can say you are being tested and you must continue to believe. This may even be the origin of our concept of heaven. You have to believe that it is not all chance and that there is a God who will reward you in the long run. Heaven is where you do get justice, but other living people just don't see it. It is behind the curtain, so to speak, but everybody is sure that accounts are settled fairly after death. It also may be the place where unfinished business with other people comes to be finished. Maybe you have been meaning to tell your boss off for years. Then he is hit and run over by an omnibus. You will get another chance in heaven.
Monotheism itself may have a similar homey psychological origin. The Greeks had gods who fought among themselves and even fought along side humans. There are gods on the battlefield in the Iliad. In fact, there are god on each side of the battle. Now think about this, you can be doing exactly what one god wants and another comes along and skewers you like a shrimp on a sate stick. There is no single divine will and no way to align yourself with one to be safe. Monotheism more or less guarantees that it is possible to work God's will and there isn't some other God hanging around who will skewer you for it. If there is more than one God you never can be sure you will not get caught between them in an argument.
What is this all leading to? Not much. I am just suggesting that there may be simple psychological explanations for a lot of our basic religious beliefs. These beliefs are what they have to be to help keep us sane. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Well, I'm back to my regular reading. Actually, I've been doing it all along. I just decided that while I was on vacation was a good time to comment on the Hugo nominees, rather than try to spread out the previous weeks' reading over five weeks of vacation.
Beth Sherman's DEAD MAN'S FLOAT (ISBN 0-380-73107-X) is the first of a series set on the Jersey shore, specifically in Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. While some of the descriptions of the area were recognizable, I guess I'm not as familiar with that part of the shore as people who grew up here. If you are a longtime shore- goer, you'd probably enjoy them, but I can't really recommend them for others.
When I bought J. R. R. Tolkien's SMITH OF WOOTON MAJOR & FARMER GILES OF HAM (ISBN 0-345-27351-6 and ISBN 0-618-00936-1) it was one mass-market paperback; now they are two trade paperbacks. Back then, the appeal was that these were the only other works available by Tolkien other than THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Now, the appeal is more that these are about the only other works published under Tolkien's name that are primarily his work (other than THE SILMARILLION). They are enjoyable enough children's fables (albeit with a bite), but not necessarily better than a lot of similar works. I guess I'm saying that if you pick these up expecting another "Lord of the Rings" experience, you will probably be disappointed.
Edmund Wilson's PATRIOTIC GORE (ISBN 0-393-31256-9) is an overview of American writing connected to the Civil War--fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; before, during, and after the War. Given that it has 816 pages, I cannot even list all the authors covered, so I will just mention a couple of interesting points.
One is a discussion by Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens of some of the actions taken by Lincoln during the War Stephens, in his "A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States; Its Causes, Character, Conduct and Results Presented in a Series of Colloquies at Liberty Hall", quotes Supreme Court Justice Benjamin R. Curtis (of Boston) as having said, "No citizen can be insensible to the vast importance of the late proclamation and orders of the President of the United States.... It has been attempted by some partisan journalists to raise the cry of 'disloyalty' against anyone who should question these Executive acts. But the people of the United States know that loyalty is not subserviency to a man, or to a Party, or to the opinions of newspapers; but that it is an honest and wise devotion to the safety and welfare of our country, and to the great principles which our Constitution of Government embodies, by which alone that safety and welfare can be secured. And when those principles are put in jeopardy, every true loyal man must interpose according to his ability, or be an unfaithful citizen. This is not a government of men. It is a Government of laws. ... The second Proclamation, and the Orders of the Secretary of War, which follow it, place every citizen of the United States under the direct military command and control of the President. They subject all citizens to be imprisoned upon a military order, at the pleasure of the President, when, where, and so long as he, or whoever is acting for him, may choose. They hold the citizen to trial before a Military Commission appointed by the President, or his representative, for such acts or omissions as the President may think proper to decree to the offences; and they subject him to such punishment as such Military Commission may be pleased to inflict." (page 417) This still (again?) seems pertinent today.
Another was George Washington Cable's analysis (in his book "The Negro Question") of why the North, having fought to free the slaves, was so willing in the last part of the 19th century to let their condition in the South be reduced almost back to that level, and why the South, having made such a fuss about states' rights before and during the War, was so willing to rejoin the Union and cede many of those rights. Cable's answer is that the North was really fighting for Union, and that freeing the slaves was merely an excuse--they didn't care about the condition of the Negroes (to use Wilson's term). And the South was really fighting for slavery, and states' rights was merely an excuse. Whether this is actually true I don't know, but it certainly explains a lot of otherwise odd behavior. (Note: The vast majority of the Acts of Secession passed by the Southern states did in fact mention slavery as one of the reasons for their secession.)
There was also a Retro Hugo nominee for "Best Related Book" that I read. Well, actually, I read the 1975 L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine C. de Camp, SCIENCE FICTION HANDBOOK, REVISED (ISBN 0- 070-16198-4), a revision of the 1953 edition. It is still quite readable, but with flaws. For example, de Camp's summary of the history of imaginative fiction is concise, but marred with questionable claims (such as the claim that the novel originated in Alexandria under the Ptolemys). Of course, it's more than made up for by finding out that Seabury Quinn was so popular as a "Weird Tales" author that when he was taken to a New Orleans bordello, the staff offered him one on the house.
The discussion of how publishing works is, of course, very out-of- date, but the discussions of how to choose names and other technical aspects of writing are still pertinent. (I wish more people would follow his dictum: "The writer must not, however, let his linguistic enthusiasm lead him to give names too long or too difficult or too full of diacritical marks")
Of the first World Science Fiction Convention, de Camp notes, "TIME [magazine] wrote up the convention, noting its more juvenile aspects." (page 3) It's nice to see some traditions haven't changed in sixty-five years. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: If a million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. --Anatole France
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