In 2008 I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet my all time favorite writer, Ray Bradbury. If you have not read stories by this giant of science fiction and fantasy literature, then you have missed out on a life changing experience. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012 and his loss was a tiny tremor in the tumult of this past year. For you see, as forward thinking and progressive as Mr. Bradbury was, he hesitated to embrace many forms of modern technology. He refused to fly. He would only travel by train or boat. He would not allow any of his works to be translated into electronic form. You will not find any of his stories as ebooks! Why? Go read Fahrenheit 451 and you might catch a glimmer of the reason. Stories, to Bradbury, belonged inside people! Story is Life!
As we enter 2013, I am depressed at the negative tone of many of my favorite blogs. Who can blame us? If you are a Christian, then 2012 was a year of blow after blow to the Christian lifestyle. And, I don’t need to spend time listing those developments here. Others have done it well. But, there is one concept I want to explore as we enter a new year.
In this past year, scientists have mounted a campaign against God. Not surprising. This happens with regularity. But, this past year the attack was imbedded in such books as “A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins’ atheist children’s book “The Magic of Reality”. And, that venerable icon of science for children, Bill Nye, the Science Guy attacked creationism in public and on internet based video. The year ended with the American Atheists’ huge billboard on Times Square asking people to “Dump the Myth”.
Back in the 1950‘s, Ray Bradbury wrote a series of short stories that resonate with today’s headlines. Now, remember, he was an advocate of science. He helped develop ideas for many of Walt Disney’s animated shorts about space travel. He was involved in the design of “Future World” at EPCOT. But, he had cautionary words for us about the danger of the supremacy of science as a philosophy. As a philosophy, this is known as scientism or materialism or naturalism. Nature is all that is. If we cannot sense it with our scientific machines, then it cannot exist. NOTHING in the supernatural realm can be even considered as possible.
In “The Martian Chronicles”, Bradbury created a character who had escaped to Mars and built a house of “Usher” to resurrect the creations of imagination. It seemed that on Earth such imaginative works had been outlawed. Look at this passage from “Usher II” in the Martian Chronicles:
They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1999 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books, cartoons, and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.
Every man, they said, must face reality. Must face the Here and Now! Everything that was not so must go. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air! So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago, they lined them up in 2006; they lined them up, . . . and shot them down, and burned the paper castles and fairy frogs and old kings and the people who lived happily every after . . . and Once Upon a Time became No More!
In another story from that book, “The Million Year Picnic”, a family has escaped the self destruction of Earth and has made it to Mars to rebuild a new life. Here is what a father told his children about Earth:
Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets, emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines.Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth.
But, the most powerful story, and more than likely a precursor to “Fahrenheit 451” was “The Exiles” from “The Illustrated Man”. In this story, the authors of science fiction, horror and fantasy have found exile on Mars from a world in which their works have been burned and now, a rocket from Earth approaches. In this scene, Edgar Allen Poe is waiting for the rocket men to land so he can defeat them.
They won’t be prepared for us, at least. They haven’t the imagination. Those clean young rocket men with their antiseptic bloomers and fish-bowl helmets, with their new religion. About their necks, on gold chains, scalpels. Upon their heads, a diadem of microscopes. In their holy fingers, steaming incense urns which in reality are only germicidal ovens for steaming out superstition. The names of Poe; Bierce, Hawthorne, Blackwood — blasphemy to their clean lips.”
How did this happen and how did Poe come to reside on Mars?
On Earth, a century ago, in the year 2020 they outlawed our books. Oh, what a horrible thing — to destroy our literary creations that way! It summoned us out of — what? Death? The Beyond? . . . the only saving thing we could do was wait out the century here on Mars, hoping Earth might overweight itself with these scientists and their doubtings; but now they’re coming to clean us out . . . “
And, lest you think that Bradbury was not aware of the war on Christmas look at this scene of a wasted, near dead Santa Claus:
They took him, a skeleton thought, and clothed him in centuries of pink flesh and snow beard and red velvet suit and black boot, made him reindeers, tinsel, holly. And, after centuries of manufacturing him they drowned him in a vat of Lysol, you might say.
What must it be like on Earth? . . . Without Christmas? . . . nothing but snow and wind and the lonely, factual people.
Ah, the power of Story. I will address this in upcoming posts. For now, we must stop and revel in the sheer power of Story to transform humanity. Bradbury did it with these short tales. Bradbury cautioned us that if we allow our imagination to die, then we will die as a people. And, imagination is built upon the foundation of the possibility of the supernatural. Eliminate the supernatural, and you MUST eliminate imagination; burn it out of the brain; cauterize it from the human thought patterns; outlaw it from public and private expression.
Don’t miss this. Bradbury talked of it and he was on the side of science. Science is a tool! It is NOT a way of life. And, if we allow Science to become a way of life, we will see the death of imagination; the death of superstition; the death of the supernatural; the death of Story; the death of God! There is no other path.
Adolf Hitler built his world upon the foundation of naturalism. And, he tried to purge the world of superstition in the ovens of Auschwitz. We cannot forget this. We must remember that to kill Story is to kill what makes us humans. And, one Man used Story to change the world. These stories were called parables.
So, this coming Sunday, January 5th, I will be signing copies of my three books at our local LifeWay in Shreveport, Louisiana from noon to 2 PM. Of course, I would like for you to come. I will be giving away tee shirts. But, here is my request. Go to a book store. Any book store this coming Saturday. Go and find a book that fuels your imagination. There are wonderful books for all ages and for men and women in the realm of Christian fiction at a LifeWay and if you come to my LifeWay, I can point you to many good Stories.
Go out this Saturday and let’s show the world that as followers of Christ, we recognize the importance the power of Story. This Saturday, wherever you are, go into a book store and buy a book and when you check out, look the person behind the counter in the eye and say, “Story Is Life”!
My thanks to Micah, my Hutchmoot Secret Santa for an awesome book. “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” really took me back to my teenage years. Many of the stories I recall reading way back then in other anthologies as “classic science fiction”. It was a real treasure to read some of them again. My favorite so far, “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. This story of a mentally challenged man who is given an operation that triples his I.Q. only to lose it again was one of the most moving and touching stories I ever read. I just read it again and it is as moving and timeless today as when it was published in 1959.
Charlie’s struggle with growing awareness of the world around him as his intelligence grew reminded me of my own growing awareness of the brokenness of the world around me as I aged. It is a story of the loss of innocence. Like Charlie, I cherished the laughter from other kids over my lack of co-ordination growing up. I even played to that clumsiness, capitalizing on it to gain recognition. When I was a junior in high school, I transformed this slapstick schtick into a dramatic role in a play. Because of the popularity of that role, I won the election for student council president for my senior year.
After I felt a call to be a doctor, I was alarmed when my own mother began telling others that she didn’t think I could be a doctor because I might “drop somebody’s brain during surgery. He trips over his own feet.” I realized, I had become what others saw in me. I had fulfilled my own worst nightmare. We become what people see in us. How many times have we said “I will never be like that!” when seeing traits in our parents that are undesirable only to find ourselves shaking an angry finger at our own children and wondering “How did I get my father’s finger?”
Charlie, in “Flowers of Algernon” has a moment when he sees a mentally challenged boy break dishes at a cafe. He watches in horror as people laugh and make fun of the boy and the boy smiles right back, unaware he is being ridiculed. For Charlie, the horror of that moment comes when he realizes he laughed, too!
In this time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth we see both good and bad discussions of the Nativity. The “war on Christmas” always arises and the arguments are strident and shrill. The inevitable atheist attacks on Christianity reach their highest point such as the billboard in Times Square that says “Dump the Myth” with a picture of the crucified Jesus. And yet, they say there is “no agenda”.
Every human being is born with an innate knowledge of God. Even science has discovered that the human brain is “hard wired” to believe in God. We have to teach our children to be atheists. Richard Dawkins has written an book in the last year aimed at children to tell them that belief in God is wrong and that believing in science and evolution is the elegant and beautiful thing to do. If there is no God, then why hasn’t He disappeared from our collective consciousness over the past two thousand years? We have tried and tried to remove God from our thinking; from our culture; from our world. And yet, God keeps resurfacing; showing up over and over in spite of our efforts to move to a more civilized, non superstitious, evolved level.
Could it be that like the mentally challenged Charlie, we are unaware of the effect God has on our lives until we see Him clearly? Like the boy breaking the dishes, we keep having these moments of clarity and paradigm shifting when we see through our human veil the divine. In that moment, instead of laughing, some of us are horrified; alarmed; afraid of the existence of God. What does that mean for our lives? What will we become if we accept that there is a God? We will no longer be free to be our own god; to form our own morality; to answer only to our own needs. Science answers the “how” but cannot answer the “why”. Science gave Charlie a huge increase in his intelligence but at the price of his innocence. Science might have made Charlie smart, but it was his experience with others that made Charlie wise. Ah, there is the rub. Science makes us smart. God makes us wise.
Charlie was not bitter when his mind returned once again to the state of shattered innocence. The one thing he recalled was true meaning of friendship and the significance of love. In order to spare his friends the pain of seeing him in his fallen state, his love for them drove him to leave his work and his friends and find a new life.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We are not blessed if we are simple minded like Charlie before his operation. We are blessed because we have seen God; we have come to know our fallen state. God’s presence in our lives has shown us the emptiness of selfishness; of arrogance; of pride. I have been God and I did not like it at all. My mother’s words about my incoordination were a cold wash of shame, but they served to remind me I am not perfect. And, only God can be perfect. I must look outside myself for God’s standard and His love to find meaning for my life. As long as I go along within my own strength, being my own god, I will stumble and fall and fail and laugh and be laughed at. But humility, meekness, mercy, peace are the gifts of living against the standard of God and not in its place.
This holiday season, see those around you. Do not laugh; do not ridicule; do not be arrogant and prideful and godlike. Rather, see your own weaknesses and revel in them; rely on God to supplant those weaknesses with new strengths that will give you an eternal perspective on the world around you.
And, then, put away the things of the past and place some flowers on the grave of Algernon. Move on in God’s strength and make the coming years and all the years after that truly Blessed!