Post-Apocalyptic Faith

April 12, 2017 — 10 Comments

shelter

In a post-apocalyptic world, would there be any room for Christianity? A variety of writers have addressed that in dramatically different ways, arguing for faith’s final dissipation or its ultimate triumph.

Post-apocalyptic literature being what it is, of course, most of the portrayals of Christianity either (1) reveal its idealistic collapse, (2) describe its survival as a crippled reflection of its former self, (3) depict its takeover by some persuasive power figure or mysterious cartel, or (4) ignore it altogether, as if it never existed.

In a recent essay on the subject, one of my favorite books was referenced. Canticle for Leibowitz was one of the first novels I read that awakened me to the fact reading could be enjoyable. A Canticle for Leibowitz struck a perfect chord in me, blending captivating science fiction with a consideration of the place of faith in the apocalyptic equation.

A cinematic masterpiece of this subject is 2010’s The Book of Eli. This amazing film which stars one of our generation’s finest actors, Denzel Washington, is set in a very desperate era. If you have never seen it, you are missing a unique examination of faith in a world where people turned away en masse because of the nuclear apocalypse.

C.S. Lewis explored the long-range future of Christianity. Barring the parousia (the second coming), history will continue its trajectory indefinitely. Spatially, this suggests humans may expand our presence beyond our present planetary home. In addition to his Space Trilogy, Lewis toyed with such concerns in a couple of short stories.

Included in the collection Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, are two of these efforts. “Ministering Angels” begins:

The Monk, as they called him, settled himself on the camp chair beside his bunk and stared through the window at the harsh sand and black-blue sky of Mars. He did not mean to begin his ‘work’ for ten minutes yet. Not, of course, the work he had been brought there to do.

He was the meteorologist of the party, and his work in that capacity was largely done; he had found out whatever could be found out. There was nothing more, within the limited radius he could investigate, to be observed for at least twenty-five days. And meteorology had not been his real motive.

He had chosen three years on Mars as the nearest modern equivalent to a hermitage in the desert.

“Ministering Angels” was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, volume XIII (January 1958). “Forms of Things Unknown,” an excerpt from which follows, was not published until the collection was released several years after Lewis’ death.

It is quintessential Lewis, blending reality and mythology in a creative fashion. It reads like what’s commonly called “hard scifi” (focusing on science and technology). But it hints at something more, in its opening quotation from Perelandra.

Likewise, the following passage indicates that not everything once deemed myth lacks foundation in fact. The exchange takes place between an astronaut preparing for a journey to the moon and one of his friends remaining behind.

“You’re surely not going to suggest life on the Moon at this time of day?”

“The word life always begs the question. Because, of course, it suggests organization as we know it on Earth—with all the chemistry which organization involves. Of course there could hardly be anything of that sort. But there might—I at any rate can’t say there couldn’t—be masses of matter capable of movements determined from within, determined, in fact, by intentions.”

“Oh Lord, Jenkin, that’s nonsense. Animated stones, no doubt! That’s mere science fiction or mythology.”

“Going to the Moon at all was once science fiction. And as for mythology, haven’t they found the Cretan labyrinth?”

What about the Real World?

Post-apocalyptic literature is riding the crest of popularity today. Nearly all of it is dystopian. There is little room in its pages for hope, let alone faith.

It mirrors the increasing secularization in the West and the increase in religious persecution in other parts of the world.

Atheists laud the increasing pace of the loss of faith in America and the rest of the Western world. They mistakenly think it will result in a more civil and happy world.

It will, in fact, cause the opposite.

I know nothing about Cardinal Francis George, former Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago. However, when I read the following quotation, it stunned me. It is one of the most sobering assessments of the course of Western history I have seen.

Later in 2010, he further outlined the degree to which he believed religious freedoms in the United States and other Western societies were endangered. In a speech to a group of priests, he said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.

His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

It remains to be seen whether George’s words will prove prophetic. I fear they may. God have mercy.

10 responses to Post-Apocalyptic Faith

  1. 

    Reblogged this on PERRIN LOVETT and commented:
    A fast but fascinating look at Christianity, post-apocalypse, real and fictional. Please check out Rob’s outstanding (and much more centered than my site) Mere Inkling.

  2. 

    Rob, simply outstanding commentary – as usual! And something to ponder when everyone is Googling “WW3” these days.

    • 

      Glad you enjoyed it (enough to even reblog it!). I’ve always found this subject fascinating, but you’re definitely right about contemporary events highlighting the subject.

  3. 

    Love the quotes! Now I want to read these books…thanks for passing these on.

  4. 

    HI Rob,

    We all see it coming as you see folks isolating themselves. It is easier to hide away from people and problems. I think that the Lord is tempering His children to be lights to the end. Part of that is not getting discouraged when people hide away or close themselves off to the kindness you want to show them in the Lord. It also makes you examine your own faith to see if it is genuine. There is a preparation for whatever comes next, but we know the outcome through this desert time.

    Thank you for sharing a good variety of great topics. This is fitting as always.
    In Christ,

    Gary

    • 

      Hiding away comes naturally to us, doesn’t it? I think we inherited it from our parents (Genesis 3:8).

      Yes, we do know the outcome of it all. And we were just reminded of it most eloquently in the celebration yesterday of the Resurrection.

  5. 

    I’ve seen the Book of Eli in the schedule – next time I will hit record and watch it.
    So much of the science fiction does have historical basis as well as science and really happens. Sad kids don’t read those solid classic Sci-fi in school any more. Great for discussions of humanity, honor, truth, as well as science.
    Slouching back into ignorance seems to be what extinguishes societies.I keep hearing how some are anxious for the final step from mythology/superstition to religion leading to science as a guiding light.
    Some of us see how foolish, blind, ignorant that is. Not seeing people’s hearts and actions turning good by scientific theories these days.
    The cardinals words ring true.
    Those that do not know history are doomed to repeat.

    • 

      I suppose I was unusual even as a youngster. I was an avid reader of Greek and Roman mythology, even in grade school. I never sought “revelation” in it… just entertainment and a connection of sorts with the ancient past.

      I’ve enjoyed scifi and fantasy all my life as well. Big fan of shows that treated it somewhat seriously. I was always turned off by things that approached it from a campy angle. Star Trek and Star Wars = good. Buck Rogers and Lost in Space = no, thanks.

      As for science, it is truly amoral. It strives (in its purest sense) to search for knowledge. When it is faced with unprovable theses (e.g. the existence of God) it should remain neutrally objective. Science can “suggest” certain likelihoods, but whenever someone claims that it “proves” the unprovable, it seems to me they are making of science a self-serving idol.

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