That is your interpretation of personal truth. Mine is quite different.
Thankfully, Ray's truth is evident in his writing and is a joyous blend of his life experiences, internal and external teachers and mastery of of the English language. After all, the word "personal" was definitive and that is the counterpoint between your truth and the everyone elses.
Gee, too bad you feel that way... that is to say...of your personal interpretation of your so-called...'my' personal interpretation'....
You see, I have no 'personal' interpretation. I used to have all kinds. Now, I take it straight from scripture... Argue with the authors in the books of Ephesians, Galatians, the Psalms, the likes of Paul, King David, others.
Did you know that nowadays, it's published in regular plain ol' American English. All is left is...how much does one dare to confront what is described of the human condition...
It's sort of funny, but all this reminds me of that young boy who watched a lot of basketball, and claimed that he was 8 feet 5 inches tall. Actually measured himself, and, lo and behold...he actually was 8 feet, 5 inches. Can't argue much with that...truly a marvel. That is... until you found out...that the ruler he was using, he personally made.
[This message has been edited by Nard Kordell (edited 03-09-2003).]
How did this string get so off subject?
Your condescension is starting to glare and I think you doth protest too much. The Bible is required reading in my home. However, personal truths can always be integrated into scripture. We make a point of chosing verses that hit home when one of us needs a friendly nudge in a certain direction. Proverbs and Corinthians happen to be my favorite books since they are easily adaptable in today's world.
I understand why you are intolerant of RB's religious stance, but it doesn't mean your views are the only ones that matter.
I think it doth far better for myself... if I treasureth silence from the very beginneth and glareth elsewere...
I think that interpretive work goes on every time we read a text and every time a text is translated. A literal reading of King James will involve some differences than a literal reading in the New American Standard Version, or in the New International Version. Some versions include the Apocrypha, some do not. The decision to accept this section as legitimate will vary from one religious tradition to another. Even within versions, there is the decision to be made as to what is supposed to be taken literally and what is written as metaphor, or parable or allegory. When Christ says he is the door, or the vine, or the shepherd; it seems difficult to take this literally, or to even think Christ means it to be taken literally. We are to meditate on the symbolism and come away with a greater understanding of what Christ's role is -- especially in reference to our relationship to him. This is not just a Biblical exercise, but is something to wrestle with every time we interact seriously with a text of any intellectual or moral substance.
With Bradbury, there is sometimes the question of how much we are even supposed to take from his text. In "The Messiah," I find myself wondering if I'm overreading some sections to try to derive some sort of meaning that indicates a religious/spiritual implication. How much is in this story (in particular) that is there to make a statement on the nature of religion, and how much is in there simply to advance the story?
At the beginning of the story, there are a combination of religious traditions represented -- from Fathers to Rabbis. These gentlemen have a discussion about what their childhood fantasies were, and most of them involved wanting to be the Messiah or Jesus. In recognizing the differences, Father Niven says, "Oh, the ambiguities." Part of the ambiguities come from the fact that they cannot agree -- even among themselves -- whether Christ is the Messiah, and we are to await his return; or whether the Messiah has not yet come. Bradbury seems to imply the idea that there are a lot of religions and that the multiple claims -- even in fundamental questions, such as the nature of Christ and the Messiah -- are not easily resolved. Is Bradbury saying that religion is -- by its very nature -- ambiguous?
Father Niven then takes his wish list (the others wanted to BE the Christ or Messiah) in a different direction. He is not concerned with becoming/being deity; he just wants to meet the Christ. In his discussion with the other religious leaders, he acknowledges that the group represents a plurality of religious views, and a toast is offered by Bishop Kelly to either the first coming or second coming of the Messiah (acknowledging an inability to settle on any one tradition) and then he says, "May they [the belief in the Christ and Messiah] be more than some ancient, some foolish dream."
Father Niven then mentions that he'd been asked to write a screenplay on the gospels and that the problem was that there were variances in each account about how the stories actually ended. This is in contradiction to the claim by one of the other religious leaders that, "Surely, . . . there is only one ending to Christ's life?" But Father Niven points out that, "The four gospels tell it [the ending] with four variations." For Bradbury, this ambiguity, then, inheres even within the gospel accounts themselves. In particular, as an example, Father Niven mentions the fact that the Last Supper was not really the LAST supper, as Christ met again with his disciples at the side of the lake where he gave them fish to eat.
The evening breaks up and Father Niven is alone in the church. He sees a pale glow coming from the Baptistry and goes to investigate. What he finds is The Christ. The hand has a jagged hole and is bleeding. He can hear the blood drops fall. He falls to the ground and trembles. When he looks up, he sees the "Christ" figure is trembling, also. This shocks him.
The figure then pleads for Father Niven to release him. As it turns out, he is a Martian who's telepathic powers make him susceptible to the wishes of the humans he encounters. He has fled into the church (a traditional sanctuary) to find peace from all the pulls he is being subjected to by the wishes of the many humans he has encountered in the city. Instead, he is trapped by the yearnings of Father Niven to see Christ. The Martian has become the image of Christ, and he cannot release himself from that image. The freedom he sought by ducking into the sanctuary has been denied him by Father Niven. For the Martian, the church is NOT a safe haven.
The Martian then makes two important observations. (1) The Christ Father Niven is seeing is simply a creation of Father Niven's own needs and desires. It is not an objective reality, but an outgrowth of what he wants and needs. (2) If Father Niven refuses to release the Martian from this form, he will die.
On point (1), it seems to be Bradbury's view (this is seconded in some of his other writings) that man creates God in his own image and that our idea of God is thus self-generated. While the image is self-generated, Bradbury doesn't seem to insist it is not real -- just that it does not carry the same kind of objective, universal truth we want it to carry.
On point (2), it is interesting that Bradbury sets up the scenario such that, if the image is forced to occupy this image, it will die. Again, is that just to enhance the dramatic edge of the story (the potential death of the Martian, creating a moral dilemma for Father Niven) or is he making a statement to the effect that when churches, dogmas, religious imagery, etc., are forced to stay in a fixed state, that the ability of religion itself to stay alive and relevant is ended. In other words, is Bradbury saying that if religion can't change and adapt, it will die?
In the end, the Father releases the Martian, but not before extracting a promise that the Martian will appear once a year, at Easter, to let Father Niven "see" this image of God once again. Part of what is interesting is in the fact that -- even when Father Niven knows the Christ image in this situation is not real -- he still wants to participate in this exercise every year. Is it Bradbury's perspective that we sometimes hold on to religious imagery and traditions even when we know tham to be false or imcomplete?
The story ends with the Martian leaving and Father Niven weeping for several reasons: for himself, for the delay in the rock being rolled away from the tomb, and because he will never be able to speak of this again.
The story is fascinating to me, in part, because I'm not exactly sure when (and if) I am over-interpreting Bradbury's story as a statement on his views of religion, or whether these elements are simply metaphysically neutral elements to add drama and feeling to a story.
I haven't read "The Messiah" yet, but it seems you've captured the essence of Bradbury's intent. Can his writing ever be over-analyzed since we take something different away everytime we read his stories?
I agree with your analysis of man's futile attempt to shape and hold onto Christ's presence on his own terms. In truth, He has already given Himself to us. It's man that struggles to live up to the high standards He sets in order to sustain the relationship.
"Fire Balloons" also has some very interesting inferences in considering this Topic.
At first Father Peregrine seems to have all of the answers. Then he and Father Stone are overcome by the beauty and spirits of the blue orbs, Martians. After saving the good Father from his own hand and leap of faith, the most Ancient Entities explain there is more to them than meets the eye.
In the story, of course, Father Peregrine is drawn to them because of his memories of his safest and most loving moments as a child. The innocent and formulative experiences etched by his grandfather's gentle hands. (How about the symbols here and RB's childhood?!)
Finally, Father Peregrine is bold enough to ask if he may be allowed the honor of visiting the Ancients again, this time to learn more of what they are and what they have known for a hundred centuries gone by.
(For these spirits, there was no poverty, illness, deaths, melancholies, pride, cold, wealth, envy, food, drink, toil, sin or hate. They had come to be in God's grace, like the oft referred lilies of the field, happy and at peaceful, angelic in manner.)
Father Peregrine cried like that innocent child he remembered himself being, expecting his grandfather to pick him up to make all well again in his world.
The last comments show Father Peregrine and his companions going forward still to do God's work, but maybe with a more humble approach because of what they had personally witnessed. God is everywhere, felt in unexpected ways, at most unlikely times.
Denouement ~ It is our need to be open to His presence, accept His gifts, take on His challenges, and go forward better for what we have understood of His Love - even if our understanding comes a mere glimpse or gentle touch at a time.
[This message has been edited by fjpalumbo (edited 03-10-2003).]
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of "Fire Balloons". You certainly grasp RB's interwoven themes with ease.
You're right about God showing up in unexpected ways and times in our lives. An aethistic soul can be transformed into a believer when the Truth speaks to him.
[This message has been edited by Celestial (edited 03-10-2003).]
Mr Dark how would you relate " The Messiah" with " I Have A Chocolate Bar for you". Her two mwmbers of different religions help eachother to have a goal in life!
"The Fire Balloons" is definitely one of Bradbury's primary source-of-religious-views stories.
In the very beginning, he sounds an Emersonian tone. The first image of the church is described thus: "He lay listening to the great hollow of the church". Contrast that with his description of space: " . . . leaving their incense through the velvet cathedral of space." The church is hollow, the vast beauty of space is labeled a cathedral. Similarly, Emerson once wrote that he liked the silence in the church before the preaching started. Emerson, Thoreau, Wordsworth and others, talk about finding God in the midst of nature, rather than inside a building made with man's hands.
The ministers are getting ready for a trip to Mars to perform missionary work there. Peregrine (the main character) is a minister who is always questioning things. My reading of Peregrine is not that he had all the answers, but that he was open to the questions. It was that very open-mindedness that led the bishop to select him to head the mission. The other main character is Father Stone (who, as the name implies, is less flexible in character and faith).
Peregrine challenges his own motives for going. Is he just running away from his own sins/failings here? Is his hesitation about going more about sloth than theology? The broader question, as applied to religion, is whether or not religion is just a sort of running away from our own responsibility for who we are? Does religion provide redemption or escapism? Is religion just, a way of, " . . . running away from our lives here?"
Peregrine has published a book that dealt with the problem of sin on other worlds. What would constitute sin in another environment? Would other beings (with other kinds of senses and body parts) have other sins -- sins we knew nothing about? If the body and its senses are different, might there not be sin we have never thought of? He continues to speculate about the complexity of sin as we interact with others. Did Adam sin alone? What happened to his status before God with the introduction of the female? Senses he knew nothing about came into play. (I guess anyone who survived the metamorphasis through adolescence can relate to that!) The added presence of a person introduced new sin. Is that going to happen on Mars? Peregrine's strength is that he can anticipate and formulate those kinds of questions/problems.
Father Stone says Father Perigrine is always juggling ideas in his head. The tone is that this juggling is a bad thing. But Peregrine argues that this is good. Peregrine doesn't want to be (nor does Bradbury want relgion to be) something stiff and abstract. He wants it to deal with the reality of our lives (which are lived in a condition of flux). Peregrine does not want "abstract beauty," he wants flexibility and life.
Peregrine is told by the Bishop that he was chosen to lead this expedition precisely because of his flexibility. "We need a quick, flexible man -- one whose mind can dodge. Anyone a little too dogmatic might break in two. I feel you'll be resilient . . ." Peregrine is called to lead because he is NOT dogmatic. He is intellectually flexible enough to be able to accommodate what he finds up there. Rather than close-mindedly forcing the Martians into their faith system, the Bishop is confident that by being flexible, Peregrine will be able to allow the church to accommodate local and unique needs.
This flexibility is seen in Father Peregrine's prayer as they open the planet up to God's work: "Lord, we thank Thee for the journey through Thy rooms. And, Lord, we have reached a new land, so we must have new eyes. We shall hear new sounds and must needs have new ears. And there will be new sins, for which we ask the gift of better and firmer and purer hearts. Amen." He doesn't ask the Lord to change the Martians, he asks that the missionaries will be attuned to the needs there and that they will be sensitive to those needs and requirements. His reference to rooms may tie in to Christ's promise to his disciples that he is preparing a mansion with many rooms for them to come to.
When they get to Mars, the mayor recommends that they work with the humans in the city, rather than trying to work with the Martians -- who are starkly different from them. Peregrine, however, wants to go meet the Martians. "It would be so simple to go into town. I prefer to think that if the Lord walked here and people said, 'Here is the beaten path, He would reply, 'show me the weeds. I will make a path.'" He sees the gospel as being ground-breaking, as opposed to tradition-bound. He will go on the untrodden path with religion.
He follows that thought up with the claim that "being Human" is not a matter of external appearances, but of intelligence and free will. No matter what form the Martians take, they are "human" in a moral sense if they manifest intellegence, conscience and free will.
Peregrine also ties religion to love and then ties that love to humor. We can't love if we can't laugh. "You can't put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at them. . . And certainly . . . God must love us all the more because we appeal to His humor." Since love is probably the driving motive in religion (at least normatively), we can deduce that Bradbury's sense of religion will include humor and flexibility as major agents in religion's ability to meet man's needs.
When they finally encounter the "Fire Ballons" (Blue, fiery spheres that represent a life form), the Fire Balloons save them from an avalance. For Peregrine, this is proof of intelligence, free will, and a sense of conscience and right and wrong.
In an exchange between Fathers Peregrine and Stone, they debate the humanity of these spheres. Father Stone says they are not human as, ". . . they don't have eyes or ears or bodies like ours." For Peregrine, however,the question of humanity is not one of physical appearances, but of moral consciousness, intelligence, and free will. He challenges Stone with this question: "Can't you recognize the human in the inhuman?" Father Stone's reaction is, "I'd much rather recognize the inhuman in the human." Again, Stone's view of religion is represented as being dogmatic, inflexible, and uncaring. Although he cares for and wants to help the morally crippled humans on the planet (and so he is not without compassion), he is unable to recognize the commonalities of intelligence, free will and conscience.
In trying to figure out how to "prove" the "humanity" of these spheres, Peregrine again questions his own motives and drives. I think one of Bradbury's values in "good" religion is in it's ability to allow or encourage persons to look inward and see what they are really made of. What are their motives? Are they nobly intentioned? This self-reflection is an important part of the character of Peregrine, as it is shown several times.
In a kind of conter--position to Christ's trials/tests in the desert (where Christ refuses to "tempt" God by thowing himself down from a pinnacle), Peregrine goes up to a cliff and steps off. He reasons that if they do not come rescue him, he will surely die; but he tests them to see if they will make the moral choice of saving life, or if they will passively observe or ignore. When he jumps, they rescue him, and he uses this as a way to convince Father Stone that they are moral beings. In demonstrating this moral capability to Father Stone, Father Peregrine takes a gun and tries to shoot himself. The Blue Spheres prevent the bullet from traveling the distance from the gun barrel to his body.
Finally the discussions begin to revolve around the question of who needs to be saved (anyone with a soul), and then with who has a soul. The argument that content matters, not form, finally wins the day. Because form is only secondary, Peregrine decides to create imagery that will appeal to the Martians. He argues that on earth, different races have created different versions of Christ to worship. The form doesn't matter -- Christ will fill any vessel in need.
They build a church to accommodate what they feel are going to be the needs of the Martians. It takes six days to build the worship area (a bit like the creation story, huh?). But as it turns out, the Fire Balloons turn out to be pure being. There is no flesh to contend with. As a result, there is no sin for them. In recounting their history, one of the Fire Balloons says:
"So very long ago we bacame these things that we now are. Once we were men, with bodies and legs and arms such as yours. The legend has it that one of us, a good man, discovered a way to free man's soul and intellect, to free him of bodily ills and melancholies, of deaths and transfigurations, of ill humors and senilities, and so we took on the look of lightning and blue fire and have lived in the winds and skies and hills forever after that, neither prideful nor arrogant, neither rich nor poor, passionate nor cold. We have lived apart from those we left behind, those other men of this world, and how we came to be has been forgotten, the process lost; but we shall never die, nor do harm. We have put away the sins of the body, and live in God's grace. We covet no other property; we have no property. We do not steal, nor kill, nor lust, nor hate. We live in happiness . . ."
Peregrine, the most open-mined of all, thought he might find new and different ways of sinning. What he didn't count on was in finding a race/species that were without sin, and in no need of redemption. Because they already live in God's grace, they have no need of salvation.
In the end, even Father Stone has been opened to what he states in his conclusion:
" . . . There is a truth on every planet. All parts of the Big Truth. On a certain day they'll all fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw. This has been a shaking experience . . . for the Truth here is as true as Earth's Truth, and they lie side by side. and we'll go on to other worlds, adding the sum of the parts of the Truth until one day the whole Total will stand before us like the light of a new day."
Father Stone mentions the voice of the Spheres, and, once he's heard their voice, he is able to close with, "It's Him. It is Him, after all."
Again, Bradbury's focus on relgion is largely phenomenological and personal. Different perspectives are allowed and are not seen as contradictory, but are seen as complementary. Close-mindedness in religion is discouraged, because what we have access to are just portions of the total truth. In the future, we will/may see how all these parts fit into a larger hole.
From Ana Mafalda:
"Mr Dark how would you relate " The Messiah" with " I Have A Chocolate Bar for you". Her two mwmbers of different religions help eachother to have a goal in life!"
I hadn't read "Have I got a chocolate Bar for you?" since high school, so I went back and re-read it tonight after my daughter went to sleep.
I think "The Messiah" and "A Chocolate Bar" are two different stories doing two different things. One is about recognizing that much of our religion is based on our own imagery and how that predisposition is very hard to let go of (it's also a cool science fiction idea about the possible interaction of the telepathy of the Martians with the unfullfilled wishes and dreams of man); while the other story is about how people of different faiths are able to help each other in spite of the differences in their backgrounds.
I really like both stories, and think the breadth of both style and content is evidence of the range of Bradbury's writing. One is pretty "heavy" in style, while "A Chocolate Bar" is almost breezy and poetic. The intent of one is to promote reflection and thought; the intent of the other is to promote a feeling of humanity and community.
I like that the priest is this imperfect, impatient man (at least in hot, sticky weather), and is not sure what to make of all this confessional stuff sometimes. It has become rote to him and is obviously hard for him to really "feel" that he is doing the Lord's work. He feels somewhat dated and irrelevant:
"On a steaming late afternoon of June rain, Father Malley drowsed in his confessional, waiting for penitents. Where in all the world were they? he wondered. Immense traffics of sin lurked beyond in the warm rains. Then why not immense traffics of confession here? Father Malley stirred and blinked. Today's sinners moved so fast in their cars that this old church was an ecclesiastical blur. And himself? An ancient watercolor priest, tints fading fast, trapped inside."
This Chocoholic problem is a new one, and it invigorated the almost irrelevant priest. He was unaware that there were any kind of religious barriers, as he obviously assumed the "penitent" was a Catholic. This issue comes up later, but not until after the young man is healed. When the young man is made whole, he thanks the priest. The young man is no longer afraid. He is now free to go out and see the world. He is no longer required to hide behind his obesity.
In his final confessional, he tells the priest,
"You have done Christ's work, Father, as you yourself must know. He walked through the world and helped. You walk through the world and help. When I was falling, you put out your hand, Father, and saved me."
This image is one of the strongest I retain from my reading of the Bible (not to imply that such reading is past tense!), where time and time again, Christ's healing and blessing were performed by him reaching out his hand and touching someone. (I think, especially of his reaching out his hand to Peter, who has begun walking on the water towards Christ, but who's faith falters when he sees the rising waves and wind.)While Christ's atonement is universally available, his acts of service were almost always one-on-one and accompanied by the outreached hand. That is what the young man is telling the Priest. He has done Christ's work. He has provided caring, one-on-one service.
As in other writings, laughter is shown to have a cleansing power. After they cry together, they laugh together, and the narrative includes this: "A church is washed well and good and fine not only by the tears of sorrow but by the clean fresh-cut meadowbrooms of that self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness which God gave only to man and called it laughter."
Bradbury also sees forgiveness as one of the highest gifts man can provide to each other as the two men part: "We have forgiven each other, dear boy, which is the finest thing that men can do."
In the end, the young man, many years later, brings back the promised gift that has been blessed by the pope -- a chocolate candy bar that the Priest nibbles at throughout his remaining years of sevice, as a reminder of the experience he had with this young man.
A good story. I enjoyed re-reading it.
I agree they deal with different aspects but I read them as parts of a puzzle which explore the way B and we feel towards religion, we need to believe and to feel good with life, and the religious principles help us. B desn't defend a specific religion , everyone is important as long as they help us to dream and fight for our dreams and make us have a clean mind and conscience.By helping the others to feel better we ourselves are also helped.Making others happy makes us happy too.
I agree with the idea that these stories are pieces of a puzzle -- or a mosaic. When we step back and see the entire mosaic, we get the entire picture.
The question I'm looking at as I read a bunch of these stories and some of his poetry is what he sees as the role of religion in the scope of man's existence. Does Bradbury see religion as a pragmatic sidebar to our lives? Simply a toolkit for doing good things? Or does religion bear some crucial factor in the very well-being of man? In "Have I got a Chocolate Bar," Bradbury is obviously talking about forgiveness, love, self-improvement, etc. But in some of his other work (some cited above), religion goes to the core of who man is and what he/she may become.
Others have pointed out that Bradbury doesn't adhere to a traditional, orthodox view of Christianity; but that doesn't mean he sees religion as just a pragmatic sidebar to man's life. The fact that he posits a future where religious symbols, traditions and issues remain at the forefront, indicates how seriously he takes religion.
For him, religion is crucial, but he doesn't believe in an unquestioned dogmatic orthodoxy that cannot accommodate the changes that occur in the life of mankind in general, or in the lives of individual persons. Religion is crucial. It is not just a new-age, feel-good fad. If it is so serious for him, and does not reside in traditional orthodoxies, the question of trying to define what it is he defines as religion seems important in understanding what his writing is about. Awe, excitement, anticipation, growth, awareness of the sacred, awareness of something greater than man, peace, community, etc. These are all elements of what religion really produces and is about for him.
Kind of silly . . . One of the main differences between the stories is that one is pure fiction and the other is SciFi/Fantasy. So I read them a bit differently because of it.
By the way, I was a chocoholic once. I ran ten miles a day in those days, so I could get away with it; but I felt so guilty about my compulsion that I did a one-year chocolate fast.
which is for you the frontier between sf and fantasy? I don't see any of these two as sf, only fantasy. I know "the Messiah" takes place in Mars and describes an encouter with a Martian but that by itseklf does't make it sf or does it?
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