Bradbury's religious views . . . From/in his words

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16 May 2003, 06:48 PM
Green Shadow
Bradbury's religious views . . . From/in his words
Back to "The Fire Balloons."

Peregrine is not so much open to new worlds but is self-righteous in his zealous attempt to hunt down "new" sin to battle.

A peregrine falcon is often used for falconry i.e. trainable for the hunt. The "hunt" is this case are ethereal Martians who do not need salvation. In the Martian Chronicles, man was always making the same mistakes on Mars that he made on earth. The invaders destroyed the ancient civilization and, in a 2003 sense, built strip malls and McDonald's on sacred ground.

Peregrine is like a missionary who wants to save the "heathens" from their own beliefs and gods but finds out in the end that the "heathens" may, indeed, know God better than he ever could.
16 May 2003, 07:51 PM
Ralph Dumain
I'm glad we are back to RB after this disgusting interlude defending the Los Angeles police.

Green Shadow makes a very important point. We could take this further and ask, why take the priest seriously at all? Just my question. Bradbury shows up his limitations, but not too harshly. Green Shadow also makes the crucial point of tying Christian imperialism to real, physical colonization. The Martian Chronicles is inter alia a critique of how the USA treated the territory it conquered after exterminating the Indians. Anyone who knows the basic facts about the acitivies of Christian missionaries knows the criminal role they played in terrorizing the native peoples. And the Indians did not take this crap lying down. Several Indian chiefs, among them Red Jacket, had scathing contempt not only for Christians, but for Christianity itself. In their arguments they showed themselves the equals of any secular humanist, contrary to the popular images of Indians current nowadays guided in every thought and action by spirit visions. The compulsion of irrational belief in unprovable assertions of allegedly earth-shattering import based on unverifable sacred texts written in distant times and places, there is the very essence of imperialism. This issue is conceptually distinct to be sure from a generic conception of the divine or of spirituality, but the claim that a particular religious doctrine is not false but just part of a greater truth is the sort of wishy-wishy tolerance that tolerates nonsense and harmful ideas in lieu of defining the specific relationships between particularistic doctrines and the generic sensibilities to be defended.

Now a question for Mr. Dark: since you have read and studied these poems: what do you think RB's use of the word "God" implies? Is hew just using it as a conventional symbol or does he mean it literally in a recognizable way? And how does it relate to his poetic style in general? Do you take him seriously as a poet, or do you think his poetry is rather convcentional, second-rate doggerel?
16 May 2003, 09:15 PM
I've about had enough. Being accused of not being able to think critically is the second highest accusation that another person could level at me. My life's work, what I do, how I function as a person is about finding the connection, thinking across different disciplines, and drawing conclusions as to what makes us who we are- all for the purpose of creation, for academics and study to me is an act of creation, which is the purpose of everything.
I see a great deal of thought behind what you have contributed here, but it is arrogant thought, laced with barbs, labels of "useless" and "disgusting", and a cynicism that, frankly, is frightening.
I drew some of the same conclusions as you do back in seventh grade, when I started reading real history books instead of the pap that we're offered in school. I am aware of the bloody history of religious and cultural tyranny in the United States and beyond. I know about the massacres, the hate-saturated bastardry and the whole nasty story. I was almost recommended for counseling after telling a teacher that I honestly thought that the human race didn't deserve its own existence and the sooner we were extinct, the better.
I don't think like that anymore. I still tremble and see red at the news, because, as the most cursory glance will tell, the blood is still flowing freely and will be for a long time.
(Yes I know that I'm not talking about Ray Bradbury and I DON'T CARE!)
Nard occasionally brings up human beings falling short of the glory of God. I don't believe this exactly, because I don't believe in sin. But, where this idea is applied for me is in the conclusion that religion itself is not poison. When it is poisoned, it is because the fallible humans who govern it are the poison. You seem to confuse these two different ideas.
"Wishy-washy tolerance" is our first step to understanding. Tolerance does not mean a unilateral acceptance of harmful ideas. Not being able to see larger truths, however, is the way to intolerance, in which all ideas are rejected, the harmful and the pure.
Tolerance does not mean seeing every part of every religion as somehow interconnecting. But you are playing the game of either/or, of saying that the only two realities are one and zero, and that there is nothing beyond or between that. I am aware of "particularistic doctrines", but they do not blind me to what there is to be found between one and zero.
As to opposing critical thought-
Life exists outside of any box we may put it in. Our job is the fascinating process of unpacking what we can, putting it together, drawing conclusions and boxing it ourselves, but we need to NEVER lose sight of the fact that it all exists beyond ourselves. We are only part of the picture, and I truly believe that. There are limits to critical thought, and certain disciplines that exist outside of critical thought that are very real and impossible to discredit without piles of sophistic crap. I'm sorry if this is too counter-intuitive or wishy-washy or non-critical or "out there" for you. If that's all you see, though, maybe you should be somewhere measuring how much a dog drools if you ring a bell, or how high a rat will jump if you electrocute him. Life exists beyond that, as does the best of our art- art like that created by Ray Bradbury.
So stop being a jerk.


[This message has been edited by DanB (edited 05-16-2003).]
16 May 2003, 10:48 PM
Nard Kordell
Hey, Ralph Domain:

Is this you?

(click on, or type into finder): http://www.autodidactproject.org/my/martian.html
16 May 2003, 11:13 PM
Mr. Dark
I just lost an hours work when this thing lost my attempt to post. I wish there was some kind of save key on this board.

I wonder if I hit "clear fields" by accident?

[This message has been edited by Mr. Dark (edited 05-16-2003).]
16 May 2003, 11:41 PM
Mr. Dark,
I've done that before. It's very irritating. Patience is mandatory when dealing with the internet, and I'm sure we'll all read what you've got when you've got it.

17 May 2003, 12:05 AM
Ralph Dumain
To reiterate the logic of this inquiry: what is the structure of RB's story/stories that enables us to argue for an emphasis on its/their lessons from our own varying points of view? What are the range of possible interpretations that may reasonably be based on the text itself? Also, what are the projections we are likely to make based on our own individual viewpoints? Mr. Dark presented a convincing case for RB's own views, those implicit in his stories and what is known of his explicit views.

One or more people identified RB as a Unitarian. The question of RB's known personal identification and the views implicit in his fiction are not synonomous though obviously related. They are not identical questions, because the very nature of fiction or poetry as opposed to a philosophical argument or assertion is that it sets up a concrete picture of a reality, which, instead of labelling itself, presents itself to us to interpret as we may, as does life itself. Artists create something concrete, whose implicit structure may even "prove" the opposite of what they consciously intended.

Naturally, facing this scenario, I interpreted it in a way congenial to me. Then I read about two pages of posts on this thread, and I realized I had to think about other aspects of the story which were never issues for me. From reading these posts, I concluded that the lack of sharpness to what the issues really are in life could result in a flabby judgment of the fictional narrative. Again, it's not a question of whether RB should have written a different type of story and prove that he is on one side or the other. Rather, by inquiring sharply into the issues raised by the narrative, and the range of possibilities enabled by its structure, including but not limited to RB's known or probable attitudes, we get define with greater depth the logical structure of suppositions that both the narrative and we make.

I'm pretty sure I'm not succeeding in getting this across, even to a sympathetic reader, nor do I think I would do much better by taking care not to arouse other people's hysteria. It's not an easy point to convey under any circumstances. Green Shadow has brought out some additional implications of "The Fire Balloons." An essential point of my last point, hysterical reaction notwithstanding, was: what is the relationship implied between generic spiritual concerns and specific doctrines? It's not that RB must conform to anyone else's notion, or that an interpreter should project his own views onto RB's intentions in order to feel more comfortable with the work. It's that, unless we can pose pointed questions that sharply compare our sense of reality to what we read, we are not going to fully understand the conceptual structures at play. In the final analysis we might wish to determine, without diminishing RB's achievement: what is RB capable of saying or showing in his work, and what not? Hence the problem of being wishy-washy, or mental inhibition, self-censorship, the fear of thinking unacceptable thoughts.
17 May 2003, 12:11 AM
Ralph Dumain
How embarrassing, to find more editing lapses in my post that stick out like a sore thumb. Which reminds me of something else apropos: it's infuriating to lose one's work after spending so much time writing it. Maybe the answer is to compose a lengthy piece offline using your word processing program, and then to cut and paste it into the message box on this bulletin board, thus elimimating the risk of losing it.
17 May 2003, 12:55 AM
Mr. Dark
Exactly. That's what I'll do when I get a chance -- compose off line and paste it in. Of course, my original version was totally inspired, and now anything I do will be second hand, next generation. Sad, Sad, Sad.

I'm pretty sure I know what I did. On the long strings, the previous posts are not on the bottom of the page when you enter your post. You have to back up a page, then read what is there, then use the forward button to get back to your work. Generally, this works fine, but this time, when I hit the forward button, nothing I wrote was there. Very frustrating. I'm so rarely inspired, it seems such a shame to lose it!

Again, a save button for composing comments more than 1/2 paragraph would be niece.
17 May 2003, 02:11 AM
Mr. Dark
Okay, let�s take a few points in order.

On Language:

Language is a morally neutral tool that can be used to enlighten, uplift and edify; or it can be used to tear down, denigrate, attack and offend. My preference in scholarly discourse is to keep aggressive, denigrating �attack� language out. It is certainly a free country and a free message board, but if the effort is to come to a better understanding of Bradbury and his works, and to work toward building and sustaining a kind of community of Bradbury fans/scholars, I think aggressive language doesn�t really comport with that aspiration.

Back to �The Fire Balloons�

The interpretation of Peregrine as a representative of Imperialist Christianity seems a stretch from the text. Peregrine makes it clear that he has no interest in going to Mars to proselytize the Martians. His comment is as follows:

�Should we go at all?� Whispered Father Peregrine. �Shouldn�t we solve our own sins on Earth? Aren�t we running from our lives here?�

This doesn�t sound like some fundamentalist Christian imperialistic crusader to me. His view is to stay home and take care of our own problems.

They (Father Peregrine and Father Stone) have an interesting discussion on the nature of sin and the potential differences in sin between humans and Martians. It comes up the Peregrine has authored a book on the subject of sin on other worlds, that, as far as he�d seen, was completely ignored. Peregrine engages in discussions with Father Stone, and indicates he doesn�t like the abstracted morality and beauty the church sometimes represents. He wants religion to be real and to have meaning to its adherents. This hardly seems the character of a narrow-minded, arrogant bigot. Father Stone says of Peregrine that his mind is always juggling and that he seems to enjoy this mental exercise. Peregrine replies that he keeps his mind alive.

When a group of priests are assigned to go to Mars to perform missionary work to the Martians, Peregrine is appointed to head the group. He is really not interested. He challenges the assignment and is told (by the Church leadership):

�You are a flexible man. And Mars is like that uncleaned closet we have neglected for millenniums. Sin has collected there like bric-a-brac. Mars is twice Earth�s age and has had double the number of Saturday nights, liquor baths, and eye-poppings at women as naked as white seals. When we open that closet door, things will fall on us. 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. Father, the job is yours.�

Again, I just don�t see the narrow-minded arrogant crusading represented in either Peregrine OR the church authorities trying to set the trip up.

When Peregrine lands on Mars, here is the prayer he offers with his team:

�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.�

Peregrine�s prayer is not a prayer to destroy the infidels. It is not a prayer saying they all want to be martyrs if they don�t convert the masses. The prayer is that they will have the capability to learn new things, so they can effectively serve the beings to whom they are being sent. I see NO arrogance here. NO narrow-mindedness. NO crusades.

Peregrine�s flexibility is manifest in his realization that the form of Christ and Christianity is not what matters, but the content. Eventually, he (and the others) realize that the Martians have no need of what they have to offer.

As you go through the story, Peregrine becomes convinced these being are not in need of the kind of religion/salvation he offers. He does not kill them or hate them or sit in judgment of them. He and the others leave them alone and go back to minister to their own kind. Father Stone (originally a kind of conservative/fundamentalist) says this:

�The way I see it is there�s 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. I�ll never doubt again, Father Peregrine. For this Truth here is as true as Earth�s Truth, and they lie side by side. And we�ll go on to other world, 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.�

For the life of me, I cannot find Imperialist Christianity here unless I read things into the text that just aren�t there. The tone of the story ought to be part of the interpretation, and the tone is not a tone of anger or judgment. It is a tone of tolerance, of learning, and of re-prioritizing to include the broadest possible theology. My reading of Peregrine in �The Fire Balloons� is quite different from that presented above.

On Bradbury�s Prowess as a Poet:

The choice presented above is a false alternative. Bradbury is clearly not in the poetic league of Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Keats, Whitman, Stevens, Eliot, etc. But the choice is not between being a poet of this stature OR in being �second-rate doggerel�. I think he�s a second-tier poet who is worth reading. He has chosen to speak to his religious views in his poetry, and so I think his poetry is required reading if you want to understand him. Also, I actually enjoy reading his poetry.

On the Question of Bradbury�s use of God:

I�m still trying to figure that out, to be honest. I think he generally writes as a humanist who has regard for the role of religion in the life of man. I think he uses God as a symbol of what he sees as being good in man � the possibility of yearning for more (not money, but more goodness, more knowledge, etc.), the potential and importance of each individual, the need for us to be kind to each other, etc. Bradbury does not disparage religion. He rails against hypocrisy (so did Christ) and against an excessive formalism (so did Christ). He obviously doesn�t like religious narrow-mindedness and arrogance. But overall, in his writing, I see little evidence that he sees religion as causing harm to mankind.

On the police:

I don�t find people�s opinions on the police to be disgusting. I have known several. With the infrequent exception, they are just good people trying to do a rough job. The Rodney King thing was disgusting in its refusal to portray the complete tape when the beating was played over and over and over in the media. To take a piece out of context is just dishonest journalism.

On the American Indians:

They were not exterminated. They are still here. Extermination means they have been wiped out. There were alliances that were both honored and betrayed by people on both sides. There were horrible atrocities on and by both sides. To say �anyone who knows the basic facts about the activities of Christian missionaries knows the criminal role they played in terrorizing the native peoples.� belies an overly broad brushstroke. There were many Christian missionaries who provided one-on-one service to native Americans. Medicines, teaching (not religious), help in many other ways. There were bad missionaries and good missionaries. In a class I took in the History of the American West, it was pointed out that the majority of Indians killed in these wars were killed by other Indians. They brutalized each other in territorial wars long before Europeans came here. The idea that they lived these ideal little lives, weaving baskets, etc., is simply unhistorical. None of this mitigates the fact of European encroachment on their territory. But to oversimplify this and idealize the Native American culture is just not accurate.

�In their arguments they showed themselves the equals of any secular humanist, contrary to the popular images of Indians current nowadays guided in every thought and action by spirit visions. The compulsion of irrational belief in unprovable assertions of allegedly earth-shattering import based on unverifiable sacred texts written in distant times and places, there is the very essence of imperialism.�

If the claim here is that they were secular humanists prior to the introduction of Christian mythology, I could not disagree more. While they did not have a sacred text (many of the tribes were pre-literate!), most tribes had at least one shaman who intervened with God and spoke in mystical and mysterious phrases to lead tribes in most significant endeavors: the hunt, war, intervention for food and sickness, etc. This shaman, in many cases, drew his �power� from a medicine bag made from the scrotal sac of an enemy. Much of their literature is beautiful, but much consists in mythologies involving origin stories and prayers. Most Indian tribes were steeped in superstition. This is just a matter of historical record.
17 May 2003, 03:05 AM
Ralph Dumain
I feel as if I'm advancing at a snail's pace, but hopefully not just repeating myself each time....Oy.

I am not interested in building community; I see no value in it, especially not in intellectual matters. However, I am interested in exercising the mental discipline not to lose focus or control of the subject matter and to be able to advance a line of argument to the next step. Avoiding stagnation--becoming bogged down--is what I would like to strive for in these discussions. That way, disagreement doesn't have to lead to a dead end, at least not until there's nothing left to be said.

Perhaps the fault is mine, but you missed my point about the Indians. My characterizing them as equal to secular humanists (not secular humanists themselves!) in their reasoning ability to reject the authority of the Bible is the opposite of romanticizing Indians (or am I compelled to say Native Americans?), as people close to the earth, guided by spirit visions, and similar Noble Savage crapola. My intent was to show them as reasoning beings in their better moments just like anyone else. So it's not about idealization or romanticization. As for any missionaries doing any of them any good, that's news to me.

Now back to Peregrine. Yes, I accept your characterization of the story and its characters. Just extend that reasoning further and ask yourself why those priests were even priests at all. If course if they weren't, there would be no story and we would be up the creek, but suppose Peregrine's open-mindedness and capacity for self-examination had led him to even more drastic conclusions about the institution and belief system in which he was enmeshed. There are even further implications to this scenario than those brought out. No, it wouldn't make sense for RB to pursue them to the extreme in this one short story. The story might even lose its plausibility and effectiveness if it were pushed too far. But it is easy to see that one could draw far more drastic conclusions about being part of a church or a religion. (This has happened in history, too, even in theology, for example in Higher Criticism or the curious doctrine of Christian atheism or Death-of-God theology.) I'm suggesting that it is important to see this, not to criticize Bradbury or his story, but to clarify its implications, its emphases, its silences, its ramifications, and to extrapolate to the horizons of its conceptual universe or beyond if necessary.

Something tells me you understand what I'm getting at and something tells me you don't. There are at least two levels involved here--one of that of Bradbury's stories and personal philosophy--and the meta-level of evaluation of religion and perhaps other issues in general. Then there is the interaction between the two. It seems that the issue here is not so much about Bradbury himself, but how our appreciation of Bradbury interacts with our general understanding and what we look for in any situation. My suspicion is that wishy-washy tolerance serves as a brake to conceptual clarity. And BTW, the original historical purport of toleration was to respect people's rights and freedom of conscience, not their beliefs, two entirely separate matters.
17 May 2003, 03:14 AM
I would like to apologize. Sort of.
Rereading this thread, I realized that I should have taken a few hours, done some research, and responded more along the lines of Mr. Dark's response, the real peacekeeper on this site. Ironically, I look back and see that a page ago, I was the one trying to calm things down here. So much for that. I let the way that Ralph was saying what he was saying...well... really piss me off.
While I stand by the things I said, I realize that they were much more personally based than they had to be. I don't know if my reaction was hysterical, and I think that people are justified in bringing personal experience to this board in as much as it can broaden our mutual perspectives on the issues we deal with. However, I launched into some of the personal assumptions and ego-protecting attacks that I myself detest and try to avoid. Ralph, just do me a favor and cool it a bit, okay? Nobody likes feeling like their ideas are being ripped on. And, we have a tendency to digress, and that's just the way it is. I hope you'll agree that it's better to bring the conversation back through direction rather than scorn.
Again, you have my apologies for anything that seemed egotistical or out of line.

Good Tidings,
17 May 2003, 03:22 AM
I have to say, though, that I do have an interest in building community. If we're so analytical about anything, and don't work any feeling into it... is that really what such a communicative art as writing is about?
17 May 2003, 03:23 AM
I have to say, though, that I do have an interest in building community. If we're so analytical about anything, and don't work any feeling into it... is that really what such a communicative art as writing is about?
17 May 2003, 03:47 AM
Mr. Dark
(Ralph) You are defintely one articulate son of a gun!

I value community. You don't. Okay. Good to know. You may the first person I've "met" who "sees no value in [community]".

I'm still not clear on your point with the Indians. Are you saying that thier rejection of the Bible makes them intellectual, reasoning beings; or that it is a manifestation of that capabililty? Or, that the acceptance of scriptural texts, by definition, demeans the rational capacity of someone who accepts them? I do sense that, on this point, I'm not really getting it.

As to your comment that it would be news to you to find out that any missionaries did any Indians any good . . . It is typically wise to avoid judgements in areas where you have no real experience or knowledge. I lived on Sioux and Mandan Indian Reservations for two years as a christian missionary. We taught reading to the kids. We picked up and delivered medications to old people. We chopped wood for the infirm. We organized ball games for kids. We picked up groceries for people who had no transportation. Apparently you have done no reading in the history of christian missions in America. Some were helpful some were not. I believe most were at least well-intentioned. I have not become a cynic. I still believe (as I think Ray does) in the basic goodness of man. While our history is filled with horror (the Stalins and Hitlers) it is also filled with acts of love, self-sacrifice and community (sorry!).

My objective is typically to seek out the meaning implied in the stories of Bradbury or to look directly at the text. When I'm trying to understand Ray's work, staying within the text seems appropriate. At some point, straying too far from Bradbury's text is another activity. It is debating, or expounding personal opinions on ideas Bradbury has brought forth. That's fine. It just is no longer dealing with Bradbury's story. I believe that the implications of Bradbury's stories will be textually derived. Once you go beyond that, then you're just talking about ideas YOU had that found some kind of germination in something discussed in a Bradbury story. That's no longer interpreting Bradbury, or understanding Bradbury; that is going beyond Bradbury. Again, that's fine, but it is a different focus than I tend to work on in these pages. I'm personally interested in what Bradbury is saying more than in what I can fabricate from something in Bradbury's story. So, again, it is entirely possible I'm missing the point.

On the Peregrine character, you say we could ask why they were priests in the first place. That's a good question. I think the answer is that Bradbury sees them as the ideal characters to deal with the religious themes of the subjects he wants to raise. To deal with the ideas of religious tolerance, missionary work, and presonal religious development; it seems probable that priests would be better characters to deal with these kinds of themes than, say, bus drivers.

Why doesn't Peregrine come to more drastic conclusions about the institution and belief system? Because, at some level, it works for him. Religion, for most persons, functions within a community. Even monks work in monastic communities. What would be the dynamic, internal to the story, that would drive Peregrine beyond the institution or the belief system? In Bradbury's world, there doesn't seem to be an unresolvable conflict between religion and toleration and personal growth. For a writer like Heinlein, perhaps Peregrine would have ended up going completely outside his faith. For Bradbury, that doesn't seem necessary.

Again, as another has said, your characterizaion of tolerance as being apparently definitionally "wishy-washy" contradicts my view. Tolerance indicates strength and confidence. People who live in fear are intolerant. What's "wishy-washy" are people who are so intolerant of other views that they refuse to see if there is accomodation possible. I don't see this effort toward successful communitarian pluralism as being wishy-washy at all.

I've never done a specific historical study of toleration's specifics, but it would surprise me if respecting people's rights, freedom of conscience and personal beliefs were not all a part of toleration.

[This message has been edited by Mr. Dark (edited 05-17-2003).]