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

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18 May 2003, 09:38 AM
Green Shadow
Bradbury's religious views . . . From/in his words
What collection is "The Messiah" from?
18 May 2003, 11:08 AM
"The Messiah" is in Ray's short-story collection, LONG AFTER MIDNIGHT.
18 May 2003, 12:10 PM
Mr. Dark
Come now, I would never forget the postings here. Over a basketball game? We deal here with real life! Hence the concern against fictional characters as normative examples of anti-communitarianism. I think I remember Thoreau comparing people to Prairie Dogs in the sense that we, by our nature, require community.
18 May 2003, 05:03 PM
Green Shadow
Thanks, Richard.
21 May 2003, 12:16 AM
Ralph Dumain
I finally got a chance to read �The Man�, which I found in �The Illustrated Man.� My first association is with a Jewish writer, perhaps Kafka, who wrote that the Messiah would come when he was no longer necessary.

At first I thought this story was pretty insipid, like an exceptionally overbearing didactic episode of The Twilight Zone. But the story's last substantial paragraph made me reconsider. The image of the captain chasing after the Man on planet after planet, just missing him by a day, an hour, a second, etc., intrigued me. It temporarily redeemed an otherwise unappealing story.

Because the captain wanted to chase after the savior/Messiah/Christ as if he were hunting just another material entity external to himself, but with the wrong attitude, he would never find what he was looking for. The problem, of course, was within. And in that sense this is an arresting image. But it also highlights the contradictions of the story that tend to plunge it back into banality.

The essential contradiction is this: the ability to recognize the presence of the savior depends upon inner attitude, but with the proper state of being, the concept of an external savior is meaningless. The savior appears: the aliens are digging him; the captain doesn�t believe the rumors, and doesn�t and wouldn�t appreciate it anyway. So how could an external source prompt the appropriate reaction where the receptivity didn�t already exist?

The element that spoils the whole story and pitches it back into conventional mores is faith. The struggle between the captain and his officer becomes one of world-weary cynicism vs. simple faith of simple people. A pretty dull concept if you ask me.

Yet there is something else of interest to consider. The captain is a hardened autarch and knows only how to bully people. Yet once he learns that the Second Coming is real, he becomes obsessed. But as the mayor asks him: what are you going to say when you meet him? The captain is caught in a contradiction which his culture has bequeathed to him. He operates from only the crassest of pragmatic motives and assumes everyone does the same. Yet once part of his cultural indoctrination is triggered�the prospect of salvation�he wants that too, though it is no part of his practical reality. And then the paradox is that when he pursues it, he bases his pursuit on his faulty selfish premises, and so fails.

It�s an interesting contradiction when you think about it, and it�s a contradiction of a whole civilization and its symbolic economy, and not just of a sour individual. The need for faith is as much a sickness as the sickness it�s trying to cure. So while Bradbury is astute up to a point, he also unconsciously reproduces the contradictions of conventional thinking. The polarity of corrupt civilization and pastoral innocence is an old idea. Utopian thinking sits quite comfortably with the conservative, repressive institutions of civilization. This was true for the author of the original �Utopia� as well. Bradbury injects a new twist into an old story, but in the process of exploiting this ambiguous polarity between credulous pastoral innocence and cynical civilizational guilt, he places himself in ambiguous position whereby he can be interpreted as (and may himself be) conservative and liberal at the same time.

[This message has been edited by Ralph Dumain (edited 05-20-2003).]
21 May 2003, 12:33 AM
Mr. Dark
"If Only We Had Taller Been" (In "The Chapbook for Burnt-Out Priests, Rabbis and Ministers.")

In this poem, Bradbury seems to focus on one aspect -- but a very important one -- of a religious sensibility. He intermixes scientific symbols with a kind of psychological observation. The focus of this poem seems to be the declaration of the idea that we overcome death through a kind of reaching and yearning for something that is beyond what we currently are.

This appears to contain a sense of purpose in challenging mankind to reach further and further. The reaching is symbolized by space travel, but I think that would be an unjustifiably narrow focus and an overly literal interpretation to look only at the space travel component of the poem.

There is also a concurrent sense that there is regret that we did not reach far enough to transcend the present state of affairs. The title, "If Only We Had Taller Been" seems to have a sense that were just didn't have the capability. That we may have reached, but we could not get high enough. In another passage that seems to indicate a focus on the past, it says,

"We ached, we almost touched that stuff; /
Our reach was never quite long enough."

He then talked about "boys" before, who tried to reach also, "But they, like us, were standing in a hole."

The promise he holds out is that:

"If we could reach and touch, we said, /
'Twould teach us, somehow, never to be dead."

What is it that would cause us to "never be dead"? What does he mean by this? Is he talking about literal personal immortality or is he talking about a sense of being "alive" -- as in living fully in the present moment (as the Buddhists often say)?

The melancholy tone through the poem so far seems to recognize that we can't "reach and touch" now and that those before us could not "reach and touch," either. For Bradbury, though, there is always hope. There is always a possibility that man will reach the future and will reach the stars.

In the last stanza of the poem, Brabury makes a couple points:

(1) He opens the stanza with a question as to whether or not man will ever "cross the void, across the universe and all?" The symbol of this yearning seems to be the effort to take ourselves out of our own limited universe and see if we will transcend our own circumscribed existence and move outside of it.

(2) In the previous stanza, he had made reference to touching at least God's hem, and indicating if that had been accomplished, people would not have to go the way of all those who have preceded us in death. His references to God in the last stanza seem less an abstraction (although I still think God is used more as a symbol than a personal God). He compared man's yearning to the painting on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, where Adam's hand is reaching out for God, and God is reaching back to Adam, and thier fingertips touch. The poem now takes on more blatantly religious symbolism. If man will reach out (into the universe) then God will reach down from out there:

"And God's great hand come down the other way, /
To measure man and find him good, /
And gift him with Forever's Day"

What began as a quest for geographical reaching becomes a symbol that reaching is the religious sensibility that brings man in a place where he can touch the infinite.

While in the present and in the past, we may not have been able to reach for what we yearned for; but he continues to hope that man will -- in spite of his failures in the past -- continue to reach out until we conquer the distance. He says ". . .an inch of will is worth a pound of years." When we reach the destination (not narrowly defined), we can then say:

"We're tall, O God, We're tall!"

One aspect of religion that seems almost universal is this sense that man seems to yearn for something. Bradbury, in this poem, seems to see this yearning, this hope, this striving -- as a primary activity of the religious sensibility.

In Jeremiah 29:13, this aspect of religion -- the sense that a real yearning is what drives man -- is shown:

"And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall seek for me with all your heart."

This poem seems to address this sense of yearning. We pursue God, peace, knowledge, advancement, kindness, etc., and in that pursuit and yearning is where religious activity is really taking place. Without that yearning, pursuit and hope; it seems unlikely man will ever really accomplish much at all.
21 May 2003, 12:40 AM
Ralph Dumain
Do you think that Bradbury's conception of space travel as reaching toward God and finding the latter's finger approaching his is comparable to Arthur C. Clarke's notion, e.g. in 2001? If either one is right, though, wouldn't it depend upon space travel broadening the conceptions of the human race? It has been said that travel broadens the mind, but then again there's the classic American tourist: he stays in fancy hotels and acts as if he is back home.
21 May 2003, 01:00 AM
Mr. Dark
Interesting take on "The Man". I'll need to go look at the story again.

Initially, I think Bradbury is often after an emotional connection more than an intellectual one. The story may appear insipid to scholarly rigor, but on an emotional level, the story seems to hit home. But, I'll take a look at it and see where I would share your take and where I may see it differently.

As to the shorter God question (above post), I can't remember (other than an image of a huge fetus in space -- clearly I need to find my book AND look at the movie again) any details of the Clarke 2001 ending. I remember that it visually blew me away; and I remember feeling like I had a more level-headed interpretation when I read Clarke's book.

In this case ("If Only We Had Taller Been"), I see the space travel as purely symbolic of man's reach. Ray, a huge fan of space travel, may not interpret this as broadly (although I think he might!).

The reach seems to represent our own growth. We grow and become more substantial, more real, and more significant, when we stretch ourselves and learn new "things". Personally, I agree with Thoreau on the issue of travel. I don't think travel necessarily broadens the mind. Your point is definitely part of it -- when we travel, we tend to live in artificial environments. When I lived on the reservation, I lived in a trailer home within the jurisdiction of the tribal council, and within walking distance of the housing. I would see whites come in, play a basketball game or something (take a few pictures) and then leave. It's doubtful that travel broadened them in any significant way in these episodes.

Thoreau really felt that life was more properly formulated in the mind, and although he loved nature and took a few trips, he felt that truth was not found out there, but that man's focus should be internal.

"Be rather the . . Lewis and Clark . . . of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes . . . be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought." (Last chapter of Walden)

I think travel is fun and can expand our views of the world and culture, but I think Thoreau makes a point in saying that there is much to explore within.
21 May 2003, 05:10 AM
Inner exploration is great if done right but if it's done wrong Ray refers to it as "navel-gazing."
21 May 2003, 08:50 AM
Nard Kordell
Mr. Dark:
I think you pretty much nailed it on the head....when you say Bradbury is after emotional connection, other than intellectual.
That is always the 'mystery' of Ray's writings. It is a futile effort to attempt the gain of absolute insight into why his writings work. It may seem a bit off the point, but it's like 5th century Augustine who writes in 'City of God', that when he realizes exactly what "time" is, as soon as he gets pen to paper, he doesn't know anymore. We think we can trace the logic steps of unfastening the locks that bar the secret of the "gift" that is Ray's, but in so doing, it only perpetuates the question....

[This message has been edited by Nard Kordell (edited 05-21-2003).]
21 May 2003, 10:01 AM
Mr. Dark
I think that's one of the the things that makes Bradbury so fun to read. There is a "something" in his writing that connects emotionally. He seems to write in a more intuitive way than in an intellectual way.

This doesn't mean the effort to analyze/understand his writing is fruitless, I just think you have to keep this aspect of his writing in mind when trying to understand it.

I also think he uses imagery/metaphor in a way that intentionally leaves the story open to various interpretations at different levels.
21 May 2003, 11:40 AM
Nard Kordell
I just re-read..
..."They Have Not Seen the Stars, a small poem by Ray. And once again, from all my experience, I must again state what I see.... that mystery interwoven in his words, the images inside your soul that he let's you see by the very design of his language...is a glance at the character of Christ. You can say what you want, but ultimately that's what it is. It cannot be no other, it cannot be...unless the devil were to put on ingenious masks to counterfeit. If strong delusions are to be the fare for a later generation, this would be the main course. But no sweet sound as this...emanates from the belly of a whirlwind...
23 May 2003, 10:38 AM
Mr. Dark
Response to Ralph's "The Man"

"The essential contradiction is this: the ability to recognize the presence of the saviour depends upon inner attitude, but with the proper state of being, the concept of an external savior is meaningless."

I'm not sure I see this in the same way. This looks like a false alternative to me. Recognition of the savior, AS THE SAVIOR, requires an inner readiness. But I don't see how that makes the concept of an external savior meaningless. This is just how I think religion works. If religion is pure subjectivity, then the external reality of its claims is irrelevant. But I doubt that any of the mainstream religions would say it (the religious experience) is all about subjectivity. I think the situation is that religion deals with an external reality that must be subjectively experienced in order for it to have any compelling authority or personal reality. The fact that there must be an internal receptivity does not necessarily say anything at all about the status of any claims to external reality. If it did, the question would be "reality in relation to what?". And the answer would be reality in relation of an external truth. I see the position stated above as a false alternative.

"The struggle between the captain and his officer becomes one of world-weary cynicism vs. simple faith of simple people. A pretty dull concept if you ask me."

The struggle between world-weary cynicism vs. simple faith is, indeed, an old struggle. But because it is the struggle of individuals, it is a struggle that has renewed freshness and reality in each generation and for each individual. Only if this struggle is viewed as a pure abstraction can the argument that it is somehow dull and old be sustained. This is one of the differences between religion and philosophy/theology: Religion is a matter of personal immediacy and relevance. (By the way, I see this also as a false alternative -- I don't think philosophy and theology are necessarily mired in the abstract.) The personal struggle between faith and cynicism is hardly dull. It is a large part of defining who we are. The thing with literature is that it (in part) allows us to see these philosophical issues of abstract faith played out in posited human lives. The Captain just doesn't get that religion is not some finite, physical entity you capture and hold. It is not just made up. It is real, but unlike the recognition of the law of gravity, the recognition of "The Man" requires an ethical and moral readiness. Somewhere, the other people in the story have been able to find joy and relevance in their interactions with "The Man". Does this make them simpletons? The term, "simple faith of simple people" seems to imply that only simple people can have faith. Some of the most intellectually complex writing I've seen deals positively with the issue of faith (Bultman, Luther, Calvin, Tillich, Kung, Wright, Edwards, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Barth, Hesse, James, Paul, John, etc.). These intellects hardly represent "simple people".

"Yet, once part of his cultural indoctrination is triggered -- the prospect of salvation -- he wants that too, though it is no part of his practical reality. And then the paradox is that when he pursues it, he bases his pursuit on his faulty selfish premises, and so fails."

I think this is a good observation and is true to how many people "do" religion in thier own lives. Many come to God (as the captain is) for purely selfish reasons -- to overcome sorrow, to be saved, to avoid hell, to abdicate responsibility for taking responsibility for thier own lives, etc. As will be the case with the Captain, they will never really "find" God, or "The Man" or truth. They will constantly miss the point by seeing religion/God/worship as being self-serving and shallow. Many contemporary christians seem to see the Christian faith as the effort to find the minimum requirements possible in order to be saved, and forget the cross of discipleship. This may characterize the Captain's problem: He wants to find something outside of himself that will magically make everything right.

"The need for faith is as much a sickness as the sickness it's trying to cure."

This statement assumes it's own truth. It is neither explained or defended. At it's face, I would just disagree and think that it overly simplifies the issues. The need for faith may, in fact, be comparable to the need for air. If mankind needs a religious sensibility in order to avoid a "world-weary cynicism" how is that a sickness? Is the need for food -- as a means of sustaining the body -- a sickness? Not all need is sickness. In fact, the greater truth may be that sickness is in the failure to recognize our needs and appropriately see that they are met.

"Utopian thinking sits quite comfortably with the conservative, repressive institutions of civilization."

Without doing the historical research, it seems that writers of utopian visions have always been attacked by "conservative, repressive institutions" because these utopian descriptions implicitly attack these non-utopian institutions. I would respectfully disagree that conservative, repressive regimes are comfortable with utopian visions.

I saw the story "The Man" in much different terms and enjoyed it far more than these comments seem to reflect.
23 May 2003, 07:01 PM
The second "In His Words" entry right here on this site tells of Ray's profound reaction to his encounter with Mr. Electrico. To save you even looking, I'll post the relevant part here:

"He then walked me down by the shore and we sat on a sand dune. He talked about his small philosophies and let me talk about my large ones. At a certain point he finally leaned forward and said, "You know, we've met before."
I replied, "No, sir, I've never met you before."
He said, "Yes, you were my best friend in the great war in France in 1918 and you were wounded and died in my arms at the battle of the Ardennes Forest. But now, here today, I see his soul shining out of your eyes. Here you are, with a new face, a new name, but the soul shining from your face is the soul of my dear dead friend. Welcome back to the world."
Why did he say that? I don't know. Was there something in my eagerness, my passion for life, my being ready for some sort of new activity? I don't know the answer to that. All I know is that he said, "Live forever" and gave me a future and in doing so, gave me a past many years before, when his friend died in France.
Leaving the carnival grounds that day I stood by the carousel and watched the horses go round and round to the music of "Beautiful Ohio." Standing there, the tears poured down my face, for I felt that something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electrico."

In this passage, and at least one part of "Dandelion Wine" and another of "The Halloween Tree," Ray indicates an extreme willingness to accept the possibility of the reality of reincarnation. (There may also be some implication that the only people to be reincarnated are those with unfinished business in this world--see "Goodbye, Grandma" in "Dandelion Wine.") He has elsewhere explored other possibilities. For instance, "There Was An Old Woman" portrays a character so firmly closed to the existence of an afterlife she chooses to keep her original body, old and damaged as it is. Related ideas appear in "Pillar of Fire," "The Tombling Day," "The Dead Man," and "Death and the Maiden." "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Kaleidoscope" indicate that the ONLY immortality which counts is what is accomplished in, or left over from, a person's mortal existence. Anyone with other examples please post them. But NOWHERE have I EVER seen him make ANY statement regarding an afterlife as, "This is absolutely the only way it works." Also, NOWHERE have I seen any depiction by him of conventional Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell. Anyone who can offer quotes, either from fiction or non-fiction of his on the subject of afterlife, immortality, or lack of it, please do so.
23 May 2003, 07:14 PM
Mr. Dark
Thanks for the source references. I'll be checking out this idea of reincarnation as I look through this stuff; although my expectation is that he uses the image of reincarnation in the same way that he uses christian symbols -- as a way of pointing toward his own ideas using ideas/images people are already familiar with.