Sunday, 28 October 2012

Bribing The Gods

" 'Manandan, I offer You a bull, white with red ears and mighty horns, for every lad of mine who comes home,' Niall cried." (Poul and Karen Anderson, Roma Mater (London, 1989), p. 286).

Does this sound like a very early and immature stage of religion? If there is a superhuman being Who can control the elements, why does He want bulls? And would we respect such a being if He helped us only when bribed? A higher concept of divinity is of beings who work for our good regardless.

Poul Anderson imagines this kind of religion continuing into the future. Nicholas van Rijn is intelligent, informed and canny. He has amassed vast wealth by his own efforts and more by employing capable people. Furthermore, he knows that this is the case. Yet he offers candles, altar cloths and the like to St Dismas in return for success in his enterprises, like a mariner putting oil in a lamp in the temple of Tanith on returning to Tyre in one of Anderson's Time Patrol stories.

Van Rijn seems to be like many successful people who acknowledge that there may be some truth in religion but who leave the custody of that truth in the hands of the priests. Meanwhile, they conduct their own mercantile affairs while making an outward observance by at least paying for the endowment of places of worship.

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I think you are a little hard on Nicholas van Rijn! While his promises of offering candles and other small gifts to his favorite Saint Dismas might seem childish, I don't thing that means his faith was weak or superficial. Note, van Rijn was asking his saint to INTERCEDE for him, not trying to coerce or bribe God. The Catholic Church in the strongest possible way any ideas of "magic" forcing God to do what we want Him to do.

    Here and there throughout the van Rijn stories you see passages where it's plain he has thought through his faith and was very sincere about it. Altho I wouuld not exactly say Old Nick was free of the more carnal sins! (Smiles)

    Sean

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  2. I remember a passage where he mentions the question or mystery of the spiritual status of other rational species - but, of course, leaves that as a question for the theologians to address.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      I'm pretty sure you mean the story called "The Master Key." One of the characters thought the Yildivans had no souls. And van Rijn said he would leave that problem to be pondered on by the theologians. I myself would not have been quite so dismissive of the question! (Smiles)

      Sean

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  3. It would fit in with the rest of the series if van Rijn were Jerusalem Catholic? His business and personal lives, particularly his pleasures, are entirely secular so he is one of those people who recognise a spiritual realm, maybe just because they have been brought up to believe in it, but who have in no way integrated it into life as a whole.

    I want to have a round number of blog posts in each month so, after the next, I might write some but save them till 1st Nov.

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  4. Hi, Paul!

    I certainly got the impression Old Nick was a Catholic. From time to time he is mentioned as praying, making the sign of the Cross and practicing other Catholic customs. I would call him a sincere, if not exactly a model Catholic. And he does run Solar Spice and Liquors ethically. Never mind his loud blustering about how old, fat, and lonely he is! (Smiles)

    Sean

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