Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Dissenters

In Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971), Joab Thornton is a Martian physicist and a Dissenter.

The Dissenters:

have colonized and terraformed Mars, "...made it blossom..." (p. 65);
sent "...psalm-chanting armored battalions..." to defeat the Mongku Empire (ibid.);
fought Venus to a standstill just before the Solar System was united.

So were the Dissenters the "theocrats" who, we are told, ruled North America during the conflict with the Mongkuans? An entire future history waits to be written here.

Looking back to an earlier chapter, I see that I was mistaken.  Thornton says:

"'The New Christians forced us to migrate to Mars when they were in power...It was they who engineered our war with Venus.'" (p. 15)

Since the war with Venus occurred after the overthrow of the Mongkuans, it was the New Christians who ruled the North American theocracy from before the Dissenter colonization of Mars until at least the beginning of the Mars-Venus war. Maybe Anderson compiled an unpublished time chart to keep this implicit future history straight?

Thornton is prepared to work with "'...Jews, Catholics, Moslems, unbelievers, collectivists, Sebastianists...'" but not with a single New Christian (ibid.). When asked to say a few words at the grave of a Catholic, "...papist...", crew member, he says only:

"'...he wasn't of my faith...we haven't any of his along. I will only say that he was a good man.'" (p. 69)

But that is plenty! Thornton does not need to make an issue of their different (Christian) faiths.

There are different ways to interpret the Bible. Thornton thinks that an extended period of wars:

"'...shows how the Lord  chastises a people who forget him.'" (p. 65)

- and even the Dissenters may not be safe:

"'The Lord may see fit to punish us too.'" (ibid.)

Really? An entire civilization is less devout and Law-observant, more secularist and this-worldly, than a Biblical deity would like so he takes it out on the enlisted men, non-combatants and children who suffer and die as a result of technological warfare?

I was brought up in a Christian tradition but always thought that God dealt with individuals, including, among others, both good atheists and bad theists, not with societies. The government of a single country, or planet, necessarily negotiates with the representatives of another government but an omnipresent deity has a direct line to every citizen on both sides. I think that the Second Isaiah says something about the new Covenant being written on men's hearts? But proof-texting is no use when talking to someone like Thornton.

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