Thursday, 26 November 2009

"The Legend of St. Ignatz" and "Article of Faith"

I listened to two more fantastic science fiction short stories the other day. I chose them because they sounded like they would address religious themes, and was pleasantly surprised to find that both stories have priests as protagonists (and hence, are relevant to my honours thesis).

Samantha Henderson, "The Legend of Saint Ignatz the Provider"

A brilliantly written, and darkly amusing, short story. The narrative which follows Ignatz - a corrupt, alcoholic priest - is broken up by excerpts from the "legend" which becomes of his life after he is beatified. Neither the priest nor the Church come off particularly well in this story, since both are corrupt and greedy, with little concern for others. The story seemed a little unbalanced, because there was no positive representation of the clergy - the priest and his contacts higher-up are very disagreeable. However, a couple of peripheral characters, who we know to be Christian, are presented positively, and greatly dislike the behaviour of the drunken priest.

I believe the primary goal of the story is humor and irony, rather than a serious commentary on the Church (though Church corruption and perhaps the process of beatification are criticised). The story is also funny because Henderson is, according to her website, a church office coordinator. Didn't see that one coming.

Click for full text (via Ideomancer) or audio (via Escape Pod).

Mike Resnick, "Article of Faith"

This story, nominated for a Hugo award in 2009, tells of a robot, hired to clean a small church, who comes to believe in God after discussing Christianity with the priest, listening to his sermons, and reading the Bible. The story is told from the perspective of the church's priest, who is very happy to talk to the robot and pleased at his interest in God - until the priest angrily declares that the robot cannot be a member of his parish because he has no soul. When the robot attends the church service regardless, the congregation is outraged. After talking with the robot, the priest encourages the congregation to consider allowing him to join them, since he expresses a genuine desire to worship God. The intolerance of the parishioners, however, leads them to kill the robot, whereupon the priest resigns and becomes a carpenter.

I found the sudden introduction of anti-robot sentiment to be unprecedented and unusual, since there is no indication of it before the priest's angry outburst at the robot - before which point he is eager to share his faith with him. The story is also awkwardly heavy with allusions to the robot being a Christ-like martyr for his faith. Most interesting to me is how the (science-fictional) dilemma the priest finds himself in causes him to renounce his calling and leave the church. He comes to realise that the church is inherently intolerant - indeed, they are violently so - and this revelation changes him. While he doesn't seem to fully renounce his faith and disbelieve in God, he certainly ceases his devout religiosity. In this respect, I found the story to be rather anti-religious, since all the church-goers are portrayed as violent and intolerant cold-blooded killers.

Click for full text (via Jim Baen's Universe) or audio (via Escape Pod).

I've started reading James Blish's A Case of Conscience, which is great so far. I'm just trying to find the time to read some more! Also, it's been a while since I've read any Gene Wolfe, which I realised today when I was discussing The Book of the New Sun with a coworker at the library (who I convinced to read it, and who absolutely adores the book so far). Perhaps I should gobble down some more Wolfe short stories...

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