Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Note on Anderson's Use of the Bible by Sean M Brooks

    I asked Poul Anderson in one of my letters to him whether he had been raised as a Lutheran (because of his Scandinavian ancestry suggesting that to me).  He replied that whatever religious background he had was Episcopalian.  However, Anderson called himself an agnostic.

    Despite his doubt about the existence of God, Anderson always treated honest believers with respect in his works.  In addition several of his books and stories were very Catholic.  Examples being THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS and THE HIGH CRUSADE.

    To judge from the many times he quoted or alluded to Biblical texts, Anderson was a serious reader of the Bible.  He seems to have mostly used the King James Version.  I'll quote here part of the first paragraph of  Anderson's short story "The Problem of Pain" because I think it indicates how he regarded the Bible: "But I do take an interest in religion, as part of being an amateur psychologist, and--for the grandeur of its language if nothing else--a Bible is among the reels that accompany me wherever I go."

    I collected the following list of Biblical references from many of Mr. Anderson's works.  I am quite sure the list is incomplete and I hope to add more as I find them.

IS THERE LIFE ON OTHER WORLDS?, pg. 7, Genesis 2.16
THE INFINITE VOYAGE, pg. 1, alluding to Ezekiel, chapter 1.
ROGUE SWORD, pg. 146, Matthew 18.6
THE HIGH CRUSADE, Chapter IX, alluding to Mark 2.27 and Matthew 28.16-20
AFTER DOOMSDAY, Chapter 1, epigraph, Ecclesiastes 9.12
OPERATION CHAOS, pg. 120, 1 John 4.8; pg. 140, John 21.20-23
"A Man to My Wounding," epigraph, Genesis 4.23
"The Bitter Bread," Psalm 8.4-5
DIALOGUE WITH DARKNESS, "A Chapter of Revelation, pg. 41, 1 Corinthians 15.14
DIALOGUE WITH DARKNESS, "Sister Planet," pg. 81, Ezekiel 7.3-4
THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND, Chapter VIII, pg. 70, Proverbs 20.2
A CIRCUS OF HELLS, pg. 103, possible allusion to Revelation 10.3
THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN, epigraph, Chapter 1, Job 4.12-16
THE GAME OF EMPIRE, Chapter 10, 1 Corinthians 13.13
THE MERMAN'S CHILDREN, pg. 313, John 3.16
THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS, pg. 466, Psalm 8.4-5
GALLICENAE, VIII, Section 1; Amos 8.1, 1 Corinthians 2.5, Matthew 18.8
DAHUT, IV, Section 1; Matthew 5.3
THE DOG AND THE WOLF, VIII, Section 1; Hebrews 13.2
A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST, pg. 1, Joshua 22.22

    The next step is to quote a few examples of precisely how Poul Anderson used some of the Biblical texts I listed.  The text copied below came from "A Chapter of Revelation."  The story is Mr. Anderson's speculation on what might have happened after God miraculously stopped the rotation of the Earth for literally one day.

    "First Corinthians," Dick said.  "By now I have the passage memorized.  He
[St. Paul] realized that the Resurrection is the central fact of Christianity.  If
you can believe that a corpse rose from its tomb, walked and talked, ate and
drank and lived for forty days, why, then you can swallow anything, ancient
prophecies, virgin birth, wedding at Cana, instant cures of leprosy--these are
mere detail.  The Resurrection is what matters.  ' And if Christ be not raised,
your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.'  Paul went to considerable trouble
to find eyewitnesses, he names them and lists the reasons for trusting them."

    It's interesting to note how Anderson's use of 1 Corinthians 15.14  parallels what Pope Benedict XVI said about Christ's resurrection in his book JESUS OF NAZARETH.  That is, the Resurrection of Christ is the supreme fact and proof of the truth of Christianity.  One of the points the pope stressed was on how DIFFERENT Our Lord's Resurrection was compared to a simple resuscitation of a dead man like Lazarus by Christ.

    My next quote came from Chapter 10 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE, where one of the non human characters quoted 1 Corinthians 13.13.  This novel is part of the Terran Empire phase of Anderson's Technic Civilization series.  From time to time in these stories he shows how Christianity continued to exist and to help shape human history.  And not only humans.  Mention is also made of many non humans becoming Christians.  A prominent character in THE GAME OF EMPIRE is Francis Xavier Axor, a draco-centauroid from the planet Woden.  F.X. Axor not only converted to Christianity, he became a priest of the Galilean Order.

    Fr. Axor's quoting of 1 Corinthians 13.13 is an interesting example of Anderson showing an alien reciting Scripture to hearten himself in a moment of discouragement.  "Well, we may hope."  A bit of cheer lifted in Axor's tones.  " ' And now abideth faith, hope, and charity. these three; but the greatest of these is charity,' " he quoted.  "Yet hope is no mean member of the triad."

    I could quote further, but I believe these are enough to justify my conclusions.  It's plain Anderson read--and quoted--the Bible with respect.  And that he used the Bible in his works with imagination.  It's hard to think of any other science fiction writers who used the Bible as Anderson has done.  To avoid any false impressions, I should add that Anderson did not quote Scripture in all of his works.


Paul Shackley said...

Nice one!

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Many thanks for liking this note! I had a really hard time tracking down the citations for some of Anderson's quotes of and allusions to Scripture.


Paul Shackley said...

"His eye is on the sparrow." The Avatar, p. 208.