Monday, 18 July 2016

Half-Pagan Mythology

The Merman's Children.

We can have two kinds of disagreement about a hereafter:

(i) Is there one?

(ii) If so, what is it like? E.g., is there reincarnation? Are all non-Christians damned? etc. (There are some fine-tuned distinctions: only Catholics/Evangelicals/Muslims etc are saved.)

Poul Anderson imagines a third alternative. Father Tomislav urges the merman Vanimen to accept baptism not because, if he does not, he will be damned but because, if he does, he will receive an immortal soul. And Vanimen does not doubt what Tomislav says but does not think that it is worth it!

This is because:

"The background here is Catholic, but the religion does not conform to the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Rather, it is the naive, half-pagan mythology of peasants and seafarers in the early fourteenth century..." (p. viii)

Of course, a fantasy writer can adopt any fictional premise that he wants but I find this one hard to take. God created Faerie beings without souls but literally gives them immortal souls if they convert? My willing suspension of disbelief is severely strained. Faerie is going under. This reflects what happened in history. Will the theistic faiths also go under? Do these faiths somehow become "true" because they are believed rather than vice versa - as in some other works of fantasy? Poul Anderson's various works of fiction do not assume a common metaphysics but there are some moves in that direction with the idea that various pantheons, universes and versions of history coexist. We want yet another volume to explain everything further.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I believe Christianity, esp. Catholic Christianity, to be true because God actually exists and actually sent his Son to become Incarnate as man for our salvation. And it is not, and never was Catholic teaching that ONLY Christians can be saved. All salvation comes only from Christ, but God will make ALLOWANCES for those non Christians who, either in honest error or ignorance, did not believe in or know of Christ.

Nor did I think the idea of soulless mer-people being granted souls if they converted all that impossible. Recall, that did not mean the mer-people were freed from ordinary ignorance or the ordinary temptations of life.


Paul Shackley said...

However, remember that, according to Platonic/Cartesian/Catholic mind-body dualist philosophy, the mere possession of self-consciousness and reason means that the merpeople already have souls.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

A very good point! You may have found an inconsistency by Poul Anderson as regards the "philosophy" behind THE MERMAN'S CHILDREN. Perhaps we are meant to take this as part of the "naive, half pagan mythology of peasants and seafarers in the early fourteenth century." Which may well have affected even shrewd leaders like Pavle Subitj.