Friday, 16 September 2016

By God

Poul Anderson shows us gods coming and going over the centuries and millennia in several works of historical science fiction. Hanno the immortal is a Christian during the centuries when it is expedient to be one. Time travelers interact with gods in interesting ways.

In SM Stirling's Against The Tide Of Years (New York, 1999), Chapter Eleven, when a Nantucketer says, "' God...," (p. 169), a Babylonian prince wonders, "Which god does he swear by?" (ibid.)

If there were many gods, then each would have to be identified by a particular name whereas, if there is only one, then the single word "God" suffices just as, if there were only one surviving male human being, then he could be addressed indifferently either as "John" or as "Man," although he might still prefer "John." Some monotheists continue to insist on a particular divine name: Allah; Jehovah; Krishna.

Someone pinned a cartoon on the noticeboard in the Lancaster University Religious Studies Department -

a man in pajamas kneels in prayer beside his bed;
above the bed hovers a large male figure with a beard, a horned helmet and a hammer;
the man: "Oh, I'm sorry, Thor! I thought when I said 'God," I'd get, well, you know...Jehovah!"


  1. Paul:
    "Allah" is not exactly a name, but is a contraction of the Arabic words translating as "the God."

    Also "Jehovah" is an anglicized form of the Tetragrammaton "YHWH", which represents the phrase the Almighty used to describe Himself when speaking to Moses, "I am who I am." This, too, is not so much a name as it is a statement that He is ABOVE having a name.

    (Steve Matuchek, in "Operation Afreet," wore a Tetragrammaton as insignia for U.S. Army Intelligence. I feel this was a mistake on Anderson's part, because it amounts to constantly, ROUTINELY taking the "name" of the Lord in vain -- something the culture of that world would sensibly avoid, given that His existence was PROVEN.)

    1. Hi, David!

      I'm SLOWLY rereading THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS, which means I'll probably eventually start either OPERATION CHAOS or A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST afterwards (delayed by also reading Stirling's PRINCE OF OUTCASTS). I want to remember to keep that use of the Tetragrammaton in mind. In Poul Anderson's THE REBEL WORLDS (Chapter II), the symbol for the Imperial Naval Intelligence Corps, when its officers wear uniforms, is a star with an eye. That would have been more appropriate an insigne for Steven Matuchek as well.