“The final frontier” --- since the mid 1960’s these words have characterized Star Trek’s perception of the adventure and the discoveries to be found i“The final frontier” --- since the mid 1960’s these words have characterized Star Trek’s perception of the adventure and the discoveries to be found in the distant reaches of outer space. Yet can this vast interstellar ether really be said to be the final frontier in terms of providing an ultimate foundation or purpose? For despite all its wonder, at its core the cosmos is not that much different than ourselves in that its external composition is simply another manifestation or component of the physical universe.
Thus, no matter how far man might one day voyage beyond the confines of the earth, he will still require belief and value systems through which to process and understand the role of the mysteries he is likely to encounter both within the human mind and those external to himself with which he has had little prior experience. Often the fields of science fiction and future studies are used as tools by which to forecast scientific and technological developments. However, in Religion 2101 A.D., Hiley H. Ward shows these speculative methods can be used to gauge the form religion might take in the distant future.
According to Ward, the astounding breakthroughs of the future will force humanity to rethink the most basic of concepts as these will be stretched beyond traditional understandings in light of extraordinary circumstances and conditions. For example, Ward points out that the very concept of what it means to be human might be altered beyond current recognition. With the advent of artificial organs and the possibility of growing replacements in a laboratory, there could come a day when death might be delayed indefinitely.
Many would no doubt embrace existence as a cyborg (an organism half biological and half mechanical in its physiology) if the interchangeability of parts presented the likelihood of staving off the grim reaper as long as possible. Eventually, man might no longer have to endure the inherent limitations of an organic body as range, perception and locomotion could be enhanced by directly interfacing the brain with a computer controlling an array of exploratory robotic sensors (28). In essence, some could live out their lives as a stationary central processing unit while their secondary android bodies simultaneously explored both the depths of the ocean and the peaks of Mars all at the same time.
Ward predicts that these kinds of innovations will spark profound renovations in man’s religious consciousness. Faced with the overwhelming enormity of the universe, man may feel forced to cope with the daunting fruits of this exploration by downplaying his individuality by fully embracing his place as an insignificant cog in a machine. In biological and sociological sciences, this theory is known as “macro life”, the propensity to view the individual in society as analogous to a single cell in an organism (30).
Such a framework places worth and value instead on the overall group as a whole. Ward foresees this prospect taking more concrete expression in the form of a hypothetical spaceship whose command decisions are arrived at by electronically tapping into the thoughts of the crew and melding these divergent consciousnesses into a single imperative authority greater than the sum of the component perspectives. Even though Religion In 2101 AD was published in 1975, this suggestion foreshadowed its fullest development in science fiction in the form of the collective consciousness of the Borg, the cybernetic aliens from Star Trek that perceive themselves as a single entity and who value the individual members of their society as little more than drones. This concept of all taken as a singular mind bears a striking similarity to pantheism in the realm of religious studies.
The diminution of individuality will not necessarily be heralded as a bad thing by those clamoring for its demise if it can be marketed as an elevation in consciousness as an ontological unification with the universal totality. There are few greater ego boosters, after all, than considering oneself God (or at least as some tiny part of the divine intelligence).
Regarding this perception, Ward provides insightful comments from some of science fiction’s most prominent names. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry says, “Man will come to see himself properly as part of God. God is the sum of everything, all intelligence, all order in the universe...It is not inconceivable that as intelligent beings we are part of and ultimately become God, and ultimately create ourselves (Ward 136).” Harlan Ellison, author of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, adds to this perspective: “I guess I worship man. Each has the seed of God in himself (Ward, 136).”
While the religious philosophy of the future will strive to approach the majesty and wonder of outer realities by turning inward, many adherents of the coming cosmic confession will still feel the traditional need of experiencing the divine through a relationship with or by receiving guidance from what they perceive to be an intelligence or symbol objectively transcendent from themselves. Seldom can man pull himself up by his own metaphysical bootstraps.
But whereas the so-called God of old is seen as standing distinct from His creation but actively sustaining it by His loving hand and revealing His message through angels and prophets and later revealing Himself in the form of His Son Jesus Christ, the God of Tomorrowland will employ different couriers and manifest Himself in ways actually less personable. Erich Von Daniken in Chariots Of The Gods hypothesizes that UFO’s and extraterrestrials may serve as an explanation for the supernatural phenomena occurring in ancient times when these harbingers of universal wisdom appeared bearing enlightenment. Von Daniken does not believe in the traditional conception of a transcendent God. Rather he believes in a God composed of the sum of all knowledge in the universe, of which each individual is an autonomous piece of information akin to a bit within a computer to be reunified into the singular totality once the evolution to a state of pure energy has taken place (Ward, 129).
And speaking of computers, eschatologists might take note of the role of these devices in future religious thought as considered in dramatic speculative literature. One cannot dismiss such claims on the part of the likes of Hal Lindsay or Jack Van Impe as outright exaggeration. In David Gerrold’s When Harlie Was One, the Graphic Omniscient Device (G.O.D.) is a supercomputer capable of solving all problems and answering all questions. In the novel The Fall Of Colossus, Colossus is a computer designed to administer functions on earth and is ultimately deified as part of a new religion. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling observed, “...with increased dependence of technology, we will find ourselves worshipping at the altar of machines (Ward, 133).”
Ward does an impressive job culling through the religious insights found across an impressive array of objective analytical forecasts and fictional literary accounts. Yet it is in the final chapter where Ward synthesizes the observations found in the preceding study into his own narrative vignette that the reader gets the best feel for where these cultural trends might take humanity in the year 2101 AD. It is at this point the reader becomes most engrossed in the issues under consideration.
In the year 2101, humanity’s major religion is the Church of the Celebration of the Holy World Cosmos whose members are called “Celebrators”. Celebrators strive to embrace all the latest fads in religious thought and philosophy such as panantheism, extraterrestrial wisdom, theories of multiple Christs and avatars, and claim to value harmony and expansive tolerance above all else (Ward, 217).
The Celebrators are opposed by religious traditionalists derisively referred to as “Pewsitters” because of their insistence upon utilizing pews and other ancient religious traditions such as monotheism. The reader would initially suspect the Celebrators to be the heroes of the story since they are depicted as the vanguards of progressivism and enlightenment. However, the church to which they belong is as conniving as the most reactionary of ecclesiastical authorities.
Through an agreement worked out with the government, Celebrators are forbidden from traveling, must be free of political ambitions, and have their minds telepathically scanned to prevent disharmonious thoughts. Pewsitters forced to attend Celebrator services face possible disintegration by a laser beam if they disrupt the proceedings.
Despite the facade of technology and innovation surrounding the philosophy of religion underlying much of the science fiction addressing these kinds of questions, man cannot seem to escape his most basic requirements and desires --- no matter how much he might try to suppress them --- regarding his need for a personal God. In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, God or the “First Speaker” is depicted as a kindly, elderly gentleman who travels the universe helping where he is needed (Ward, 115).
Ward puts his own spin on this concept in his fictional vignette postulating a God dwelling anonymously among humanity as an inconspicuous New York cabbie. Fortunately, the Bible teaches that not only did a loving God come to dwell with men upon the earth in the form of His Son Jesus Christ but that He also provided for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life while He was here through His sacrificial death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead. If that is not good enough for either the literati of speculative narrative or the mundane realist alike, that is their choice and they must live with the consequences.
When contemplating literary undertakings addressing the philosophy of religion, science fiction with its accompanying connotations of laser guns, rocketships, and creepy aliens does not initially come to mind. However, as Hiley Ward points out in Religion 2101 AD, this particular genre known for stretching the limits of perception can serve as an excellent conceptual mechanism through which to explore intimidating themes of belief we might otherwise be reluctant to approach.
Often the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One noOften the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One novel exemplifying this tendency is "The Children Of Men" by P.D. James.
In "The Children Of Men", the reader finds a world where the population has become inexplicably infertile and must deal with the stresses of a dwindling population and the psychological angst that results when many realize what's the point of life if it will come to a screeching halt in a scant generation. Such a milieu is explored through the eyes of Oxford Historian Theodore Faron who becomes a reluctant intermediary between a group of bumbling, idealistic revolutionaries and the dictatorial Warden of England who happens to be Theodore's cousin.
The group starts out with the goal of enacting needed reforms such as better treatment of migrant workers known as Sojourners and restoring order to an out-of-control penal colony on the Isle of Man where the inmates --- some not as criminal as the general population is led to believe --- are left to fend for themselves. However, as the story unfolds a matter of greater urgency comes to the forefront of the plot, namely that a couple within the cell has been able to conceive a child.
"The Children Of Men" is not the most riveting example of the dystopian police state novel. It often gets bogged in the details of the personal experiences, emotions, and perceptions of its protagonist Theodore Faron. Yet at times the book provides glimpses into a morally eerie world where the outrages of our own day are allowed to fester to ghastly proportions.
For example, the elderly are encouraged to commit ritualized suicide in a ceremony called the "Quietus", which Theo discovers is not quite so voluntary for those trying to back out at the last minute. Since people no longer have children, they instead lavish their nurturing affections on pets, even having their kittens christened at formalized baptisms. Those born into the last generation are given free reign and little moral instruction --- as such they are self-absorbed to the point of arrogance and even murder.
Of particular interest is the frequent mention of religion made throughout the novel. Two of the revolutionaries are motivated by Christian beliefs. However, others hide behind the cloak of aberrant faith as a scam to enrich themselves personally.
"Roaring Roger" is a fire-and-brimstone televangelist preaching that the global infertility is God's judgment while playing on guilt and fear to finance his own lavish lifestyle. Rosie McClure is more broadminded in her religious views, but so much so her brain roles right out as she preaches a gospel of nonjudgmental hedonism. The Church of England is characterized as "no longer with a common doctrine or common liturgy, [and] so fragmented that there was no knowing what some sects might have come to believe." One just wishes Ms. James had spent as much time in such socio-clerical exposition as she did in embroidering the extraneously tedious background details of Professor Faron's psyche.
The political situation described in "The Children Of Men" serves as a cautionary tale where our own institutions are headed if we are not careful. In most speculative narratives dealing with one form of totalitarianism or the other, the regimes under consideration often lord over the masses with brutality.
In "The Children Of Men", however, the Warden's regime is rather genteel as far as dictatorships go if you happen to be a good little citizen and not to stir up offense. But then again, most of the citizens don't cause much trouble anyway since most have lost interest in political participation and the Warden is careful to maintain illusions of democracy. Of this society very much like our own, one is reminded of Francis Schaeffer's warnings in "A Christian Manifesto" about comfort and affluence becoming the organizing principles in a political system where higher truths such as freedom and self-reliance are increasingly seen as impediments to rather than a necessity of just government and good order.
Over a decade has elapsed since The Contract With America catapulted Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American political discussion and the RepublicaOver a decade has elapsed since The Contract With America catapulted Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American political discussion and the Republican Party into control of both houses of Congress. No longer confined by the restraints of public office, the former Speaker of the House now seeks to update and expand on this set of ideas in Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract With America.
Unlike the original Contract With America which dealt primarily with political and legislative issues, Winning The Future applies the outlook inspiring the book's antecedent to a wider array of social and cultural concerns. Reflective of the personality of the author of both documents, Winning The Future is an eclectic synthesis of conservative commonsense, futuristic policy blather, and a reluctance to accept certain shortcomings inherent to human nature.
Winning The Future does a suburb job in examining the religious foundations of the United States. Gingrich uses his skill as an historian to trace recognition of this heritage from the Founding Fathers, through Abraham Lincoln, up to contemporary thinkers such as Samuel Huntington.
From there, Gingrich uses the issue of the role of religion in the United States as a springboard to discuss the need for judicial reform. Gingrich views the attack on religious freedom as evidence of how the judiciary has gotten out of control. Newt does this by pointing out a number of rulings from the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the activist legal philosophies of radical jurists such as Europhile Sandra Day O'Connor. He also offers suggestions on how the courts might be reigned in such as by impeaching judges going beyond the scope of the Constitution on the grounds of violating the Good Behavior Clause or by simply abolishing rogue judgeships all together.
While a number of the proposals contained within the pages of Winning The Future are steeped in conservative commonsense realism, some of those characterized by futuristic speculation are just plain goofy. For example, Gingrich is under the impression that centralizing and computerizing all health records will lead to some kind of twenty-first century medical Renaissance.
But doesn't technology merely take on the characteristics and shortcomings of those employing it? A quack will always be a quack.
And this is to say nothing of the dangers and abuses that will result from further centralizing the most sensitive of information in a single place that will probably be administered by the government or as callous healthcare administrators. If my rights and well being are to be violated, those doing so should at least have to work to earn the opportunity.
Despite his many insights, at various points Gingrich exhibits a flawed understanding of human nature that will cause his well-intentioned proposals to flounder in a manner similar to the Great Society programs the former Congressman has spent much of his political career claiming to stand against. For example, Gingrich touts a program called Earning By Learning he established that paid to $2.00 to children in public housing for every book they read.
While the costs of the program initially came out of Gringrich's own pocket, who's going to pick up the tab should the program go nationwide? Furthermore, why should such an entitlement be for the so-called underprivileged who already have access to the same reading material as everyone else but simply refuse to avail themselves of it?
Spending much of his time hobnobbing in elite government and media circles, Dr. Gingrich is also as mistaken about the nature of the immigrant hordes sweeping across America. Mired by his training as an historian, Gingrich assumes a model of immigration more fitting for the nineteenth century than the twenty-first.
Gingrich writes, "Nor am I concerned that a substantial number of new Americans are Hispanic. America has a long history of absorbing and blending people of many languages and backgrounds." But for the most part, the vast majority of immigrants at that time were already steeped in a common Northern European (primarily Protestant) culture upon which American institutions were based.
Even more importantly, immigrants of that period wanted to be Americans and not to merely suckle off the supple federal teat while expressing nothing but contempt for the host nation gracious enough to even allow them into our midsts. If Gingrich finds Hispanics so charming, maybe they can pile into the house next door to his like they have in many middle class neighborhoods where they cram thirty of their kinsman and associates into a single family dwelling and have no qualms about guzzling booze on the public sidewalk.
Regardless of one's opinion of Newt Gingrich as either a conservative visionary seeking to plot America's course to the future, an egotistical fraud concerned for nothing but his own fame and fortune, or someone between the two extremes, Winning The Future will most definitely spark thought and discussion of the issues that will impact the nation in the coming years.
Matt Drudge will be remembered for the role he played in popularizing the revolution brought about by the advent of Internet news. However, when it coMatt Drudge will be remembered for the role he played in popularizing the revolution brought about by the advent of Internet news. However, when it comes to the world of publishing, he better not quit his day job.
As one of the pioneers of a new form of mass communication, one would expect Drudge Manifesto to be an insightful tome as to his medium's possibilities and strategies on how others might replicate his success. However, on this count Drudge Manifesto falls as short as the New York Times in fulfilling its civic obligation of supplying useful information.
The reader comes away from Drudge Manifesto with the impression that Mr. Drudge is an individual --- not unlike his nemesis Bill Clinton --- too aware of his own place in history. The extent of Drudge's own self-awareness is to such a radical degree that it has led him to use a number of McCluhanesque literary devices bordering on the bizarre and that, ultimately, detract from the text.
For example, there are a number of pages scattered throughout the work filled with nothing but oversized "0"'s or a "1"s. On another is nothing but a single declaration in smaller-than-average size type in the center of the page reading "You're boring".
The only thing boring is wading through Drudge's inane gimmicks. However, those with the stamina to meander through will be rewarded for their troubles with a transcript of the Q & A of Drudge's 1998 address at the National Press Club in which the famed Internet muckraker provides perspective into the nature of this new medium and deflects criticisms of elitist mainstream journalists jealous about sharing the media spotlight with insightful outsiders.
In reading Drudge Manifesto, one is forced to conclude that Matt Drudge has become so intertwined with the medium synonymous with his name that he is nearly unable to rise above its limitations or to provide much of an analytical perspective capable of making the information revolution an even more effective venue for further expanding the freedoms of all mankind.
In most science fiction stories, extraterrestrial technology is unveiled to the world when it is piloted to earth by proverbial little green men or buIn most science fiction stories, extraterrestrial technology is unveiled to the world when it is piloted to earth by proverbial little green men or bug eyed monsters. However, in Saucer, Stephen Coonts presents a scenario where man's initial exposure to a civilization from beyond the earth does not occur overhead but rather from beneath our feet.
In Saucer, Coonts details the account of a spacecraft unearthed in the Sahara desert and the international intrigue that results as various nations conspire to acquire the vehicle from an egomaniacal Australian industrialist.
Though the novel focuses primarily on the actions of the factions jockeying to acquire the saucer, Coonts brings up a number of intriguing questions that he raises even if he does not answer them directly.
Scattered throughout the novel are a number of comments examining the philosophical ramifications of evidence suggesting life beyond this earth.
Some seem to be more the opinions of the characters themselves. For example, in discussing the saucer with the President, an advisor says, "You have to do something about these saucers. The Bible thumpers were freaking out yesterday...Already some evangelicals say we are at the end of the world. In Revelation..." The passage continues: "'All right, all right' the President said, cutting Willard off. He hated it when people quoted the Bible (166)."
Other comments are made as well regarding the epistemological ramifications of extraterrestrials. One character remarks, "The college professor says it is time to acknowledge the presence of other life-forms in the universe. The religious types are going nuts. There's a mob of a thousand or so across the street in Lafayette Park, waving signs and making speeches talking about the imminent arrival of the Antichrist (187)." An advisor to the President responds, "This is another rightwing conspiracy."
Such an exchange adequately reflects the dismissive and condescending attitude secularists would enunciate concerning the reaction of religious conservatives to nonhuman intelligent life. However, it is through the more altruistic protagonists that one must consider that Coonts is elaborating his own convictions regarding this highly speculative topic.
If so, the reader is led to believe Coonts is predisposed to the theory of panspermia, the idea life came to earth from outer space. According to the novel, the saucer was flown to earth by beings not all that considerably different than ourselves in terms of appearance or physiology.
Rather, the craft was sent here as part of a mission the occupants knew was a one way trip because a society complex enough to produce a vehicle capable of interstellar travel would have to transport nearly its entire civilization if the occupants hoped to replicate the accomplishments of their home world not to mention being able to make a return trip (195).
But even some wanting to get out from under God's direct gaze still long for an origin a bit more meaningful than slime oozing up onto some rock even though a number of them still can't seem to break free from the grip evolution has over the minds of those predisposed to a more mechanistic explanation.
When asked if humanity's arrival from among the stars discounted the perceived legitimacy of the fossil record, Professor Soldi (the character brought forward to make the grandiose pronouncements pertaining to man's place in the cosmos) responds that even though mankind might have replaced the earth's original hominid occupants there is no need to worry that the entire Darwinian enterprise being one colossal scam since, to invoke the tautologies for which this theory of origins is noted "..evolution follows similar courses when similar conditions exist (270)." Basically, even though man might have moved in from elsewhere and never arose from the apes found here, we should still accept the scant fossil evidence that is claimed to exist anyway.
Yet this plot element raises more questions than it solves. For example, if mankind did not originate on earth but rather on another planet, who's to say humanity originated from this proverbial planet X either but rather having migrated from planet Y or Z as the human race plays interstellar flip this house skipping from planet to planet across the cosmos. Apparently, Coonts doesn't have that high of an opinion of the cosmological argument. For not only does the origin of man stem back through a potentially unending regression of planets, Coonts tosses in a bit of Eastern mysticism as well.
Apart from the saucer's hardware, especially valuable is the spacecraft's computer which contains more than directions on how to operate a flying saucer. Believed to unlock nearly infinite knowledge, one character asks another character that accessed the database through the telepathic interface how the universe ends, Coonts writes, " `It will be reborn,' Egg Cantrell told her, `again and again and again....' (311)."
Overall, Saucer by Stephen Coonts is a very engaging book. The action will titillate the reader's sense of adventure while speculation about man's place in the universe will intrigue the imagination even if one does not accept the worldview underlying it.
The battle to eliminate Christmas and other festive occasions that in part define America as a nation can no longer be ignored. Finally, most AmericanThe battle to eliminate Christmas and other festive occasions that in part define America as a nation can no longer be ignored. Finally, most Americans are waking up to this threat. However, this cultural danger did not show up out of nowhere. In Yuletide Terror & Other Holiday Horrors, columnist Frederick Meekins traces the development of this phenomena through a collection of essays dating as far back as the early 1990‘s. Along the way, he examines the beliefs, ideas, and policies motivating these modern Scrooges in their attempt to recast the United States as a reflection of their coal-blackened hearts...more