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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Blish's CASE OF CONSCIENCE
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 12:14:22 


The central dilemma of Blish's book was hard for me to take seriously. 
Humanity discovers an alien race which seems to have no knowledge of God,
yet also seems to be free of the sin which Catholics (and other
Christians) believe is the reason humanity does not have complete
communion with God.  If they have no sin, why are the ignorant of God? 
Possible answers include: 

A.  There is no God.
B.  The alien race is an illusion of Satan designed to deceive humanity.
C.  God exists, but his relationship to this alien race is something
    we don't understand.

Everyone in the book seems to think A and B are the only two
possibilities.  No one even considers C.  C seems so obvious and B so
far-fetched that I was unable to believe in the characters or their
debates.  I didn't for a moment think that the priest's exorcism would
have been effectual.  I had trouble believing he would even try such a

The whole "this must be a trick of Satan to fool us" strikes me as
arrogant and human-centric in a way that seems foreign to Wolfe.  Wolfe's
work has a kind of humility, a sense that the universe (a fortiori the
Creator) is weirder and wilder than our schemes for explaing it all.

If Wolfe had written this story, he might have had characters who believed
the dilemma, but I think he would have written the events such that they
would undermine the "we understand how God works, and since this doesn't
fit, it must be a satanic illusion" idea. 

Blish's story has ambiguity, but it's only ambiguity between A and B.

Which reminds me of another question I have about Wolfe's Catholicism. 
There's a statement of his which gets quoted frequently, something like
"I'm a practicing Catholic, but that probably tells you less about what I
believe than you think."  I wonder if he meant that he's not entirely
orthodox in his beliefs, or that most people's ideas about what orthodox
Catholics believe are wrong.


[1] Ok, so yes, there have certainly been Catholics and other Christians
who were arrogant and human-centric, and maybe that was part of Blish's
point, but the Roman Catholic Church seems to have learned something from
the past, and I'd like to think Jesuits and Popes in the future might be
able to think a little better than the characters in Blish's story. 

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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