Certain religions call to certain people. I think of Cassius Clay becoming Muhammad Ali and Cat Stevens becoming Yusuf Islam. Sometimes you discover something that works for you. Depending on the circumstances, this can be incredibly moving. My arrival at Buddhism did not happen in quite this way. For me it happened over ten or more years. I still have a T-Shirt that a friend made for me in the 11th grade that says ‘Buddhist’ on the back, so I know it’s been on my mind for at least that long.
I have had sudden moments of deep affection for a couple other religions though. But there’s something odd about them both. They are completely fictional. I’m talking the ScienceFiction novel kind of fictional.
If you have never read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, you should take next Monday off work and read it. If you’ve read Ender’s Game but not any other books in the series, you should unplug your cable for a month and read the other 10 novels. I’ve only read the first 5, but you get my point.
I’m going to write this without including any spoilers, because I couldn’t live with myself if I robbed someone of the awesome experience of reading the first book.
In the second novel of the Ender’s Game series (by release date, not story line chronology), a sort of humanistic religion is prominently featured. The religion revolves around men and women known as Speakers For the Dead. These Speakers have one primary act. Sometime soon after the death of a person, they tell the story of that individual. Unlike what you see at a typical American Christian funeral, they tell every detail of that person’s life in as truthful of a way possible.
This calls to me. In full disclosure, this sort of thinking is why my Facebook profile has no security or privacy restrictions whatsoever. In my career, it’s why I expose when I make a mistake or do something stupid. In my relationships, it’s why I disclose how a feel about any issue (unless I’m trying to be mysterious and intriguing :). I believe that being open and honest about who we are is always better.
But the Speaker for the Dead understands truth much more deeply then that. To the Speaker truth is tied to compassion. There is nuance in the wisdom of the Speaker that is equal to or greater than what you would expect from any religion. Whether it’s 2500 years old and created by some of the greatest minds to ever live (like Buddhism), or 25 years olds and written by one awesome SciFi writer. Here are some quotes from the book that illustrate the depth of the philosophy portrayed.
“No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one’s life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.”
“It wasn’t a matter of confession, penance, and absolution, like the priests offered. It was something else entirely. Telling the story of who she was, and then realizing that she was no longer the same person. That she had made a mistake, and the mistake had changed her, now she had become someone else, someone less afraid, someone more compassionate.”
“I speak to everyone in the language they understand. That isn’t being slick. It’s being clear.”
“It’s the dream of every living creature. The desire that is the very root of life itself: to grow until all the space you can see is part of you, under your control. It’s the desire for greatness. There are two ways, though, to fulfill it. One way is to kill anything that is not yourself, to swallow it up or destroy it, until nothing is left to oppose you. But that way is evil. You say to all the universe, only I will be great, and to make room for me the rest of you must give up even what you already have, and become nothing….”
“Once you know what people really want, you can’t hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can’t hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart.”
I’m as moved by The Speaker for the Dead as I am by anything in any 'real’ religion. I could go on and on, but I’d rather just stress that this series of books is worth your time.
After reading Speaker for the Dead, I had to accept that a certain portion of how I live my life was going to be based on a Science Fiction novel. There was no other choice. I had been influenced. Interestingly, this was not the last time this would happen
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a great book. I read it twice back to back and a third time soon after. In it, a religion called Bokononism is explained in great detail. This is a much more detailed religion than what The Speaker for the Dead offers. If Orson Scott Card gave us Unitarianism, Vonnegut gave Catholicism. By that I mean only that it’s full of ritual and detail.
The main premise of Bokononism is that the entire religion is a lie. All Bokononist know this. It doesn’t stop people from finding great meaning in it. It doesn’t stop some people from dying for it. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything. So, here are some quotes.
“If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons, that person may be a member of your karass”
A karass is “a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God’s will. The group can be thought of as the fingers that support a cat’s cradle.”
“Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything”
“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”
“Jesus once said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”. Which Bokonon paraphrased, “Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s really going on.”
“God never wrote a good play in His Life.”
It’s very tongue in cheek, but I assure you that if you read Cat’s Cradle, you will be moved by Bokononism in some way.
So what’s the point of all this? Why write this post?
Well, my point is that it doesn’t matter if something is from a fictional work from the 80’s or from a Holy Book. It was all created by Men and Women. It’s all the human experience. There is no reason for us to feel that something is less important if it’s Science Fiction. I plan to continue to live as someone who knows that he may make some decisions based on an experience from a fake religion. I’d call myself a Bokononist or a Speaker for the Dead with as much pride as I call myself a Buddhist.