Monday, August 24, 2009

Liebowitz and His Brothers

I admit it. I have a penchant for tales of the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic. Whether books or movies, I am drawn to them. Stephen King's The Stand is fabulous. Larry Niven's and Jerry Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer was great. Admittedly, there are a lot of bad tales out there as well. Nonetheless the tales that speak of the end of the world are simply intriguing.

I recently finished what is likely the best I have ever read, A Canticle For Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller. The blend of of themes, religious and political, hope and despair, sin and innocence, is set in a post-apocalyptic world recovering from a nuclear war. Miller tells the tale quite well with three different parts at different eras, all tied together through the monastery of the Albetian Order of Liebowitz. The final part ("Fiat Voluntas Tua") finds Earth at the brink of apocalypse once again. In the midst of the recurrence of human sin, Miller's greatest question seems to be "Is there true redemption?" Redemption for humanity who seems always to willing to bow down to other gods and go its own way. At the end, when humanity perches on the precipice of atomic war, Miller writes:

The abbot snapped off the set. 'Where's the truth?' he asked quietly. 'What's to be believed? Or does it matter at all? When mass murder's been answered with mass murder, rape with rape, hate with hate, there's no longer much meaning in asking whose ax is the bloodier. Evil on evil, piled on evil.... Dear God there must be half a million dead, if they hit Texarkana with the real thing. I feel like saying words I've never heard. Toad's dung. Hag pus. Gangrene of the soul. Immortal brain-rot. Do you understand me brother? And Christ breathed the same carrion air with us; how meek the Majesty of our Almighty God! What an infinite sense of humor--for Him to become one of us!--King of the Universe, nailed on a cross as a Yiddish schlemiel by the likes of us. They say Lucifer was cast down for refusing to adore the Incarnate Word; the Foul One must totally lack a sense of humor! God of Jacob, God even of Cain! Why do they do it all again?

'Forgive me I'm raving' he added less to Joshua than to the old woodcarving of Saint Liebowitz stood in one corner of the study. He had paused in his pacing to glance up at the face of the image.... He fingered the mound of faggots where the wooden martyr stood. That's where all of us are standing now, he thought. On the fat kindling of past sins. And some of them are mine. Mine, Adam's, Herod's, Judas's, Hannegan's, mine. Everybody's. Always culminatesin the colossus of the State, somehow, drawing about itself the mantle of godhood, being struck down by wrath of Heaven. Why? We shouted it loudly enough--God's to be obeyed by nations as by men. Caesar's to be God's policeman, not His plenipotentiary successor, nor His heir. To all ages, all peoples--'Whoever exalts a race or a State of a particular form of the State or the depositories of power... whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God...' Where had that come from? Eleventh Pius, he thought, without certainty-- eighteen centuries ago. But when Caesar got the means to destroy the world, wasn't he already divinized? Only by the consent of the people-- same rabble that shouted: 'Non habemus regem nisi caesarem,' when confronted by Him--God Incarnate, mocked and spat upon. Same rabble that martyred Liebowitz...

'Caesar's divinity is showing again.'

Fabulous novel... well worth seeking out, either in a store, online or like I did, at a used book sale. Read it and ponder redemption.

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