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Posts Tagged ‘myth’

Godless Heroes

Once upon a time, in a far away desert, a priest came to visit a girl working at her poor family’s farm. He asked her, “Do you like going to the Temple?”

“Oh, yes. I look forward to it every week.” She smiled as she fed an impatient nanny goat and her kids. “The Temple is beautiful and clean and quiet.”

The priest was pleased by her answer. “Do you study the scriptures?”

“Oh, yes. My whole life.” Still smiling, she drew water from the well and tipped it out for the thirsty peppers. “The scriptures give me a lot to think about.”

He was impressed. “Do you obey God’s Laws?”

The girl paused with an egg halfway to her basket. She gave the priest her full attention for the first time. “Am I in trouble?”

The priest gave a little placating gesture and a smile. “No, no. I’ve spoken with your family. They tell me you’re old enough and ready to take your first Temple vows.”

Basket and egg were forgotten. “What kind of vows? To become a priest and look after people?”

“Of course not. Priests are all men. Your Temple vows are simply promises to God that you will obey His Laws and his priests.” He noticed her disgust. “What’s wrong? Aren’t you faithful?”

After a gaping pause, she laughed as though tickled. “Of course not. Worshipers are all mad!”

Funny thing about atheists: We enjoy ritual and song and participating in acts of community as much as anyone does. Many atheists even have a ‘spiritual’ side – an affinity for the unknown and the uncertain that leads many of us to pursue science as a path to personal enlightenment as well as a career. We seem drawn to fantasy in fiction for similar reasons.

There’s a fair amount of sci-fi in which humans discover that their deities are actually aliens, or humans insert themselves into alien pantheons in order to control their behavior. There’s certainly an abundance of sci-fi that borrows heavily from mythology for its major plot points. And while there’s still a lot of work to be done in sci-fi (and speculative fiction as a whole) with regard to race and issues of gender and sexuality, at least pantheons and priests don’t seem to dominate every other space opera on offer.

Fantasy is a different beast. There are exceptions, but it seems that the default is to tie magic with religion in fantasy worldbuilding. Not that mages are all priests in disguise, although that’s sometimes the case, but rather in worlds where magic is a fact of life, often deities are also real. Consequences of this include an unfortunate dependence upon deus ex machina to rescue untenable plots, and a disappointing shortage of compelling secular lead characters in fantasy.

At the very least, there’s a vast and virtually pristine wilderness left to explore in fantasy. There are thousands of unwritten books about brainy little girls who can think and act as well as they can heal and hurl levinbolts.

2012: Little Chickens Are Crying Wolf Again

WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!

You know, eventually. That’s the natural order of things. Most of us will survive 2012, though, in spite of everything the latest doomsday prophets claim. There are seven billion humans on Earth, after all. Writers, have you ever tried to kill off that many people in one story? It’s quite a lot of work, even in fiction, and much harder in real life. It’s not impossible, but according to the latest doomsday scientists, there’s no quantifiable indication that our end times are impending.

Let’s break it down for a little perspective:

Of all the different avenues along which people enjoy speculating about the apocalypse, most are at least tangentially political in nature. The nuclear holocaust is so overdone that it’s been rendered cliché. Pandemics are also in jeopardy of losing their social impact through overuse in media and other fiction. We’ll probably say the same about anthropogenic climate change in a few decades, even as we adapt to its environmental and economic ravages.

None of those political plot devices is likely to annihilate our species in 2012, but any of them is far more likely bring about our ignominious end than the equally tired religious mechanisms for the demise of human civilization. The second coming and the rapture? Ragnarok? The end of the Maya long count?

Actually, that last is the most absurd. You know what happens when we reach the end of the Maya long count? The same thing that happens when we reach the end of every other calendar invented since humans started measuring time in large units: We throw a big party, and we get a new calendar. Woo-hoo!

There are still a few arguably non-political tropes abused in doomsday prophesies. Polar shift, for example, which would certainly cause mass-extinctions if it was possible. However, in order to experience a polar shift in 2012, Earth would have to be on a collision course with an object so large that we’d be able to observe it with the naked eye by now. Our planet hasn’t had an experience like that since it acquired the moon a few billion years ago. Anyway, the term ‘polar shift’ is actually a red herring for a far more common event properly known as geomagnetic reversal. And that’s about as menacing as a slow-motion Y2K.

What about supervolcanoes? There’ve been an awful lot of earthquakes and eruptions lately, right? Eh, no. Earth is actually pretty quiet right now, on the scale of geologic time. Specifically, there is no indication that a supervolcano will erupt in our lifetimes, never mind in 2012. Specifically, there’s nothing about the Yellowstone caldera – the current favorite of geologic apocalypse-mongers – that suggests it’s going to do anything out of the ordinary any time soon. Even if it did, a supervolcanic eruption probably would not bring about human extinction, and it certainly couldn’t end the world.

Last and least, whenever anyone hears the term ‘Planet X,’ they should dissolve into peals of laughter on the spot. Really. In its proper context, Planet X is something out of a Daffy Duck cartoon, and that’s always worth a chuckle. Outside of its proper context, Planet X doesn’t exist. Anyone otherwise convinced is a fool easily parted from their money.

None of the catastrophes mentioned above are going to occur in 2012, but you can safely bet they and other variations on the apocalyptic theme will happen repeatedly in literature. Alas, not even that will end in 2012. The good news is that when it comes to making the most of flimsy premises and tired dread, fiction bests reality much of the time. After all, dystopia is practically its own genre, nowadays.