Ray Bradbury: God, Monsters and Angels

CNN Living included a feature on legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury which revealed a surprising aspect of the author's life and writing inspiration. The title of the article is "Sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury on God, 'monsters and angels'". In the piece Bradbury describes himself as a man of religious faith, although not one to which one can easily apply a label. In fact, Bradbury doesn't want any labels applied to his religious pathway. He describes himself as a "delicatessin religionist" inspired by a number of religions from the East and the West in pluralist fashion. Christianity has been part of this mix, with the Gospel of John and its focus on love a key aspect of it, although surely not the only aspect. The significance and positive role of religion in Bradbury's life and fiction is a surprise in that two other influential sci-fi authors similar to Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, were atheists, or at least agnostic in the latter case. My assumption would have been that Bradbury would have had irreligious views similar to their's.

Another interesting aspect of this article is the description of his writing as a "summoning [of] 'the monsters and angels' of his imagination for his enchanting tales," and his own description of his writing career as one where he has been "[a]t play in the fields of the Lord." I find this connection between play, the sacred, and the imagination of interest and have written on this connection previously both in my graduate thesis on Burning Man Festival, as well as my chapter on videogames and digital cultures in Halos & Avatars (Westminster John Knox, 2010).

At times play may be superficial, but at other times it expresses the human desire for the sacred dimension of life. We might recall that experiences of the transcendent in connection with play were part of C. S. Lewis’s discovery of spirituality that eventually led to his embrace of Christianity. In addition, the noted sociologist of religion, Peter Berger, mentions the “argument from play” and connects it to conceptions of human religiosity in his discussion of "signals of transcendence" in ordinary human experience that point beyond that experience and toward the transcendent. It is not a stretch then to view the imaginative play with the fantastic as a signal of and window into transcendence.

The connection between religion, or at least the sacred, and science fiction as well as the broader realm of the fantastic, surfaces from time to time, and it was an interesting pleasure to see this as an aspect of the life and work of one of the most influential writers of science fiction, and grandfathers of the children of the fantastic.

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There are 6 Comments to "Ray Bradbury: God, Monsters and Angels"

  • Cory Gross says:

    Bradbury = +10 awesome

  • Matt Cardin says:

    Nicely insightful comments on the Bradbury article. Thanks, John.

    I still have a photocopy of his 1996 Playboy interview, which I read and reread for years because it was just so full of fascinating stuff. It's interesting, especially in light of the new CNN piece, that his comments on religion in that interview always stuck out in my memory, and not just because they're the closing lines of it.

    I just found that the interview is reprinted in its entirety at Bradbury's website. Here's the portion in question (long!):

    PLAYBOY: Do you believe in God?

    BRADBURY: I believe in Darwin and God together. It's all one. It's all mysterious. Look at the universe. It's been here forever. It's totally impossible. But, then, the size of the universe is impossible. It goes on forever, there's no end. That's impossible. We're impossible. And the fact that the sun gave birth to the planets, and the planets cooled, and the rain fell and we came out of the oceans as animals. How come dead matter decided to come alive? It just did. There is no explanation. There's no theory.

    P: You almost sound like a fundamentalist preacher. You say you believe in Darwinism, but you sometimes sound like a creationist.

    B: Or a combination of both. Because nobody knows. Science and religion have to go hand in hand with the mystery, because there's a certain point beyond which you say, "There are no answers." Why does the sun burn? We don't know. It just does - that's the answer. Why were the planets created? We don't know. It happened. How come there's life on the earth? We don't know. It just happened. You accept that as a scientist and as a religious preacher. The scientist can teach us to survive by learning more about how the body works, what disease is, how to cure ourselves and how to work on longevity. The preacher then says, "Don't forget to pay attention to the fact that you're alive." Just the mere fact, the glory of getting up every morning and looking at the sunrise or a good rainfall or whatever, and saying, "That's wonderful." That's just wonderful. The Darwin theory can't be proved; it's a theory. We think it is true.

    P: Do you think it's true?

    B: Nobody knows. I can't give you an opinion about it. It's only a theory, you see.

    P: Do you go to church?

    B: No. I don't believe in the anthropomorphic God.

    P: Do you think our souls live on or do we cease to exist when we die?

    B: Well. I have four daughters and eight grandchildren. My soul lives on in them. That's immortality. That's the only immortality I care about.

  • Matt, thanks for making me aware of Bradbury's comments in the CNN piece, and for posting his related thoughts from the Playboy article. It's good to see that you read that magazine for its stimulating written material and not just for the pictures. :)

  • Carl Rosenberg says:

    I was glad to see this material about Ray Bradbury, one of my favourite writers along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I think that, whatever the personal beliefs of science fiction writers (atheist, agnostic, formal religious believers, or whatever), SF itself often has a sort of secular mysticism, marvelling at the wonders of the universe.

    There is an excellent book about the science fiction field, Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction, by David Hartwell. Hartwell comments regarding Clarke that "his popularity in SF stems from the fact that, for all his interest in science (indeed, as a result of that interest), he is a romantic and a mystic, and ... succeeds in making space travel an authentically romantic experience."

    This book also has an interesting chapter, "Worshiping at the Church of Wonder," which explores this religious or mystical aspect of SF. Hartwell writes that, "A sense of wonder, awe at the vastness of space and time, is at the root of the excitement of science fiction."

  • Carl, I had no idea about that book. Thanks for putting it on my radar, and now my wishlist.

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