Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

A Contemplation on Faith

Originally posted on December 9, 2010

I was moved by a plot of a short story, The Toynbee Convector, by the very poetic science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, whose writings I really liked when I was in my teens almost sixty years ago. Written in 1983, this story has some passages that I want to note: The story begins with a description of a reporter’s visit to an old man, the inventor of a time machine; it is around 2090, and the world is wonderful. It was predicted to be wonderful by the hero of the story, a scientist who was able to construct a time machine that enabled him to travel into future, to the end of the 21st century, and he proved it with convincing photographs! When, back in the later 20th century the hero showed the world what it would become, it was so exciting that people, believing in a positive future, went on to make it happen. Now it is time to take another trip in the time machine—but it is gradually revealed to the reporter that in fact the trip never really happened!

In this passage, the supposed inventor, explains to the reporter:  "Because I was born and raised in a time, in the sixties, (1960s) seventies, and eighties, when people had stopped believing in themselves. I saw that disbelief, the reason that no longer gave itself reasons to survive, and was moved, depressed and then angered by it. Everywhere, I saw and heard doubt. Everywhere, I learned destruction. Everywhere was professional despair, intellectual ennui, political cynicism. And what wasn’t ennui and cynicism was rampant skepticism and incipient nihilism.". . “You name it, we had it. The economy was a snail. The world was a cesspool. Economics remained an insolvable mystery. Melancholy was the attitude. The impossibility of change was the vogue. End of the world was the slogan. Nothing was worth doing. Go to bed at night full of bad news at eleven, wake up in the mom to worse news at seven. Trudge through the day underwater. Drown at night in a tide of plagues and pestilence…"

"Not only the four horsemen of the Apocalypse rode the horizon to fling themselves on our cities but a fifth horseman, worse than all the rest, rode with them: Despair, wrapped in dark shrouds of defeat, crying only repetitions of past disasters, present failures, future cowardices. Bombarded by dark chaff and no bright seed, what sort of harvest was there for man in the latter part of the incredible twentieth century? Forgotten was the moon, forgotten the red landscapes of Mars, the great eye of Jupiter, the stunning rings of Saturn. We refused to be comforted. We wept at the grave of our child, and the child was us."

"Was that how it was," asked the reporter interviewing the time-traveler, "one hundred years ago?" "Yes. You have seen the newsreels and read the books of that time. You know it all. Oh, of course, there were a few bright moments. When Salk delivered the world’s children to life. Or the night when Eagle landed and that one great step for mankind trod the moon. But in the minds and out of the mouths of many, the fifth horseman was darkly cheered on. With high hopes, it sometimes seemed, of his winning. So all  would be gloomily satisfied that their predictions of doom were right from day one. So the self-fulfilling prophecies were declared; we dug our graves and prepared to lie down in them."

The old man went on: "I took years to brood on it. Meanwhile, I drowned, I despaired, wept silently late nights thinking: What can I do to save us from ourselves? How to save my friends, my city, my state, my country, the entire world from this obsession with doom? Well, it was in my library late one night that my hand, searching along shelves, touched at last on an old and beloved book by H. G. Wells, The Time Machine.”

Bradbury has the old man confess to the young reporter how it was all an elaborate hoax to get people to dare hope instead of despair, to convince them through pictures and other gimmicks that time travel was possible, he did it, he came back to show that the future could be great, and that gave people hope, and from hope, will to work towards that future. But it was, ultimately, a hoax, and in 2099 or thereabouts the people will find out that the machine never worked. The time-traveling hero of this story, the one perpetuating the hoax, said to the reporter, “You see the point, don’t you, son? Life has always been lying to ourselves! As boys, young men, old men. As girls, maidens, women, to gently lie and prove the lie true. To weave dreams and put brains and ideas and flesh and the truly real beneath the dreams. Everything, finally, is a promise. What seems a lie is a ramshackle need, wishing to be born. Here. Thus and so."

My comment: How much of our reality arises in the long run as a result of our expectations? What is the power of hope and faith as a motivating factor? I suspect it’s much more than science can determine, because science cannot test for these elements in a system, for morale and will, and especially, for higher consciousness. My hunch is that faith-ing is also a form of morality. It’s not a king-god-on-high going to send you to hell for not following commandments-type of morality, but simply an awareness that some things tend to lead to a better world than others.

The idea that there is an illusion-less world and that pessimism is better than optimism is the collective mind-space described above, a psychic-generated economic and political depression that reflects a collective demoralization. This essay aims at challenging fundamental assumptions that support cynicism rather than hope. Sure, there’s lots of bad stuff, and sure, we should fight it and promote good stuff to replace it, but if there’s a perception of too much bad stuff, the tendency is to become resigned rather than willing to work for the future. Positive thinking doesn’t have to be based on repression and denial, but rather it’s a courageous faith-ing that our world needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *