Affirmation in Arthur C. Clarke’s THE STAR

This is a follow-up to a previous post on Arthur C. Clarke’s classic short story “The Star” as being more optimistic than it may seem at first sight – as expressing perhaps the first phase in a future self-transformation of the priest.

The story works as expressing the subjective drama of the Jesuit when faced with a crucial objection to his beliefs. He believes in the literal truth and historical accuracy of the Christian narrative and in the theological conception of God as both all-powerful and all-loving. The scientist-priest is confronted with a major falsifying instance to the doctrines of his faith.

“The Star” dramatises the familiar problem of evil and suffering and the failure of theodicy by transposing it onto the cosmic scale, thus making it difficult to explain away by references to God’s transcendent wisdom and his Divine Plan.

A dogmatic, unscientific, believer could have reacted by deciding that the date of Christ’s birth had been miscalculated or that the Bible story is all symbolic, and implies no real birth or historical dating.

Viewed statically the story presents us with the possible nihilistic collapse of his faith if our Jesuit hero once allows himself to view his religious belief system scientifically and integrates his observations as constituting an insurmountable refuting instance. He is bringing back Bad News to the Vatican.

Viewed dynamically, there is an unfinished aspect to this tale. We can see the astronomer-priest as being deeply moved by the religiousness of this alien people, and so perhaps as capable of paradigm-change, moving on to some sort of secular spirituality that would not be in conflict with science.

I think the story works even better when viewed in this dynamic perspective. He is bringing back Bad News for the Vatican, but perhaps Good News for Mankind – the love of God is refuted, but the love of Life (even under desperate circumstances – cf. the aliens) is confirmed.

The priest-protagonist is confronted with the refutation or negation of his faith, but I think that this is not the final word. There is also an underlying Clarkean affirmation, as figured in the life-affirming testament of the alien civilisation.

See also

Reading, Short And Deep #202 – The Star by Arthur C. Clarke – SFFaudio

The Star • 1955 • Religious SF short story by Arthur C. Clarke | Reißwolf (

“The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke – Classics of Science Fiction



I have just watched episode 9 of Apple TV+’s adaptation of Asimov’s FOUNDATION and it has once again made me depressed to the point of tears welling in my eyes, and yet I feel compelled to go on watching. Such is its mentalic power. I think the show was made by the Mule, or rather by one of his a mutant precursors, a sub-Mule.

One aim of the show is to teach us all to be both predictive psycho-historians and slaves to the Mule. The twists are predictable (as is the boredom), but the details still surprise, and disappoint, yet we continue to watch.

The psycho-historic predictability is in the main lines of narrative, but the Mule is in the details.

The betrayals are predictable, even the double-, reverse-, and meta-betrayals. Seldon is predictable, the salvific special powers are predictable. Even the move from atheistic critique of religion (Asimov) to American religiosity is a surprising detail at first but its growing presence and thematic importance is predictable.

The various swaps and changes can be seen as psycho-historically legitimated, to bring the story up to date, but swapping concepts is on another level of interference altogether. SF is a literature of ideas, so concept-swap is the ultimate betrayal.

Asimov was an atheist, but now Apple’s version of FOUNDATION is turning it into a typical American theodicy of faith, the soul, and belief in the afterlife versus cynicism, the will to power, and the nihilist void.

The major swaps and twists are unsurprising, but one “detail” that I did not predict was when a narratively “Good” character shot a “Bad” character in the back, to stop them from doing something that might or might not have had bad consequences.

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, indeed.

If Asimov is Seldon, then Goyer is the Mule.