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 (wordpress.com)

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

2 thoughts on “Affirmation in Arthur C. Clarke’s THE STAR

  1. I guess I was naive to think everyone saw this story the same way I did. But comments to my recent review and comments I’ve read online revealed not everyone does. I think we share the same reading. To me, Clarke makes it clear in the story that the supernova created the Star of Bethlehem. I believe Clarke was an atheist, but for this story, he wanted readers to believe that God, Jesus, and the Star of Bethlehem existed as the Bible describes. That’s what gives this story a surprise ending.

    However, other readers, the doubters, don’t want to accept even in fiction these events could be true. And then, the believers, don’t want to accept that God would destroy another race of beings to save humanity.

    It’s just a story. I’m now willing to accept that other readers interpret this story differently than I do, but I still insist that in “The Star” Clarke wanted readers to accept that God wiped out a civilization to guide the wisemen.

    Like

    • I think our readings are close, but I think that the question of whether God exists within the universe of the story remains open. God is not part of the story’s world-building, but of the priest’s world-view. The shock of the discovery of the date of the destruction of the alien civilisation is primarily a shock for the priest, not for his fellow astronauts. For his secular colleagues the shock would be a distanced one, an I-told-you-so moment. For the aliens, it seems to have been a biological shock pushing them to survive vicariously across their cultural archive. For the priest it is a paradigm-shock, requiring some action, due to its massive charge of cognitive (and affective) dissonance. This is why I feel the story to be incomplete. The shock for the reader arises to the degree that we can identify with the turmoil of the priest. So I do not see the actual existence of God in-universe as central to the working of the story. This is not a science fictional treatment of God, such stories exist, for example Olaf Stapledon’s STARMAKER. Rather, the story is a science fictional treatment of theistic religion. Taking the story more metaphorically it is a science fictional treatment of experience tending to provoke not just a change of opinion but the collapse of our paradigm, raising the question of how to deal with such experiences.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s