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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon, is an agnostic

In a previous post, I considered the moral fabric of the young adult fantastic novel, Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. (I also provided a couple of links to documents about the concept of a world view, or worldview.) The movie version of this book comes out this month. In this post, I consider Paolini's moral fabric, or at least that of his characters, as shown in the sequel, Eldest: Inheritance, Book Two. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) The bottom line is that Paolini appears to be an agnostic, and/or a naturalist. Here's a key passage:

"Master, it struck me last night that either you nor the hundreds of elven scrolls I've read have mentioned your religion. What do elves believe?"
A long sigh was Oromis's first answer. Then: "We believe that the world behaves according to certain inviolable rules and that, by persistent effort, we can discover those rules and use them to predict events when circumstances repeat."
Eragon blinked. That did not tell him what he wanted to know. "But who, or what, do you worship?"
"You worship the concept of nothing?"
"No, Eragon. We do not worship at all."
The thought was so alien, it took Eragon several moments to grasp what Oromis meant. The villagers of Carvahall lacked a single overriding doctrine, but they did share a collection of superstitions and rituals, most of which concerned warding off bad luck. During the course of his training, it had dawned upon Eragon that many of the phenomena that the villagers attributed to supernatural sources were in fact natural processes, such as when he learned in his meditations that maggots hatched from fly eggs instead of spontaneously arising from the dirt, as he had thought before. (p. 540-541)

Oromis is Eragon's teacher, a wise elf. Eragon discovers that, not only do the elves not worship, but that his own people are apparently confused or misled about their own beliefs. (As indicated in the previous post, dwarves do have a religion, although outsiders can see problems with it.) I am not certain that Oromis is speaking for Paolini, but he seems to be.

Oromis continues ". . . I cannot prove that gods do not exist. Nor can I prove that the world and everything in it was not created by an entity or entities in the distant past. But I can tell you that in the millennia we elves have studied nature, we have never witnessed an instance where the rules that govern the world have been broken. That is, we have never seen a miracle. Many events have defied our ability to explain, but we are convinced that we failed [new page] because we are still woefully ignorant about the universe and not because a deity altered the workings of nature." (p. 542-3) This seems a classic agnostic statement.

Eragon's dragon tells him that dragons don't believe in any gods, either, and claims that believing in such makes you vulnerable, because it means you are deceived. (p. 544)

There is a definite sense of right and wrong in the books. Oromis says ". . . power without moral direction is the most dangerous force in the world. . . ." p. 273.

When Eragon suggests that the Urgals, another race of beings, don't deserve any moral consideration, Oromis tells him, in no uncertain terms, that they do. (p. 375)

Eragon, himself, is shocked when Oromis allows him to unwittingly kill ants, a baby mouse, and some small plants, in a demonstration of what happens when you carelessly take magical energy from other living things. Oromis tells Eragon that the demonstration was necessary, so that Eragon would not do anything like that again, except at great need. (p. 540)

Where does this sense of right and wrong come from? Where do the "rules that govern the world" come from? Paolini doesn't say. His world view, and/or that of his elves, doesn't seem to be well developed.

Does this apparent agnostic world view mean that Christians, or others who are not agnostic, should not see the movie, or read the books? I wouldn't say so. (For a link to a more extensive discussion of this sort of question, see this post.) There are probably redeeming features in the film. I certainly hope so. I expect to see loyalty, heroism, and unselfishness portrayed as good qualities. I hope that the artistry is good. I hope that it measures up reasonably well against Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)

Thanks for reading.


Deep Furrows said...

good to know.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Deep Furrows.

David B. Ellis said...

Both the book and movie sound interesting. Its rare to find a fantasy novel in which a naturalistic worldview is expressed. I'll have to check it out.

As to whether one should read books by someone who does not share your convictions my own position (I am a nontheist) is:

Of course!

How very dull it would be to only read people who agree with me. I have found insight and wisdom in the books of many people who I disagree with on very fundamental issues. At bottom, whatever our differences, we are all humans sharing the same basic needs and concerns.

David B. Ellis said...

Where does this sense of right and wrong come from? Where do the "rules that govern the world" come from? Paolini doesn't say. His world view, and/or that of his elves, doesn't seem to be well developed.

Well, its a novel, after all, not a philosophical text on metaethics.

I don't think we should assume, because he didn't explicitly explain his views on this topic that he doesn't have well-developed opinions on the issue.

andre said...

Thanks for your post...insightful

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks David B. Ellis and andre.

I'm sure I tried to respond to you, David B., but apparently it got lost in cyberspace. Sorry.

Martin LaBar said...

Let's try again.

I agree, David B. Ellis, that it's OK to read/see/whatever things that are created by people that don't share our world view, whatever that is, at least for persons with an adult mind. In fact, it's almost a necessity.

I also agree that it's not exactly fair to suppose that a world view be spelled out in a work of fiction, and perhaps I was too hard on Paolini.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Moral Fabric is also a line of clothing.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I didn't know that. This may lead to some interesting search results.

Anonymous said...

I think the Eragon series and the Bible series are both great works of fiction written by PEOPLE with great imaginations. Dragons, Santa, Satan and god are things lots of people realize are fairy tales! I am happy to say I am moral and don't need a fantasy crutch to keep me that way. Enjoy your beliefs - I enjoy mine.

I'd sign my name, but I fear belivers would bring harm to me in the name of god.

Martin LaBar said...

Sept 20, 2008: Well, anonymous, I think you could have left your name here, and I would have been the only one to see it.

I believe in God partly because I was raised that way, of course, but I also have seen prayer answered, because I have seen lives changed radically for the better because of belief in God, and because belief that the universe had a supernatural beginning seems compatible with what science tells us about nature. Thanks for your comment.

bride wedding said...

Unfair to say that Paolini is agnostic. These views are of the Elves in his FICTIONAL book. He never said that he put his own views into the text.

Martin LaBar said...

You are right, bride wedding. I should have titled this post "may be an agnostic."

As I think you would agree, authors usually put their own views into their writing. Paolini may be an exception.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Your site is really good and the posts are just wonderful. Thank you and keep doing your great work.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I hope you aren't a spam commenter.

Saskia Scott said...

I found the section where Oromis explains his religion to be really weird - I don't think you are at all going out on a limb when you say that the elf may have been a mouthpiece for the author. It certainly comes across that way in the text, not natural to the character at all. That's actually how I got here, because it was so bizarre that I decided to see what Paolini's views were.

I would actually class the statement you quoted as atheistic - it sounds like the kind of statement that I have heard weak atheists make: it boils down to "I can't prove there's no god, but it sure seems to me that there's no evidence whatsoever that there is one, so I don't believe." As opposed to "I don't know whether or not there is a god. I neither believe nor disbelieve." Which is agnosticism.

This isn't a quibble with your post though, just a thought :)

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for reading, and for your comment, and I think I agree with you.