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Friday, August 07, 2009

The Sharing Knife, Religious Aspects

I do not know what Lois McMaster Bujold's religious beliefs might be. In an earlier post, I pointed out that one of her characters, in the Vorkosigan saga, seems to have been a Christian, and in another post, I have argued that Cazaril, in her The Curse of Chalion, is in some respects a Christ-figure. But I do not know for sure what Bujold thinks. My guess is that she is at least sympathetic to orthodox Christianity. In an interview, she said, in response to a question suggesting that fantasy and science fiction might be inherently antithetical to Christianity, ". . . religion or its absence is a matter of the writer’s world view, and will vary with the writer, not with the genre." She went on to say that she was opposed to fundamentalism, and, from the context, she probably meant fundamentalism associated with Young-earth Creationist beliefs.

In Bujold's Sharing Knife novels, there are some important religious aspects. I would like to discuss these works under a rubric established previously. In that post, I discussed some traits that might be used to determine whether or not a novel is a Christian novel.

1) Is there a Christ-figure? The Sharing Knife books have a number of Lakewalkers who might be considered Christ-figures, in that they allow their lives to be taken, so that sharing knives, to kill their greatest enemy, the malices, might be prepared. I have difficulty accepting this aspect of the book as showing a genuine Christ-figure, for two reasons. One, this is quite common among Lakewalkers. Bujold doesn't explicitly say so, but the books seem to indicate that this is the normal mode of death for Lakewalkers. Secondly, sometimes, a Lakewalker kills herself to prime a sharing knife. I have difficulty accepting that a sacrifice, even unto death, carried about by the person who dies, is like what Christ did. He did die so that others might live, as Lakewalkers do, but not by his own hand, and only one sacrifice, not many, was necessary.

2) Belief in orthodox Christian doctrine, such as belief in the Trinity. I didn't find this in the books. In fact, most or all of the Lakewalkers seem not to believe in any gods at all, except in "absent gods," a frequent expression of Dag, and others. Fawn does find that some Lakewalker music is hymn-like, but what that means to her is not explained. There is little or no explanation of farmer religious beliefs.

3) Prayer to a monotheistic god. There is a little mention of Lakewalkers praying, or wishing that they could pray, but no real prayer in any of the four books. If there was, presumably it would have been to the "absent gods," not to a single supreme god. It is as if Bujold has constructed a world in which the inhabitants wish that they could believe in a supernatural God, or gods, but don't really do so.

4) No one in the novels under consideration expresses a relationship with the God of Christianity, or with any other deity.

5) There is no acknowledgment of supernatural guidance in the books. However, the mission of Dag and Fawn, to begin to bridge the gap between Lakewalkers and farmers, sometimes goes so well (by no means always) and by such unexpected means, that it seems like it might well have been explained by providential guidance and assistance.

6) There is deliberate rejection of evil. Better put, there are some clear moral choices to be made by the characters. Some of both Fawn's and Dag's families cannot put aside their prejudices. Fawn's brothers participated in a scheme which, had it gone the way it was planned, might well have killed Dag on the night before his wedding to Fawn.

Crane, the renegade Lakewalker turned river bandit captain, has clearly made some very wrong choices. Dag and the farmer and Lakewalker group that ends the robberies and murders of Crane and his followers believe that the farmers who have chosen to follow Crane did not have to do so. Alder, who had been betrothed to Berry, but wound up as one of Crane's bandits, is told exactly that. Some farmers tried to escape Crane, but were killed in doing so. Alder didn't try.

Dag, while training with Arkady to be a healer, agrees that he will not treat farmers, because doing so might overwhelm the Lakewalkers with requests for their services as healers. But a farmer asks that he come treat a young relative, and he agrees to do so, knowing that he is breaking his word, but considering that it would be wrong to let a boy die a horrible death.

Neeta, a young Lakewalker woman, becomes infatuated with Dag, and tells him that he would be welcome in her bed, and that Fawn would never know. Dag refuses, and doesn't really consider the offer. Later, Neeta makes a very bad choice. Fawn is lying in a coma-like state, in the group of farmers who are attacked by a very dangerous malice (all the Lakewalkers in the group are trying to kill the malice) and Neeta directs that Fawn be buried, knowing that she is alive.

Barr, a young male Lakewalker, appears in the third volume, a self-centered, careless person. By the time the last book is ending, Barr has seen that he should take responsibility for his actions, in particular his brief affair with a farmer woman, which, he discovers, has resulted in a daughter.

These characters have clear moral choices to face. Some choose good, some choose evil. Barr, for one, changes from a person who doesn't care about the rights and wrongs of what he does, but about how it makes him feel, to a moral individual.

I wouldn't say that the Sharing Knife books are Christian novels. I would say that they do present clear moral choices, and characters who are both evil and good.

Thanks for reading. The post introducing these books is here. This post is on the theme of the books. This post is on ground, a unique aspect of Bujold's subcreation. The final post in the series, on how I found illustrations of important Christian ideas in the books, whether Bujold intended them or not, is here.


Mr. Johnson Mafoko said...

Hi I wrote a article on biblical evolution in a philosophy forum but the editors did not like it. I will like to hear your take on this.

In the bible from Genesis 1 till Genesis 2:3 we get the Genesis story of God creating the world in 7 days(my qualification is that 7 days here is not literal because of 1 Peter which states "1 day is 1000 days to the LORD ... ").

Genesis 2:4 seems to have a change in tone to the creation story( it gives details of the 3rd epoch/day ), it seems we are taken back to events of the 3rd day ( Genesis 1:9 ) when GOD created vegetative life. To me this strongly suggest evolutionary creation. The evolutionist miss it is by the denying that God initiated life. God might have created the world evolutionarily ( I say might owing to fallability of science in general ). This is a position I currently hold, not out of compromise, but because I feel is supported by scripture.

Also notice life ( vegitation ) is created before the solar system (Genesis 1:14-19 - 4th day). To me, this seem to suggest that the planet earth must have been made from somewhere and then swang around the sun. Notice also the creation of solar system is concurrent with the creation of the sun(lights in the sky) suggesting that it is star as well. The light that was created in the first day(Genesis 1:3) is best interpreted (in modern terms) as energy, and its darkness counterpart as dark energy( And the waters are best intepreted as fluids of the prime elements. And their separation, a separation of matter and anti-matter(Genesis 1:6).

In summary, Life ( vegetation ) was created on the 3th epoch/day (Genesis 1:11) before the solar system(the 4th epoch ) which evolved through the 5th epoch/day into fish and birds. And think birds here should be intepreted as a species/class which encompasses dinasours which also laid eggs and Genesis 1:23 states that "birds should increase on the earth" ( which to me suggest dinasour age ). On the 6th epoch/day we have an evolution of mamamals and finally first man ( adam ). The moral of the creation story is that God was at the center stage of the processes of nature. Evolutionism denies this while creationism denies the evidence or experience( and to some extent scripture ), and both fall at that.

I wouldn't say I hold this now. I tend to believe that man was not created evolutionarily. But on the one hand "the state of nature" seems to me to be evil(survival of the fittest), how could this be a work of God. Nowadays I tend to concentrate on things that lead to salvation, speculation and knowledge about origin and the like i tend to relegate them to heaven(they are not necessary to know). by the way why is science preocupied to know these things anyway. why do we pay people who study dinosours? how does it benefit modern society. i can see the study of human history is beneficiary, as for dinasours i tend to see it as more of hobby rather than of practical value. on the one hand I stil value archelogical facts, it is the interpretation thereof that seem dubious and waste of public funds. what do you think.

Mr. Johnson Mafoko said...

*speculation and knowledge about origin and the like, i tend to relegate them to when i get to heaven(tgey are not necessary for salvation or to know now).

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Mr. Johnson Mafoko. As I suppose you know, you comment has nothing particular to do with the post you commented on, but I have dealt with these matters in the past, and, God willing, will do so again in the future.

As you say, correct understanding the timing and means of origins are not necessary for salvation. That's a good thing, because if they were, few if any of us would be saved.

I have a web page, which is not part of my blog, on various views of origins, all but one of them held by some Christians. Even that web page cannot cover all the possibilities.

I don't have serious problems with anything you said -- in other words, I don't think any of it can be totally ruled out on Scriptural grounds, and some other Christians hold the same view that you do.

I do disagree with some of what you said. In other words, my interpretation is different.

One disagreement is on the time of the creation of the solar system. I take the Bible to mean that the sun and moon would not have been visible until the time when the Bible seems to indicate that they were created. They were already there. But God would have been capable of doing what you said.

I'm not sure that survival of the fittest is really evil. A great deal of good is accomplished through death, such as the provision of food, fiber, and lumber for us, and, especially, redemption through Christ's death. That being the case, isn't it possible that death of those less fit merely seems evil to us, rather than actually being evil in God's sight? (I know that the Bible says that death is an enemy to be conquered!)

Thanks for your comments.

Mr. Johnson Mafoko said...

sorry for being out of topic. just that i came to your blog via google when i was searching for articles on the bible and games(whether God approves of games like football).

anyways, concerning death, I just read an article from one the links in your link. (

I was reflecting on this issue and found out that the law seem to have 2 facets: blessing and cursing: He is the Lord of Mercy(Love) but also Lord of Judgement(both the Lamb and Lion of Juda). is creation an interplay of these forces (good and evil, darkness and light, life and death,etc)?

David said how he loves his judgements, and Jesus said he was doing his will when he died. Was there death before the fall?(I suspect this topic is treated by Paul when he discusses the Law vs Grace). Our ancestors(adam and eve) were really searching for the mystery of the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ(the knowledge of good and evil). But you wouldn't know it without going through it, i.e dying.

Is "natural selection" natural? (how about the talk in Issiah that the lamb will play with lion, small child with serpents, etc at the last of age?).

On the one hand maybe we are just being hard on death. there seems to be an interplay between death and life even in our present chritian lifes. Paul talks of us having 2 natures in us, the law of life and law of sin, but he seem to say we are now dead to sin and we aught to live in the spirit. He also mention something about dying daily. Also there was a thorn in the flesh that wouldn't go away and God told him "my power is displayed in weakness". Maybe christianity is an understanding how these 2 principles works, his grace on the one hand our weakness.

I guess at the last of age, immortality will come back again, As humanity will hold enough faith in Christ(The Tree of Life) to subsist. Each age seems to have an opportunity to experience this through the rapture since Jesus said if any man believed in Him, they will never die; of cause most people think he was telling a parable, but I think he needs to be taken literally here: a true faith in the Son of God will cause a man to never die (think Enoch and Elija). Jesus Christ died (temporarily) and went up into heaven(in the flesh). Infact, it is this believe, we are told, that constitutes our salvation. Christ came to set an example that immortality is possible by being immortal himself. He is still alive! He is the King who was prophesied to be on the throne of david forever. The immortal King.

Martin LaBar said...

Found by a search on the Bible and games? Wow! I had no clue that you would have found this obscure blog that way.

Thanks for your thoughts. We'll just have to leave what happens to us after death in God's hands. I don't think there is enough Biblical data.