Father Elijah and Alpha Centauri

I told myself I was going to read DIALOG WITH TRYPHO for my Lenten reading, but I got derailed. It seems that the author of VOYAGE TO ALPHA CENTAURI (which I enjoyed despite its non-science-fictiony mood and flavor) has written a political thriller about the End Times called FATHER ELIJAH: AN APOCALYPSE.

This was not LEFT BEHIND, albeit it may share some themes and setting.

Michael O’Brian is the author, and since he is not a Science Fiction author, of course I’ve never heard of him. My reading tastes are shockingly narrow.

On the other hand, Michael O’Brian did a masterful job with VOYAGE of portraying character development and addressing spiritual concerns. The depiction of the soft tyranny of Political Correctness once it takes full control of a society is more chilling, at least to me, than George Orwell or Aldous Huxley dystopias, because it is indirect, voluntary, subtle, and disastrous.

Once scene in particular grips my memory with a fearful fascination, just in so how realistic it is: the secular humanists, finding evidence of a horrific dehumanizing culture once existing on the sole planet of Alpha Centauri, and puzzled that they seem to have been humans from our earth, decide to re-enact one of their ‘Nature Worship’ rituals as pieced together by archaeologists, a vibrant ritual of dancing and chants the secular humanists see as beneficial for encouraging group spirit, and adoring the natural world. It involves the worship of snakes, and doing a snake-dance, and a few more things … the main character realizes from examining the archeological records even further, that rebel god-being from the native mythology the rite adores is an enemy of man, depicted as being in revolt against a supreme being. The main character sees the celebrants dancing and writhing and copulating in their life-affirming psychologically expert-approved affirmation of their self-affirming nature-love and ecological earthday values …. and he sees the darkness behind it. The seculars are calling up powers that the natives (and the main character) believes to exist, but the seculars do not.

It was all very subtle, and, in that sense, quite realistic. VOYAGE did not have a dramatic plot, nor was the viewpoint character the driver of the action, nor able to solve either the main conflict of the story, nor the specific technical problem at the end. Indeed, his attempt to solve the problem with gunfire goes badly awry.

So it was not the kind of story I, with my plebeian tastes, would typically enjoy, but the depiction of spiritual dangers was utterly realistic and spot-on.

Especially poignant were scenes in flashback which depicted the main character’s youth. He lived in a poor community, but among neighbors with strong religious bonds to each other whose children would occasionally be taken away by nameless bureaucrats for reasons unnamed.

The contrast between the poor all celebrating Catholic holy days together, and the sterile addictive pleasures of the all-benevolent Political Correction state was chilling indeed, but, again, the thing was done very subtly, not in a preaching way, and not in a heavy handed way.

The characters were realistic: almost like Tolstoy characters for their three dimensional, quirks and realism. But a science fiction reader will not take away from VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS any of the sense of wonder or sober scientific speculation which is the main appeal of the genre. The same events told in the same way could have happened in a base camp of archaeologists in Egypt or Persia with no change to the main points of the plot.

FATHER ELIJAH: AN APOCALYPSE was a book I approached more hesitatingly, because it is beyond what I usually read for enjoyment. Unlike VOYAGE, where the genre conventions of science fiction were distracting to me by their absence, this book had a rather clear prologue where the author says it is not a thriller.

There is some politics in the story, but it is secondary to the spiritual journey and the spiritual warfare of the main character.

And the spiritual warfare was spot-on. It was neither a matter of Hollywood special effects nor self centered psychological self-torture.

Again, as before, this is one of the few books, perhaps the only one, I have read where the supernatural events are depicted in the fashion that I, at least, think such things actually happen. Real miracles have happened to me: they did not look like the final scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK where Nazi faces staring at the shechinah of the Lord melt or explode.

The plot is rather simple: a priest with a complex and painful past living in a monastery is called to the Vatican because of his archaeological expertise means that he might be able to visit a great, and wise, and dangerous man whom, as it happens, the Pope and the Secretariat of State believes may well be the Antichrist. Odd dreams and strange coincidences, if they are coincidences, hint at supernatural forces, angelic or diabolical, are bringing pressure to bear to influence the outcome of events.

And the Pope wants him to befriend, counsel, and save the soul of the Antichrist, to give the man fated to destroy the Church one last chance at salvation.

I was not expecting that. I thought an exorcist, or better yet, Van Helsing with a stake to drive through the heart would be more likely, but, as I say, my tastes are plebeian. But I can recognize the touch of patrician tastes when I encounter them. The book is deep and subtle, and the meditations on the nature of man, fallen man, sacramental life and temptations were, to my uninstructed eyes at least, remarkably insightful. I was profoundly moved.

I will say no more lest I spoil the plot. Let me instead quote from the author, who was asked about this book:

This is from http://www.studiobrien.com/questions-about-michael-obriens-qfather-elijahq/

A Christian writer who addresses the subject of Apocalypse in our times risks being dismissed as an hysteric or an opportunist. My critics in the press have sometimes lumped me into the genre of millennialist hysteric, which makes me wonder if they read the book before writing the review. Such critics completely miss the point that reflection on apocalyptic elements in our world is not only the right but the duty of every generation: ‘Stay awake and watch, for you know not the hour when the Son of Man will return . . .’ Regardless of public response and the danger of misinterpretation, if one is called to speak a truth, he must speak it even if it is misunderstood or rejected, or simply ignored. Of course a Christian author must take care to make his writings as intelligible as possible. He has a responsibility—I might say a kind of ultimate responsibility—for the good of the souls who read his work. He must write ‘on his knees’ so to speak, praying always and humbly engaging in constant self-examination. Above all, he must ask himself if his writing flows from an integration of Love and Truth. Neither love nor truth function properly without the other, and if this integration is weak or absent in an author’s writing, there will be consequences for souls. This is a grave responsibility.

His political opinions agree with mine:

Many governments have become agents of social engineering. For example, in my homeland the Canadian Supreme Court has become a small ruling oligarchy that promotes the doctrines of secular humanism. That is part of a growing trend throughout the Western world. Make no mistake about it, we are in the midst of a relentless, top-down social revolution. It has become possible only because the populace as a whole have embraced sin and error and thus no longer have the tools of discernment and little will to resist the revolution.

And he is also a fan of Lord of the Rings:

Tolkien’s great epic, The Lord of the Rings is an archetype of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. I believe it is the greatest myth of the modern age. It points to realities that de-Christianized man has grown indifferent to. By and large, he no longer gives credibility to what the Church says, but he may still be open to truth on the level of natural law, the instinctive sense of reality ‘written’ into our human nature. Tolkien has done an extraordinary work of ‘pre-evangelization’ or preliminary re-evangelization by reawakening conscience on the level of the imagination. My reference to his books is a salute to what he has accomplished.