As a boy, I spent untold hours at the library looking for books. My mother let me go to the library alone as early as age ten. Within a couple of years I’d bring home three or four books at a time, read them in the evening, and head back the next day to get a couple more. Over a summer I could read stacks of them. In between books, I’d have a dozen or so magazines at home to read, too. The magazines included everything from MAD to Science News, a weekly digest of the latest in science. I started reading that one in Junior High. The reading habit I picked up as a child has served me well ever since.
Through high school, I read mostly science fiction. Early on, the Danny Dunn series was my favorite, but there were several others. The books kept me busy for months, but there was a minor problem with the limited scope of my interests and the brisk pace of my reading. I ran out of books to read! I’d finished all the Danny Dunn and science fiction books in the children’s section. There were no other books for me to read. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I recognized that I had a problem and should go talk to the librarian. She probably knew me quite well because I was there almost every day and the room wasn’t that big. The librarian had a wonderful, simple suggestion for me, one that changed my life.
She said “Go upstairs and look for science fiction in the adult section.” Wow! A whole new world of science fiction awaited. Authors I’d never heard of, like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A Heinlein. I found over a dozen authors of space operas! I was in heaven. There was so much to learn. My little brain soaked it up in ways that still surprise me. These authors did much more than just write about rockets and flying cars.
One of my favorite authors was Robert A Heinlein. The book that made the biggest impression on me: Stranger in a Strange Land. In most ways it was a pretty standard space opera with rockets and flying cars. The premise involved a baby abandoned on Mars when the human colony shut down. The native Martians raised him and taught him some pretty neat tricks … anyway, once you get past the eye-rolling parts, it’s a good yarn, and one of the few books I’ve read more than once. I do plan to read it again at least once more.
The part that has stuck with me more than anything was advice the hero (Valentine Michael Smith) received from his mentor, Jubal Harshaw, about religion. Smith had not been exposed to religion on Mars, so was trying to figure out what the big deal was. He’d been approached by missionaries who wanted to cash in on the notoriety of the Martian Man. Jubal suggested that Valentine give religion a little thought before signing up for one. Heinlein spent several pages on the discussion, and ended with a question about just what or who was God. Jubal asked “Who knows, maybe Mumbo Jumbo, God of the Congo, is the real God?” Dare I say that the question had never come up in Sunday School at the local Lutheran church? Just knowing that the question could exist got me to thinking about all the other questions that could be asked about religion.
I’ve been looking for answers ever since, both in the church and in one of my favorite non-fiction genres today: religion. I’ve decided that religion has answers, but the interesting new questions come from science.
It turns out that Mr. Heinlein was pretty good at recognizing ways charlatans can take advantage of quirks in human thinking. He had some good commentary about television news, but that’s another post.
Questioning religion works for me. You?
Maybe you want to proselytize me at coffee someday. Let’s give it a shot.
Oh … I eventually ran out of science fiction in the adult section, too. Did you know that there are many other genres of fiction, and a whole world of non-fiction?