Acclaimed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451) turned 86 on Tuesday, and made some pronouncements about our brave new world, according to a story on CNN:
Author Ray Bradbury turned 86 on Tuesday and still has his eye on the stars -- both celestial and earthbound.
The author of such science fiction and fantasy classics as "The Martian Chronicles" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" said he believes that humans will return to the moon, then go to Mars and eventually to other worlds.
"Our future is wonderful," he told Patt Morrison in an interview on KPCC, a Pasadena-based public radio station.
Admittedly, I am not the world's most optimistic person. On temperament/personality tests I consistently score as a Melancholy personality. I see the world through black-colored lenses. Even so, I can't help quoting a few pertinent statistics related to genocide in the last one hundred years:
Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918 - 1,500,000 Deaths
Stalin's Forced Famine: 1932-1933 - 7,000,000 Deaths
Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938 - 300,000 Deaths
Nazi Holocaust: 1938-1945 - 6,000,000 Deaths
Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979 - 2,000,000 Deaths
Rwanda: 1994 - 800,000 Deaths
Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995 - 200,000 Deaths
Darfur, Sudan? Who knows? It's still going on. But conservative estimates put the number of deaths at over 150,000.
Earlier this week CCN shared the story of a Muslim cleric, a spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden, who wants to cap the number of deaths in the current jihad at 10 million. No sense in overdoing it in a little nuclear squabble. Ten million deaths.
So I am always a little taken aback when people like Ray Bradbury, wearing his decidedly rose-tinted lenses, proclaims that our future is wonderful. Maybe on Mars. But from everything I can see, it looks to me like Earth, not Mars, is the real red planet, and that blood will flow in rivers.
When I read the Bible, especially that odd, cryptic book at the end, it seems fairly clear to me that life on earth will not get better. Now, I need to clarify that. Honestly, when people go off on end-times tangents my natural tendency is to back away very slowly. There, there, put down that Book of Revelation and no one gets hurt. It is debatable to me which is worse: a rabid dog or a rabid pre-millenialist. I honestly don't care to speculate about when the end of the world will take place, or who the anti-Christ is, or whether he or she is living now. I look forward to 666 as the number of home runs Ken Griffey Jr. will have hit in a couple more years. And that's about it. I am content to know that there will be trials and tribulations like the world has never seen, and that Jesus wins in the end. I tend to look for the big themes and avoid the endless wrangling about the details.
But surely one of those big themes is that before it gets better the world will have gone to hell in a Longaberger hand basket. And you'll have to pardon me, but capping the number of nuclear deaths at ten million seems to fit right in with the theme.
There is a passage in the Book of Revelation, before the shit even really hits the fan, where human beings, faced with unimagined catastrophes, desire to flee to caves and hide behind rocks. They want to find a hole in the ground and crawl in and die. "Who can stand?," they ask. It is too much. It is overwhelming. I always identify with those folks. Ten million deaths, Ray. Can you wrap your fertile little mind around that, you who can conjure brave new worlds among the stars?
It's enough to get a guy down, especially one who wrote end-of-the-world nuclear holocaust short stories at the tender age of 9.
In the meantime, I get up and go to work, spend time with my family, try to become a little more like Jesus and a little less like the jerk who inhabits my skin. It all seems so futile. Ray Bradbury's solution seems like a form of insanity to me, a willful denial of reality, but I surely don't like the alternative. Because the alternative says that the future is not wonderful; that it is bleak, and full of suffering and pain. And what can I do? I am powerless to change any of it.
I don't have any good answers. About all I know is that I'm supposed to stay out of that hole in the ground, which is where I'd like to go. I'm supposed to walk around on the planet and care about it and the people who live on it instead of hiding from the holocaust and impending doom. And maybe that's the best I can do; flash the big middle finger of love in the midst of despair, fly hope as an act of defiance, quietly insist, through the way I live my life, that meaninglessness and death and destruction are not the final word.
Honestly, it would be easier to crawl into the hole -- a literal cave, or the metaphorical hole that numbs and softens the shrieking awareness that we live in one hell of a big, scary place. But today -- at least for today -- I can choose to stay out of the hole. It is a simple act of faith, but it's all I can do. And that's how I pray these days. Help me to get up, God. Help me to walk across the blasted, fear-shrouded planet, and through little acts of kindness and selflessness help me to demonstrate the ultimate reality -- You win. And then help me tomorrow to get up and do it all over again.