The baseline problem with this sort of discussion is that is pre-assumes the scripture itself has any authority of fact about it.
The Church Fathers were a creepy lot. They assembled their Jesus stories, miracle working tales, histories, legends and then had to sew up a theology out of it that was palatable FIRST OF ALL TO THEMSELVES.
How do you know for sure which descriptions (in scripture) were not the pious frauds of lice-infested lunatics who self-flagellated away their own sexual impurities before breakfast each morning?
Listen to me, people--can't you just entertain the idea that NOT EVERYTHING you read in the magic book is the actual Divine Word OF ALMIGHTY GOD?
Has anybody ever read A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ?
An innocent shopping list is found and thought to be Holy Writing.
anticle opens 600 years in the future, long after a mid-20th century nuclear holocaust known as the Flame Deluge. Humanity has survived -- barely -- the coming of Hell's fires, the ensuing Fallout, and then the inevitable Simplification, when men and women of learning were hunted to near extinction and when almost all knowledge was deliberately erased.
Throughout the book burnings and witch hunts, a small religious order founded by I.E. Leibowitz -- one of the scientists whose work enabled the war and who later found religion, only to die for his beliefs -- labored in secret to preserve what knowledge it could from the past. By laboriously copying, memorizing and storing any texts they came across, the monks create a Memorabilia that might one day help humanity emerge from its self-imposed Dark Age. Ironically, the monks understand little of what they find, leading one to label it the Inscrutabilia.
Canticle itself actually comprises three novelettes that follow the Leibowitz order over the course of a thousand years, with roughly 500 years between each story. The monks serve as a vehicle for Miller to both chronicle the state of humanity and to comment on it, and ultimately they may play a part in the physical salvation of the human race as well. But within this greater scope they also muddle through the chores of daily existence as everyone must, driven by a higher purpose but nonetheless prone to the everyday taxes and tolls of human existence. And it is this existence that ultimately serves as the "canticle" for Leibowitz, and for all humanity.
God, or at least His servants, is in the details
Few novels have tackled the future of religion in any way that approaches Canticle 's attention to the everyday, and Miller skillfully uses his self-created microcosm of a small abbey to reflect the macrocosm of the human condition.
However, none of this is apparent from the first few pages. In fact, the book starts out innocuously with the tale of a none-too-savvy would-be monk on his Lenten vigil in the desert. That this monk will play a pivotal role in the future of his order seems unimaginable as he bumbles his way through a chance meeting with a person who will turn out to be a figure of historic importance, and then discovers priceless artifacts that will one day bring him to New Rome and a meeting with the Pope himself.
As readers segue (not particularly smoothly, it should be noted) from one story to the next, it slowly becomes apparent that this is not a simple story. Rather it's an incredibly successful attempt to explore the uber-concepts of religion, humanity and survival through characters that are utterly human and mundane. The story eventually builds to a climax that is more cerebral than physical, and so profound that it may leave readers with the urge to flip back to the beginning and read again. An altogether excellent idea.
Craig E. Engler