Welcome! This site exists to help shed light on the topics of science and Catholic faith. Please introduce yourself here!

If you would like to subscribe to this blog, click here. To receive new posts by e-mail, enter your e-mail address below. Your e-mail is always kept private.

Delivered by FeedBurner

Commentary on The Golden Age

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Earlier this week I wrote about science fiction author John C. Wright's conversion story. I was moved to read this story again because I am finishing up his excellent trilogy The Golden Age (The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence). (Yes, though I am not the Sci Fi Catholic, I have always been a sci fi Catholic.)

The protagonist of The Golden Age is an engineer who calls himself Phaethon, after the mythical Greek character Phaëton. The future Phaethon's father is a solar engineer who has named himself Helion (the mythical Phaëton's father is Helios, the sun god). The novels take place in the Golden Oecumene, a far-future, solar-system spanning civilization. The Golden Oecumene is a near-utopia thanks to abundant energy and other resources, the advice of super-intelligent and benevolent artificial intelligences called Sophotechs ("wise machines"), and immortality of identity resulting from the technology to mechanically read and copy minds.

The Golden Age is a philosophical series. It was written while its author was still an atheist, and the world is entirely secular. Reason and logic are core themes. This series rests on the power of the mind, but unlike some science fiction in which "the power of the mind" means the discovery and development of paranormal abilities, the only power of the mind in the Golden Oecumene is the ability to think.

Using their reason, Helion and his son Phaethon (as well as the super-intelligent Sophotechs) have determined that there is an objective truth, and that it includes not only the laws of nature, but also the laws of morality. The ultimate conflict is between good and evil, with "good" characterized by existence, life, endeavor, and reality, and "evil" by nihilism, emptiness, and self-deception. Phaethon and his father live a philosophy called the Silver-Gray School by which they strive to discipline themselves to remain connected to reality and to comport themselves with honor and integrity.

I have never read a godless story so philosophically compatible with Christianity. While Wright reports that it required a series of miraculous experiences for him to acknowledge God's existence, after reading The Golden Age, I don't believe much of a miracle was required; he was a rational atheist ready to meet a rational God. (Perhaps this is why he calls his mystical experiences "overkill.")

For example, an ancient Judeo-Christian philosophy dating back to the book of Genesis is the idea that one's name is a relection or part of one's essence. Thus Abram had to be renamed "Abraham," meaning "father of nations," and his grandson Jacob was also called Israel, meaning "struggles with God" (which explains much about the Old Testament history of his descendants). God himself is named YHWH, variously translated as "I am," "I am who am," and "I am that I am": God's very name is the declaration of his perfect and infinite existence.

In the Golden Oecumene, individuals choose their own names, but nobody seems to choose a name just because they like how it sounds; one's name reflects one's identity. Thus Helion is the one person in the entire Oecumene who controls the sun for the good of everyone in the solar system. The meaning of Phaethon's name is left to the reader to discover.

The Golden Age is sort of a secular humanist's dream, a paradise based only on reason; but the rational conclusions that triumph in the end are so compatible with the Catholic faith that it makes my heart hum. In light of its author's conversion, I take it as an inspiration to explicitly reject the notion that religion is irrational, as well as the use of the irrational in religion.

Related Posts