A classic sf novel about a Jesuit whose faith is tested by aliens who, to his shock and horror, seem to get along perfectly well without religion. They must be a plant by Satan to make humans think that a society can function without religion!

While I normally don’t have trouble setting aside my atheism in order to sympathize with religious characters’ crises of faith, this particular dilemma struck me as so profoundly non-troubling and the conclusion he draws from it so remarkably stupid, that I ended up reading the book feeling morally and intellectually superior to the hero. That is not actually an enjoyable experience. Surely the Problem of the Righteous Heathen is one which an intellectual priest would have encountered before?

I'm not quite getting the "classic" nature of this, though the aliens are pretty cool. Was it that most sf didn't tackle religion at all other than via made-up alien religions?

View on Amazon: A Case of Conscience (Del Rey Impact)



The priest realizes that in fact, he was a moron, and the alien planet is actually the Garden of Eden, and his stupid Satan theory was directly responsible for introducing the Serpent. Back on Earth, mutant bees and juvenile delinquents kill most of his friends. The alien planet blows up. The priest feels guilty. The end!

From: [identity profile] panjianlien.livejournal.com


Whenever I start to feel bad that the fiction I write doesn't have enough thick, twisty, crunchy, plot goodness, I shall think of this book and be reassured.

From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com


Wow, that's almost as good as Unicorns In The Rain. Can you add a 'religiosity' or 'Judeo-Christian' tag to your reviews?

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


This book points out why the phrase "Judeo-Christian" doesn't work outside of rather narrow contexts: it's the least Jewish book ever. Everyone is either a Jesuit, an atheist, or a suspected tool of Satan.

If I'd started this LJ earlier, I'd have a "nuns" tag. I was obsessed with nun books for a while. I don't know why but there are a number which are genuinely good, and more which are at least interesting.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


This book points out why the phrase "Judeo-Christian" doesn't work outside of rather narrow context

The de facto meaning of "Judeo-Christian" usually seems to be "Christian, but I don't want to seem overtly anti-Semitic."

Everyone is either a Jesuit, an atheist, or a suspected tool of Satan.

We don't have vows like the Jesuits, and we offer a better benefits package than atheism!

From: [identity profile] shweta-narayan.livejournal.com


The de facto meaning of "Judeo-Christian" usually seems to be "Christian, but I don't want to seem overtly anti-Semitic."

Huh, I tend to use it as a cover term for all sects of Christianity and Judaism, and for lack of a better cover term Islam as well, though then I will say "The Judeo-Christian religions, Islam included". Given that generally I am contrasting with Indo-European polytheism, is there a better term? The obvious contrast term sounds Nazi-level bad.
octopedingenue: (Default)

From: [personal profile] octopedingenue


I tend to use it that way too, referencing cultural material that's covered in (at least) the pre-Jesus half of the Bible. Jewish != Christian, but they'll both recognize shout-outs to a flood with an ark and seven Egyptian plagues.
octopedingenue: I get really sad at myself for thinking so hard about this. (but that doesn't mean I'm obsessed)

From: [personal profile] octopedingenue


though now I'm suddenly paranoid that my Sunday school MADE NOAH UP (so to speak)

From: [identity profile] readsalot.livejournal.com


I studied the section about Noah in several different (Jewish) elementary school religion classes, so your Sunday school probably didn't make him up.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I think it's appropriate if you really do mean "Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." (Does anyone still say "the Abrahamic religions?") The problem is using it when you actually are just talking about Christianity.

From: [identity profile] daedala.livejournal.com


I was just thinking of mentioning "the Abrahamic religions" as a term to Shweta, so at least one person still uses that. However, my background comes from Christian traditions, so.

From: [identity profile] shweta-narayan.livejournal.com


The problem is using it when you actually are just talking about Christianity.

Ah, so my confusion is 'cause I'm unfamiliar with this usage, and thus worried that I was somehow accidentally tokenizing the other religions, which has never been my intent :)

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


Sorry, I was being somewhat flip.

There are quite a few Christians in the US (I suspect this usage is less common in the Commonwealth countries) who will prate on about "Judeo-Christian tradition" when they clearly have no understanding of Judaism, or often any form of Christianity other than their particular brand of it (usually some flavor of Protestantism). Usually this is in aid of pushing some strictly Christian agenda.

If you are making a reference in good faith (so to speak), that's entirely different, and certainly not problematic from my point of view. However, if you want to include Islam I think that there must be some better term. "Abrahamic religions" may be a bit old-school but still sounds fine to me. Would there be a problem with "Indo-European monotheism?" I don't know if that would imply you are including Zoroastrians, or for that matter whether you want to include Zoroastrians.

From: [identity profile] shweta-narayan.livejournal.com


Would there be a problem with "Indo-European monotheism?"

Well -- yes, because they're not Indo-European-based religions, they're Semitic-based religions (I say based because, obviously, they've grown and changed and split and all those other things). But, y'know, "Semitic Monotheism" sounds like it's a catchphrase for antisemitic vitriol of some sort, which is not what I'd want to imply. Since the accepted usage of "Semitic" varies with context.

I don't know if that would imply you are including Zoroastrians, or for that matter whether you want to include Zoroastrians.

I'd count Zoroastrianism as something more like Indo-European monotheism, unless I totally misunderstand it (which is likely).

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


I agree "Semitic Monotheism" is probably not ideal. I'd still be inclined to go back to "Abrahamic," which I think says what you want the term to say without so much baggage attached. However, I wouldn't be surprised if people into comparative religion studies have a better term.

I don't know a huge amount about Zoroastrianism, but my impression is that there was significant cross-pollination between it and Judaism (during the First Diaspora), and probably between it and Islam, at least in Iran. Of course this is still not the same as springing from a common origin. And I could be off-base anyhow. If so, someone will no doubt be along shortly to correct me. :)

From: (Anonymous)


I lost all respect for this book when the priest described how the aliens seemed mysteriously to have an entirely Christian value structure despite being areligious, the chapter after it was explained to him that they abandoned their children and waited for them to grow up.

From: [identity profile] londonkds.livejournal.com


Traditional public school education? One gets the impression that this was the school of childrearing of much of the British upper class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at least for boys, as the offspring were passed from Nanny to prep school to public school to university.

From: [identity profile] yhlee.livejournal.com


While I can totally see the appeal of that way of non-rearing children, that's as a parent, not as a Christian. :-D

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


I'm not quite getting the "classic" nature of this, though the aliens are pretty cool. Was it that most sf didn't tackle religion at all other than via made-up alien religions?

Probably. Certainly I can't think of a lot from before this book was published.

I had about the same reaction to it that you did, but I still kind of want to read Blish's other religion-themed books, which sound more interesting (Doctor Mirabilis is about Roger Bacon, Black Easter is about the end of the world, and The Day After Judgement is a sequel). I've liked his short stories, on the whole.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I liked the one short story of his I read, the one reprinted in Worlds of Wonder. (Time stops and a logical astronaut encounters the dream-world of the clinesterton beademung.)

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


That one I haven't read, but I just recently re-read his collection Anywhen and it was quite decent overall.

The only other novel of his I have read is Spock Must Die!, and I re-read it recently and was reminded of how dopey the plot is. The writing is good, he has an acceptable grasp of the characters, he gives Uhura something interesting to do (and Sulu, a bit), and the central conceit is good, but the plot has holes you could fly a K'tinga-class cruiser through.

Looking at my shelves, in addition to the other two/three "After Such Knowledge" books I have Cities in Flight and several of his very short novels, none of which I have ever read. I may move these up on my queue.

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com


I think this is one of those context of the times novels. For readers who'd been hammered with "one way of thought or it's the highway" (whatever line of thought) this story was profoundly insightful--at the time. But I notice that no one seems to be rereading it any more, even though when it came out it sparked a lot of discussion.
ext_6283: Brush the wandering hedgehog by the fire (Amiens hedgehog)

From: [identity profile] oursin.livejournal.com


I can read C19th and even later fiction which involves religion, crises of faith etc, quite happily (Charlotte Yonge: my AU of Victorian High Anglicanism) but yes, there are just some books where MI RELIJUS CRISIS, LET ME SHOW U IT has me going 'Huh? Whut?' and finding it equivalent to the romance plot that ten seconds' conversation near the beginning could have stopped dead in its tracks.
Edited Date: 2009-08-08 07:21 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


This has me thinking if one reason why these stories fall flat is that the author doesn't believe his or her readers would be sufficiently interested in a real religious crisis to make it genuinely interesting. It's more a hook to hang other things on, often awesome depressingness, or simply the inability to imagine people in this situation as real human beings.

The point should be that they are in some turmoil over something that is important to them, and that should be a universally recognizable situation, even if the particular reasons are outside our experience or our empathy. (One doesn't have to like the same foods as the protagonist to feel bad for them if they're hungry.)

Another reason could be the opposite, that the writer is presuming too much on the universal interest of his or her story because of its specific subject matter. Most often seen in the religious crisis story where, again, nobody is a human being, a real one.

(Haven't read the Blish story but have a prejudice against stories in which the deck is hopelessly stacked against the protagonist from the beginning--there never ever was another way out--and the point then doesn't become how all of us face those situations at times and deal with them, or don't. Where it's a nasty Gedankenexperiment rather than a human tragedy.)
Edited Date: 2009-08-09 09:53 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] tavella.livejournal.com


Heh. The thing that stuck with me most from the book was the magical telescope that somehow saw a nova happening in real time despite being many light years away.

I vaguely remember the rest of the book being at about the same level of stupid, but the telescope definitely was memorable.
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