I still aten’t dead

Strange but true fact: Bradbury, who is not himself a Christian, has had a profound influence on my approach to Christianity. “The Fire Balloons” and “The Man,” particularly, of course. What’s really interesting is how well those stories dovetail with some of C.S. Lewis’ writings. It was fifteen years ago that I first read “The Man.” I found it in a decades-old anthology of science fiction published by Boy’s Life Magazine, which also contained a bunch of stories about astronauts playing baseball on alien worlds, ray gun battles, the square-jawed men of the space patrol using their futuristic sports prowess to thwart the death rays of the space communists, and some space chimpanzee antics.

In the midst of this golden-age boyish space opera pablum, there was this odd little story by Bradbury.  It stood out from its surroundings, which might be why I remembered it so vividly.  Of course, even at the age of ten I knew Bradbury’s name, nad had read a story or two of his.  I knew the titles Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, though I hadn’t yet crossed over to the adult side of the library to find out what they meant.

“The Man” is about a spaceship, crewed by two bold square-jawed commie-beating explorers of the final frontier of the usual type, that has touched down on an alien planet.  And the Captain is starting to freak out, because they flew right over a big city before landing in plain sight in an open field, and they’ve been sitting there for a while now, and the locals haven’t come by to see what’s going on.  His initial theory is that the other space explorers got there first.

He’s wrong.  His is the first rocket ship these people have ever seen.  The reason they’re not making a fuss about it isn’t that it’s not a novelty.  It’s that it doesn’t matter. Because recently, a man came and walked among them.  He taught them about righteousness and goodness, healed the sick, made lame men walk and blind men see.  And just yesterday, he left.  Went on to another world, maybe.

At first, the space captain doesn’t believe.  Then he becomes convinced that the other space explorers have used their futuristic tech to pretend to be gods.  At last, he starts to believe, and he doesn’t take it well.

That story changed the way I think about Jesus.  The parable has been germinating in my head, and in my heart, for a decade and a half now.  Later, when I read an essay by C. S. Lewis in which he talks about the foolishness of the notion of “finding God in outer space” and points out that if we can’t find Him here, we won’t find Him beyond the atmosphere, it had the immediate familiarity of a thoroughly internalized truth, because I already knew the story of the foolish rocket ship captain who set out to pursue Christ on alien worlds, doomed always to arrive too late.

“The Fire Balloons.”  The first missionaries sent to Mars, the glorious red planet that Bradbury helped Burroughs create, have set out to bring the Gospel to the last remaining Martians.  The last survivors of the ancient Martian race are blowing orbs of blue fire,drifting freely in the far mountains.  And when the priests find them, they learn that the Martians are not in need of their Gospel.  They have their own.  Long ago, a teacher arose among the men of Mars, and showed them their path to a state of Grace.  It’s not the same as ours.  And so, having freshly beheld the infinite wonder and vastness of the Divine Plan, the missionaries return to the human colony.

Later, I read Lewis’ Space Trilogy, in which a man modeled after J. R. R. Tolkien finds himself touring the other planets in our system, the ones that never Fell.  Again, it was uncannily familiar.


One Response to “I still aten’t dead”

  1. You can’t use words like “pablum”! It’s pretentious!

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