Thursday, February 24, 2011

David Weber and the Liturgy

I was reminded Sunday morning of one of my "When Geekdoms Collide" moments, and they did so badly.

David Weber has been writing an excellent SF series set on the world called Safehold. The premise is that they are the last colony of humans in the galaxy, the other worlds having been destroyed by an evil alien race who is bent on crushing any other group who achieves spaceflight. Having been sent here in coldsleep and needing to build a low-tech planet, some of the administrators of the colony brainwashed the helpless colonists that the admins were Archangels and messengers of God, and set up this religion, compiling the 'best parts' version of a human religion, with themselves venerated as much as God. (yes, there is an opposition, and we'll not get into their cliches.) Most of the story takes place in a early-industrial-revolution tech level with a medieval church.

So, early in Book Four (A Mighty Fortress) is a mass. And here's where I run into an issue with the fact that I listen to these as audiobooks.

"Lift up your voice."
"We lift them up to the Lord, and to his Archangels"
"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God Who made us, and unto Archangel Langhorne, who was, is, and always shall be His servant"
"It is meet and right so to do"
"It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto You, O Lord, Creator and Builder of the Universe, Everlasting God. Therefore, with the Archangel Langhorne and the Archangel B├ędard, and all the blessed company of Archangels, we laud and magnify Your glorious Name; evermore praising You and saying—”
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory: Glory be to You, O Lord Most High. Amen.”

I have to say, this was one of the more jarring moments I've ever had reading science fiction. The additions just...took something which is sacred to me, a liturgy that I know and love, and twisting it. I found myself dropping into the conditioned call-and-response about a third of the way through the second line. To have them altered that way, for a religion that feels false and that also feels like a screed against Catholicism. And here was where it would be most apparent to someone who knows the forms - the screed against the corrupt and venal medieval church has been obvious from the beginning, but this is supposedly a service by a reformer and proto-saint, one of the good guys. And this is when it hit home that DW/the charecters had just taken the good bits and pieces and twisted. What is DW saying - that it was a good liturgy twisted by the evil admins or the whole of the liturgy is wrong?

Having the wrong words there was like a bucket of ice water dropped on my head. And I had to stop the iPod and shake with shock for a bit. Yeah, most people, not going to have that reaction.

But I was reminded of this Sunday morning by Hymn 525 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, from which two of the series' titles were pulled.


Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed;
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, "How long?"
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song


Wait, was I supposed to have a point? It's not "Don't change the liturgy" or even "Don't use the liturgy in SF." It may be "Don't blaspheme using the liturgy, you idiot!" I can't tell. But it happens.

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