Explain Miller's notion that religious inspiration can create a culture-saving alternative community in A Canticle for Leibowitz?
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Walter Miller is an interesting author and a little history about his own personal life may help in understanding his writings. He was a World War II bomber pilot, and in one of his missions he destroyed an ancient monastery. This act left an indelible mark in his mind and subsequently his writings. In the Canticle of Leibowitz, we see themes of war, religion, and the importance of culture and knowledge.
The main character is Edward Leibowitz and his wants to preserve knowledge is an post-apocolyptic world. Interestingly he starts a monastery and therefore the life of faith is not set in antithesis to reason and science. This point is significant to emphasize, because within modern discourse often times science is put as the opposite of the life of faith. In Miller's work, it is the life of faith or religious inspiration that leads Edward and his friends to create and preserve culture.
Finally, when we see this point and examine our own history, we will need to conclude that often times the church or religious groups have preserved culture.
For Miller, the advent of apocalyptic reality is due to individuals failing to take responsibility for what is done. Science and technology are a part of this, but I sense that Miller is more concerned with how individuals use such elements. If individuals adopt a mindset that fails to use human accountability as a way to avert the disaster that is possible out of technology, there is no end to what plagues humanity. It is here where I think that Miller sees religion as the answer to saving humanity. Miller sees the critical issue of human beings having the courage to understand that they have responsibility and power to stop the increasingly likely destruction of everyone. This courage comes from spirituality, the need to recognize a universal love or affection for other human beings. For Miller, this cannot come through technology or science as much as it comes from religion. In a world of increasing rationality and increasing rationalization, it must be the irrational that provides salvation and balance and to this end, religion and its universality of a predilection for preserving human life is what will avert the looming crisis that haunts both Miller and his work.
One example of how religious inspiration can create a culture-saving alternative community is in the awakening of Rachel. It is Rachel who comes to life just at the moment when a priest is in need of last rites as he is dying. It is Rachel who ministers to him by giving him those last rites. By this, critics suggest that Rachel represents hope for the beginning of a new race of humankind, a race that is free from the corruption of Adam's original sin, as the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament puts it.
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