Aldous Huxley had what could be considered a very nuanced view of religion, neither summarily rejecting it in the manner of an atheist nor necessarily subscribing to it as a matter of faith. In the thirty years between the publication of his best-known work, Brave New World, and the publication of Island, Huxley’s views on religion had become more accepting of the concept of religious thought, irrespective of his personal beliefs regarding the existence of a divine being responsible for the universe and all within it. To Huxley, religious beliefs were as natural and inevitable a condition of human evolution as the natural inclinations of all species to take those measures necessary to survive both physically and spiritually. Whereas the author’s approach to religion in Brave New World was somewhat Marxist-Leninist in its view of religion as a veritable opioid of the masses, something developed to explain the otherwise inexplainable, his thoughts on the subject became more accepting in his later years, if still a little condescending.
It is in chapter 17 of Brave New World that Huxley provides the fullest measure of his characters’ thoughts on religion. Belief in God is treated as an artificial mechanism by which aging humans seek solace and hope for some form of immortality. It is the character Mustapha Mond, Controller for Europe, who embodies the autocratic rejection of religion—hardly a serious indictment of religion, given the Controller’s role in suppressing human imagination. Note in the following passage Mond’s ruminations on the subject of religion and God:
They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably...Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses.
Compare the above passage from Huxley’s 1932 classic with the following quote from his 1962 novel in which a far more idealized society is imagined:
Given the nature of spiders, webs are inevitable. And given the nature of human beings, so are religions. Spiders can’t help making flytraps, and men can’t help making symbols. That’s what the human brain is there for—to turn the chaos of given experience into a set of fairly manageable symbols. Sometimes the symbols correspond fairly closely to some of the aspects of the external reality behind our experience; then you have science and common sense.
This latter passage is hardly a ringing endorsement of religion, but it does assume a more nuanced approach to the issue. Similarities abound in the two sentiments, but religion is considered an innate part of the human mind. It is less a reach for understanding out of weakness than a more scientific approach to the physiological workings of the human mind. Another way of saying this is to suggest that Huxley’s characters, if not Huxley himself, adopted a more scientific basis for the development of religious thought—a sentiment wholly consistent with his writings over the years.