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Numerous social and cultural influences may have affected the composition of Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Some of those influences may conceivably have been religious. Such influences may have included the following:
- The diminishment of traditional religious faith in the “western” countries (such as Europe and the United States) following the rise of Darwinism in the late 19th century. As more and more educated people began to doubt the existence of God, religion exercised less and less influence over the conduct of intellectual, social, and political life. Some people might argue that neither of the two world wars would have taken place if people had genuinely practiced their Christian beliefs (although this is a highly questionable argument). Some people might argue, in particular, that the second world war was the result of the rise of powers that were either atheist (such as the Soviet Union) or that were rooted in a kind of bizarre, almost semi-religious faith of their own (such as Nazi Germany), or that were rooted in a kind of religion that easily lent itself to extreme nationalism (such as in Japan). In any case, many Americans worried, in the late 1940s, that atomic war between the Soviet Union and the United States was inevitable, and that “godless” communism might triumph in any such conflict. Others pointed out that that communists in a sense had gods of their own, such as Lenin and Stalin.
- The rise of materialism itself as a kind of religion. Arguably this is what happened, in some ways, in the Soviet Union, but one could also argue that it happened in the United States and other western countries as well. Certainly this seems to be the idea suggested in the following passage from Bradbury’s story:
The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.
In this passage, the narrator seems to suggest that humans have set themselves up as demi-gods, with technological conveniences designed to cater to their every need. In a sense, humans thereby worship themselves, but in another sense they worship the technology that they regard as crucial to their material comfort. Their focus seems to be secular; they seem to be concerned more with the immediate pleasures of life on earth than with any “higher,” “spiritual” pleasures in this life or in the life hereafter. One way to read Bradbury’s story is as a warning about the dangers of atomic warfare, but another way to read the story is as a warning about the dangers of materialism even if war never occurs. Bradbury seems to be mocking a highly technological and materialistic society in which humans expect machines to function, in a sense, as their slaves or as their almost religious devotees. The story can be read as a critique of materialism even if such materialism never leads to actual atomic war.
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