Baptism by Water and the Word… IN SPACE!

It’s right there in our header: “Of faith and fantasy, spirituality and science fiction. Stories and musings from a bunch of Christians passionate about faith, writing, and bringing the two together.” We’re a bunch of Christians who love science fiction. We often revel in it.

We’re also Christians, and so when we see a positive depiction of a Christian in science fiction, we take note. Most science fiction either ignores religion in general, mocks it, or takes it in a very evolutionary vein (see also: Dune).

I, for one, don’t expect to see Christianity displayed in anything other than a generic sense in most science fiction, unless it’s sold as “Christian science fiction.” There’s a reason I support Peter Prellwitz; he tells good stories that happen to have Christians in them. There’s a reason so many of us love Firefly; the series wasn’t Christian by a long shot, but Shepherd Book was still awesome.

However, those are the exceptions.

My father sent me an excerpt from At All Costs by David Weber. The novel is volume twelve in the Honor Harrington series, a science fiction take on the Horatio Hornblower concept. Seeing as I’ve loved C. S. Forester’s naval hero, I’m going to have to check out Honor Harrington. The series follows Honor as she rises in the ranks. Apparently at some point she has a child. In the scene we’re about to read, she has her child baptized.

It’s a Baen cover. While I’ve enjoyed the Baen books I’ve read, I’ve never really loved their covers.

Baen publishes Weber’s series. We’ve noted that Baen tends to lean conservative, at least in the books we’ve sampled here (such as Caliphate and The Tuloriad).

This is the most explicit that I’ve ever seen a Christian ceremony in science fiction, though. Of course, we often see full weddings, but most are hardly Christian. Even those with Christian trappings are usually more “we’re getting married in a church” than a proclamation of any Christian truth; it’s more a proclamation of the blessings of marriage.

This scene is not “merely” a baptism. In my Nook edition of the book, the scene spans two very full pages – pages of theology. We don’t see the interplay of the characters so much. We don’t see the soaring cathedral. We see the doctrine being espoused by a church as a baby is brought forward to the waters of baptism. I have to say, Weber is bold to stop the action and focus on this scene. I’m going to quote the first part of the scene at length. In my edition, the quote starts on page 585.

As we begin, Honor and the four godparents have entered the cathedral and approached the baptismal font. Archbishop Telmachi smiles and begins the ceremony.

“Dearly beloved, inasmuch as our Savior has said none can enter into the kingdom of God, unless he be regenerate and born anew of Water and the Holy Ghost, I beseech you to call upon God, that through our Lord Jesus Christ, he will of his bounteous mercy grant to this Child that which by nature he cannot have; that he may be baptized with Water and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s holy Communion, and be made a living member of the same.

“Let us pray.”

Honor bowed her head, and Telmachi’s beautifully trained voice continued.

“Almighty and immortal God, the aid of all in need, the helper of all who flee to You for succor, the life of those who believe, and the resurrection of the dead; we call upon You for this child, that he, coming to Your holy Baptism, may receive remission of sin by spiritual regeneration. Receive him, O Lord, as You have promised by Your well-beloved Son, saying, ask, and you shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. So give now unto us who ask; let us who seek find; open the gate unto us who knock; that this Child may enjoy the everlasting benediction of Your heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal kingdom, which You have promised by Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“Amen,” the response came back, and he smiled, looking directly into the parents’ eyes.

“Hear the word of the Gospel, written by Saint Mark, in the tenth Chapter, at the thirteenth Verse. “They brought young children to Christ, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said to them, Let the children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, he will not enter therein. And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them.

“And now, being persuaded of the good will of our heavenly Father towards this child, declared by His Son Jesus Christ; let us all faithfully and devoutly give thanks to Him, and say,

“Almighty and everlasting God,” Telmachi prayed, joined by the gathered celebrants’ voices, “heavenly Father, we give You humble thanks that You have vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of Your Grace, and to faith in You. Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us forever. Give Your Holy Spirit to this child, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with You and the same Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

For those of you of Lutheran background, you may find the service familiar. At least in the service book I use, we quote the same passage of Jesus and the little children. My service book is a little less… wordy, though. Also, we use far less King James-speech.

Is this service Catholic? Does anyone want to chime in here as to how closely it resembles a Roman Catholic ceremony?

I’m sure, given the length and formality, Weber at least modeled the ceremony on some pre-existing liturgy.

For now, though, I’d like to focus on a few of the aspects of the baptism:

We see an admission of original sin – not exactly a popular notion, particularly in science fiction circles! Science fiction likes showing humanity triumphing and being basically good, but beset by outside evils. Granted, this is true of all humans. After all, we are by nature dead in sin (see Ephesians 2:1-10). We don’t like admitting that. We like thinking we’re better than we are; if nothing else, babies are innocent, right?

But here, the child brought forward, at least according to the ceremony, needs to be reborn of water and the Word. And as I noted before, this large chunk is primarily theology for the sake of theology. It’s not an argument between characters. Granted, I’ve not read this book. Perhaps some of this is done in irony. Perhaps the parents before or after the ceremony express that this is merely the outward act.

However, at least in my limited reading, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Honor in particular appears to take the ceremony at face value and agrees with what it expresses. Her child needs to be reborn, and so she has brought him to receive regeneration.

The ceremony continues. I’m not going to quote the entire thing, but I do want to show the ending:

“The Lord be with you.” “And with you.”

“Lift up your hearts.”

“We lift them up to God.”

“Let us give thanks to our Lord God.”

“It is meet and right to do so.”

“It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should give thanks to You, Oh Lord, Holy Father, Almighty and Everlasting God, for Your dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins, did shed out of His most precious side both water and blood, and gave commandment to His disciples, that they should go teach all nations, and baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Receive, we beseech You, the supplications of Your congregation. Sanctify this Water to the mystical washing away of sin, and grant that this Child, now to be baptized therein, may receive the fullness of Your Grace, and remain always in the number of Your faithful children; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.”

“Amen.”

Telmachi reached out, and Raoul stirred, rolling his head as the Archbishop took him into his arms and looked once again at the godparents.

“Name this Child.”

“Raoul Alfred Alistair,” Elizabeth Winton replied clearly, and Telmachi bent to the font, cupping up someof the water in his palm. He poured it gently over Raoul’s dark fuzz of hair, and the baby promptly began to wail.

“Raoul Alfred Alistair,” Telmachi said through Raoul’s lusty protests, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

“Amen.”

Again, I’ve not read this series. I’ve never read Weber’s works (though I loved book one of the Ring of Fire series by Eric Flint, and Weber co-writes book two…). I know that Baen is not marketed toward Christians. It’s marketed as science fiction, pure and simple.

But knowing what I know now, having read this scene at my father’s recommendation… I’m going to be taking a closer look at their books.

(And it’s easy to do so! A good chunk of Weber’s books are available for free at the Baen Free Library – totally legit and legal downloadable copies! Note that Kratman’s Caliphate, which we’ve reviewed here before, is also available for free. Whee!)

How about you? Have you read anything by David Weber? Anything over at Baen stand out to you as distinctly Christian? Or have I simply found a spot where Weber, in the effort to do some thorough world building, has simply let a scene play out?

Addendum: According to Weber’s Wikipedia page, “In a video interview, he stated that he is a Methodist lay preacher, and that he tries to explore in his writing how religions (both real-life and fictional ones) can be forces for good on the one hand, and misused to defend evil causes on the other hand.” So, there’s one answer… although this definitely doesn’t “feel” Methodist to me. I could be very wrong, though, as my knowledge of Methodism has proved… shoddy in the past.

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6 responses to “Baptism by Water and the Word… IN SPACE!

  1. Did a little sleuthing regarding Baen Books and discovered a few interesting things. First of all, worth noting is that Jim Baen, of Baen books, passed away in 2006. You wouldn’t know it from reading their website, where sections are signatured “Jim Baen” all over the place, as though he’s still personally maintaining the website.

    While I couldn’t find anything about his personal viewpoints or faith life, some interesting things that pop out:
    -Jim Baen was a military guy before he entered the world of publishing, which explains the large number of military atmosphere books he has in his publishing record, and explains in part his apparent openness to more conservative thought.
    -Jim Baen worked with Tom Doherty (Tor Books) and Judy-Lynn del Rey (Del-Rey Books), which speaks to his experience in the field.
    -When he had a stroke back in 2006, the issue popped up on a lot of web forums. Looking those over, there is a preponderance of Christian thought on some of those web forums, offerings of prayers, and responses from his own family members thanking them for prayers. While not definitive, it does suggest a religious atmosphere.

    I don’t know, maybe if Kratman is poking around and has the chance he could comment on why Jim Baen seemed very open to conservative and Christian perspectives, if he knows. It seems like there is evidence to suggest we may get to meet Jim some day, but not enough to be sure…

    • Baen seems to remain unique for a mainstream publisher with how conservative many of its releases are. You’ve spotted a lot of the same things I have!

  2. Oh, but wait, this was really about David Weber….

    I think that the Methodists would not have such a high church sounding process for Baptism. Being Reformed in nature, I would think the Methodist church would shy away from infant Baptism in general, actually, unless there’s something I don’t know. Perhaps Weber simply wanted to acknowledge that in a Science Fiction future, it is most likely that the Catholic Church would spread farthest and fastest, just being that they have the resources already. As such, the highest percentage of Christians would be Catholic, so he wrote it from that perspective.

    Then again, maybe he believes in infant Baptism and really wanted that brought out.

    • Methodism, in my experience, has as wide a range of beliefs as Lutheranism does — in other words, simply by saying “Methodist,” you’re not necessarily saying much because of the broad range of beliefs within. You know how it is: I say Lutheran, and one person thinks “the nice people at the ELCA church” and another thinks “Those biblicists over at the WELS!”

      I’ve seen similar extremes within Methodism — some which might as well be on the liberal side of ELCA, and some others that I’ve met personally that cling to God’s Word and insist, “If it’s in here, it’s true!”

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