Wise Men

In honor of the season, I’m going to talk about “Wise Men.”

Back in 2008, a Catholic friend of mine was having trouble understanding why God waited until only 6000 years ago to introduce himself to humanity, when so much paleontological evidence evidence points to there having been human beings for over 100,000 years.  I sent him an email that said:

Here’s my personal answer to the basic question you asked. While my opinion draws on Mormon doctrine, it’s my own personal theory, not official doctrine.

Genesis 2:7 says: And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

While many people use the words “spirit” and “soul” interchangeably, in Mormon doctrine, the word “soul” refers to a union of physical body and immortal spirit.  Mormons believe that humans existed as spirit children of our Heavenly Father prior to the formation of the earth, and that part of God’s plan involved our spirits obtaining physical bodies.

While the Mormon Church officially takes no position on evolution, it is firm that Adam was the first man.

So, my own personal theory to resolve that conflict is that if God used evolution to create those bodies in the form he wanted, then the first of those bodies to become a “soul” by being given a human spirit was Adam.  Thus, the physical ancestors of Adam, while genetically human, were merely creations of God rather than children of God.

What is the eternal status of pre-Adamic humans?  That’s up to God, of course, but I don’t really see how that differs from the question of the eternal status of chimpanzees.

Therefore, in my view, the answer to your question of why God waited until 6000 years ago to introduce himself to humanity is that prior to Adam, they weren’t his children.

While my theory is rooted in Mormon doctrine, I think it’s possible to come up with a variation that’s compatible with Catholic doctrine.

My friend suggested I should write a story that used this theory.  I said I would have to think about it.

Which brings me to “Wise Men.” It’s a Christmas story that was published in the December 2010 issue of Intergalactic Medicine Show.  In it, Eloi, a God-like figure, started bonding spiritual beings to the human species, with the eventual goal of producing immortal physical beings.

But the story’s not by me — it’s by Orson Scott Card.  Now, unless the NSA was passing him my emails, he came up with the story without any input from me.  I’ll just be satisfied to say, “Great minds think alike.” ;)

“Wise Men” is a retelling of the story of the Three Wise Men from the point of view of Satan, who has possessed one of Herod’s advisers in an attempt to frustrate Eloi’s plan by killing the baby Jesus.  (SPOILER WARNING: He fails!)

Since the basics of the plot are pretty well known, the more interesting part for me was to see how Card wove in various aspects of LDS theology.  In re-reading the story today, I also spotted several parallels between the ideas behind “Wise Men” and his Mither Mages series.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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10 Responses to Wise Men

  1. Did you ever find a place for your short about the strike? That struck me as an extremely elegant and concise way to deal with these ideas in a not explicitly religious context.

  2. Doug says:

    I’m not saying your idea about Adam is wrong, but there was a lot going on before 4000 BC. People were building cities, Neanderthals were burying their children with flowers, people were making beautiful carvings and careful paintings and putting colorful handprints on the walls. They were able to speak, develop new tools, and so forth. How did they do all that without a spirit?
    What would a spirit be good for, if they did all that without it? It doesn’t seem to do much for us that the bodies without it couldn’t.

    • Andrew H. says:

      And even if you accept the Adam story as somehow historical, there is no reason you would have to connect it with 4000 BC. That is a pretty fundamentalist/Skousen reading of the Old Testament. I could imagine a historical Adam being a lot earlier than that.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      A coupla-three thoughts—

      *

      This story further underscores my general contention that Orson Scott Card might well be the most unabashed and intentionally Mormon writer we have ever produced. He seems to take the storyteller in Zion label very seriously, and consciously works to fulfill that role. However you feel about individual stories, that broad role is one that reflects constantly in his work.

      It could be argued that he has taken nearly every imaginable approach to telling stories deeply informed (if not always driven) by a distinctly Mormon viewpoint, mindset, or cultural/historical approach. There are inside works written by-us-for-us; general religious works informed by Mormon culture and doctrine; specifically Mormon historical fictions; creative extrapolation of points of doctrine; direct allegory and metaphor of both Mormon scripture and history; cultural (non-doctrinal) extrapolation; Mormon characters reacting and responding in light of their explicit Mormonness; thematic exploration of Mormon philosophical constructs (and their possible implications) without overt reference to their Mormon antecedents.

      In intentionally laying out such a wide variety of ways of exploring Mormon thought, Card has shown an entire generation of writers how to integrate their distinctly Mormon (creative and interpretive) minds into stories intended not just for us, but for all. It should come as no surprise that Eric James Stone is comfortable with writing a distinctly Mormon viewpoint on a broad social/scientific question for a general audience—or that Orson Scott Card had already been there and done that.

      I think that’s fantastic. Stories can be as explicitly Mormon (or as quietly and passively Mormon-informed) as they want to be, at least partially because one powerful writer both showed us how and broke through the barrier to do so in national (and international) publication. No permission asked, and no apologies required. Now in our third consecutive generation, and starting to innovate in ways that challenge both broad-market and Mormon literary critics.

      Infinitely cool.

      * *

      As a matter of doctrinal speculation, the broad idea has offered itself for a very long time and encouraged a number of (variably prominent) people to address the question, both in public and private.

      Elder Talmage and President Smith famously disagreed on the facts regarding the physical age of the earth and the reality of organic evolution, though they both generally steered clear of this specific question. Others have made variably compelling arguments over the years. I think it was Orson Pratt who once shocked by estimating the age of the earth at over 2 billion years at a time when the common scientific view placed its age in the low hundreds of millions of years. Different Church leaders have speculated the Earth as an assembly of bits of other planets; as ex nihilo creation; as natural process; as directed process.

      Why should our (storyteller’s) speculations on the development of life be any less diverse?

      My own take currently tends toward belief in a naturalistic creation (evolution over time) capped by an explicit covenant at one point in time (6-7 thousand years ago) where the essential nature and capacity of Man reached a sufficient state to go to the next step. I tend to see the broad narrative of Genesis as a metaphorical/thematic (rather than procedural) explication.

      In other words, when God breathed the spirit of a Man into Adam, it can be (I think reasonably) speculated that such an act added to (or perhaps transformed) the spirit he already possessed (generic hominin, perhaps; we accept that a cat spirit is different than a fern spirit, both of which are different than the planet’s spirit—why not a proto-Man spirit similar to, yet necessarily different than, the current) to raise his spiritual capacity enough to make the covenant and begin the era of modern man (aka, the era of salvation).

      If it turns out I’m wrong and it was all ex nihilo, that’s okay because it’s not the process that matters most to me, but the resulting covenant and its implications. The speculation on how is merely an excuse (a creative frame) to point at the question of why (and perhaps explore it while we’re there). Which is what storytellers do—even those dastardly science fiction and fantasy writers.

      * * *

      What’s striking to me is that despite widely varying views on chronological age of the earth or methodological approaches to the creation of life or process for establishing that foundation covenant, there is relatively little disagreement (at least among Mormons) over the nature or extent of the covenant itself. The “how” may divide us, but the “why” powerfully unites us.

      Given our continued march toward greater (spiritual and scientific) light and knowledge, the how seems like a question worth deferring on at the same time that we actively inquire and pursue speculation; while interesting, it is ultimately less relevant (if infinitely fascinating) than the result of that process. Which leaves a huge space to creatively speculate on the how as we explore the question of why (and what’s next).

      A significant part of what it means to be Mormon, and to see all things as a type of Christ and the core covenant between God and Man that he enables. Choosing among a wide variety of ways to approach the question only widens the funnel and enables it to capture the interest of a wider variety of readers as we explore a relatively narrow core question.

      Or so it seems to me.

      • Jonathan Langford says:

        Hi Scott,

        I really like your statement: “What’s striking to me is that despite widely varying views on chronological age of the earth or methodological approaches to the creation of life or process for establishing that foundation covenant, there is relatively little disagreement (at least among Mormons) over the nature or extent of the covenant itself. The ‘how’ may divide us, but the ‘why’ powerfully unites us.”

        I’m reminded of the ending of Places in the Heart, when a variety of people from different roles and walks of life within the movie are all seen partaking of communion together (in a setting where they would never all in real life have been). The difference is that for us, that “place of communion” isn’t meant to be merely metaphorical. That’s something we’re intensely aware of on a practical level (e.g., Gene England’s essay “Why the Church is as true as the gospel”), though I don’t think it’s been a major theme of Mormon fiction.

  3. Jonathan Langford says:

    MODERATOR NOTE: Just a caution that while it’s fun to talk about different ways of interpreting Mormon scripture, we need to make sure to keep the literary tie-in. In short, debating doctrine as doctrine is outside the scope of AML blog. But talking about different interpretations of doctrine is totally within our scope.

    That being said, as long as the tone remains respectful (as it has been so far) and there’s a literary tie-in, I’ll interpret the guideline fairly liberally.

  4. Just to clarify, my friend who asked the original question framed it in terms of 6000 years ago, so that’s why I mentioned that time frame.

    • Isn’t there some agreement that civilization (more or less as in people working together to build cities and organize agriculture) only started six to ten thousand years ago, in spite of there being “humans” (or humanoids) running around for thousands and thousands of years before that?

      My thinking is that whatever pushed us over the edge into organized agriculture and cities and so on may relate to when they became God’s children by beginning to receive the spirits He is the Father of.

      Which could lead to a story about why it was so wrong for the sons of God to take to wife the daughters of men (as in those who did not have spirits that He is the Father of).

      Interesting possibilities there, I think.

  5. Th. says:

    .

    Wow….

    There’s a very similar story called “We Three K’ngs” in Carol of the Tales.

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