Having recently re-read Ender’s Game, I’ve been working my way through Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender Quintet.’ Speaker for the Dead was fine, and apparently the book that Card really wanted to write. But much more interesting is the third book in the series, Xenocide.
There are all sorts of interesting things we could say about Xenocide. The basic plot is that the people of the planet Lusitania, at the instigation of Ender, have rebelled against the government of the galaxy. In response, the government has sent a fleet of ships to exterminate the planet the same way Ender exterminated by buggers in Ender’s Game. This will involve the destruction not only of the people living on the planet, but also the native population of intelligent beings (the ‘piggies’) introduced in Speaker for the Dead, as well as the revived buggers brought by Ender to Lusitania. Additionally, the virus that is threatening to spread from Lusitania to the galaxy might be sentient, so it too is under threat of extermination, as is the sentient computer program ‘Jane’ (likewise introduced in Speaker for the Dead). If you’re keeping track, that’s four independent species under threat of extinction from humanity, in addition to all the humans on Lusitania. Additionally, the people of the planet Path have been secretly genetically modified by the government to be both hyper-intelligent and hyper-subservient. Research on the virus on Lusitania reveals a way to cure the subservience (while keeping the intelligence). This cure will utterly disrupt the culture of Path and may even lead to civil insurrection.
So, if you’re keeping track, that’s four species,, one plant full of humans (Lusitania), and one way of life (Path), all in danger of extermination. Which… is a lot. Not to the point where it ruins the book à la Spiderman 3, but still it’s a lot. Combine that with the fact that the vast majority of this book is philosophical dialogue and hopefully it’s somewhat clear why this isn’t considered one of Card’s best.
And with that said, the ‘philosophical dialogue’ is well enough done. It’s just neither terribly creative nor terribly true. Specifically, Xenocide recites 1) the ancient heresy of Gnosticism; and 2) a fundamental tenet of the modern American religion. Fortunately for the purposes of the the length of this review, 1) and 2) are the same: namely, the idea that you and I are eternal.
For more on what this means from the perspective of the American religion, I’ll direct you to Harold Bloom’s book The American Religion. This book especially examines where Card’s own Mormonism fits into the American worldview. In terms of Gnosticism, it is one of the earliest heresies Christianity had to face, possibly even being the heresy the Apostle John was responding to in 1 John. It was certainly widespread by the end of the second century, as we see in the writings of Irenaeus. The basic premise is that our souls are eternal (for all intents and purposes), once they are separated from matter. Some Gnostics then went on to argue that the matter is evil, while the spirit is good–though not all automatically went to that conclusion. An entire theology was then built around the eternality of the soul and its separability from the body. Ethics, logic, and physics were all defined in that context.In other words, the ideas held forth in Xenocide are not a new heresy. In the same way the Christian response to this heresy should be nothing new either. As human beings, we are fundamentally composed of both body and soul–two components which are only temporarily separable. What’s more, neither of these (body and soul) are eternal–both are created in space and time by the Triune God, and not even created first at that. (Genesis 1) Which isn’t to say people aren’t important–heck, we’re even immortal once we’re created and we’re the capstone of the first creation. But it is to say that we are not functionally gods in meat suits.
Responding to this carefully and clearly is something I hope Christians spend more time on in the coming years. Mormonism is an old heresy, and as such it has been pretty sufficiently engaged. (Card himself was involved in a debate with Southern Seminary President Al Mohler on this very subject.) More pressing in our own time is the transgendered debate. Drawing almost exclusively on Gnostic arguments (though I can’t imagine its chief proponents know it), there is a largish segment of our population who would intentionally divide soul from body and declare the supremacy of the soul over the transience of the body. Initial attempts to engage this worldview have been a good start, but we really need a modern day Aquinas or Turretin to come along and give the thoughtful, thorough, and definitive answer to the challenge of contemporary Gnostic thought and its growing influence on even Christian theology.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO. He has undoubtedly held heretical views in the past, but has never exterminated an entire species.