Friday Atheist-Friendly Fiction (FAFF)

Posted: October 16, 2009 in atheism, atheist friendly fiction, books
Tags: , , , , ,

Let’s start with some classic stuff:

Anatole France, Penguin Island!

Penguin Island was written in 1908 and is, basically, a highly stylised and awesome satire of French and Western European history. It starts innocently enough, and continues in the vein of lovingly mocking what you love most, up until the satire of the Dreyfus affair, where you can tell that France was genuinely outraged and angry*.

The story itself really kicks off after the blind St Mael, an apt parody of many actual heroes and heroines of hagiographies, mistakes penguins (or auks) for people, and baptises them, which causes heavenly shenanigans, God being terribly embarrassed, and the world’s best dead theologians arguing for and against the validity of the baptism. Because, penguins.


But St. Gal replied:

“What relation do you claim to establish between the baptism of a bird and the marriage of a eunuch? There is none at all. Marriage is, if I may say so, a conditional, a contingent sacrament. The priest blesses an event beforehand; it is evident that if the act is not consummated the benediction remains without effect. That is obvious. I have known on earth, in the town of Antrim, a rich man named Sadoc, who, living in concubinage with a woman, caused her to be the mother of nine children. In his old age, yielding to my reproofs, he consented to marry her, and I blessed their union. Unfortunately Sadoc’s great age prevented him from consummating the marriage. A short time afterwards he lost all his property, and Germaine (that was the name of the woman), not feeling herself able to endure poverty, asked for the annulment of a marriage which was no reality. The Pope granted her request, for it was just. So much for marriage. But baptism is conferred without restrictions or reserves of any kind. There is no doubt about it, what the penguins have received is a sacrament.”

Called to give his opinion, Pope St. Damascus expressed himself in these terms:

“In order to know if a baptism is valid and will produce its result, that is to say, sanctification, it is necessary to consider who gives it and not who receives it. In truth, the sanctifying virtue of this sacrament results from the exterior act by which it is conferred, without the baptized person cooperating in his own sanctification by any personal act; if it were otherwise it would not be administered to the newly born. And there is no need, in order to baptize, to fulfil any special condition; it is not necessary to be in a state of grace; it is sufficient to have the intention of doing what the Church does, to pronounce the consecrated words and to observe the prescribed forms. Now we cannot doubt that the venerable Mael has observed these conditions. Therefore the penguins are baptized.”

“Do you think so?” asked St. Guenole. “And what then do you believe that baptism really is? Baptism is the process of regeneration by which man is born of water and of the spirit, for having entered the water covered with crimes, he goes out of it a neophyte, a new creature, abounding in the fruits of righteousness; baptism is the seed of immortality; baptism is the pledge of the resurrection; baptism is the burying with Christ in His death and participation in His departure from the sepulchre. That is not a gift to bestow upon birds. Reverend Fathers, let us consider. Baptism washes away original sin; now the penguins were not conceived in sin. It removes the penalty of sin; now the penguins have not sinned. It produces grace and the gift of virtues, uniting Christians to Jesus Christ, as the members to the body, and it is obvious to the senses that penguins cannot acquire the virtues of confessors, of virgins, and of widows, or receive grace and be united to—”

St. Damascus did not allow him to finish.

“That proves,” said he warmly, “that the baptism was useless; it does not prove that it was not effective.”

Hee! (Also, LOL, the sanctity of marriage, LOL)

There’s no point in spoiling anything, although there really can’t be much talk of spoiling when it comes to a book that is a parody of real events that already happened anyway, and of which, at least partly, most people are certainly aware.

Let me just give you a sample of his writing:

“I know that better than you do,” replied the Lord. “I see in a single glance both the actual problems which are difficult, and the future problems which will not be less difficult. Thus I can foretell that when the sun will have turned round the earth two hundred and forty times more.

“Sublime language,” exclaimed the angels.

“And worthy of the creator of the world,” answered the pontiffs.

“It is,” resumed the Lord, “a manner of speaking in accordance with my old cosmogony and one which I cannot give up without losing my immutability. . . .


“I think I have proved by this example that, to reach eternal blessedness, it is enough to possess some parts of humanity, always on the condition that they are noble. And what Chiron, the Centaur, could obtain without having been regenerated by baptism, would not the penguins deserve too, if they became half penguins and half men? That is why, Lord, I entreat you to give old Mael’s penguins a human head and breast so that they can praise you worthily. And grant them also an immortal soul—but one of small size.”

Thus Catherine spoke, and the fathers, doctors, confessors, and pontiffs heard her with a murmur of approbation.

(ETA: OK, apparently, I can’t help myself. Just a bit more:

“Lord, do not so. Birds with human heads exist already. St. Catherine has told us nothing new.”

“The imagination groups and compares; it never creates,” replied St. Catherine drily.

“They exist already,” continued St. Antony, who would listen to nothing. “They are called harpies, and they are the most obscene animals in creation. One day as I was having supper in the desert with the Abbot St. Paul, I placed the table outside my cabin under an old sycamore tree. The harpies came and sat in its branches; they deafened us with their shrill cries and cast their excrement over all our food. The clamour of the monsters prevented me from listening to the teaching of the Abbot St. Paul, and we ate birds’ dung with our bread and lettuces. Lord, it is impossible to believe that harpies could give thee worthy praise.

“Truly in my temptations I have seen many hybrid beings, not only women-serpents and women-fishes, but beings still more confusedly formed such as men whose bodies were made out of a pot, a bell, a clock, a cupboard full of food and crockery, or even out of a house with doors and windows through which people engaged in their domestic tasks could be seen. Eternity would not suffice were I to describe all the monsters that assailed me in my solitude, from whales rigged like ships to a shower of red insects which changed the water of my fountain into blood. But none were as disgusting as the harpies whose offal polluted the leaves of my sycamore.”

“Harpies,” observed Lactantius, “are female Monsters with birds’ bodies. They have a woman’s head and breast. Their forwardness, their shamelessness, and their obscenity proceed from their female nature as the poet Virgil demonstrated in his ‘Aeneid.’ They share the curse of Eve.”

This makes me all giggly :D YAY)

Cute, huh? As a further enticement, I’d also like to point out that not just this, but in fact all of Anatole France’s books were added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Prohibited Books Index) of the Catholic Church.

You can read the Penguin Island here in English, or here in French. Enjoy!

*I can sympathise. I was too. Also, my posts often get like that =_=.


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