I just finished reading “The Sparrow”, a science fiction novel by Mary Doria Russell. It is a treatment of themes of suffering and questions about God that unfold as some Jesuits take it upon themselves to lead a mission to our stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri to initiate first contact with newly discovered aliens there. [Click to undo spoiler blur.]
While I am eager to discuss it with anybody who has read it, I will only give a cautionary recommendation: The story and its characters are gripping and brilliant, but it is not family reading, and I’m not talking about a mere presence of language “bombs” (that are indeed sprinkled throughout) that can be sanitized by a vigilant read-aloud parent. The necessary themes she develops, central to the plot as they are, will not be for the very young or faint of heart, or for anybody of fragile religious sensibility. It is a hard, honest look at life.
But now that I have hopefully scared away anybody who has no business picking it up, let me just add that Russell’s anthropological expertise shines through along with spiritual sensibility and insights that many here would appreciate.
Just as a teaser I will include just this bit out of an epilogue where she shares some about her own views:
Now, I know that many people believe that religion and science are opposites, but for me, religion is very much like music. No one would argue that music is the opposite of science. No one would ask if music is more true than science, or if science is more accurate than music. Those comparisons are meaningless. Nobody would expect a musician to reject science because it isn’t a timed sequence of pitches and tones, nor would anyone expect a scientist to reject music, simply because music is not a collection of empirical facts organized into a body of theory that generates testable hypotheses.
I really like that, and will shamelessly use it; but lest it be thought that the above snippet represents any sort of singular theme she simplistically hammers on, I assure you it is not so. Theists and atheists may differ widely on how they accept any conciliation between science and religion, but most here, I think, should find good provocation in this story where plenty of room is left for all sorts of acceptance or rejection of faith.
Many here on this site who muse long and hard about the place of evil in our world and how God fits (or not) with that would find this to be a gripping story, I think.