The Religious Affiliation of Leading Science Fiction Author
Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke is generally regarded as one of the "big three": the three greatest and most influential science fiction writers in the history of the genre. (The other two are Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.)
In a live interview on CNN on 31 December 1999, Arthur C. Clarke was asked if he felt people should do more to recognize God's hand in the creation of all things in the natural world. Clarke responded that he doesn't believe God controls or creates things, except at the very beginning of the universe. This is a Deist position. Many of Clarke's novels grapple with theological issues, and seem to present god-like forces or beings and life after death. Yet, in his autobiography, and in The Making of Kubrick's 2001, Clarke says that he is an atheist (http://www.primenet.com/~lippard/atheistcelebs/pg5.html#g; viewed 15 January 2004). Celebatheists.com reports (28-May-01) refers to a reader's report that in a CNN interview when Clarke was asked if he believed in God, he replied, "I do not believe in God, but I do not disbelieve in her either." (http://www.celebatheists.com/entries/atheist_6.html#5; viewed 15 January 2004)
Clarke regularly wrote about religious characters and religious themes in his science fiction novels and short stories. Below are excerpts from his authorized biography which touch upon his religious beliefs and religious affiliation.
From: Neil McAleer, Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, Contemporary Books: Chicago (1992), pages 99-100:
The dedication of Childhood's End was telling; "To Marilyn, For letting me read the proofs on our honeymoon."
Upon publication, William DuBois wrote in the August 27 edition of the New York Times that the novel was "mixed by a master's hand" and continued the accolade'. "A first-rate tour de force that is well worth the attention of every thoughtful citizen in this age of anxiety.... This review can only hint at the stimulation Mr. Clarke's novel offers."
Basil Davenport; who had been instrumental in persuading the Book-of-the-Month Club judges to select The Exploration of Space, wrote a glowing review in the New York Times Look Review:
"In Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke joins Olaf Stapledon, C. S. Lewis, and probably one should add H. G. Wells, in the very small group of writers who have used science fiction as the vehicle of philosophic ideas. Having said that, one must hastily add that it is as readable a book, from the point of view of pure narrative, as you are likely to find among todays straight novels."
Childhood's End was an immediate success. The first printing of 210,000 copies sold out in less than two months, and another hundred thousand were printed in November. It was on its way to becoming the international classic it is today with more than fifty printings of the U.S. edition alone.
The reception of Childhood's End was a boon to Clarke's literary career, but his marriage was not improving. In the fall of 1953, with Fred and Dot Clarke running the household, Mayfield felt like a fifth wheel.
"Arthur's views on marriage at that time were, I think, very vague," says Mayfield. "It was almost like a hobby that he really didn't want to get into. He wanted it to be a pastime, but it mustn't in any way interfere with his work. I wanted a marriage. It was very difficult for me to try and adjust. Finally 1 could not cope with it."
The split between Arthur and Marilyn came as the Christmas season approached in 1953. A discussion about religion provoked the rift.
"I was brought up in the Presbyterian Church" says Mayfield.
"God, country, all that was important in my upbringing. We were talking, and he told me he didn't believe in God and he didn't believe in Christmas. Now, that shakes your basic structure, especially if you believe and you think that everybody else does. And at that age you tend to know it all. Now that I think of it, he may have been as profoundly shocked as I was. He may have considered my belief as much a taboo as I considered his not believing. But I couldn't accept it then, and I kept waiting for God to strike him dead. I was just shocked. I couldn't come to terms with it, so I left him." ..."The marriage was incompatible from the beginning," says Clarke. "It was sufficient proof that I wasn't the marrying type, although I think everybody should marry once. We just each married the wrong person, you see."
The experience, he admits, was enough to scare him away from every marrying again. "While we were together for only a few months before separating, we were legally married for some ten years." The marriage, in fact, was not legally dissolved until December 1964.
McAleer, pages 236-237:
...becoming to leave his adopted homeland despite the political and economic problems in Ceylon. "Besides this house (where I have a library -- all my books, at last -- cameras, telescope, computer)," he noted, "I have a very nice brand new place on an unbelievably beautiful bay 70 miles S with a coral reef outside the front door....
"I guess I am lucky -- everything of mine is in print, except the very early non-fiction space books, which have been absorbed by later editions. The fiction goes on for ever. Even my 1947 Prelude to Space has just come out with a post-Apollo preface, encapsulating it like Jules Verne. This is one of the reasons I'm writing no more non-fiction ... at least for a few years.
"I could have retired years ago if I was content to live reasonably and not commute round the world twice a year. I have to get out of Ceylon 6 months in the year as the tax situation is impossible -- theres no treaty with the US or UK. I can't pay tax in three countries . . . hence my mobility. Anyway, I like lecturing and since 2001 I've become a minor cult hero on campus."
Earlier in the year, in "a dialogue on man and his world" with philosopher and theologian Alan Watts, commissioned by Playboy, Clarke delved more deeply into his outlook on the cosmos.
"I have a longstanding bias against religion that may be reflected in my comments," Clarke told Watts near the beginning of their three-day conversation. He could not forgive religions for the atrocities and wars over time, he said, focusing more on this subject than in other interviews.
Many people "confuse religion with a belief in God," he went on. "Buddhists don't necessarily believe in a god or a supreme being at all, whereas one could easily believe in a supreme being and not have any religion." Elsewhere Clarke has said that any valid theology must await our contact with extraterrestrial intelligences.
"Fundamentally, I'm an optimist, and I believe that the future is not predetermined, that to some extent we can determine our own destiny. By thinking about the future and its possibilities, we do have a chance of averting the more disastrous one. This is why I believe that the interest in the future that is so common now is a good thing. There are suspect ways of looking at the future of course -- astrology, divination, that sort of thing."
Arthur C. Clarke's concluding words were". "The purpose of the universe, Alan, is the perpetual astonishment of mankind." To which Alan Watts responded, "That's as likely as any other purpose I've ever heard about. . . ."
McAleer, pages 311-312:
All three dish antennae were TVRO (TV Receive-Only) earth stations.
'This was not only a gift of extraordinary generosity, for which I shall always be grateful," Clarke wrote to friends at the time, "but an incredible feat of organisation and expertise. Ever since then we have been receiving superb pictures from Russian, Indian and Chinese comsats. (Intelsats? My lawyers have advised me to take the Fifth Amendment.)"
Father Lee Lubbers, a Jesuit priest from Creighton University in Omaha, having met most of the satellite industry people at various trade shows, eventually approached Clarke through this network to ask him to be a consultant for his educational satellites broadcasting enterprise. SCOLA is a nonprofit organization that retransmits foreign news programs from all over the world to more than five hundred colleges, universities, and primary and secondary schools in North America. Lubbers began the SCOLA service in August 1981 with three homemade dishes made with wooden frames and window screen.
Clarke's commitment to educational satellite broadcasting was strong, and he agreed to be a consultant. Among other things, Clarke eventually did a seven-minute voice-over for SCOLA video promotion.
Lee Lubbers arrived at Barnes Place one day in September 1983, ahead of the main contingent. Upon his arrival he was escorted into Clarke's study.
"He stepped out from behind his desk," says Lubbers, "and dashed across the room with his right hand extended to shake hands, all the while saying (as though he were protesting dramatically that I was going to convert him before he could reach the other end of the room), 'I am an atheist.' Well, you can define atheist any way you want. I'm not sure that he even meant he was an atheist. Most of us don't really know what we're talking about, unless we profess to belong to some camp. It might have been an invitation to dialogue. It certainly was an invitation to friendship, I think. I look upon his anticlerical stance as being very friendly and as coming from a person who is very secure about himself and his own image and can afford to do things like that.
"I said something to the effect that 'Well, as long as you're a good one' -- something like that. Of course Arthur had plenty of time to prepare for that moment. I had sent a telegram at least a week and a half earlier telling him I was arriving about a week in advance of the other Americans because I was coming from a different route.
"Actually Arthur is very conscious of spiritual values, and I think that he really feels a deep appetite for the kind of spiritual needs thai he obviously has. He is, I think, a very deeply spiritual and sensitive human being. While he doesn't have much use for organized religion, I think that's a kind of cultural thing and an accidental thing too. If you're left out of a certain part of society, where you've set yourself apart into a different society, it's very easy to feel left out. I think he does feel left out, and I think he could have, and probably could yet again, very well fit into some kind of a religious cultural context. I think he really feels the need of belonging to a community.
"Arthur has built for himself a stance that has a lot of ego in it, and I think he realizes that it's kind of hollow. He's growing enormously as a human being. He's doing everything right. He lives like a monk, really."
The official inauguration ceremony of the Arthur C. Clarke Centre took place on November 25, 1983, at the University of Moratuwa. The secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education, as well as the deans and professors of the university, gathered at the vice chancellor's office, There they formed a procession and walked to the Arthur C. Clarke Centre, where the invited guests were seated in the pavilion.
Besides the speeches, the traditional ceremonial customs were carried out.
"At the opening of any new building, there is a pot of milk with a fire built under it," says Cyril Ponnamperuma, who would be appointed the first director of the centre by the president of Sri Lanka in 1984. "And if the milk boils over very fast, it is a good omen." The milk did boil over quickly that day.
Five days later, the Inaugural Symposium of the Arthur C. Clarke Centre was held at Tames George Hall, University of Moratuwa. Chancellor Clarke delivered the keynote address, which was followed by more technical presentations.
The following week Clarke saw television coverage of the opening of the centre. There he was, Chancellor Clarke, dressed in his purple robes, standing in front of the country's large satellite dish.
Webpage created 15 January 2004. Last modified 26 July 2005.
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