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EP193: Article of Faith

By Mike Resnick.
Read by Stephen Eley.
Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in Baen’s Universe, October 2008.
All stories by Mike Resnick.
All stories read by Stephen Eley.

“I’m sure,” I said. “Somehow, lunch seems pretty trivial after you’ve been thinking about God all morning.”

“God, sir?”

“The Creator of all things,” I explained.

“My creator is Stanley Kalinovsky, sir,” said Jackson. “I was not aware that he created everything in the world, nor that his preferred name was God.”

I couldn’t repress a smile.

Rated PG. Contains religious themes and some violence.

Comments (39)

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  1. logopetria says:

    Frankly, I’m quite surprised this was a Hugo nominee — it’s pretty shallow, obvious, and doesn’t do anything interesting with its theme. If it had been written 50 years ago then, as a sci-fi parable for the injustices of racism, it might at least had had the merit of novelty. Aren’t we beyond the stage where merely swapping some of the cast for robots turns a regular human-conflict story into cutting-edge science fiction?

    Is this really the same Mike Resnick who gave us “Down Memory Lane” and “Barnaby in Exile”? The characters here were little more than placeholders, and there was none of the subtlety and emotional depth that Resnick at his best is capable of bringing. Even the mechanics of the story fell below par: the pivot points of the plot — that the Reverend thinks robots can’t have souls, and that the locals are hostile to robots for taking their jobs — aren’t introduced or even hinted at until the very moment they’re needed.

    Sorry to be so negative, but the combination of “Resnick” and “Hugo” leads me to expect something rather more clever and less heavy-handed than this. I’m looking forward to seeing what the other nominees are have to offer in the coming weeks.

  2. I think this is a more iconic then unique story. Personally I’m recommending it to people just for Steve’s outtro.

    :-D an

  3. IcarusFly says:

    I really liked it! While it might not have been the best Resnick has done, it was a really fun, classic piece of sci-fi. It had a great “old school” vibe. I also enjoyed the mixture of faith into the story. It may not have been very unique it is ideas, but it did ask all the right questions about faith, and the resolution was excellent. Thanks for another great story!

  4. Jennifer says:

    I can’t say anything occurred in this story that I wasn’t expecting it to do from the start. It does sound like it comes from the 1950′s.

    Oh yeah, and I adore the hypocrisy of a preacher having a robot employee whining about how people are offended by robots taking their jobs.

  5. Jeff says:

    I hope you’ll forgive me for using this space to comment on Steve’s outro rather than the story itself. That was the most profound commentary on religion I have ever heard, Steve.

    I am undecided on the existence of God. We have never found conclusive edience to wither prove or disprove the existence of a creator, and perhaps we never will. One thing I am sure of however is the religion is a man-made concept that historically has been harmful to mankind.

    As a homosexual I know this first-hand. At least one religious text describes me as an “abomination” because I’m different than the majority. When people use their religious beliefs to spread hate and prejudice, it is extremely harmful. I have a great concern for young people who grow up in this type of environment and then discover that their own sexuality conflicts with what they’ve been taught.

    Thank you Steve for having the courage to say what you said in your comments. It really struck a chord with me.

  6. L33tminion says:

    I thought this was a great story, but it had a few weak points:

    1. The Reverend’s face heel turn seemed too sudden. Before that point, he seems quite pro-robot and there’s little indication of the anti-robot sentiment (robophobia?) in the community (for example, when Jackson interrupts someone during her prayer, it doesn’t seem that she was more than mildly annoyed).

    2. Would have been better if it left off the last scene. I’m not really a fan of epilogues, but that goes double for short stories.

    3. Before that last scene, I was half-expecting that Jackson would be back from the dead three days later as robot Jesus and was sort of disappointed that wasn’t the route the story took.

  7. scatterbrain says:

    I’m a militant agnostic-leaning-on-atheist(I don’t know, and neither do you!), but I can respect Steve Eley’s and Mike Resnick’s viewpoints on religion and God(I’d say George Carlin’s “Religion is Bullshit” routine outlines my own).

    As for the story, are we sure this was published in Baen’s Universe, October 2008, not Worlds of If, January 1953?

  8. phignewton says:

    …forget the robots.. what about horsieeees? do they have souls? especially the ones with the horns on their forehead, is INCONCIEVABLE those critters arent just chock full of the stuff… and bunnies especially when they cry. This is all a matter of narrative, people are constructed from narrative… without a conciousness cranking it out at a constant rate people are just chaotic brain stimulation. The search for god is the search for a workable author/audience model to give validation to our existance, we need that bad otherwise the universe is just a bunch of random illiterate monkeys without a beginning or an end. This is a human thing though, rocks, cats and bunnies dont give a crap about narrative, souls, or the existance of large scale entities.

  9. steve potter says:

    I loved the story and thought steve`s intro was really well thought out and was a good compliment to the story’s theme and food for thought.

    I even felt myself cry at the end which is a first listening to escape pod, so good work steve !!

  10. Aquarello says:

    I have to say that I, too, got more out of Steve’s out-tro (as the neologism goes) than the story. I am Christian, and I happily agree to pretty much everything he said there.

    The story was, well, just another Mike Resnick story: Special Robot Acquires Human Trait, Then Dies, Changing Human Perception of Said Human Trait. It was a neat idea the first ten times.

    That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the story, or find it to be well-done. I enjoyed the interplay between the characters, right up until the pastor did an about-face and started excluding Jackson from services and getting angry with him. He’d been calm, thoughtful, even amused up until this point; what happened?

    I agree with L33tminion that the epilogue was unnecessary; the story would have been far more interesting to leave it there, with Jesus’ (almost) last words on the cross.

  11. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    Ugh. This is up for a Hugo??? It’s typical Resnick glurge, with an overly emotional ending that’s telegraphed from a mile away. The only award Resnick should be up for is most overrated sci-fi writer. (It’ll be a close victory over Cory Doctorow.)

  12. LG says:

    I felt Mike Resnick was phoning this one in. Barnaby in Exile made me cry, this just made me sigh.
    Having said that, Mike Resnick phoning it in is still a great ride, and better than 3/4 of the stuff published this year.

  13. Connor Moran says:

    This story, like Robots Don’t Cry, I think is vastly overshadowed by the much more poignant, funnier, and shorter Beachcomber. Of course, with someone as prolific as Resnick it may not be entirely fair to judge everything he does by his other works, but given the these three stories of tragedy and robots appearing in the same place in reasonably close succession it’s hard not to. The fact that this one is the Hugo nominee only underscores the impulse to compare.

  14. As an atheist, I was initially averse to the story but I tried to put aside my bias in order to get to the heart of the story. Many other posters have noted that this story feels dated and that it follows the typical Resnick formula for robot stories, so I won’t cover those issues. The story was well written, as should be expected from Mr. Resnick, but there were several holes in this story that I felt were unexplored.

    Early in the story, Resnick establishes that Jackson is good at finding the logical holes in Reverend’s sermons and other theological arguments, even if they are fairly superficial observations. Then Jackson reads the entire bible and has no questions for the Reverend. I stopped believing the story at that point. The robot clearly thought the bible was true, despite the bible’s numerous logical errors, but Resnick already established that the robot is good at finding logical errors and requires that he get an answer for them. Wouldn’t the robto ask the Reverend what happened to the vengeful god of the Old Testament? Why we don’t stone adulterers and idol worshippers? Why we don’t pluck out our eyes if they offend us? I realize these questions weren’t the point of the story, but they should have been addressed.

    Another problem: how can a small-town Church afford a robot, much less keep it busy twenty-four hours a day? And why does the Church need to be cleaned every day? It didn’t seem like there was a revival every evening.

    I was offended by the Reverend’s assumption that sentient aliens and dogs and dolphins would want to worship the Christian God, and that the only way we could confirm their status as equals to us would be by their desire to worship our gods. Heck, our next door neighbours don’t even want to worship our gods.

    Anyway, despite some of the holes in this story it has sparked great discussion. In my opinion, not Hugo worthy (not even in 1953), but worth the listen.

  15. Leicster says:

    Hmm, another Resnick story about robots trying to find their way in a human world. Big 1950s era yawn, indeed. (Wasn’t the last one, “The Big Guy”, about a robot basketball player?)

    Why would a company design a robot that could speak dozens of languages and absorb the bible in a night, and then market it as a domestic servant? Shouldn’t these things be running the UN or plotting the singularity? And didn’t we already cover these themes in Small Wonder?

    And how can a pastor who is struggling to budget for broken windows and cracked parking lot pavement afford to pay for a robot? Why would the church dare to buy it, when people were already upset about robots taking human jobs? Wouldn’t that job go to a parishioner?

    L33tminion @ #6, point 3 – that’s about the best scifi idea I’ve heard in a long time, and it would make a perfect Easter story. Maybe you can tell it to Resnick, he can write the story, and you can split the money!

  16. yellowhat says:

    It seemed more than a bit heavy-handed to me. Like others, I found myself wondering how this was nominated for a Hugo. I had to force myself to get through it.

  17. AndyD says:

    I find that I really don’t like Resnick’s stories.
    Most of his stories that I’ve listened to (I don’t go out of my way to read them) seem to be very heavy on the monologue, and not all that original.

    When I saw Resnicks name as the author I had to psyche myself up for 3 days before I could get myself to start listening to this one, and kept looking for excuses to pause it and find something else to do for a while. At about 5 minutes in I just decided to skip to the outtro.

    The one positive thing I can say about listening to Mike Resnick stories is that he really inspires me to write.
    Granted it’s because I keep saying to myself “if this crap can be nominated for awards then there really is hope for me!”

  18. vagrantmaster says:

    I listen to these stories at work, so often I am only half listening at best. This has been the only story I have ever heard that has made me stop what I am doing and listen.
    I have heard the argument on weather or not robots have souls but never put in such a clear way.

  19. I liked the commentary in the story. I found it to be more about the absurdity of applying reason to religion. This never works, because religion is absurd itself.
    I also enjoyed the outro. Good for you Steve. Let’s all try to use our brains more and put religion in its place as mythology. We can learn from its stories sometimes, but that is all they are… stories like this one.
    PTP

  20. Holiday says:

    I thought that the statement Jackson wrote on the wall was very moving! Knowing that people are able to understand and forgive people for the things they do, the very imperfections that make us all human, is very up lifting. I have found it easier to forgive others for things they have done when I can accept that I myself am not perfect and forgive my self for any of my own transgressions. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.

  21. bertie_ed says:

    We really enjoyed this episode, listened to it in the car with my family as we drove to our Easter holiday break. Throughout our holiday we kept referring to poor old Jackson, how he just wanted to belong and take part in the religious services, OK so it was a bit obvious, but a good story all in all. My eldest daughter is now converted to Escape Pod and I am now downloading a few episodes for her.
    Thanks Steve!

  22. [...] “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008) – Read Online – listen on EscapePod [...]

  23. ADerksen says:

    You know, I knew what this story was going to be about as soon as we got into it, and I honestly did not suspect that I was going to like it. I was concerned that it was little more than a retelling of the classic Asimov “robot stories”, wherein the thinking machine built of logic and reason reflects a very human trait back upon us, thereby becoming more “human” than its equally fallible creative.

    Make no mistake: that is precisely what Mr. Resnick wrote – but it was an excellent and independent homage, exploring one more aspect of humanity that Asimov had missed (or more likely, chosen not to explore) through one more robot tale. It is just that he did such an excellent job of it. He filled all of the expectations of the genre so well that many of us feel that this could have been a story overlooked from the 50′s era of short science fiction. This is a nostalgic piece and a historical recreation of the stories most of us read as a kid, soon after we got into this stuff – and that recreation is where Mr. Resnick succeeds.

  24. Heather says:

    As I listened, I found myself thinking, “This is silly. My pastor wouldn’t agonize over this question; if a robot wanted to join my church this Sunday, she’d welcome him. And I can’t imagine anyone else in my church would object, either.”

    Then I thought of the way various churches are still excluding assorted people.

    Then I realized that I really, really like my church.

  25. George says:

    Mike Resnick. Need I say more?

    But I will: Asimov would have been proud to have written this.

    Powerful, provocative, poignant piece of literature.

  26. AndyD says:

    @Heather
    If I could digg you up I would…
    Anyone that feels like they can exclude someone else from church is not getting the point, and really needs to examine their own heart.
    The whole point of church is to let people come in so they can get cleaned up and work on their relationship with God.
    If you only let people take showers that were already clean, there would be a lot more dirty people in the world.

  27. theaphro says:

    Thunder stolen.

    Listened to the story in the car on the way home from work. Can’t say I liked it for its own sake, but it raised a good internal discussion (and external as I see now having read through the comments thread). In that regard, I say good on ya, Mr. Resnick and Mr. Eley.

    Like many earlier in the thread, I was upset with the epilogue. My jury’s still out on epilogues in general. Used gently, they sometimes serve their purpose. That the pastor actively turned away someone having a conversion to faith was anathema. But even chalking that up to human frailty or social pressures (read: herd mentality), that he still looked upon “Jackson” as being faulty for trying to believe rather than himself for turning away a potential believer made my guts churn. He fell on his sword but even afterward still didn’t understand why.

    Lastly, this did feel a little dated: robots as metaphor for racial discrimination. But then I find this with quite a number of robot and alien stories I’ve read or heard on the podcast. Whether or not the metaphor is intended, said stories often take on the cast of “these odd creatures amongst ‘us’.” Perhaps being one of said “odd creatures” (from several vantage points), I wonder what the story and/or author is saying and what readers perceive about identity and “otherness” – both of the “us” and the “other”.

  28. teufelhund says:

    I felt that this story had a Asimovian feel to it, and i thought that the story added a gentleness to a genre that too often gets labeled the perview of teenage boys and midlife crisis men. Well Done, Mr. Reznick

  29. Warren Terra says:

    Note that this thread doesn’t have the “Hugo Award” tag that the Chiang and Johnson entries have; it would be great if an admin could fix this.

  30. JeremyT says:

    Hi Warren,

    Thanks for letting me know. I’ve made the fix.

  31. pchow98 says:

    Liked the story. Thanks.
    For those that feel they have the license to judge (either atheist, agnostic, or religious), please feel free to pick the first stone to throw. Oh, I forgot, you’ve already done it!

  32. Eric.L says:

    While this story definitely didn’t bring any new ideas, it was still quite powerful, and it was very well-written.

  33. MasterThief says:

    Apparently Mike Resnick is the Applebee’s of science fiction – you know what you’re going to be served, but somehow it always hits the spot. (It definitely doesn’t compare with last years “Tideline.”) And I didn’t see the story as a thinly veiled allegory against racism as much as it was an allegory against all forms of xenophobia, a theme in a lot pre-1950′s tales, too – Frankenstein, Pinocchio, etc.

    I must say I was surprised to see a positive portrayal of Christianity in a science fiction story – in fact, I would go so far to say that Jackson would qualify as a martyr – while recognizing that Christians themselves have not always done as Christ would.

    Oh, and Steve’s outro was spot-on.

  34. Wow, this story is turning out to be really interesting. Man, I can’t wait to see how this ends!

    Oh well. Maybe next time.

  35. Tomo says:

    I just came from a Wednesday night Mass service and then listened to this story. Interesting coincidence. I don’t remember seeing any robots attending Mass tonight but I think I would be happy to see one do so. In reading some of the posts above, the thing about knowing God is that you have to approach Him on His terms. He is beyond reason. Which is why if you approach Him with your intellect alone, you’ll have difficulty. God is Spirit, and you have to learn to approach Him in Spirit. That’s not easy to learn. But when you do, you find Him more and more. That aside, I’m not a literary critic, but I liked the story. I am generally grateful for the good sci fi stories I find on this pod cast. Thanks so much.

  36. Blaine Boy says:

    Classic Resnick story. Thought-provoking and powerful. Does God exist in and protect all sentient thought or is it just living sentience? I don’t like the fact that some people can write off these “mythologies” as just stories, but I’m no missionary. I’m still struggling with my own faith (Roman Catholic). I do believe in an all-powerful creator being that we identify as God and that he exists outside (and yet at the same time inside of) our own universe and therefore we are physically incapable of imagining how He might think or act or judge or look like or whatever.

    Back to my question, though, maybe if we are capable of sentient thought we are then able to recognize God because God exists in all thoughts, in all minds, in all creatures, in all beings. This can also then raise the question of whether or not then animals have this trait? Perhaps this finding God is not necessarily limited to sentient thought. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. True, animals especially our beloved pets can think but it does not put them into this connection to God, at least not on the same level we are talking about with humans. (This does not have anything to do with souls, though; at least, that’s not what I’m trying to say, or maybe it is and I’m just in way over my head).

    To commentators such as Jeff @ #5, I’m sorry that you are not able to find religion as… enlivening as myself. Unfortunately you are right in that religions have been used for thousands of years to commit atrocities and warping the purpose of these religions. In most every major religion, you see one very key aspect: love. Love is taught to transcend all things and to heal all wounds and that is what religions are there to teach. Every major religion in the world strives to find happiness for humans and most of those religions believe they come from God. They are there to guide on the path to God. From all these religions, you can pick and choose your own beliefs on how you find God.

    I know that I probably will never be able to convince anyone of this but… if you have looked up at the stars and wondered or read the words of masters or felt shivers run down your spine as you listened to your favorite music or looked at the art of the world and been amazed and astounded and gripped by something other-worldly that only you can experience that you must feel to understand… I believe that you have found another piece of God in your life. The only thing I know about religion is that there is a superior being, but I will never know who or what He is until I join him in the next world.

    I thank Mr. Resnick for inspiring these conversations, even if you disagree on whether or not this story was a good piece of literature or not. I ask now of my fellow ‘Scapers to really follow what Mr. Eley asks of us every week: have fun. If you cannot live your life to the fullest you have wasted it; you may never have another one and you can never go back for more, so take what you can from this world and share it with those closest to you. Go home and tell your family you love them, tell your friends how much they mean to you, go out and see those places you never have and see the majesty of the world. Hopefully, (if only for the sake of supporting my argument) you may find God.

    With all that said, I love you all guys. ( Even if you disagree with everything I’ve just said. =P )

    Sincerely,
    The Blaine Boy

  37. [...] as Exhalation, which is a truly amazing story – an alien “on the origin of species”; Article of faith, which talks about a religious robot; N-words, which deals with racism of a very different sort [...]

  38. besucher says:

    I liked this story. It had very interestin meanings. The end was a but long, but I can forgive.

  39. LaShawn says:

    This story won me over as being a fan of Mike Resnick. Being a Christian myself, I liked the challenge it brings to the church. It made me think of the verse in Luke of the stones crying out. Of course, it is easy to allow inanimate objects to declare God’s glory. Not so easy when it comes to allowing other humans to do the same…

    But anyhow, great story!