The Corner


My Neal Stephenson reading is going along nicely.  I have almost finished Cryptonomicon (at p. 984 to be exact) & ready to declare myself a definite Neal Stephenson fan, with some qualifications. 

Off at a fairly wild tangent to yesterdays posting on religion, here are two of Stephenson’s characters discussing, in the late 1990s, a wrecked WW2 German submarine they have found.  Doug is a gnarled fifty-something military-adventurer-entrepreneur type running a marine salvage operation; Randy is a much younger computer geek-entrepreneur.  Explaining how the submarine ended up, Doug says: 

“Suddenly, fourteen-fifteenths of the boat is full of water, and the other fifteenth is a pocket of compressed air, capable of supporting life briefly.  Most of her crew dead, she fell fast and settled hard onto the bottom, breaking her back and leaving the bow section pointing upwards, as you see her.  If anyone was still alive in the bubble, they died a long, slow death.  May God have mercy on their souls.”

The text then continues:

In other circumstances, the religious reference would make Randy uncomfortable, but here it seems like the only appropriate thing to say.  Think what you will about religious people, they always have something to say at times like this.  What would an atheist come up with?  Yes, the organisms inhabiting that submarine must have lost their higher neural functions over a prolonged period of time and eventually turned into pieces of rotten meat.  So what?

[Derb again]  I think Stephenson captures very well here the unease that irreligious people like Randy (and, I think, Stephenson) feel towards their own state of unbelief.  Even if you are not religious by temperament–and yes, it is largely a matter of temperament–the naked, unadorned materialism of that italicized passage is hard to swallow.


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