Friday, June 21, 2013

More Philosophy from Tom Clancy

13 days ago, I talked about military/spy drama writer Tom Clancy's surprising statements about war, while speaking through his main character, spy master Jack Ryan in his book, Debt of Honor. I have noticed that Clancy has a habit of interjecting his own views into the books through plot lines and statements of main characters, and when I started reading his first book, The Hunt for Red October, I noticed that pattern hasn't changed.

In the book, a Soviet sub commander Marko Ramius (the book was originally published in 1984) is planning to defect to the US with his sub and entire crew to the US. Both he and his crew are becoming frustrated and disillusioned with the Soviet government for different reasons.

His crew is starting to have their doubts about the political and economic views of the Soviet Union, and are starting to feel unappreciated by the Soviet Navy. Commander Ramius is starting to have his own philosophical issues with the Soviet government, but in a much different way: their views on religion and the afterlife.

Shortly before this plan was put into play, Commander Ramius' beloved wife, Natalia, died in a hospital during what should have been a routine appendix removal surgery due to the inefficiency and downright incompetence of the medical staff, and the medical system. Several unfortunate events led to her death, including a surgeon who showed up to work drunk, and spent several minutes with an oxygen mask on before the surgery to try and become more alert.

In his grief, he starts to lean on the Catholic faith that his grandmother, a woman who grew up in Lithuania in the pre-Soviet era, tried to raise him with. It's unclear whether he has fully converted back to Catholicism, but he is starting to head in that direction, he is starting to doubt Soviet doctrine, and is hoping that his grandmother was right all along. He is angry at the Soviet system for not only taking his wife from him prematurely, but he feels that they are trying to rob him of his memories of her, and the hope he is trying to cling to that he will see her again in the afterlife.

It is in these scenes that Tom Clancy's views on religion become much more clear, I had always suspected that Clancy was a religious man, probably a Catholic fundamentalist, and after looking up information about him online, it appears I'm right. I'll let Clancy's own words speak for themselves, though:
Marko Ramius watched the coffin roll into the cremation chamber to the somber strain of a classical requiem, wishing he could pray for Natalia's soul, hoping that Grandmother Hilda had been right, that there was something beyond the steel door and mass of flame. Only then did the full weight of the event strike him: the State had robbed him of more than his wife, it had robber him of a means to assuage his grief with prayer, it had robber him of the hope --- if only an illusion --- of ever seeing her again. 
(Emphasis placed on the text by Clancy, not me).

He feels trapped, trapped in a belief system he now knows he can no longer believe in, a belief system that he has many doubts about, and no longer feels any hope or meaning for life coming from it, yet he has to keep acting as though he still believes, in order to get through each day, because of the people around him. I can definitely identify with that.

Clancy goes on in his feelings about religion, talking about the upbringing of Commander Ramius:
Grandmother Hilda told him nighttime stories from the Bible, each with a lesson of right and wrong, virtue and reward. As a child he found them merely entertaining, but he never told his father about them because even then, he knew Aleksandr would object. After the elder Ramius again regained control of his son's life, this religious education faded into Marko's memory, neither fully remembered nor fully forgotten.
As a boy, Ramius sensed more than thought that Soviet communism ignored a basic human need. In his teens, his misgivings began to take a coherent shape. The Good of the People was a laudable enough goal, but in denying a man's soul, an enduring part of his being, Marxism stripped away the foundation of human dignity and individual value. It also cast aside the objective measure of justice and ethics which, he decided, was the principle legacy of religion to civilized life. From earliest adulthood on, Marko had his own idea about right and wrong, an idea he did not share with the State. It gave him a means of gauging his actions and those of others. It was something he was careful to conceal. It served as an anchor for his soul and, like an anchor, it was hidden far below the visible surface.
Where do I even begin with this? First of all, I have no sympathies for the former Soviet Union, or any form of hard line communism, past or present. It was a failure, and a brutal philosophy at that. I actually think that history isn't harsh enough on the former Soviet Union, especially when it judges Hitler rather harshly (and justly so), and yet doesn't often mention that the actions and orders of Stalin alone ended more lives than Hitler (that's just Stalin alone, not counting other Soviet dictators).

OK, now I'll get to the assertions that Tom Clancy is making here:

There can be no sense of human dignity, or value of human life without religion:

Actually, I think that there can be more of a sense of dignity and value of human life without religion than with it. When you believe that this life is all there is, and there is no afterlife, than the what you do in this life becomes more meaningful, it gives life more meaning and purpose. Also, since this world is all we have, it creates more of a drive to make the world a better place to live in, and the world is better off without prejudices like racism and homophobia, it leads to people being treated more like equals, not less.

I find it also highly ironic that that Clancy is saying that there can be no real sense of human dignity, or self worth, when he is a part of a fundamentalist strain of Christianity. Fundamentalist Christianity actually teaches us that we are inherently worthless, and can't do anything without god's help. That is highly demeaning to all humanity, and is destructive to self esteem. I remember the training in "soul winning" (the fundamentalist term for proselytizing) that they used to give me. Two of the most common verses they will tell you to give in the spiel that you present to people are Isaiah 64:6, (All of our righteousness is like filthy rags, unpleasing to god)  and Romans 3:23 (All have sinned and fallen short of god's glory). The message, over and over again is that we are not worthy of god's love and forgiveness but he gives it to us anyway, if we accept it. It also teaches constantly that we are powerless, we needs god's help to do anything, and our lives are subject to god's will and plans. That kind of thinking to me, strips away all sense of human dignity.

Also, from the human life angle, as I said earlier, without a belief in the afterlife, life here on earth takes on more meaning, to me, that brings a new perspective of human life, and causes people to value it more. If you can not have a sense of value of human life without religion, then why is it that the US is the most religious country in the western world, yet has higher violent crimes rates than European nations, many of whom are far less religious.

I think this assertion is the absolute worst, though:

There can be no such thing as morality without religion:

This has to be one of the most irritating, and nonsensical arguments I see out there. First of all, it's a rather frightening thought that someone actually believes that the only thing keeping them from committing horrible crimes like rape and murder is their religion. If someone does not know that it is wrong to harm another person, then what they lack is not religion, but all sense of compassion and empathy.

Either someone has no capacity for identifying with, and feeling the suffering of others, or they are a person who is incredibly selfish and arrogant. Some people, though they know at some level that harming other is wrong, their extreme selfishness and arrogance leads them to bury their conscience, and convince themselves that what they want is more important, no matter how much harm they cause, it leads them to become cold hearted after a while and numb.

I am somewhat frustrated with Tom Clancy's personal philosophy, but there are times that I do enjoy reading  the writings of people that I may not always agree with fully. I think few things show that side of me better then the blogroll I have here on this blog (look to your right if you don't see it). Right now, out of all the blogs  I have in the feed, several of them are written by Christians. I don't mind different perspectives from time to time, and besides, there is some of Tom Clancy's philosophy in his writings, but there is much more to his writings than just that. He has such a talent for writing military/spy dramas that the books are hard to put down


  1. I suppose the good thing is you see a good story book (even though at times frustrating) for what it is a story book. Not like some people think about the bible. What really irks me is the whole morality thing, as it still does not prove God. It is just a set of rules, and bad ones at that.

    1. Most of the Bible is very morally reprehensible, with the exception of some of Jesus' teachings. I don't understand also why so many Christians choose to believe that many of the stories, such as the Creation story and Noah's Ark were literal fact.

      Never mind the evidence against Creationism, and the logistical impossibilities of Noah's Ark, it just baffles my mind why some people dogmatically insist that they are literal fact when there's really nothing to be lost by considering them to be figurative instead of literal. What's the harm in regarding them as figurative?

      Anyway, I like different perspectives from time to time, and Tom Clancy more than makes up for his philosophical ramblings with the story lines. In his later books, when Jack Ryan enters politics, I still like that character, even though I don't like half or more of his views, because of the way he comes across as the all-American dad. He's a humble guy, a man who wants to do what he thinks is right, serve the country, and get things done. He's not an ideologue, or your typical self-serving politician, he hates the system, and he's an honest man.


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