July-August 2016

Biocube Escape.  By Irene Groot. Create Space (www.createspace.com/6026976). 300 pages. $14.99.

At first glance, Irene Groot’s Biocube Escape seems to be a work of science fiction set in the distant future. The Biocube, or the People’s Paradise of Underland (PPU), appears to be yet another utopia in the line of those imagined and attempted by atheists since the 18th century, especially those that arose after Darwin attempted to reduce man from a creature different in kind from all others to an animal evolved only one degree higher than the ape. On closer scrutiny, however, the Biocube can be seen as a scathing satire of the prevailing mindset of the West.

The Biocube is said to date from 360 years ago. That would be the era of Descartes, when Western man first began to reduce “reality” to what is material and measurable. Like many of our contemporaries, the Underlanders converse only in slogans, such as, “What can’t be counted doesn’t count.” They are programmed to revere numbers and right angles, and they are even awakened each morning by a hymn to the Right Angle. The Underlanders know nothing of realities that cannot be numbered, such as beauty, truth, goodness, or love.

When due for a date at the Urgent Compassion Clinic on level 13, they are told that the numbers show that their time has come. Whether they are found to be defective children, to lack a positive outlook, to have gotten prematurely old, or to have reached the age of 50 (the terminal point of their usefulness), they are seized by the ruthless Quality of Life Police and taken to the “recycling center,” where they are ground up into “biomass.”

The Biocube consists of 49 levels constructed underground, deep below the earth’s surface. Its site represents how far from nature modern man has fallen. At the 49th level, the level most redolent of sulfur, we find Underland University, and at the 25th level, PPU’s mathematical center, we find a crystal casket containing the founder’s frozen corpse lying just behind the black marble cube that serves as the office for his clone. Both the corpse and the living clone are objects of a weird religious cult, as were Lenin and Stalin and other dictators of totalitarian utopias.

Despite the Underlanders’ expertise in science, the Biocube is cracked and deteriorating. Level 1, the oldest and highest level, is full of leaks and rust. This is where the main character, Vee, works in the “archives.” After learning about what it was like to be human before the Biocube and about the glorious natural world outside, she and her friends plan an escape. This escape, the main action of the novel, is both interior and exterior. Vee becomes increasingly human and mentally detached from the Biocube as she starts to commiserate with the sufferings of some of the bizarre-looking humans in PPU, products of genetic engineering. She longs not just to escape from that hell but to become a mother in the natural way.

From the start, the rulers of PPU have been engaged in “managed evolution” and have redesigned “the human evolutionary process” to make new types of humans in steel wombs by means of an Enhanced Genetic Stock. Their genetic stock is deteriorating, however, leading to many defectives and prematurely old individuals who have to be recycled daily. Their goal is the old atheist goal: to end all earthly suffering in the distant future, whatever the cost might be to individuals here and now. They have created five grades of humans, beginning with the four- to five-foot Uprights, whom they are now phasing out. Each new grade is supposedly more highly evolved than the earlier ones, but in fact they are progressively declining in size, beauty, and capacity, with the Crawlers reaching only two feet, and the Slitherers a foot and a half. This may reflect the reality that in the past 360 years of their existence in the West, atheists have had one trait in common: utter contempt for the mass of men, regarding them as stupid and easily controlled like a herd of animals. This is what we see in PPU. All the different grades of humans are programmed to have self-esteem, but they are all treated as mindless slaves.

The Underlanders live chiefly to enjoy the annual three-day celebration of their founder. This is when some of them bask in the artificial sunshine of fame, winning trophies for floats that are held up and moved by hidden four-footed Crawlers underneath. On this occasion, all the Underlanders are drugged so that the parade turns into a frenzy of self-affirmation and positive thinking. Meanwhile, Vork, the founder’s six-foot clone, towers over his slaves.

The goal of this managed evolution is to reach the “nexus of the noösphere” and the Omega Point. (Yes, here the satire is directed at the Jesuit guru Teilhard de Chardin who used these high-sounding words to dazzle his readers.) Ultimately, man is to evolve into pain-free thinking rocks. It was the Sentient Particles who revealed to the founder what the Omega Point was to be. Since they regarded man as a mere configuration of minerals, the Sentient Particles urged the Biocube’s founder to see to it that the human race evolved into “mentoid minerals” and became one with them. That would mark the beginning of the Psychozoic Era, in which mind and matter would be merged.

One might imagine that such things as “Sentient Particles” wouldn’t sit well with atheists. Ah, but if matter thinks, if thought is only a property of matter like weight and length, then there is no contradiction between occultism and atheism. And so, Giordano Bruno can be a scientist and sorcerer, Margaret Sanger can seek out witches for séances and believe she is contacting her dead child, and the Passionist Father Thomas Berry, a disciple of Teilhard, can call himself a shaman and believe he can mentally guide evolution.

In line with the goal of evolving into mentoid minerals united with Sentient Particles, one of the Underlanders’ slogans is “Maximize your minerality,” and one of the floats at the annual parade features Miss Cubic Zirconia, who embodies “mineral consciousness.” At the founder’s casket, moving pyrite crystals in a tube represent the Sentient Particles, called “the mind of the universe.” In the course of his escape from the Biocube, the chief geneticist Amo hears the Sentient Particles, like demons, trying to convince him that humans are no better than bacteria and would be far “happier” living inside rocks.

In the end, only Vee and her friend Geos escape. The others choose to live underground, though not in the Biocube. The two who make it all the way out are like Adam and Eve in Eden, overwhelmed with awe at the sights, smells, and sounds of the glorious natural world.

- Anne Barbeau Gardiner



The Name of God Is Mercy.  By Pope Francis. Translated by Oonagh Stransky. Random House. 176 pages. $26.

The title of Pope Francis’s new book, The Name of God is Mercy, is problematic. Mercy is an attribute of God — perhaps, as the Pope here contends, the most important attribute — but it is not God’s name. At the burning bush, Moses asked explicitly, “What is your name?” God answered, “I Am Who Am,” and further, “Tell the Israelites: I Am has sent me to you” (Exod. 3:14). Given that God chose to reveal His name to a mere mortal, it seems to me that no other mere mortal, not even a Pope, is free to contradict God, or to say or imply that God’s self-identification was either erroneous or inadequate.

That aside — and that is more than a mere quibble — Francis’s first book, currently riding high on the New York Times bestseller list, is an often inspiring meditation on God’s mercy. The book came about when Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli suggested to the Holy Father that they sit down and talk about mercy and forgiveness; Tornielli would submit questions in advance and transcribe and edit the Pope’s answers. Of course, the timing fits the Pope’s proclamation of 2016 as the Year of Mercy.

A tiny vignette captures their discussions and the book: “I [Tornielli] wrote that Francis asserted, ‘The medicine is there, the healing is there — if only we take a small step towards God.’ After reviewing the text, he [Francis] called me and asked me to add ‘or even just the desire to take that step.’” To say that Pope Francis has an expansive understanding of God’s mercy is an understatement. The Holy Father proclaims a God whose love is all-encompassing, who leaves no stone unturned and no step untried in order to bestow forgiveness on His people, even to the point of sending His Son. Perhaps the Pope’s favorite parable is the one about the prodigal son, with the watching father who runs out to meet the son while he is yet far off.

The Pope tells Tornielli of a man who came to confession and said, “Oh Father, if you knew my life you wouldn’t talk to me like that…. I have done some terrible things.” Francis replied, “Even better! Go to Jesus: he likes to hear about these things. He forgets, he has a special knack for forgetting. He forgets, he kisses you, he embraces you, and he says: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’ That is the only advice he gives. If things haven’t changed in a month…go back to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiveness. Never. It is we who tire of asking him for forgiveness. We need to ask for the grace not to get tired of asking for forgiveness, because he never gets tired of forgiving.”

Another image the Pope often invokes is that of the Good Shepherd, prepared to leave the 99 sheep in the pen to venture out in search of the one lost sheep. God’s love, as the Holy Father sees it, is not cautious, prudential, or judiciously apportioned; it is profligate, unbounded, even reckless. We worship a God, he says, “who welcomes, embraces, and transfigures evil into good, transmuting condemnation into salvation.” This Good Shepherd imagery is even more compelling in the context of the Pope’s image of the Church, not as a cathedral set on a hill, but as a “field hospital” located on the battle lines.

In one of the shortest of the book’s nine chapters, the Pope draws a useful distinction between sin and corruption. He defines corruption as smug self-satisfaction, losing awareness of one’s true inner nature: “The corrupt man is the one who sins but does not repent, who sins and pretends to be a Christian, and it is this double life that is scandalous.”

Pope Francis is celebrated everywhere for his humility and mercy. This book gives a glimpse into the thinking that underpins his actions. Through memories from Francis’s youth and anecdotes from his early priesthood, the reader is able to construct a composite picture of this man who occupies the throne of Peter. As one who has harbored reservations about some of Pope Francis’s utterances and actions, I found the book particularly illuminating. Better than any biography, it explains how he came to his views, this Pope who daily sees himself as “a man who needs the mercy of God.”

- Ian Hunter





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