Emerging Perspectives: Student Chapters

The Intellectual Martian Society of “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein

Ethan Ross

In 1961, the accomplished science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein shared his latest work with the world. In the fashion of a fairytale, Stranger in a Strange Land begins “Once upon a time,” and goes on to describe the fantastic culture of Mars and its impact on human society. The timing of its publication in the early 1960s allowed for a short digestion period, so that it was ripe in the mind of the counterculture in the latter half of the decade. Themes of religious reform, free love, and a oneness with the cosmos permeate the book, and coincidentally rose to popularity during this time. The alignment of the novel with the counterculture cannot be understated: in 1967, the Freak Scene recorded a song entitled “Grok!,” an homage to the word coined by Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land, and a year later the Byrds referenced water brotherhood in their song “Triad.” The verb “grok” even found its way into the vernacular of the counterculture (Blackmore, 1995). Messages about the sanctity of clean water and the positive potential of religion reached tens of millions, securing the legacy of Stranger in a Strange Land as one of the books which shaped religious and environmental values in the United States (Library of Congress, 2012)…

…When Smith comes to Earth, he offers water to those he groks are good, and convinces them of the truth behind “Thou art god,” the closest approximation of the Martian outlook he can express in English. Furthermore, his presence on Earth is suggested to be an incarnation of the Archangel Michael, carrying out a holy duty not unlike Moses. Through the offering of water and endowment of divine law, his character is essentially a theophany espousing creation spirituality, although such a philosophy was unlikely known by name to Heinlein at the time of his writing Stranger. Nonetheless, this is evidence of a growing environmental consciousness in America which Heinlein noticed and reinforced…


Find the rest of this chapter in Emerging Perspectives on Religion and Environmental Values in America HERE.


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Religion and Environmental Values in America Copyright © 2019 by Ethan Ross is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.