Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fighting Fire With Fire

False Gods: The House Of False Gods (IV)
The final fate of iterator and remembrancer both,
a braying zealot devoid of subtlety (copyright Games Workshop)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Here, in the final hours before the Delphos opens and the ministrations of the Serpent Lodge can be judged, it seems a vital argument has at last been settled. Not the conflict for Horus' soul, of course.  That still stretches ahead of us.  We are thinking of a far older, far more slippery contest: science against faith.

In one sense, this has always been a false dichotomy, at least as far as the denizens of the Warp are concerned.  What does it matter how we categorise inconceivably powerful beings from outside our reality, with abilities utterly beyond our capacity to understand, and who will reward or destroy us depending on the fealty we show them.  What does it matter whether we label such horrors "xenos" or "gods"?

Let us judge the conflict on its own terms, however. For some time now it has been clear that some, like Kyril Sindermann, are convinced that the arc of history bends towards secularism. That humanity will continually - albeit fitfully, and not without the occasional backslide - advance to the point where we have no further need for deities.  That ultimately there will be nothing left in the universe so far beyond our paradigms that we must judge it not merely beyond us, but above us.

In contrast, there are those such as Ignace Karkasy who see our time in the glow of secular reason as nothing more than one point in a cycle; a brief moment in the sunlight before we plunge back into the depths of slavish, mindless obedience to a god we hurriedly construct ourselves as we feel ourselves tipping over the edge.

It would be hard at this point to argue Karkasy has not been vindicated. The need for the comforting certainties of religion apparently reaches such peaks as to cause men and women to worship even those who specifically forbid it. Ignoring our god is apparently preferable to not believing in him. And the reasons for that conclusion are all around us here, in the final hours of the Great Crusade.  What is it that links Sindermann and Keeler and those poor souls who offered crudely-scrawled prayers following the Mournival's massacre of helpless civilians? Fear.  Fear of a universe in which vile demons can possess the greatest soldiers mankind has ever produced. Fear that those same soldiers might crush us against the bulkhead without even truly noticing us. Fear that, after all the sacrifices and triumphs that were born from centuries of forging a galaxy-wide empire of humanity, that we might in fact be all alone amongst widespread, uncaring stars.

So it goes. Humanity will apparently stop at nothing to gain solace.  They will respond to terror by worshipping the one who offers the best chance to alleviate that terror, irrespective of what that person actually desires. They will respond to bloodshed by worshipping the highest authority of the architects of that bloodshed.  And the Astartes are no different. The Word Bearers apparently crave supplication so much they will gladly invert it 180 degrees rather than see it fade, will happily betray every single tenet they once considered sacred just so they can still hold something sacred.

In short, the human need to believe in something utterly outstrips their desire for justice, for virtue, for coherence, for anything.  All that matters is that they have someone to blame for their mistakes (even if it their fellow worshippers) and they have something to point to as proof that we not forever horribly alone here in our haphazard disc of lights hanging precariously in an ocean of utter nothingness.

Which is ultimately just what Erebus is counting on.Which is ironic, really, because as a Word Bearer - the First Chaplain no less, a strange term for a nominally atheistic operation - Erebus is part of a wholesale rejection of the Emperor's teachings and positions, and yet this very approach to converting one's opponents is exactly what the Emperor relies upon himself. He has humanity venerating the Astartes, the Astartes venerating the Primarchs, and the Primarchs venerating him. At every level, unquestioning obedience and unthinking love have been hardwired into the Imperium's most basic operating principles.  Like the denizens of the Warp, what could it possibly matter if we call him Imperator or God-Emperor?  This is a being who not only created the twenty greatest warriors humanity has ever known, but then toured the galaxy beating those paragons of martial prowess up until they agreed he was best. Part of what made Erebus' lies so easy to believe was the simple fact that the Emperor could not have done more to present himself as a God if he had in fact wished to try. Promising the wrath of the galaxy's most powerful being if anyone cross him by declaring him God certainly feels like mixed messages.

The real problem is a little more subtle than that, though. The constant protests from the Emperor that he was no God generates a paradox inside our minds - a perfect being insisting on their own imperfection. The response is to treat any imperfection that does appear as being vastly important, because it allows us to resolve the contradiction. Unfortunately, in the process the perfect being collapses in on themselves, their armour suddenly no longer impenetrable. And somehow, far more often that not, the observer finds a way to blame his former "god" for their own poor assumptions.

What better way to explain the Word Bearers, who are so dedicated to their assumptions that they'd rather just turn their telescope in a half-circle than spend so much as a minute wondering whether the thing was built sensibly to begin with. How do we explain Horus' hatred first of himself and then his father as soon as it is discovered - or even implied - that mistakes are not in fact utterly inconceivable?

In short, the Word Bearers have learned from the Emperor they have sworn to stop learning from in order to use their own deepest flaw as a way to bring about their greatest triumph. It's a complicated and bitterly ironic business, but then what family feud isn't? Who even needs to fight over the existance of divine beings when we have so much ordnance to launch within our own families? One way or another, it always comes back to the people we expect to be perfect, for no better reason than they created us. More to the point, it comes back to what we do when we learn the utterly obvious truth.

Speaking of which, the Delphos is about to open, and Horus is about to decide...


What Was

So the Word Bearers got their knuckles rapped for being so into bigging up the Emperor.  Does that make sense of Erebus' actions now? 

Maaaaaybe. This falls into my theory from last week that that "future vision" was just something the Word Bearers had already built. Is Erebus worried that Horus will outshine the Emperor?  Or is it just that now the Emperor has shouted at them, they no longer believe? But that doesn't make sense.  Surely when someone denies their divinity you believe it all the more.

I suppose it depends.  There's a big difference between denying your divinity, and handing out detentions over it.


That might not literally have been the punishment.  I believe the word "censure" gets used.

Doesn't sound like much of a punishment.

If you think you're doing God's work, it probably stings quite a bit.  Speaking of which...

What does it imply for Euphrati's shiny new cult?

Maybe nothing.  It'll come down to a numbers game sooner or later.  How many of your own people can you punish?

I don't know, but I'll bet it's more people than Euphrati can cobble together.

It's not just her now, though. You've got Sindermann signing up.  He'll bring the other iterators.

Yeah, but how many converts can they plausibly find in one fleet?  The Emperor has already slapped down the Word Bearers, and there are tens of thousands of those guys.

But the Emperor didn't need to slap them all down.  Just Lager.



What Is

Is Loken making a sensible choice with regard to protecting Karkasy?

Over the poems? We don't even know what's in them.

We know Loken called it "libellous trash".

He changed his mind pretty quick.

Not everyone will, though.  Karkasy's bound to piss someone off with this stuff.

Because it mentions the massacre?  Why is that such a big deal?

Because a bunch of people died, Fliss.  Gods, you're cold.

I mean, Loken might not think it's that big a deal since they're already being sued by Voldemort.

Varvaras. And I think "suing" might be low-balling it a bit. It's not like the Fleet Commander had out a super-injunction. Or so I have been instructed to say.

Maybe Loken could try and finger Abaddon.

Why would he do that?

To get him sent down.

I know they've had a falling out, but I don't think Loken is hoping to stitch the First Captain up like a kipper. Why have we gone all wide-boy today?

He's pretty angry about the whole Horus thing, and feeling guilty about the massacre.

Is he?  How guilty can you really be feeling if you don't believe you should be punished in any way?

He's punishing himself.

That doesn't count. You just think it does because of all that Angel you've watched.

What is it Euphrati is dragging Sindermann off to see?

No idea.  She can't be stupid enough to be taking him to see more of the faithful.

I presume it's connected to the writing they're looking at.

Probably. My first thought was that it matches the writing on the anathame, but I don't see when she'd have gotten a look at it.  My only other thought is that it might be on those images of Jubal she spent so long studying.

Whereabouts on the picture could they be, though?

I dunno. Flickering in and out, like some kind of ghostly script?

Is Karkasy right about humanity always returning to the worship of some new God?  Or will we ultimately outgrow the idea?

Well, what culture ever evolved without coming up with its own religion?

None that I know of.

Right. So just by the law of averages, we're in trouble.

Except back when we could meaningfully talk about independent cultures, we didn't know anything.  The argument goes that as we learn more, we start to push God out of things.

There were plenty of people in antiquity who knew a massive amount.  Pythagoras was a complete genius, but he had some utterly bonkers ideas. Didn't he refuse to eat beans because they looked like testicles?

Something about humans and beans being genetic brothers, I think.  But point taken.

And the Romans went around destroying anything they couldn't use.  If they hadn't torched the library at Alexandria, the human race could be twice as smart right now.

All fair points. I'm not saying increased intelligence/knowledge is a sufficient condition for atheism - I have a big problem with atheists who say that, in fact - but I guess one can colour an argument that says a full suffusion of enlightenment is needed for it to "work". But the Romans reference has me thinking about religious fundamentalism stifling science, and tipping us into a Dark Age.  Do we clutch at fundamentalist religion as we turn our back on science? Or does a rise in fundamental religion cause us to turn our back on science.

You ran on a bit there.

Yeah. I only mention this because it becomes important later.

What Will Be

Now that the wolf and the dead man have both been revealed to be who you'd guessed they were right from the start, which way do you think Horus is most likely to jump?

Presumably Hrosu will be smart enough to heed the warning he got from his fat friend.


Yeah, about the Warp lying. And I presume Horus has never completely trusted Erebus, otherwise whey would he have needed to pretend to be Hastur?

Good point.

And even if Erebus does manage to persuade Horus about the Emperor being evil, I don't see Horus leaping into an attack.  He'll want to talk first.  He always does.

He might have changed his mind since what happened on Xenobia.  But if Horus is at best going to ignore Erebus and at worst proceed cautiously on what he's been told, what are the last five chapters of the book actually going to be about.

I think the fleet is about to be split in two between Emperor worshippers and Horus fans.

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