Atheism in Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings”

While my review for Brandon Sanderson’s latest book, The Way of Kings — the first in an epic ten-book series known as the Stormlight Archive — won’t be up until around November 15th; in the meantime I wanted to put up a passage from the book involving the King and one of the main characters, Jasnah, who is an atheist in a world of adamant and determined believers of various religions.  She is seen as a heretic, but in this wonderful passage, her ideology as an atheist is brilliantly explored and succinctly put, providing a clear explanation why atheists are able to be moral and know the difference between right and wrong, without following the words of a book or the threat from some deity.

As an atheist, Jasnah is certainly a welcoming and enjoyable character to read about.

“Atheism is not a disease, Your Majesty,” Jasnah said dryly.  “It’s not as if I’ve caught a foot rash.”

“Of course not, of course not.  But . . . er, isn’t it difficult, having nothing in which to believe?”

. . .

“I wouldn’t say that I have nothing to believe in, Your Majesty.  Actually, I have much to believe in.  My brother and my uncle, my own abilities.  The things I was taught by my parents.”

“But , what is right and wrong, you’ve  . . . Well, you’ve discarded that.”

“Just because I do not accept the teachings of the devotaries does not mean I’ve discarded a belief in right and wrong.”

“But the Almighty determines what is right!”

“Must someone, some unseen thing, declare what is right for it to be right?  I believe that my own morality – which answers only to my heart – is more sure and true than the morality of those who do right only because they fear retribution.”

“But that is the soul of law,” the king said, sounding confused.  “If there is no punishment, there can be only chaos.”

“If there were no law, some men would do as they wish, yes,” Jasnah said.  “But isn’t it remarkable that, given the chance for personal gain at the cost of other, so many people choose what is right?”

“Because they fear the Almighty.”

“No,” Jasnah said.  “I think something innate in us understands that seeking the good of society is usually best for the individual as well.  Humankind is noble, when we give it the chance to be.  That nobility is something that exists independent of any god’s decree.”

“I just don’t see how anything could be outside God’s decrees.”  The king shook his head, bemused.  “Brightness Jasnah, I don’t mean to argue, but isn’t the very definition of the Almighty that all things exist because of him?”

“If you add one and one, that makes two, does it not?”

“Well, yes.”

“No god needs declare it so for it to be true,” Jasnah said.  “S could we not say that mathematics exists outside the Almighty, independent of him?”

“Perhaps.”

“Well,” Jasnah said, “I simply claim that morality and human will are independent of him too.”

“If you say that,” the king said, chuckling, “then you’ve removed all purpose for the Almighty’s existence!”

“Indeed.”

“Before the Flood: The Biblical Flood as a Real Event and How it Changed the Course of Civilization” by Ian Wilson (St. Martin’s Press, 2003)

Before the Floodstarstarstar

Everyone is pretty much familiar with the flood story from Genesis with Noah and his ark, but did you know the Bible isn’t the only text to have a flood myth within its pages?  There are flood myths from ancient Greece, Persia, India, even as far as Scandinavia and South America.  How do I know this?  Because I have read Before the Flood.

Ian Wilson takes a step into the ancient and prehistoric with this book, delving into the past no one is quite sure about; where historical fact begins to blur and fictional theory sharpens.  Wilson has done plenty of research (the lengthy bibliography vouches for this) into the many different flood myths scattered across the world to write this unique book, where they all come together.  He presents it in a logical manner, also revealing some contemporary flood myths that were perpetuated by ignorant scientists.

What is important is that Wilson treats the flood as a real event that happened, which is not surprising, since there are all these stories about it.  But he backs all his ideas and premises with scientific research that make them more believable.  Back when Genesis was written, there was no technology to validate the flood, but now Wilson has proven we are at a time to accept that a catastrophic flood of some sort did occur some ten thousand years ago.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on March 17th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.