The Curate, the Philosopher and God
The soldier envisages that in the cages holding the Martian prey-humans, "There'll be any amount of sentiment and religion loose among them... whenever things are so that a lot of people feel they ought to be doing something, the weak, and those who go weak with a lot of complicated thinking, always make for a sort of do-nothing religion, very pious and superior, and submit to persecution and the will of the Lord.... It's energy in a gale of funk, and turned clean inside out. These cages will be full of psalms and hymns and piety."
Like his artillery-man, Wells had precious little time for organised religion, or the sentiments that would have been preached at countless Sunday services, and Wells shows particular venom in his portrayal of the snivelling curate that the Narrator encounters whilst attempting to return to his wife. He is described as "one of those weak creatures, void of pride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning who face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves." The curate becomes more and more mentally unstable throughout the Narrator's time with him until he is "robbed... of all vestiges of reason or forethought. Practically he had already sunk to the level of an animal... He would weep for hours together, and I verily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought his weak tears in some way efficacious."
When the curate is not wailing about the Martians being the agents of God's justice, he is self-pitying and uncomprehending: "What does it mean?... What do these things mean?... Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done?... fire, earthquake, death. All our work undone, all the work - What are these Martians?" To which the Narrator replies, "What are we?" which in many ways summarises the essence of the book. The novel opens with a quote from the astronomer Kepler (1571 - 1630): But who shall dwell in these Worlds if they be inhabited?... Are we or they Lords of the World? ... And how are all things for man? Man had been made the measure of all things, even his God. But, as the Narrator reflects at the very end of the book, "it may be... that the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps is the future ordained." The pre-Martian disbelief of "intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as their own" alludes to the fact that in man's view the only thing that could possibly be greater than him was his own God who was not actually in a position to interfere with earthly matters. But to Wells even the notion that there might be a God who would choose to save only one creature on one planet in the universe was absurd. Or on a more local level, as the Narrator says to the curate: "What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent."
Wells' mother practised a fire-and-brimstone brand of Christianity that is surely echoed in the lamentations of the curate: "This must be the beginning of the end... The end! The great and terrible day of the Lord! When men shall call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them and hide the - hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne!" The curate personifies all that Wells saw as deficient in the religious with his "vacant sham of God's service". Wells claims to have been "born blaspheming", and writes in his 1934 Experiments in Autobiography to have fully embraced his atheism at age fifteen as "the last rack of a peevish son-crucifying Deity dissolved away into blue sky". But just as in later life Wells had a habit of downplaying the importance of his early work, perhaps there was an element of a recalled certainty that wasn't there. Though it is a mistake to attribute the views of the author exactly to that of his Narrator, Wells certainly leaves ample room for a god of some description in The War of the Worlds. Wells had received some criticism for the abject godlessness of The Time Machine, and perhaps he felt that there was sufficient damning of religion present in The War of the Worlds, and that a completely atheistic rendering of the novel would be hard for his readers to take.
Whatever Wells himself believed, he gives his philosopher-Narrator room for belief, but one that he only really turns to in extremis: "Since the night of my return from Leatherhead I had not prayed. I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers, and prayed as heathens mutter charms when I was in extremity; but now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God." This darkness is that of the unknown, the unknowable - of a God that contrasts with the rigidity and certainty of proscribed religion, but is beyond simple superstition. After the Narrator is forced to kill the insane curate (see Sample
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