Stranger in a Strange Land
Note: These chapters begin Part Four, entitled "His Scandalous Career."
The narrator tells of developments in the galaxy, including the arrival of human colonists on Mars. We are given a summary of Mike's recent adventures. Mike had joined and been thrown out of a seminary. Mike had then anonymously joined the army and been kicked out. Mike had then founded his own church, The Church of All Worlds. He had told Jubal that the idea had come from something Jubal had said during a conversation about theology; Jubal was horrified.
Ben visits Jubal. Jubal shows Ben his new sculpture gallery, which features the Rodin sculpture of a wrinkled old woman that Mike had bought for Jubal. Jubal lectures Ben on the beauty of the sculpture, suggesting that Rodin has captured the tragedy of female aging—one can see the young spirit trapped in the old body. Jubal shows Ben a sculpture of "The Little Mermaid," the character from the Hans Christian Andersen story. Jubal likens the Little Mermaid to Mike, having given up her birth realm for a new home, and having to suffer for her choice.
Jubal tells Ben that Mahmoud and Miriam are engaged, and that two of Jubal's three secretaries are pregnant; Jubal is cagey about revealing which two. Jubal is uncertain who has fathered the babies, though Mike seems to be an obvious candidate. When Ben suggests that Jubal may be a candidate as well, Jubal rebuts that he has no interest in sleeping with his secretaries. At his age, he believes that they would only be interested in him out of pity, and he would rather maintain his dignity.
Ben has been upset by a recent visit to Mike's temple. He asks Jubal if they have any legal recourse, via Douglas, to shut the church down. Ben begins to tell Jubal of his experience.
The narration in this chapter shifts back and forth between Ben and Jubal discussing his experience visiting Mike and present tense third person narration of the events Ben recalls.
After greeting and kissing him, a nude Patty gives Ben a tour of the "Nest" that Mike has had constructed for his core group of followers. They make conversation, but Ben is uncomfortable with Patty's nudity and the surroundings. Attempting sociability, Ben strips to his underwear. Patty tells Ben that she is a High Priestess in Mike's church, and that she and Dawn Ardent teach classes in Beginning Martian.
Ben tells Jubal of meeting Dawn, and the crush she has on Jubal, based on his writing. Ben recounts watching Mike preach, and describes Mike's style as closer to a car salesman's than a traditional priest's. Jubal suggests that Mike's teachings sound simplistic. Ben tells Jubal that Mike's preaching had been riveting. Patty had explained to Ben that Mike used his sermons to get a feel for the audience and decide who was worthy of studying further—Mike's church has nine "circles" of membership, each more exclusive than the last.
Although Mike did not need the money, he had taken a collection at the sermon, believing that the "marks" would not take him seriously were money not involved. Ben had then gone to a meeting of a higher circle, which had entailed Martian chanting, similar to a séance. Parishioners had begun kissing, and one had kissed Ben. Then people who were not ready to advance to the eighth circle were asked to leave. Ben was told to stay because, as Mike's water-brother, he automatically had ninth circle status.
Jill appears at the ceremony and Ben's attention is riveted to her. Afterward, in the Nest, Jill greets Ben with a warm kiss. Jill tells Ben about the mission of the church—not to sell faith or save souls, but to tell people the truth about their own powers—and encourages him to stay with them. Dawn brings Ben dinner and Jill introduces them. Jill points out that her body and Dawn's have grown to resemble each other increasingly since they started working together, partially due to Mike's telekinetic help. Jill gets a psychic message from Mike that he needs her assistance; she leaves, encouraging Ben to kiss Dawn.
Chapter XXX gives us a brief overview of Mike's journeys since Part Three, and we see here Mike's attempts to join and bring his wisdom to existing human institutions before deciding to found his own church. These attempts are doomed because, Heinlein suggests, it is the nature of institutions to resist new or fresh ideas. Mike's passage through a seminary, and then the army, are seen in a very quick overview, as was Mike and Jill's entrance into carnival life and travels through Las Vegas in Part Three. With the bulk of his education behind him, Mike's journeys now flash by at a speed more appropriate to mythology than biography, in keeping with his becoming a prophet. Mike's entrance to and ejection from the seminary is predictable given the difficulty that Mahmoud and Digby have had accepting the religious tenets ("Thou art God!") that Mike proposes, but his brief stint in the army is a more curious step on Mike's path to founding a church. In a sense, though, the army is a logical experience for Mike to pursue. No Earth organization is more focused on subsuming an individual's identity to the purpose of the whole, and this philosophy in some ways echoes Mike's belief that all people are connected by grokking. Though the army has a very specific code of conduct to which Mike is unable to conform, so he is left with no choice but to found his own institution, the Church of All Worlds.
Most of Part Four of the book, "His Scandalous Career," is framed in a long conversation between Jubal and Ben. This is the largest role Ben has had to play in the novel since Part One, and his unique outlook allows us to see Mike's religious ambitions from a cynical everyman perspective. Though Ben had essentially set the action of the novel in motion in Part One with his insistence on saving Mike from the gears of political conspiracy that threatened Mike's life, since then Ben, like the politics, has faded from the forefront of the story—he had been kidnapped for most of Part Two, and makes only a cameo appearance in Part Three. His old-fashioned newspaperman's fixation on facts and justice have been largely irrelevant to the philosophical flights of fancy that have constituted Mike's education. The sudden return of his traditionalist, no-nonsense mindset to the center of the action jolts us into seeing Mike's church as a cult every bit as unnerving and strange as how the Fosterites were portrayed.
In these chapters Ben plays a kind of devil's advocate role for readers skeptical of Mike's idealism. It is as if Heinlein was anticipating readers' uneasiness about Mike's submersion in his role as a prophet and wanted to address it in the framework of the narrative. Though Part Three may have accustomed us to regular nudity and a free love ethos, Ben is still shocked by these things, hedging about whether to take his own clothes off. Though the church members treat Ben with unfailing kindness and acceptance, he nonetheless seems to be uncertain of whether or not they deserve his trust and respect. This alienation is heightened by the church members' eerie tendency to speak in Martianisms they have learned from Mike. This parroting of their leader gives the impression that, like many cult members, they have been brainwashed—certainly Mike has great hypnotic powers. Although Ben trusts the goodness of Mike's intentions, the external cues seem to him—and perhaps to us—to suggest sinister undercurrents.
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