Agnosticism, evolutionism, and subjectivism are three characteristics of modernism

Thursday, January 6th, 2022

Dune’s thematic core, Edward Welsch argues, is fundamentally theological:

Herbert, an ex-Catholic, published Dune in 1965, the concluding year of the Second Vatican Council, during which a progressive spirit of reform was unleashed within the Church. A school of liberal theology dubbed “modernism” that had been suppressed by conservative popes during the previous century was resurrected in a new generation of neo-modernist theologians who took the guiding reins of the Council. Their aim was, in the words of the excommunicated modernist priest Alfred Loisy, “to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral, and social needs of today.”

The six Dune novels are a product of this zeitgeist. Herbert used his science fiction to capture the modernist, existentialist theology dominant in the 1960s and to project its consequences onto the far future. It is a future in which truth is subjective and religion is a tool disconnected from spiritual reality. There, dogma evolves and adapts to the needs of the material world, and the gene replaces the soul.


Agnosticism, evolutionism, and subjectivism are three characteristics of modernism identified by Pope Pius X in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (“Feeding the Lord’s Flock”). Agnosticism is reflected in the modernist idea that spiritual truth is beyond the capacity of human knowledge to comprehend and human words to express. In this view, all human religions are equal, in that they are imperfect attempts made by humans to commune with God. As a result, dialogue with other religions is pursued rather than evangelization and proselytization.

In Dune, the results of agnosticism are taken to extremes through pan-galactic ecumenism. The authoritative scripture is the Orange Catholic Bible. This scripture fuses all major religions, listed in the novels as: Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism, Buddislam, and an Islamic offshoot called the Maometh Saari, Maometh being the “Third Muhammed.” The priestly class is the all-female order of the Bene Gesserit — a portmanteau of the Benedictine and Jesuit Catholic orders. Since the ultra-liberal modern-day Jesuits routinely call for the ordination of women within their flagship magazine America, the Bene Gesserit are another sign of Herbert taking progressive theological trends to their logical conclusion.


  1. Gwern says:

    “He foresees that in conquering its environment, humanity has grown weak and complacent. Evolution has stalled without selection pressure; there is no Darwinian “survival of the fittest” to spur on the next stage of development. Only on the harsh desert planet of Arrakis have the weak been culled. Imposing himself as a kind of theological, environmentalist messiah, Atreides establishes a new galactic headquarters on Arrakis, with himself as the head of a reformed religion focused on ecological balance. Though humanity seeks peace and attempts to rule over its environment, Atreides believes that humanity needs struggle and should be subject to its environment, not a ruler over it. Thus, he sends the Freman out on a murderous jihad to slaughter and pillage the rest of the civilized universe in the name of improving the quality of the human stock.”

    Did we read the same books?

  2. Harry Jones says:

    One problem with struggle is it only makes you stronger if it doesn’t kill you.

    Another problem is if you get too strong then you have no struggle any more, and your descendants go soft.

    If you have the same struggle century after century, you’re in a rut. The Fremen were in a rut. They had learned all Arrakis could teach them and they could not advance to a higher level because they couldn’t conceive of any other way of life. The Empire would have exterminated them sooner or later.

    That’s the kind of struggle that kills you slow.

  3. Ezra says:

    All a result of those four persons most influencing modern thought: Marx, Darwin, Einsten, Freud. The first three I agree with the listing, the last I am not sure about.

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