As I described in Dreamer of Dune, the biography of my father, I had lunch with him at a Seattle restaurant in April, 1984. The two of us spoke of religion, and we agreed that it seemed ridiculous for so many belief systems to assert that they had the “one and only” path to God. Frank Herbert wrote of this in his classic novel Dune, where the C.E.T. (Commission of Ecumenical Translators) was said to have held a meeting among the representatives of major religions, and they set a common goal: "We are here to remove a primary weapon from the hands of disputant religions. That weapon -- the claim to possession of the one and only revelation."

Without a title yet, I had in mind a new novel about the terrible things people do to one another under the banner of religion. In the beginning of the tale God would announce his location on a planet far across the universe, and would invite people to come and visit him -- for an unexplained purpose. The competing faiths would then race for God, stopping at nothing, including murder, to get there first.

"There's your title!" Frank Herbert exclaimed to me, across the small table. "The Race For God!" My illustrious father was right, and I went on to complete the novel under that title. Afterward I wrote another book about biblical history, and I have continued to deal with religious themes in the new Dune-series novels that I write with Kevin J. Anderson.

In The Race For God, I place the followers of several religions in a pressure situation where they must get along, must understand one another, in order to survive. This is an obvious extrapolation of the way it is on Earth today, where there is a simmering, highly volatile conflict between western cultures and fundamentalist terrorists. The end-result is painfully obvious: If religious strife continues to escalate, with all of the emotionalism inherent in such disputes (and the access of each side to doomsday technology), the world will not last much longer. Along with the obvious perils of such a conflagration, there are serious ecological implications, since a large-scale modern war would be a horrendous polluter, ravaging much (or all) of the planet.

Science fiction authors such as myself sometimes look at large issues like this and make dire warnings, hoping our stories will be read widely enough to make a real difference to humankind -- that people in decision-making positions will take our words to heart. This book, despite the veil of humor, constitutes one of those warnings.

When I was researching The Race For God, I discovered that the various competing religions had more in common than they realized. Five of the major faiths -- Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism -- had variations of “The Ten Commandments” in their dogma. The admonitions weren’t always presented in the same manner, but they were still very much alike. I also found similarities in methods of prayer and ceremony, in a belief in life eternal, in creation stories, in dietary restrictions, in a reverence for sacred places, and in the nature of God (or godlike figures).

It is easy to find differences between belief systems and cultures, but they are often only surface distinctions. Religious zealots and bigots play on these things all the time, trying to enlarge their own power structures. Think of the opposite: If they didn’t foster revulsion toward outsiders, such hatemongers would quickly lose their niches and vanish. This is a startling realization, when put into the context of modern sectarian strife. And consider this as well: If one faith prays toward Jerusalem, another toward Mecca, and another toward True North, this can be viewed as more of a similarity than a difference. It can be the basis of interesting conversation, of learning about the beliefs of another faith, and of asking why they adhere to certain rituals.

While studying the various belief systems, it occurred to me that the major religions should focus on points where they agreed, instead of bickering over details. Not always an easy task, because it would require respecting the views of others instead of ridiculing them or trying to change them. But what a better world it would be if this policy became a new rule of behavior in all relationships -- personal, social, religious, economic, and political. Ultimately, it’s about respect, isn’t it? Young people in tough neighborhoods understand this. For their own survival, they learn not to “diss” (disrespect) others. As societies we need to become skilled at that concept as well, and apply it to everything we do.

I hope you enjoy the reissued edition of The Race For God. Following my father’s advice, I have written it to be as entertaining as possible, but it is one of the most serious subjects any of us can ever imagine.

Brian Herbert
Seattle, Washington
July 7, 2006

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