According to Adherents.com Clarke was an atheist. At the same time, he was, as I see things, clearly involved in spiritual reflection. Understand that for me, spiritual exploration most broadly addresses three questions:
- What do I believe about Life, the Universe, and Everything? (And yes, I am also a fan of Douglas Adams.)
- Who am I, what is my place, in Life, the Universe, and Everything?
- How should I behave in light of who I am and what I believe about Life, the Universe, and Everything?
I think those three questions can be referred to as Theology, Identity, and Morality.
Clarke clearly dealt with these, and sometimes explicitly. Two of my favorites were the short stories, “The Nine Billion Names of God,” with it’s final sentence, “One by one, without any fuss, the stars were going out;” and “The Star,” with the internal conflict of the astrophysicist, himself a Jesuit, with the thought – the fear, really – “that these creatures should have to die that a star might shine over Bethlehem.” And there were others. His novel Fountains of Paradise incorporates Buddhist prophecy as a significant element. His story, "The Sentinel," from which the "2001" cycle began, pointed to life beyond our knowledge, if not exactly beyond our conceiving. Even the "2001" cycle itself raised issues. Ultimately we discover creatures far older, far more experienced, and in many ways far more poweful than ourselves. But, if we are to accept the God acts through human beings, why should we imagine God couldn't act through other sentient beings? For those of us who seek to balance belief the God is the Creator with the evidence that the process has taken a lot longer than six days, his writing was cause for reflection and humility.
Arthur Clarke has gone beyond once again, exploring beyond the limits of what we know. May he rest in peace.