Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 4, Chapters 30–31 : His Scandalous Career | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 30

On Mars, more colonists arrive. On Earth, the Man from Mars is in the news. He has been expelled from Union Theological Seminary and enlisted in and then been kicked out of the armed services. He has emerged in the public spotlight as "The Reverend Doctor Valentine M. Smith, A.B., D.D., Ph.D., Founder and Pastor of the Church of All Worlds, Inc."

Ben Caxton arrives at Jubal's and asks to speak privately. Jubal gives him a lesson on how to look at sculpture and the nature of art. He tells him Miriam is marrying Dr. Mahmoud and both Miriam and Anne are pregnant with Smith as the likely father. After the art lesson and the gossip, Ben reveals his misgivings about Smith's "operation," which Ben had just visited. He describes it as a large facility with an auditorium, meeting rooms, and living quarters for those who are Smith's water brothers. In the living quarters, clothes are optional and usually not worn. When Ben arrived there, he was greeted by a woman dressed only in tattoos—Patty.

Part 4, Chapter 31

When Ben arrives at the "Inner Nest," Patty greets him with a kiss and invites him to remove his shoes. She also invites him to shed his clothes, gets him a drink, and shows him around. Bathrooms are luxurious, the kitchen well-stocked, and bedrooms are simply rooms with extra-soft floors for sleeping on. In the center is a swimming pool: "the Innermost Temple, where we receive new brothers into the Nest."

Patty explains some of the workings of the Church of All Worlds to Ben. People who want to join must learn the Martian language. After they begin to think in Martian they can become water brothers with Smith. Smith and his two High Priestesses, Jill and Dawn Ardent, run "outer services" intended to "make the pitch." The pitch includes preaching, miracles, and an invitation to "enter the Circle." Those who successfully pass the first circle can move on to additional circles—each of which has its own, very different services. When they reach the ninth circle, they are welcomed into the Nest.

Jill and Dawn meet Ben in the Nest and share lunch. Then Jill leaves. Dawn kisses Ben, and he cooperates "with the inevitable."


Part 4 begins with a brief exposition about Smith's emergence as a religious leader. In preparation for fulfilling his new purpose of bringing his unique understanding to the human world, Smith joins the church and the military. Both, predictably, reject him once they understand his ideas. The military cannot accept Smith's objection to guns and violence. The church cannot accept his heretical statements (e.g., "Thou art God").

From this overview, the narrative moves to an up-close view of the Church of All Worlds. It is seen through the skeptical eyes of Ben Caxton rather than the sympathetic, loving eyes of Jill, as was the case in Part 3. Chapters 30 through 32 are structured as a narrative inside a frame story. Ben tells Jubal all about his uncomfortable visit to Smith's new "church." Jubal interjects with his own opinions. He says, "A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore!" and "a home ... combines anarchy and tyranny without a trace of democracy."

In general, Ben presents an unflattering picture of Smith's church. To Ben, and likely to the reader, it seems less like a church and more like a cult. It includes elements of Fosterism combined with elements of the carnival (calling the climax of the service "the blow-off," for example). It also feels like a con: Ben remarks, "Mike ... could sell shoes to snakes." Smith's unique Martian-influenced phraseology is pervasive: "waiting is" and "share water and grow closer" have become as ordinary as "good morning." The casual attitude toward money, nudity, and sex completes the picture.

As Ben tells his story, he characterizes many of the "miracles" he sees as trickery. He suggests Smith is an accomplished hypnotist or that hidden technology is involved. He says Smith has "smoothed the bugs out of closed-circuit stereovision so that it cannot be told from reality." As a newspaperman and a seasoned man of the world, this is in character. It also allows Jubal—who loves playing devil's advocate—to argue for the existence of miracles. He asks Ben, "Why insist on fakery?" This brings up a tension that becomes more glaring as the cast of characters almost uniformly converts to Smith's religion. This tension is Jubal's willingness to be open-minded about Smith's teachings and practices that apply to everyone but himself. Jubal is fine with the orgy-like atmosphere of the Nest but maintains his own celibacy is not to be questioned. He criticizes Ben's discomfort with nudity but says he won't be taking off his own pants anytime soon. If Ben is a skeptic in his mind, Jubal is a skeptic in his heart.

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