John Stuart Mill was on to something when he wrote about achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The question of how to achieve this remains mind-boggliningly relevant as we look for solutions to the world’s problems, and it is also a question that Robert Browne expertly wrestles with in The Paradise Prophecy.
With a plot that brilliantly combines history, mystery, and classics for a Dan Brown-esque thriller, Browne transports key figures of John Milton’s Paradise Lost to present day as they all race, in good against evil, to be the determiner of the world’s fate. Tangled up in the action, albeit unwillingly, are Batty and Callahan, and it is unsurprisingly the two humans who, through their actions, ask the hard questions.
First, there is Callahan. She’s skeptical, at best, about religion; tough as nails; no-nonsense; and no frills. Callahan sees what she wants to see, and it troubles her when events don’t line up otherwise. “Seeing is believing” is her mantra, and she holds tight until proven wrong. Proven wrong she is, which leads readers to question her decision and, perhaps, their own life philosophy: Callahan was in Mill’s camp. Greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. She was willing to sacrifice an innocent to save the world, but at what cost? Callahan also chose out of fear for herself.
Are we willing to sacrifice innocence as the price for survival? Extrapolated, will we choose the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? It is also important to look at what drives this decision, because it must somehow, always, benefit ourselves as well—no one would choose the greatest good for the greatest number unless they stood to benefit in some way.
Batty, perhaps, wrestles with the heavier topic: the freedom of choice. Batty’s made many poor choices, but it all boils down to one. He must decide whether or not to sacrifice the innocent; the choice is his and his alone. Does he save the world and kill a blameless child? Or, does he spare her, and face unknown, and potentially devastating consequences?
“This is about choices. And the intent behind those choices, and proving to the father that humans are still capable of making the right ones. And this is a choice not made through malice, but out of love. A love for humankind.” -St. Michael to Batty
As St. Michael points out, intent can make a choice evil or good. Whether Batty kills out of malice or love will make the difference, and it’s something we can confront in our lives, too. What are the motives that drive our actions? Selfish gain? Selflessness? Sometimes, what we feel is right may not make sense. But that’s where intent and motive come into play.
“‘If creating some kind of utopia on earth requires me to take the life of another living, breathing human being, I’m sorry, but you can count me out. Self-defense is one thing, but this is flat out murder.'” -Batty
In deciding not to sacrifice the innocent, Batty does right by his conscience and the child, at the risk of potential havoc. His decision only highlights the paradox: If he had chosen to sacrifice the child, it would have only been because of his sense of obligation to prevent the world’s destruction. Obligation obstructs free will and the freedom of choice, because the choice Batty made would not have been solely his own. It would have been heavily influenced by outside factors.
“Free will, Batty thought. That’s what it ultimately came down to. And what so many people thought of as weakness—the ability to empathize, to care, the thing that seemed so absent in the world of late—was really man’s strength. His lifeblood.”