When trouble starts, who do you want by your side? A Navy Seal, or an Army Ranger? How about the world's best mixed martial arts fighter? Maybe anyone with a sufficiently powerful firearm and the courage and know-how to use it?
Few today, I'd imagine, would clamor for a priest. What good is a priest in a knife fight or when the bullets start flying? I'd imagine the many millions who have never met, let alone befriended, a cleric would wonder if priests are even capable of the courage necessary in a real conflict.
That's certainly the opinion of the great science-fiction writer H.G. Wells, who presents a less than sympathetic portrayal of priests in his novel The War of the Worlds, first published in 1898. Though typically memorialized as one of the earliest (and greatest) exemplars of the science-fiction genre—and the subgenre of man versus alien—the book offers a biting commentary on the futility and uselessness of the theologically-inclined, and especially clerics.
The War of the Worlds is told from the perspective of an amateur astronomer living in Surrey, outside London, in the 1890s. An artificial cylinder, originally thought to be a meteor, lands not far from the narrator's home. Inside are Martians, who make short shrift of innocent onlookers by incinerating them with a heat ray. Soon thereafter, more Martians arrive, using massive tripod machines to batter civilians and soldiers alike as they rampage toward London. The invaders, it becomes apparent, aim to annihilate mankind, who are little more than a source of sustenance.
During the escape from his home, the narrator encounters a crazed Church of England cleric also fleeing the Martians who have destroyed his home and his church. His religion rocked by the calamitous events, the priest's faith seems more to immobilize than inspire him. "Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done?" he asks. "All our work undone, all the work."