Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Science Fiction and Religion: A Spectrum of Views

Some science fiction stories imagine a future without religion and without any belief in the supernatural, thereby expressing the secularist's dream that humanity will outgrow such things. Is science fiction the enemy of religion? Other sf is more friendly to religion, making room for priests and gods along with robots and aliens. As I've suggested before, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is one case in point. But what do religious folks think about science fiction? Opinions vary.

First, a representative from the alarmist camp.

A more thoughtful reflection, but still very much a cautionary tale -- and one that seems not to take notice of the genre's wide sweep. (I've mentioned this one before.)

A balanced view, perhaps?

And for a couple of suggestions that the relationship may be a rather promising one, consider...

Margaret Atwood meets Karen Armstrong on NPR.

How Science Fiction Found Religion

What do you think? Is there some kind of tension between (a certain kind of) speculative fiction and (a certain kind of) religious belief?


Ryan said...

Ok, I will bite. :) I remember reading a book in high school--I think it was called The Futurians about the Asimov generation, which painted them as secular communists. What I remember reading, though, never seemed particularly anti-religious (at least militantly).

I will say, though, that I think Sci Fi and Fantasy are actually linked together as 20th Century genres. SF captures the subliminity of technological and scientific advancement (its potential,wonder, horror, power).

Fantasy is, regardless of its 'world', a nostalgic look back toward some previous age--either one where there was some form of magic, myths, gods, clans, relics, curses...or even simply a time in which knowledge was rare and arcane (so unlike today). All these things are characteristic of 'primitive' cultures.

As this relates to religion, I think Christianity has clearly felt more comfortable in the fantasy genre, as it enjoys looking back nostalgically (particularly to the medieval mode). The sublime futurist perspective holds for the religious a lot more fear and very little to say creatively.

But as the genres begin to blur in the 21st century and people begin to imagine a 'softer' future (more human? more social? more psychological? more embodied (genetics)?)--there's a place for religion to speak from its deep historical roots, insofar as it provides valuable anthropological language/metaphor/imagery.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that the most intriguing religious speculation is that of the society in which science has reached a wall of sorts, forcing people to turn back to religion for answers (whether or not they should.)

Humankind - whose nature is the prime focus of almost all classic sci-fi - will always seek answers to the large, potentially unanswerable questions. And, at least within our understanding of the cosmos around us, there was always be an element of the mystical, the inexplicable. At least for an incredibly long time.

So, unless the point of the story is relies upon this eventual lack of mystery, I don't see any reason that a speculative future should avoid or eliminate religion.

At least, there's no sociological reason. I'm sure there are reasons that have to do with story or structure, but they're rather unimportant to the ideas you're addressing.

- David Russell Gutsche