Friday, March 9, 2012

Faith, Belief, Religion, and Science Fiction -- Is it really a conflict?

I was once told by a woman of 'advanced generation' in our church that a Christian couldn't enjoy, watch, read, or write science fiction because it was sacrilegious. I was very young, and worried about what she said for a long time, but with the maturity of my faith I fully accepted I didn't agree.

My father once said, "I think we'd be pretty stupid to think we're the only ones God bothered with." That struck me as far more true than the idea of imagination being sacrilege.

Psalms 8:3 says, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place."

In the age old debate of Science versus Faith, those who scream the loudest about either side don't seem to see what I see. I believe in creation, but I also see science as proof for my faith. Proof, you say? Yes, proof. I see again and again how the study of our world, our bodies, chemistry, biology, physics proves to me we are the result of divine creation and not a random event when nothing became something and exploded with such ferocity to create everything with such perfect intrinsic beauty and purpose.

So, if I can see science as proof of our divine origins, it isn't a long stretch to believe God in His desire to create life would look beyond the third planet of a single solar system. If all He wanted to do was create life on a single planet, why create all of the universe?

Religion is an element in just about every major vein of science fiction, in some way or another. In Star Wars you have The Force and the Jedi themselves were a type of religious sect. Star Trek addressed religion in the atheistic lack of religion. It's still an element in that they chose to present an anti-religion stance. Stargate addressed religion by using the existence of the stargate as the origin of many of the ancient 'gods' on Earth. On Firefly, the crew of Serenity included a Shepherd, a minister/pastor/preacher/man of the cloth from our future who often referenced the teachings of the Bible.

My favorite quote of his, while loading a weapon for a battle and Zoe asks him "Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killing?", to which he answers "Quite specific. It is, however, fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps."

So, how have I handled religion in my Phoenix series? Just like in life, my characters range in their belief systems. In the first series, Lieutenant Jace Quinn is the son of a preacher and ordained himself. He is grounded in his faith, but as he is absent for a good portion of the series it doesn't play much until the second series. Although never directly addressed, I see Nick Tanner as a man of faith though not a man who would be in a church every week. He sees God in creation. I do point out how the bad guys were so convincing on so many things, they convinced much of the population of the Earth to forget the religion of their forefathers.

Religion plays a larger part in the second series because in the second series I explore the concept of other worlds, other cultures, other evolutions of society much more than in the first series that was very much Earth-bound. I cannot recall a science fiction world that has a religion like Christianity in a society not originating from Earth. If the basis of Christianity is that Jesus Christ, son of God, came to Earth for us, I had to ask myself a question. If I believe God created all of existence, and God loves all His creations, why would his son choose Earth if other planets and life forms exist?

I endeavor to answer that question in Phoenix Rising, not as part of the series arc, but just as I addressed religion in the first series, as a part of the development and culture of the various people living in this Phoenix 'universe'. I've actually had some very interesting, thought provoking, and inspiring conversations with my pastor about this element of my story.

He actually thinks it's a pretty cool idea, and almost as excited about the concepts I've worked up as I am. Quite the left turn from Sister Esther back in Milo, Maine who told me just imagining such a thing was heresy.

You can read more about The Phoenix Rebellion, and it's upcoming sequel Phoenix Rising, at my website.


  1. great post! i think we all struggle with faith/science at some point. i remember asking my dad about it and his answer was, "you are given two options by public opinion. why can't there be a third way of looking at it?" that stuck with me. i think you've got a third way of looking at it. :)

    1. Thank you, Patty.

      My parents raised me in faith, but also raised me not to take anything blindly. The pastor I had as a child encouraged the congregation to ask questions, to seek rather than just say "Well, you said it so it's fact". That goes for anything, religion or otherwise.

      My pastor now, as an adult, though 30 years and 3,000 miles removed from my little church in Maine, says much of the same thing. He teaches no one has it absolutely right. NO one. If we don't understand or necessarily agree with what he says, he encourages us to talk about it. Ask about it. Discuss it. And study for ourselves.

      So, given all that, I don't let the two cancel each other out but support each other. :-)

  2. I used to think that in order to be religious one had to deny science because I thought so many in science were atheistic in their world view. A lot are, but a lot aren't. For me science goes hand-in-hand with God. It's God's way of helping us to understand the world He gave us, so there's no reason why science-fiction (or any kind of fiction) should clash with religion and a belief in God.

    Great meta here, Gail!

    1. Thanks, Caina. Actually, I've heard there are several acclaimed scientists who are a part of our history who set out not to disprove God, but to prove God. As an intelligent human being, one cannot deny science. As a Christian who believes God is the source of all things, than how can you deny science? The thing to remember is that both ideas are, in truth, theory. No one was there (but God) to know without question how it all began.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Gail. You know I fully believe that faith, fantasy, and sci-fi can all play together and get along just fine. As far as science fiction goes, here's my thoughts: God gave man the Bible. This is God's story as it pertains to humans... God is A BIG GOD! He can have as many stories going as he wants. I fully believe there could be other worlds out there that God has and he shares His story with them in a way that works for them.

    1. Exactly, Jenn! :-) We live on little more than a dust mote in the grand scheme of the universe.

  4. Gail, this post is amazing. I think most science fiction authors must hold some claim to being Christian, even if they don't realize it. SciFi is about hope, faith and believing in something, some one, bigger than ourselves. Hope that we set aside our differences and come together as a people to build the future. Faith that we don't blow ourselves up before that future comes true. Belief in God, that He will guide us to this perfect future we can only hope our children or children's children will have the chance to experience. Sometimes SciFi isn't pretty, but those things resound in it. I've yet to read one that doesn't offer some glimmer of hope, faith or belief.

    One thing. You totally forgot Star Trek V. Don't tell Jenn I mentioned the other Star. But, it addressed the quest for knowing a Higher Power that apparently not even the future can deny exists.

    1. Thank you, JMo. :-) I imagined us having this talk when I wrote it. And don't worry, I won't tell Jenn you mentioned "that other show". I didn't get into that movie because of the whole franchise, it was one example. Didn't feel it was enough in an "in general" post. :-) But, you're absolutely right.

  5. Gail, this is a very good blog post. I really appreciate your open-mindedness, and I love the way you say, "Just like in life, my characters range in their belief systems."

    I haven't read your books yet, but it's definitely on my to-do list.
    :-) Maria

    1. Thank you, Maria. With the Phoenix series, it was very important to have different kinds of people. It would have been boring if they were all patriots or evil, all died-in-the-wool soldiers or all civilians. It's all a mix. I hope you do read. :-)

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  6. Thank you for your thought-provoking post, Gail.

    I practice Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism---a religion, but not a form of theism. Therefore, the question you address about whether God created life elsewhere in the universe doesn't apply in my belief system. From the Buddhist point of view, or at least the point of view of this Buddhist, if extraterrestrial life is for real, it must have arisen and flourished for the same reason it did on this planet: because of karma.

    In my religion we see no conflict with science. According to the Buddhist concept of origin, there's room for the Big Bang. And if there's room for that, there's certainly room for a comparatively minor matter such as the evolution of mankind.

    What's more, Buddhist scriptures describe other worlds and other realms of existence. In particular, there is a concept that a Buddha, an enlightened person, appears in any world where the need for one arises, and the time is right. Therefore, it's plausible that life exists elsewhere. And that enlightened beings have appeared in such places to teach their inhabitants how to attain the same state of enlightenment.

    About the religious affiliations, beliefs, and practices of futuristic characters, allow me to note that in every society throughout the ages that I've read about, there's a religion or a religion-substitute. In modern times, the most prominent examples of the latter are communism, fascism, and capitalism. This aspect of society is so important that it's central to all the others.

    Therefore, in creating an imaginary world of science fiction or fantasy, a writer should consider what its inhabitants believe in. At least, that should be the case if verisimilitude matters. There might be aesthetic reasons why it doesn't.

    But more often than not, religion plays no role at all. Legitimately so, if the story is focused on other matters so tightly that religion is irrelevant.

    If that's not the case, and religion isn't mentioned, I suspect that perhaps a writer might not feel comfortable dealing with it. In a work of commercial fiction, unless it's aimed at members of a specific religious community, religion can seem like the third rail of a subway track. Better not touch it!

    Still, I think there's room for serious treatments of religion in science fiction and fantasy. I try to do so in some of my own works. Not in a preachy way, of course. In a way anyone who reads the work can relate to, in his or own terms. Or so I hope.

    Keep up the good work!