Religious Themes in Science Fiction

Feb 28, 19:33 by Bluejack
More examples, links, and disputes are, of course, welcome.

(Lisa Agnew's article is here.)
Mar 1, 21:50 by Nora Bencsics
Ms Agnew's mention of Ezekial in the last paragraph reminded me of one of the most illuminating experiences of my early (and brief :-) academic career.

I was an archaeology major, and studying biblical archaeology. Fascinating stuff. Because at the same time (early 80s) I'd spent years devouring the plethora of Von Daniken-esque books, I too wondered - what had Ezekial really seen? (Around that time "Spaceships of Ezekial" had been published, complete with engineering diagrams of those spaceships.)

So I chose to do my groundbreaking essay on Ezekial, planning to turn those stuffy academics on their ears, blazing a new light of wisdom upon old knowledge.

It was a devastating yet inspiring experience. I read thousands of pages by careful, honest scholars, most of them focused on those few paragraphs describing the wonders Ezekial saw.

And what I learned was: the bible, an ancient document, has been edited and re-edited, and re-purposed, so many times, that in Ezekial's book, for ex., Ezekial sometimes was referred to as 'I' and sometimes as 'he'. And ... well, to make a long story short, the images he supposedly saw were in fact Persian symbols transmogrified by the Hebrews into a visitation by God. And that Ezekial's book was a propaganda piece to remind the Hebrews of the power of God as they languished in foreign captivity.

Ok, so in a paragraph I've described a conclusion that took me weeks to discover, and left me with no reason to think that Ezekial saw a spaceship. And every reason to believe how dangerous shoddy scholarship driven by pet beliefs can be.

Similarly, my research on witchcraft in a later essay - my thesis to prove that witchcraft really encapsulated the last remnants of the 'old faith' - a popular trope nowadays. To sum up in an example - no, William Rufus (William the Conquorer's son) had likely NOT gone to his death as part of a ritual to sacrifice the king to the land..

As for the bible? Its two greatest mysteries for me are: who WAS Jesus Christ - who changed a world? There are only 2 known (and that not for sure) historical references to him.

And what DID Abraham encounter in the desert, that turned an ancient polytheistic people into believers in the One God? And not the multi-faceted supra-mundane 'one' god of Egypt (Phah) or India (Brahma) either. Whatever he experienced, it kick-started a religion that still survives today, 4-5000 years later.

Ahem. I CAN tie this into the article - religious themes in sci-fi. Remember the Raiders of the Last Ark movie? And where, in that famous last scene, the Ark finally landed?
Mar 2, 07:12 by David Eland
By definition, an essay may be a collection of personal opinions on a topic. Ms Agnew's essay is certainly that. Unfortunately, it is also rambling and incoherent much of the time. For example,

While religion demands commitment to particular sets of stories about the world, science fiction invites a more self-conscious examination and sometimes even an ironic suspension of belief. Very occasionally these two fundamental human behaviors intersect: what Manichaeism was two thousand years ago, Scientology is today.

Huh? What two behaviors? Is she referring to "demanding commitment to particular stories, "self-conscious examination, or "suspension of belief?" And what do any of these have to do with Manichaeism or Scientology?

(Question: does the phrase, "very occasionally" make any sense? Answer: Frequently never.)

Maybe she had a point somewhere in this meandering piece, but I couldn't find it.
Mar 9, 10:09 by David Gardner
Good theology asks questions, but no longer has the power to answer them. Good science fiction does all it can to fill this void.

I don't know if I agree with this, at least the second part. Good theology certainly does ask questions. Good literature (including good science fiction) does the same thing, I think. Anything which purports to answer those questions is likely some form of propaganda.
Mar 9, 10:42 by Bluejack
I don't know if I agree with either of the original claims, or your answer, Number6:

(1) I think good theology asks questions, and proposes answers, which can be tested by human experience.

(2) I don't think there's much science fiction that is tackling the questions of faith, human purpose, or existential meaning. There may be some, but I don't think many people would posit that as the central purpose of science fiction as a genre, or much science fiction that is written. But literature as a whole does this, and it proposes answers in much the same way theology does: to be tested by human experience. The difference is that in theology answers are in the form of claims which can be approached philosophically or even scientifically, while in literature answers are in the form of stories, which get at truth through the back door. Or the windows.

(3) But to say that anything that purports to answer questions is likely to be propaganda... I disagree. Sure, any dogmatic assertion by which proponents attempt to enforce their views onto the opinions of others can be considered propaganda, but I don't think that will ever be considered good literature... or good theology.

Merely asking the questions, though, is not sufficient. Proposing answers, exploring them in story, imagining them in action, envisioning the ramifications, consequences, and impact on human nature: that, I would say, is what good literature does. And good science fiction, too, except that the questions that science fiction generally explores are less the primal mysteries and more the particulars of humanity's relationship to science, nature, technology.

Good fantasy, on the other hand, may take a more direct approach on the numinous, the mystical, the mythological inner experience.
Mar 18, 05:08 by Anna Davour
Really well said, Bluejack! I'll have to think about this.

The original article was not deep enough to really contribute anything to the complex questions it tries to discuss. I did not learn anything now from it, and I think it lacked something in the understanding of what role religion (or spirituality if you prefer that word) plays in peoples lives. It is somehow reduced to searching for the secred hiding place of God.
Mar 18, 15:39 by Bluejack
Well, I'm not sure the original article was really trying to discuss complex questions, so much as having fun with them. In that capacity, and also the strange and wonderful collection of links it presented, I thought it was enjoyable stuff.

Mar 27, 17:28 by Elizabeth Larios
I thought it was enjoyable stuff, too, but it left me hungering for something meatier. I hope IROSF will revisit the Hoary Old Chestnut and give us some essays with a little more oomph to them.

SF often does ask, "How should we live?", and that's been a theme of religious thinkers for a very long time. I'm not quite willing to restrict religion to the primal mysteries anyway. Some SF seems to me to be fairly straightforwardly applicable to more practical matters of a modern-day religious life. <i>Ethan of Athos</i>, for example, reminds me of the situation that a person from a modern American restrictive religious society might well have.

A parting snark: "Think of your favorite books and movies. For myself, they consist of... all movies..." Ouch.

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