Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Religion in Sci-Fi

I was thinking about this the other day: how does science fiction deal with the subject of religion.

I know that theological questions are beyond the limits of science, but the imaginative nature of Sci-Fi can open up door to lots of questions about human life.

But in surveying most science fiction movies and television shows, I find that religion is mostly side-stepped.

This makes a good deal of sense, because removing from the normal reality makes dramatizing the thing easier.  Battlestar Galactica tackled a lot of hot-button political issues dressed up in Cylon clothing.

In fantasy, Jesus can believably interact with us as we go through the wardrobe and see Him in the form of a giant lion.

Again in fantasy, Tolkien avoided any mention of religion so that his Catholic faith could subtly soak into every corner of Middle Earth.

In fact, fantasy is much better at engaging matters of faith.  The mystical and mysterious are a part of many religions and fantasy worlds.

Ridley Scott's Prometheus tried its hand at using science fiction to answer ultimate questions, but it fell flat.  However this was less due to the questions raised but to the stupidity of the characters in the movie. (DON'T PET THE SPACE COBRA!)

But I think that science fiction is less engaged here.  Star Trek presents a world where religion has been eliminated from an evolved humanity.  There are episodes, like TNG's "Who Watches the Watchers," that implies that religion is the bastion of the weak minded and fanatics.  Star Trek V was originally supposed to be Kirk vs. God.  And seeing as how Shatner was directing it, we can easily guess who was going to win that title fight.  (although I think Deep Space Nine was a little more interested in the mystical side of things, that show was always different than all of its sibling series)

I have watched a few episodes of Dr. Who and I plan on watching more.  But I have heard from some friends and bloggers I trust that while it is enjoyable, you have to wade through some of the anti-religious stuff.

I was also thinking about Joss Whedon's Firefly.  It used to be my opinion that the show was anti-religion.  The main character, Mal, is a fallen away Christian who likes to flaunt his atheism in front of the priest on the show, Shepherd Book.  Being an atheist, I thought that Whedon brought Book into the show to slowly evolve him out of his faith.  But I don't think I gave Whedon enough credit.  Just by acknowledging that the Church would be around in the far future, he has said more about the enduringness of faith than most science fiction.  As far as I know, Babylon 5 is the only other Sci-Fy series that makes that assumption.  It was clear that Whedon and his writers did not see the world from Book's point of view, but they respected him.

But while science fiction is open to the wonderful (or horrible) vistas of human possibility and achievement, it is very uncomfortable with the exploration of human nature in religion.

I remember the show Lost.  To my opinion, it is one of the greatest shows ever to be on television.  One of the things I found fascinating was how it kept fighting over whether it was a fantasy or science fiction show.  Particularly through the character of Locke, we saw the Island through the lens of destiny and magic.  Through Jack, we saw the Island governed by electromagnetic fields and elaborate experiments.  Jack was convinced that faith was opposed to science.  While I completely disagree, I think that this is starting point of a lot science fiction

Science, by its nature, is sceptical.  Our science is so good because we doubt every theory until it can be empirically proved.  But religion deals with things that cannot be empirically measured.  How can you weigh God, who is pure spirit?  How many pounds is love?  What is the shape of the soul?

I think that most science fiction looks at religion as a cop out.  It is for those who cannot handle the rigor of scientific inquiry.  The secrets of the universe will only be revealed to those who boldly go where no man has gone before, not to the ones who walk in the footsteps of a carpenter from Nazareth.

Maybe I'm wrong.  This post is less a planned essay and more of an exploration into the topic.

I welcome any insights.

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