Religion in Science Fiction

I found a very interesting post in the Very Small Doses blog. Marc Xavier points out that in most Science Fiction today:

there’s this strong bias toward the view that people who are religious are ignorant, unintelligent or evil, and secular humanists are the “saviors” of true enlightenment.

I think there is some truth in this statement. There are countless examples of Science Fiction shows and movies which portray religion that way. Does that mean that most of Sci-Fi creators bigoted about religion? I don’t think so.

The way I see this, is that we have this cultural archetype of a religious zealot. We all know that religion can sometimes get slightly out of control. Christianity is as guilty of past blunders as almost any other religion of the world. Who haven’t heard of witch hunts, inquisition, and torture chambers? And who can forget about some extreme factions of Islam, which are willing to kill thousands of innocent people in the name of Jihad.

So we all know that religious fanatics do exist. They were here in the past, they are here now, and they will probably still be doing questionable things in the future. This is nothing new. Hence, many authors choose to use this archetype to create characters, and societies that we can relate to.

This is especially true for writers who grew out of Christian tradition. I guess all of Christians are aware of the less than perfect track record of our religion. We all know, that some pretty nasty things have been done in the name of god. But as the time passed, we have figured out that witches do not exist, and we really do not *need* to burn heretics… We also finally figured out that earth is not flat.

So stories about reason and science conquering superstition give us some sort of self-retrospective catharsis. So it’s not really an attack on religion itself – just a critique of blind superstition, and rejection of common sense and scientific thought. We like this types of stories, because they remind us that we really came a long way, and it makes us feel better about our civilization, and our religion.

Of course we also have the archetype of a mad scientist. There are countless stories featuring characters who abandoned religious, ethical and moral values and took science to the extreme. We like to moralize about “playing god”, “going against nature” and etc… In this type of stories we usually have a moral, and often even religious protagonist setting out to defeat the evil scientist, and his godless creation(s).

Again, science can be used to do some pretty nasty stuff. We developed nukes, biological weapons and etc… So this theme grows out of our fear of science technology getting out of control if left unchecked.

The stories about religious fanatics do no really attack religion, just like stories about mad scientists do not try to discredit science. What is attacked and demonized here is the notion of extremism. We fear both the fanatic zealot, and the insane scientist. These stories simply show that religion without science can turn into fanatic cult and that science without religion (or at least sound moral and ethical system) can also be very dangerous.

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2 Responses to Religion in Science Fiction

  1. Dan Copulsky UNITED STATES says:

    Might be true in general, I don’t really know, but, I thought of a prime example of religion being portrayed positively in science fiction: Orson Scott Card, one of the biggest sci-fi novelists around, has a lot of religion in his books portrayed in good light.

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  2. Luke UNITED STATES says:

    Good point. I bassically only read Ender – so I’m not familiar with his other books.

    I read some of his essays and interviews, and he is very outspoken about his religious convictions and beliefs. He likes to moralize alot to the point of almost being scary sometimes.

    But I’m sure there many authors out there who portray religion in positive way.

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