Science Fiction and Theology: A Match Made in Heaven?

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Science fiction can be more than just stories about big-headed aliens, evil robots, and laser guns. It can probe complex and provocative theological ideas, or so claim the theologians interviewed in a recent io9 article titled “Big Theological Questions that Science Fiction Should Answer”.

The article’s author, Charlie Jane Anders, interviewed several theologians who also happen to be sci-fi nerds, including Lorenzo DiTommasoRobert Geraci, and James McGrath. The reason for this interest in sci-fi, according to DiTommaso and Anders, is that “science fiction is great for proposing answers to huge questions, without being stymied by ‘theological firewalls,’ or having to stick to the rigor of formal philosophy.” Indeed, a cursory survey of even recent sci-fi titles will reveal shows – e.g., Battlestar GalacticaFlashForward – that have explored theological ideas.

The theologians came up with a list of five theological topics that they’d like to see sci-fi authors address more often:

  1. The Philosophy of Creating Worlds and the Future
  2. What if God was provably real?
  3. What if the Bible was literally true?
  4. The Relationship Between Science and Religion
  5. Why do we have faith?

The Slacktivist posits an additional scenario: What if it were possible to know who “the elect” (i.e., those whom God had predestined for salvation) wereThe Slacktivist isn’t exactly Calvinism’s biggest fan and claims that such knowledge would cause Calvinism to “collapse partly due to ethical incoherence and partly due to ethical horror.” He elaborates:

Some people are God’s children and some people are not. Legal equality, justice, the Golden Rule, universal human rights and human dignity are still necessary in this framework, but only because of our incomplete and imperfect knowledge. Better knowledge, more complete knowledge, would allow us to stop treating all people equally because, in this scheme, people are not equal. There would be no reason to treat everyone the same because, according to this doctrine, everyone is not the same.

Some are loved by God, others are not. Some are God’s children, others are irredeemably damned. If we knew for certain who was who, then our ethics would be transformed — reshaped to align with the character of God that this scheme suggests. Ethics, in other words, would revert to something more like the ethnic cleansing of Jericho and Ai.

[...]

A majority of the population would come to see — to know — that they possess a greater capacity for love than God does. I don’t think any religious system could long survive such horrifying knowledge.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with The Slactivist‘s take on Calvinism and its implications, you have to admit that such a theological scenario holds plenty of potential for some provocative and engrossing storytelling. Can you think of any other theological ideas that science fiction can or should explore?

About Jason Morehead

Jason Morehead lives in the lovely state of Nebraska with his wife, three children, zero pets, and a large collection of CDs, DVDs, books, and video games. He's a fan of Arcade Fire and Arvo Pärt, Jackie Chan and Andrei Tarkovsky, "Doctor Who" and "Community," and C.S. Lewis and Haruki Murakami. He's also a web development geek, which pays the bills — and buys new music and movies. Twitter: @jasonopus. Web: http://opus.fm.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com Charity Jill

    Sci Fi is fantastic for exploring “big issues” like theology. For example, “Q” on Star Trek Next Generation, putting humanity on trial (no one said it has to be good theology). CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy dove into some strange and varied issues, like the ‘dangers’ of feminism, the nature of man’s relationship to woman, faith vs. intellect, what it means for Earth to be fallen (‘silent’). I have thought it would be interesting to explore the way the soul is affected by the over-dependence on pharmaceuticals…or the effect on faith groups when immortality can be achieved through medicine…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture Ben Bartlett

    Jason, great article, thanks.

    Charity, those are some fantastic ideas!

    Sci-Fi is most powerful when it exploits its freedom (since you can create basically any scenario you want) to delve into big questions that are difficult to get at otherwise. It drives me crazy that so many people refuse to read sci-fi because they cannot wrap their minds around a world different than their own so that they can deal with questions that are central to our humanity.

  • Daniel

    Science Fiction has been for me one of best ways to think theologically. Growing up, when I first read “Job” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Heinlein, “The City and the Stars/Against the Fall of Night” and “Childhood’s End” by Clarke, and later “The Jehovah Contract” by Koman made me question faith I hadn’t before. As an adult, BSG (later series, though the early one helped me appreciate my Mormon friends more) and Caprica actually helped deepen my faith (even if I’m one of those crazy Monotheists.)


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