Does the Church Have Room for Science Fiction?

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Back in 2011, The Catholic World Report posted a piece titled “The Cross and The Stars” that looked at the possibility for Catholics (or any Christians, presumably) to find value in science fiction (aka, “speculative fiction”) literature. It begins by noting the potential challenges that the genre poses for Christians:

What do Worlds of If have to do with Jerusalem? Do Catholic writers have a place among the wizards of fantasy and the starships of science fiction? The very pervasiveness of fantasy and science fiction in today’s popular culture worries some Catholics. Fantasy might open a path to occultism; science fiction could exalt godless Reason over Faith.

Historically, there are good reasons to be wary. From the “scientific romances” of H.G. Wells to the subversive tales of Philip Pullman, writers have wielded their pens against religion in general and Christianity in particular. L. Ron Hubbard drew on science fiction to concoct Scientology. American fans founded a neo-pagan sect based on Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Robert Graves was neither the first nor the last storyteller to promote goddess-worship and other metaphysical fads through fiction.

Although fantasy and science fiction, which belong to the genre of “speculative fiction” (SF), can be hostile to Christianity, so can any form of literature. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about asking “What if?” We cannot afford to abandon this aspect of the human imagination to those who would misuse it in the service of atheism, blasphemy, nihilism, false cults, and New Age delusions. Our call to redeem culture is not limited to a few safe artistic forms.

Author Sandra Miesel then goes on to note the numerous Catholic authors who have made contributions to the “speculative fiction” genre, beginning with J. R. R. Tolkien (who, admittedly, was a fantasy author, but nevertheless opened the doors for the increasing popularity of speculative and imaginative fiction), and continuing on with Murray Leinster, Anthony Boucher, Fred Saberhagen, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Dean Koontz, and Gene Wolfe, to name a few.

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.

  • Craig

    “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”- Matt. 12:34

    Writers who hate God are going to write stuff about…hating God. The genre has nothing to do with that. There are a number of books in other categories that try to draw people away from God.

    But on the flipside, there are people who will write fantasy pieces to draw people towards God as well, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to name a few.

  • http://ofdustandkings.com T. E. Hanna

    There is something to be said for the ability to kindle the imagination and invite mystery and speculation back into our humanity. Science fiction is rarely (if ever) a treatise on reason over faith, but a speculative imagining of a world where scientific advancements create new contexts and new challenges. Fantasy, similarly, helps us to envision a world where, rather than learning and controlling the laws of our universe, imagines a wholly different set of laws and what might entail. In effect, writers of such sagas are engaging in world-making, drawing out their creative powers in the act of imaginatively creating.

    Why would this be anything besides the use of an attribute which reflects that of our creator? We were created to bear the image of One who creates; it should come as no surprise that we bear that same creative streak. Use of that streak, then, is entirely in keeping with our intended identity in Christ.

    But it goes even deeper than that. Engaging in imaginative creation, or even entering imaginatively into the world created by a master novelist, rekindles our ability to engage the mysterious. So much about the Christian faith entails looking towards the inevitable reign of our King and the reestablishment of His glorious kingdom… cultivating the ability to expand the reach of our imagination helps us to enter into that mystery with even greater awe. This, in turn, can only serve to deepen our faith.

  • http://www.theofantastique.com John W. Morehead

    In a forthcoming essay for Cultural Encounters journal published by Multnomah University, I argue that theologians should consider science fiction as a tool for theological reflection, even though most Christians tend to keep speculative fiction at arms length due to concerns that it is “too dark” unless in clearly Christian expressions such as Tolkien and Lewis. In my view science fiction’s use of cognitive estrangement, a distancing feature that provides differing perspective for readers or viewers, gives science fiction a unique ability to address controversial topics like racism, war, and religion, as well as theology. I applaud The Catholic World Report for a balanced approach on the topic, and the willingness to consider a genre that many Protestants have too quickly dismissed or ignored.

  • http://www.Christviewmin.org John Turner

    Do you consider Connie Wills a science fiction writer? That is how she is usually categorized, I think. Each book in her time travel series (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Blackout/All Clear), as different as each book is from the others, makes a small contribution or two to a defense of Christian faith, although not necessarily of an orthodox kind. I don’t know whether she intended this, or it just sort of emerged on its own as she wrote, but I appreciate it however it came about.

  • http://www.Christviewmin.org John Turner

    Do you consider Connie Willis a science fiction writer? That is how she is usually categorized, I think. Each book in her time travel series (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Blackout/All Clear), as different as each book is from the others, makes a small contribution or two to a defense of Christian faith, although not necessarily of an orthodox kind. I don’t know whether she intended this, or it just sort of emerged on its own as she wrote, but I appreciate it however it came about.

  • Jeff Cavanaugh

    IMO some of the best sci-fi ever has had religious themes at its heart. Miller’s Canticle For Leibowitz is among the all-time great sci-fi novels, and Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star” is one of my favorite sci-fi shorts. For that matter, the revived Battlestar Galactica (especially Season 1) is one of my favorite TV series ever because of how seriously and unmockingly it took religious belief.


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