Is Religion in Science Fiction Something New? Hardly!

Charlie Jane Anders at IO9 suggests that there is a new emphasis on religion in science fiction, according to the post that recently appeared there, with the delightful title “God Is Our Space Pilot: Does Every SF Show Need Jesus Now?

If science fiction starts with 1 Enoch and his heavenly journeys, then it had a religious component. If it started with Mary Shelley, then it was addressing scientists “playing God” (and had a religious or at least mythological subtitle). If we think of Star Trek, then the first episode to ever air addressed a human becoming God and discussed divine attributes. Later in the series, Greek gods and Christians were encountered.

This is nothing new. Science fiction is our modern-day mythology, and while it doesn’t have to address or intersect with religious themes, it is natural for it to do so.

But while I might nuance my treatment of this topic differently than Anders, I can agree with the concluding plea of that article:

So consider this a plea for more thoughtful portrayals of religion in science fiction — and fewer random, thoughtless, kitchen-sink inclusions. People who watch science fiction are smart. We can tell when we’re being pandered to, and when we’re being spoonfed religious ideas just because it makes your show seem more “mythic” or “relevant.” Religion can make your science-fiction story feel like it takes place in a world we can relate to, and it can deepen your characters and add another layer to your story — or, in the wrong hands, it can feel like a random piece of baggage, tacked on to your story for spurious, external reasons. We can usually tell the difference between the two.

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  • Random Arrow

    Nice riff. I just revised one of my own posts on the rhetorical proposals by some ID’ers that scientific peer review incorporate a theological component. The concept treats science like science-fiction. To your point about religious hierophanies in science fiction, I’ve always considered, “No Country for Old Men,” as including an instrumental merger of these two. At one point. When the religious grannie says, “I previsioned this,” as she ignorantly gets carted away in the cab by the mafioso who do her in, a few moments later. Grannie is the religious hierophany (ala Eliade) of theological prophecy in the movie. She is set against the low tech sci-fi driven world of drug cartels using old-tech type Geiger-beepers to locate the mother lode of cash. Religion does not fare well here. Not against the most out-dated technology. In the hands of motivated new drug men. No Country for Old Men. Nor for old theology up against the wall.