Theologies of Fictional Worlds

Theologies of Fictional Worlds October 16, 2018

As I’ve been thinking about the topics we talked about when I visited Chicago recently, one that my mind keeps returning to is the question of whether one could ever write a “systematic” theology for a particular world, whether another planet or Earth as depicted in particular fiction. In some cases both would be possible: One could ask about theology on Krypton in the Superman universe, but also about a theology suited to Earth in a universe in which Krypton exists and individuals from there end up on Earth, in one instance staying for a significant length of time.

As I am considering what form a book about Theology and Doctor Who might take, perhaps a part of it should be the question not only what theology is actually articulated on and through the show, but what kind of theology would best fit the universe as the show envisages it to be.  A whole book on Time Lord Theology might be interesting, but at this stage I’m just thinking about a book chapter – what kind of theology is implicit in, or compatible with, the overall narrative of Doctor Who.

Lest anyone think that such an undertaking would not be possible or of interest, I will direct your attention to the recent article about the scientific characteristics of Gallifrey. See too the lengthy discussion of considerations that went into the Doctor’s clothing – reflecting on symbolism of what we wear is not limited to high church traditions that use stoles!

Of course, creating a theology for a fictional franchise that is itself full of contradictions and continuity errors is challenging – although arguably no more so than crafting one in relation to the complexities of life or the diversities of a scriptural text. I actually had the idea during one conversation during my visit to Chicago to assign students the challenge of writing a text that doesn’t contradict anything in the Bible. If nothing else, the exercise could make them aware that they haven’t mastered the entirety of the Bible either in breadth or in depth of detail. There are things lurking in Leviticus and Jude they probably won’t have on their radar. Maintaining continuity in a canon is challenging if not impossible.

Since I mentioned “systematic” theology, and used scare quotes, I probably need to explain why: when I was in Chicago, we discussed whether the notion of a theology being “systematic” is itself unhelpful. And so that made it seem all the more poignant when Samantha Field wrote, “Systematic theologies tend to generalize the specific, make universal the contextual, and strip the humanity from our sacred narratives.”

Of related interest, see Stephen Cook’s post about how C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet came up in his class on the prophets. See too the article by Yairah Amit about how the utopian vision of Genesis is narrated to address a dystopian reality.

Finally, I thought that a quote that I came across from Octavia Butler deserved to be turned into a meme and to circulate more widely, and so I made this:

"On the contrary, the Old Testament not only justified slavery, the stealing of humans, etc., ..."

It is Better to Live with ..."
"No, I'm not working from a commentary, lol. It's more fun to just freestyle.My phrase ..."

N. T. Wright’s Paul and the ..."
"Certain issues will always trouble is because of our nature. First, we are sinful—every aspect ..."

It is Better to Live with ..."
"What modern people fail to realize that those feats of construction were possible using the ..."

Racism, Colonialism, and Ancient Aliens

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Spirit Plumber

    Great stuff, thank you. I’ve been trying to generate some myths for my RPG stuff, but it hasn’t come up much in play

    • Yes, in addition to it being possible to narrate fictional worlds and then explore what theologies are implicit in them, one can also start first with the mythology and theoretical assumptions and then build a narrative that has that world(view) as the backdrop!

  • John MacDonald

    Thanks for posting that James! I like the quote from Octavia Butler! The related quotation from Ecclesiastes reads:

    “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

    Thinking about this quote by Ecclesiastes just now inspired me to take a brief interlude on my blog where I am posting a series about Derrida’s interpretation of Heidegger, and write a short post on Nietzsche’s indebtedness to Ecclesiastes, and how that relates to Heidegger’s thought. Check it out if you are interested in the intersection of Postmodern Philosophy and Theology! It’s here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/10/exploring-heidegger-nietzsche-interlude.html

    • John MacDonald

      I had to re-post the above comment a few times because the formatting went all weird and cut off the bottom of my comment, lol.

      • John MacDonald

        One last thought. The post on my blog also goes to the essence of humanity as outlined in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode where Q attempts to tempt Riker with the power of Q, Q says of humanity:

        “You see, of all species, yours cannot abide stagnation. Change is at the heart of what you are.”

  • Years ago I taught an Intro to Religion course by dividing the class into groups and assigning each group a different extraterrestrial species to develop a religion for. They got very creative!