You got religion in my science fiction!

The two-fisted science hero lands on Saturn to discover what life may exist there. He notes the foot-tall mushrooms and the stork-like birds. His rifle is ready to fire should he discover any danger. And then he meets a spirit. He discovers this is a departed minister from earth. Among the first questions he asks, “Why did God drive Adam out of the garden and deny him the fruit of the tree of life?”

There’s something disconcerting about that. There’s a disconnect here. A pulpish hero, a man known for action and his reliance on science, asking a specific religious question is almost unsettling. Yet, that’s what just happened in a book I’m reading: A Journey in Other Worlds, by John Jacob Astor. The book was published in 1897, which sets it in a distinctly separate world from our own. Religion still dominated the general climate (though it wasn’t the “pure Christianity” so many dream about when they consider the “good old days”). Science fiction was a far cry from the developed genre we have today. To have a science hero ask a specific religious question would not have been out of the question, because nothing was normal in the genre yet!

This blog was created because Brandon, Mike, and I love science fiction and we love Jesus (not in that order). We love good writing. We want to increase in our ability to write. We want to write science fiction that deals with Christian questions.

But when I ran across Christianity expressed in a science fiction novel when I did not expect it… it didn’t just surprise me. It made me pause and blink and try to figure out what was wrong.

What was wrong? Certainly not the story. The character was still in character, though this revealed a new side of him I hadn’t expected. It’s a bit odd to be mixing something so supernatural (disembodied spirits, not merely “telepathic vision”) with something that had been, until then, a solidly scientific exploration. However, just because someone exists in a “scientific society” doesn’t mean that they don’t have a religious side.

What was wrong was me. I bought the lie.

What lie was that? The thought that reason and religion are mutually exclusive. The idea that science and spirituality go together like broken glass and my stomach. The presupposition that Christianity and cognition fit together like fine wine and the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Here I am, seeking to develop my writing skills, pursuing Christian science fiction. And that’s the problem. I should be seeking to write good science fiction stories that happen to have Christian characters or involve Christian questions.

God promises that his Word will never fail. While humans perish like grass, his Word will endure forever. So, if humans go to the stars, God’s Word will go with them. If we are enslaved by machines of our own making, the Bible will stay with us. If we discover time travel, we still won’t be able to escape his Scriptures; after all, God is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow. Those are the worlds I should write about. I don’t have to write Christian science fiction. I just have to take God at his Word and imagine what might come.

And I need to keep in mind that others can and have done the same thing. So, next time a two-fisted science hero starts positing Christian questions, I won’t be shocked. Instead, I’ll nod and smile and appreciate that other Christians like science fiction, too.

6 thoughts on “You got religion in my science fiction!

  1. Interesting thoughts, Luke. I was not familiar with the story you mentioned; perhaps I’ll have to see if I can find it free on Kindle.

    One reaction I had to it, though: I don’t know if I necessarily agree with your statement that you “should be seeking to write good science fiction stories that happen to have Christian characters or involve Christian questions.” At least, not entirely. I do think that using Science Fiction as a vehicle to tackle some of the big questions in life is good. And for a Christian, those big questions are Christian questions. But I’d contend that you don’t necessarily need Christian characters, or to frame the question directly within Christianity, to properly tackle it.

    For instance, Tolkien’s world had no Christians, no Christ, and certainly didn’t frame the big questions as openly Christian. But what it said about how we make choices, how we determine what’s right vs. what’s easy, how we handle the circumstances into which we are placed, those are all things that relate very well to lives of faith. And Tolkien was certainly very openly Christian, and said that he intentionally promoted Christian ideals in his works.

    Lewis’ Narnia is much the same way, although perhaps a little more obvious.

    Card has managed to do the same in just about everything he’s written.

    That’s not to say that writing in Christian character, Christian framework, or looking at the future with Christianity still in the picture is a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s a very good idea, and something worth pursuing. But perhaps saying it as a “should” is too strong.

  2. I’d agree that every Christian “should” write only on strictly Christian themes is pretty darn legalistic — but in the choice between writing CHRISTIAN science fiction or writing science fiction that includes Christian elements, ten times out of ten I’d prefer to read science fiction with Christian elements.

    That clearer?

    And as far as the book goes, I’ll be reviewing it in short order after I finish the book. You can tell it wasn’t written for today’s audiences; it’s taking me a bit to slog through!

  3. I think I see what you’re saying now, and agree with you entirely. I wonder, though, if someone who is not a Christian would make the same distinction. I don’t have the answer to that, it’s just a curious thought on the matter. Would they see a difference, or if they detected Christian elements would they immediately peg it as Christian Science Fiction?

  4. I understand what Brandon is saying. That the unbelievers will take the Christian based material and label it all “Christian”

  5. I think you make a valid point, Brandon — but that doesn’t mean a difference from our perspective is worthless. I think it should just make us set our bar even higher. Many non-Christians love C. S. Lewis and Tolkien despite their Christian leanings (and many even deny those Christian elements). I doubt I can write as well as they did, but it’s still good to have a goal. Aim for the stars, miss, and still end up in the sky, right?

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