Sunday, September 17, 2006

John C. Wright on the
"Separation of Church & Spaceship"

Wow, I had a brain burp. I thought I posted the below last Thursday. Instead, I hit "save as draft" and it was sitting there, unpublished, all this time. Let me correct this oversight right now (with changes to include latest post):

John C. Wright has a terrific trio of posts over at his blog. If you do SF, you should drop by.

From the first entry with the title "Separation of Church and Spaceship":

Portrayal of religion as a divine institution is very rare, for the very simple reason that belief in divinities is widely regarded as an unscientific belief, not the proper subject for science fiction speculation. The 'Outsider' in NIGHTSIDE THE LONG SUN by Gene Wolfe is arguably an honest-to-goodness God; but the other gods are computer imprints of dead tyrants: ghosts. Fakes.

Science Fiction takes at least some of its inspiration from Mark Twain. Reading nearly any book from the early days, one recognizes the Connecticut Yankee and his Yankee can-do know-how, or a close cousin, Heinlein's Competent Man. Science Fiction in general regards religion much as the Connecticut Yankee regarded the black magic of Merlin: hokum. Bunk.


And this from part two:

For example, I think C.S. Lewis in OUT FROM THE SILENT PLANET and PERELENDRA does an admirable job of depicting a planetary romance in a solidly Christian mythology.

But please notice what he does: In order to depict Christianity in SF, you need to change the names. In the same way the Japanese call Jehovah "Kamisama", the men of other worlds and times are expected to call God by names suited to their background. So instead of talking about angels, for example, C.S. Lewis talks about "eldil".

Also, Gene Wolfe has a very strong Catholic sentiment running through his books, and in IN GREEN'S JUNGLES a character has a religious experience handles as being no more extraordinary -- and no less -- than falling in love or having a baby or any other ordinary, extraordinary event in human life. He pulls the same trick of names in SHADOW OF THE TORTURER. Jesus Christ is called "The Conciliator" -- which, by no coincidence, was a Medieval euphemism for a torturer.


Part three has this:

Now, I can think of at least two SFF books where God or His Angels are characters in the tale, and they are either senile or outright frauds:
HIS DARK MATERIALS by Phillip Pullman
TO REIGN IN HELL by S Brust
DOGMA

Oddly, I cannot think of a single science fiction story that treats the Christian mythology in the same respectful way, even when lighthearted, as HERE COMES MR. JORDON. Maybe God makes a cameo appearance in Heinlein's JOB or in James Branch Cabell. There may be a few fantasy or Urban fantasy stories that have angels in them—I haven't read that much by Charles de Lint or Megan Lindholm. Usually these days even the good supernatural beings are fairly new-age, neutral, or culturally relative. There is, for instance, a Power of Light in A WRINKLE IN TIME, that seems like a nondenominational sort of goodness.

So Christianity seem more well represented in the mainstream than it does in SF.


The folks at Speculative Faith and Where The Map Ends are part of a smallish, but rather fervent, group that hopes to change that. Prayers welcome.

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